Foundation application is not an art form, but it could be. You've got your canvas—which is you, hey!—your brush or brushlike tool, and your goopy tinted medium. And like painting, it involves a certain amount of dexterity. Other coverage products let you fake it until you make it, but foundation is less forgiving. Unless your desired makeup look is "moon emoji," technique is essential.
Which is why the key is less in the product itself (although that's important, and we'll get to it) and more in the application. Start with a good skincare basis, but arm yourself with the right equipment, which ends up depending on your foundation of choice. The difference between Picasso face and Vermeer face is all in the stroke. 10/10 art historians agree.
Low Coverage: Angled Foundation Brush
Foundation of choice: Sonia Kashuk Soft Focus Satin Matte Foundation
When it comes to makeup application, trust the brand that sponsored RuPaul's Drag Race seasons 2 and 4: Nyx, and the very handy and very dandy Total Control Drop Foundation Brush. The angle allows for short, tough bristles—great for buffing product into the skin—and a longer edge to smooth into face crevices. A fine foundation brush applies product, but a great foundation brush seamlessly blends product into skin—important when you're trying to get the most out of a low coverage foundation like Sonia Kashuk's Soft Focus.
Medium Coverage: Stippling Brush
Foundation of choice: Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation
The most perplexing brush of all is one of the most effective: the Japonesque Stippling Brush. It's thick and dense at the base, but the bristles feather out towards the end, so the finish sits halfway between what you'll get with a classic buffing foundation brush and a sponge. And it doesn't soak up too much product—when dabbed with Kjaer Weis' Cream Foundation (straight from that space-age little compact) the coverage payoff is noticeable. Your skin, but airbrushed.
Pressed Powder: ...Powder Brush
Foundation of choice: Lancôme Dual-Finish Powder and Foundation
Fine, this one is obvious. But not all foundations are created liquid, and flat, blunt brushes won't cut it. Opt for the fluffiest, bounciest, biggest ball of fur on a stick you can find at Sephora—Laura Mercier's Powder Brush is the current gold standard—and go to town. And when you do, pair it with a powder foundation that covers and finishes in one fell swoop like Lancôme. (You can even apply it wet with your finger as a pinch spot concealer.)
High Coverage: Makeup Sponge
Foundation of choice: Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay In Place Makeup
When it comes to high-definition coverage, Estée is not here for your BB creams or tinted moisturizers. This is Olympic-level coverage—it does not play (or move) around. That's great and wonderful until the finished application leaves your face one shade of 4W1 Honey Bronze, which is where Sephora's Perfectionist Airbrush comes in handy by absorbing a little bit of the product as you buff. It's the foundation equivalent of Coco Chanel's rule about taking off one thing before you leave the house, although instead of a necklace, it's a shade of opacity. You're done, not Done. It looks great on you.
Photographed by Tom Newton.
ITG's commenters weigh in on the best foundations for every skin type over here.