How is that foundation can be such a blessing and also such a curse? When applied correctly, it's the cornerstone of a flawless makeup look—the goal is, of course, to look like you're flaunting your very own genetically blessed skin.
And yet that often feels evasive. You can feel like you're doing everything right, spending minutes buffing your favorite formula to perfection, only to have a friend point out a cakey patch somewhere along your jawline. Or feel like you're wearing a mask of cement by 4 p.m. Or—worst of all—notice in a photo that your face is an entirely different shade from the rest of your body. What gives?
But here's the good news: Applying foundation like a makeup artist doesn't require years of schooling and professional experience, but instead merely adopting a few tiny tweaks to your application method. And the most strategic approach is to know exactly which pitfalls to avoid—and fortunately, our go-to experts are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
From color-matching to blending, see which common foundation mistakes makeup artists would like you to stop making.
Mistake numéro uno is viewing your foundation as the means to a flawless complexion—in reality, the emphasis should be on your skin first, as a perfectly primed canvas makes for a much smoother (and more natural-looking) finish.
This, of course, means abiding by a solid skincare routine in general, but also cleansing and thoroughly moisturizing your face just before putting on your foundation. FWIW, makeup artists all but unanimously recommend Embryolisse's cult-classic Lait-Crème Concentré for the most gorgeously dewy finish. "There's something extremely special about the Embryolisse finish, Carissa Ferreri tells us. "It moisturizes the face while emphasizing a beautiful glow, but it never looks greasy." Pros often even mix it with a couple drops of foundation to create a tinted moisturizer—more on that in a minute.
Even if you're not caking it on, chances are you're still going overboard. When Laura Mercier makeup artist Jerry Johnson visit the Byrdie offices recently to give each editor a crash course in foundation application, we were floored by how little he used on each of us—we're talking one or two drops for our entire face. (Seriously!)
By taking the time to work it into our skin with a sponge, he still ensured even and thorough coverage, no extra product needed—and in the end, it looked like our skin, but better. (Isn't that the point?)
If you're just picking a shade and dutifully swiping on a layer of coverage, you're seriously limiting yourself from your skin's full potential. It's remarkable to see makeup artists backstage at fashion week, because they're really, well, artful in the way they formulate the perfect base. Oftentimes it's a mixture of different hues and formulas to achieve the perfect tone, texture, and finish.
To find your go-to combo, practice makes perfect—but it doesn't even have to be that complicated. One of our all-time favorite game-changing foundation hacks is to mix a couple drops of product with serum, face oil, or moisturizer (like, ahem, the aforementioned Lait-Crème Concentré)—not only does this give you a dewier, more believable finish, but you also avoid any dryness or cakiness as the day goes on.
In all fairness, this is notoriously tricky. After all, there are only a finite number of shades on the market, and if you're committed to a certain product, it can feel tempting to choose a hue that seems similar enough. Just remember that again, there's no rule against mixing and matching—in fact, many pros encourage it.
But first things first—how do you even know for sure if it's the right shade? There are a few different strategies that the pros recommend. When it comes to spot correcting and concealing, Johnson suggests taking a very small smudge of the product and tapping it onto your cheek—if it disappears, then that's your shade. And please refrain from matching your foundation to your neck, says Jamie Greenberg, since it's likely a shade or two lighter than your face. "Your neck may be lighter and your chest darker, so I say match your skin to your chest and then bring the foundation down [your neck] so you're all one color," he says.
Another tip we picked up from Johnson: Even if you're convinced you've thoroughly blended your foundation, keep blending (and blending, and blending some more). If you're using a sponge, you want to use one side of it to dot the product as needed throughout your face. Then flip the sponge over, fold it like a taco, and use the same motion to blend it all in. Repeat for the entire surface area of your face—every last crevice—taking extra care for those oft-neglected spots, like your hairline, jawline, and neck. Inspect your work in a different light to ensure that you got it all.
Most pros we observe use a sponge for the most natural-looking finish, but if you prefer a brush, that's fine too: Just "warm it up" first by twisting and swirling it in the palm of your hand, says Urban Decay makeup artist Mickey Fitzpatrick. This allows the foundation to glide smoothly onto the skin for a truly airbrushed finish.
We've all seen those celebrity powder disaster photos. Even if it looks undetectable to the naked eye, mineral powder reflects light—which can translate to a flour-like finish if you're posing for photos.
Still, wicking excess shine and setting your makeup is important, so there's no need to skip it entirely. We observed in awe as Johnson placed the tiniest sprinkle of powder on the back of his hand, picked it up with a kabuki brush, and then tapped the excess out of the brush before finally sweeping it gently across our face. The result: a natural look that stayed put without compromising any dewiness—not to mention it was paparazzi-friendly, too.
Now that you know which mistakes to avoid, see which foundations makeup artists love most.