For those frequent make-up wearers among us, applying foundation is a high-stakes affair. Dryness, incorrect colour matches, uneven blending; all unwelcome but common impediments to the perfect complexion we all covet. Whether we like it or not, foundation is key, and getting it right is often stressful, and sometimes messy. Of course, as difficult as foundation application is to master, it is by no means impossible.
Here, Vogue asks the experts for their advice on, and insider secrets to, applying your foundation like a true professional. From nailing your blending technique, picking the right tools—primers, applications, sponges and brushes—and re-ordering your makeup routine, to introducing oils and moisturisers that will keep your skin plump and healthy, these are some tips you can put into practice the next time you put on your foundation.
How should I prep my skin before applying foundation?
Even your foundation needs a great base, and the more hydrated your skin is, the dewier your foundation will appear. No matter the formula or the brushes that you’re using, overly dry skin will probably result in the patchy and uneven application that we all dread.
Andrew Gallimore, UK-based make-up ambassador for Nars, is one of the many beauty professionals who waxes lyrical about the importance of moisture. “For dewy skin, start at the heart of the skin by really drenching it with moisture,” he says. Gallimore also recommends massaging your products into areas that might need more hydration, such as around the nose or cheeks. Taking the extra few minutes in the morning to press your products can help reduce the puffiness of a bad night’s sleep and introduce a natural rosiness to your skin by boosting circulation.
To ensure that your skin provides the perfect canvas for your foundation, consider a hydrating mask after your cleansing routine. Look out for products that include hyaluronic acid, a gentle humectant that helps your skin retain moisture and works miracles on all skin types. Aloe vera that both soothes and exfoliates the skin is another great option, and rosehip oil, when applied as the last step in a nightly routine, can help ‘lock in’ all the nourishing goodness of your serums and creams. Finally, there’s nothing more important than sunscreen for healthy skin. If you’re someone who’s avoided SPF because of its traditionally greasy texture, fear no more; a recent influx of lightweight and transparent sunscreens means that you now have comfortable ways to protect your skin from UV damage.
How do I make sure that my foundation matches my skin perfectly?
Looking in the mirror to discover that your face is a completely different colour to the rest of your body is a distinctly unpleasant realisation. It induces a myriad of emotions first—despair, desperation, despondency—and then a series of questions. Should you start again? Should you leave anyways because you’re running late, and just hope no-one will notice? And, of course, the perennial, ‘Why is make-up so difficult?’
All jest aside, it’s important to recognise that obtaining an accurate colour match is a vastly difficult task for some. For consumers with darker complexions, it is sometimes impossible to find foundations at all. Fortunately, it seems as though the beauty industry has been undergoing much-needed change, providing for both a variety of medium to deep skin tones and subtle differences in warmth and coolness. Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which exploded onto the scene by pioneering a range of 50 shades, found counterparts in brands like M.A.C. Cosmetics, Nars, and more recently, Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty with a 48-shade range.
Despite what your internet searches may yield, dabbing foundations on the underside of your wrist or your neck is not the best way to find a match. In fact, because the skin on those areas is much likely to get less sun than your face, it will often be a completely different colour. M.A.C. Cosmetics global senior artist, Dominic Skinner, recommends cutting to the chase and putting it on your face. Only then, he says, “you can really be sure it fits.”
Don’t just swatch it on one areas of your face either. Skinner tells us to swatch the foundation on your cheek, forehead and jawbone. “This will guarantee the foundation will match your whole face and not just a patch.” Lastly, make sure you check the colour of the foundation both indoors and out; if it withstands the difference between artificial lighting and natural daylight, chances are it’s the one for you.
Do I need a primer?
It’s in the name folks: ‘prime’ your skin before you put the foundation on. While it might seem like an unnecessary step—many certainly treat their moisturiser or oils as a substitute—primers go that extra step into territory uncharted by other products, helping your make-up last longer and even giving your skin that airbrushed look. Praised as the ‘glue’ that holds your face together, primers are often jacks-of-all-trades, doing everything from evening out redness to mattifying and combating the oiliness that might otherwise accumulate from a long day’s work.
So, where do you start when you’re looking for the right primer? Skinner advises to experiment and keep track of how your skin is holding up throughout the day sans primer. “The trick is to look at your base just after lunch and note how it looks. If your foundation looks shiny, then a mattifying primer would help. If your foundation looks dry, then something with a pearl would be perfect to layer underneath. If your foundation is nowhere to be seen, then it’s a long-wear primer that you need.”
It might surprise you to know that you can also apply primer over foundation, and not just under it. Gallimore recommends layering an illuminating primer over parts of your make-up to function as a delicate highlight. If you have some excess primer after applying your foundation, consider patting some over the high points of your face: the cheekbones, brow bone, nose-bridge and cupid’s bow. “Finally,” Gallimore says, “pat the palm of your hands on the sides of your face, jawline and down into neck to continue the subtle, radiant gleam for a more realistic all-over finish.”
How do I apply my foundation?
Just like the Renaissance painters, whose individual brushstrokes were virtually undetectable in their art, the ultimate goal of applying foundation is to make it look seamless; that is, to appear as if you didn’t apply any at all.
To make foundation blend into your skin is a difficult task, but it is not insurmountable. For Gallimore, applying concealer before your foundation can even out blemishes, and brighten the under-eye area. Completing your eye make-up before foundation, he informs, will also save you the potential hassle of removing fall-out—flecks of eyeshadow pigment that might fall onto your skin. “I love skin to look as real as possible,” Gallimore says, “so a minimal amount of complexion products if you can get away with it.” If there’s one thing you should remember, it’s to not be afraid of letting your skin breathe. Freckles, pimples and other so-called ‘imperfections’ are, contrary to what society may have you believe, not aspects of your complexion that you are required to cover up.
The tools that you use will also have an impact on how your foundation applies. For those desiring a dewier finish, patting on foundation with a damp sponge or even with your fingers will work wonders in creating a natural, second-skin finish. If you prefer a medium to full coverage, buff out your foundation with a soft-bristled stippling brush or kabuki brush, both of which will do the job quickly and flawlessly.
Try not to apply your foundation all at once to avoid heaviness: buildable is best, and starting with a thin base will give you the room to achieve the exact amount of coverage you want. Start by dabbing your foundation in the centre of your face: under the eyes, the sides of the nose, and the forehead. Blend out towards the hairline and try not to add extra foundation immediately. Take your time in fully blending the product that’s already on your skin before you reach for more.
What’s the best way to apply foundation when my skin is tired?
Sometimes, no matter how rigorous your routine or how powerful your products are, you’ll be faced with a bad day, and forced to deal with skin that’s tired, dull and in general protestation: from a restless night, an overload of work, or just good old-fashioned stress.
In these moments, just fake it ‘til you make it. Skinner advises adding a drop of facial oil to your foundation, which will add luminosity and make it easier to blend. “This lightweight dry oil addition… creates a fresh, skin-like finish, which looks soft but matte at the same time. It’s a fashion-week trick that awakens even the most tired-looking skin.” If you’re more prone to oiliness, you can still make full use of this little tip; instead of applying your oil and foundation mixture to areas like the T-zone, which produce oil all on their own, concentrate on your cheekbones and under-eyes to mimic that ‘lit from within’ glow.