How Do You Foundation?


It seems easy. You take some skin-colored goop and paint it all over your face. But anyone who has ever applied foundation once will tell you it’s no walk in the park. Even if by some miracle you shade-matched perfectly on the first try, there are other conundrums to sort through—uneven texture, amount of product, tools, the list goes on. How does anyone navigate this? How do people foundation? We asked 10 beauty insiders for their absolute best tips. You’ll probably need less coverage, and your makeup will last longer without flaking. Here’s to looking good, from all angles.

The Gentle Exfoliation

“Smooth foundation starts with smooth skin. I always start by doing a light exfoliation. Lately I’ve been using Pixi Glow Peel Pads—the glycolic acid helps slough off any dead skin cells on the surface. For dryness around the nose and picked-at blemishes, I take a small amount of Homeoplasmine on a cotton swab and gently massage into the scab or flaky skin. In most instances, this is enough to completely remove it and smooth it out. It’s important not to overload the skin before makeup. The more products you’re mixing and matching, the higher the chance certain ingredients won’t get along with each other. This is what causes that weird rolling of product you often see. Focus on skincare that absorbs, and doesn’t sit on top of the skin—I almost always use Eminence Facial Recovery Oil.” —Dana Delaney, makeup artist

The Beyoncé Method

“I've tried all sorts of foundations and all sorts of methods of application. I remember my first MAC 190 brush I saved up for in high school, to the Beauty Blenders I used when I moved to New York. At some hazy point years ago, I said goodbye to all that and went for the brushes I was born with—my hands. I use Charlotte Tilbury's Hollywood Flawless filter as my primer, which creates a glowy base to work with and less foundation overall. Once it's time for foundation, I put the tiniest amount on my cheeks (where I have hyperpigmentation and acne typically) and a bit on my nose and chin. I then go back in with a light pat of foundation all over so it doesn't look like I've just covered my spots, grabbing a bit extra to put onto my jawline and onto my neck. I haven't figured out the right setting situation, but I'm eager to try ONE/SIZE's spray after my friend wore it to the Renaissance tour—we've also learned this is a favorite of Queen Bey's, too!” —Roya Shariat, Social Impact at Glossier

The Winter Skin Fix

“Super hydrating moisturizer is the best base for any foundation, as healthy, moisturized skin always gives that extra beautiful luster—it’s a glow that lasts all day. You’ll end up using less actual makeup when your skin looks this good. Models come in super dehydrated in the winter, so I have a few creams in rotation. One that works on everyone is Avène Crème For Intolerant Skin. It’s super hydrating and soothing, and it has very few ingredients, so it works on even the most sensitive skin. For those who love a traditional primer, you can’t get any better than Laura Mercier’s classic Foundation Primer. It’s the smoothest, most lightweight primer that never pills and doesn’t set the foundation too fast.” —Ingeborg, makeup artist

The Less Is More

“My complexion philosophy is always less is more. Typically, I’m a concealer all over the face kind of girl, but, I started using the Glossier Stretch Fluid foundation and suddenly I’m a convert. I still use as little as possible—a half pump to a pump gets the job done for me. I always start my pumping on the back of my hand and then using my fingers, I pick up the product and add a few dots around my face. I’ve recently become a brush girl so I don’t get makeup all over my clothes and white walls from finger painting my face. My go-to complexion brush is Merit’s Brush No.1—it’s the perfect compact size for more control and the bristles are very dense, which I find is the best for me when applying foundation. Once the foundation is dotted all over my face, I use the brush to tap it in. Tapping for me leaves the most natural, skin-like finish; I never rub it in. After I apply I usually spray my face with rose water to ensure my skin is as hydrated as possible!” —Ivy Kenton, Influencer Marketing at Glossier

The Hot Tip

“I start by cleansing the skin with Aveda Botanical Kinetics Radiant Skin Refiner to smooth everything out. I then apply Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate from Kiehl’s, which plumps the skin and helps it retain moisture. I finish with Dr. Hauschka Rose Day Cream, a rich cream with minimal ingredients. Using my fingertips, I work in Laura Mercier Radiance Primer. The warmth from your fingers works well to evenly apply the product and helps melt the product to your skin. You don’t want it to feel like it's hovering above the surface. I also do this with makeup—I warm the product on the back of my hands before applying.” —Mimi Quiquine, makeup artist

The One-Two Punch

“The key to flawless smooth foundation is what you prep with underneath. I am a big fan of adding moisture and tackling excess shine before applying the base. I use a hydrating primer like Hourglass' hydrating serum all over, and then a mattifying serum like MAC Refined Zone down the T-zone. This ensures that no areas grab and look too heavy or dry—it will also give up to 24-hour wear.” —Lynsey Alexander, makeup artist

The Sensitive Solution

“The most important step in my makeup routine is actually skincare. I tend to have dry, sensitive skin so I have to make sure that the products I'm using will not only last for 12 hours a day, but also not strip my skin of its natural moisture. I'll apply a small amount of hyaluronic acid—I use Vichy Aqualia Thermal Face Serum—because it helps my skin absorb the cream better. I'll finish my skincare prep with a light but powerful moisturizer like Youth To The People Adaptogen Deep Moisture Cream. I love this moisturizer because it doesn't pill up under my foundation, and contains pentapeptides that calm the skin and reduce irritation. Next I'll warm up a dime-size amount of liquid foundation along with a small dot of moisturizer in my palms—the moisturizer helps thin the foundation out so it’s not as heavy. The heat of my hands help to ensure an even blend and smoother finish.”—Jenn Collins, makeup artist

The Speedy

“The days where I had infinite time to do my makeup are long gone, so nowadays I focus on speed and simplicity. If I know I’m going to wear foundation that day, I start by doing my skincare first so that my sunscreen has ample time to dry while I’m doing everything else I need to do in the morning. If I don’t do this, then my foundation will interact with the SPF and turn orange. When I’m ready to apply the foundation, I try an exercise where I attempt to use the tiniest amount of foundation possible—usually half a pump or less. The finish is so much more natural-looking and flattering. I squirt that directly on my brush and dot the middle of my face. I never foundation my forehead or perimeter of my face—those areas are purely for bronzer.” —Ashley Weatherford, Into The Gloss

The Lock

“What I would do is exfoliate and make sure that the skin has had adequate moisturizing. I'll sometimes even use a jade or rose quartz roller to stimulate collagen or do a light facial massage while applying moisturizer. When using makeup you want to stay away from things that are too active—wrinkle creams and things that are great for nighttime. In the daytime, a mattifying moisturizer is almost like a primer. Stippling with a wet Beautyblender is the best way to layer on foundation. I like the Alleven Hyaluronic Airbrush Foundation or L'Oréal Freshwater Foundation, which are lightweight. If you apply your foundation while your skin is slightly damp from your moisturizer, it will blend together in a really organic way. As your moisturizer dries, your foundation locks in.” —Sir John, makeup artist

The Full Shebang

“I love to do a multi-step regimen to prep the skin for a smooth, long-lasting makeup application. I apply Nars Hydrating Toner on clean skin to gently exfoliate dead skin cells. Then, I restore moisture and radiance with Caudalie Beauty Elixir spray and Sisley Ecological Compound massaged into the skin. I use a facial tissue sheet to blot off excess skincare that hasn’t absorbed. To smooth out any texture or larger pores, I tap a small amount of MAC Skin Refined Zone Treatment with fingers. I prime the skin with Le Maquillage Pro Makeup Mixer which helps makes any foundation malleable and looking just like skin.” —Alana Wright, makeup artist

Photo via ITG. Article updated August 22, 2023.