I have a bad habit of forgetting to pack my makeup. I've gone on countless trips where I've forgotten at least one essential item—my go-to lip liner, eyeliner, eyelash curler, or bronzer—and for the duration haven't felt quite right. This past weekend, I took a quick trip to California for a friend's wedding and really outdid myself: I forgot to pack a single makeup brush. Nowadays I don't wear very much makeup, but considering I was gallivanting around wine country for a wedding, attending numerous wedding party events, and posing thousands of pictures, it felt like a huge mistake. Despite my initial panic, my lack of makeup brushes (without a Sephora in sight) turned out just fine. It forced me to get creative with my makeup application.
"I think of my hands as an additional tool for makeup application and frequently use them," admits celebrity makeup artist Katie Mellinger, who offers expert recommendations on a brush-free approach—intentional or otherwise. "Fingers and hands are great for cream and liquid products. The heat from your fingers can warm a product up, making it easier to blend seamlessly your the skin," she explains. "Cream blush, cream eyeshadow, highlighter, cream bronzer, etc., these are all great products to use your fingers for blending," she adds. But if you're in a pinch without cream iterations, below are her recommendations and techniques for applying trickier products with just your hands.
Concealer and Foundation
Applying concealer and foundation without a brush (or Beautyblender) felt difficult, a first. But Mellinger says when she's doing her own makeup, she almost always applies concealer on herself with her fingers. "I use my ring finger to pat it under my eye and blend out," she describes. "I find it easier and quicker to do it this way on myself. Foundation as well—it melts into the skin so well with hands and fingers and the coverage is denser."
This is something Mellinger doesn't recommend. "For powder bronzer, hands or fingers alone wouldn't result in an ideal application," she warns. If you're desperate (as I was), she recommends using a soft tissue and swiping it broadly onto the bronzer. "Wipe extra product from the tissue on your hand, making sure there is very little left on the tissue," she recommends. "Use the tissue in circular motions to apply in desired areas. If you get a hard edge, buff it with a clean, soft tissue."
When it came to eyeshadow, I've had some practice using my fingers applying RMS Beauty Eye Polish ($28). I tried this same approach with pressed powder eyeshadow, and though it took plenty of patience and one do-over, the end result was exactly what I wanted. "Powder products can be tricky to apply without brushes if you're looking to blend," warns Mellinger. "However, I do like the intensity of applying a powder eyeshadow with a finger."
Mellinger advises smudging the eyeshadow across the eyelid to give it a lived-in effect. "You can then use your fingertip to tap extra shadow in some of the areas you may need more pigment," she suggests. "The downside," she admits, "is the edges can be pretty hard—which can be cool—but if you have a q-tip or even some soft tissue in a pinch, you can blend out those hard edges."
As a final step, Mellinger states she wouldn't recommend using your hands to apply a setting powder. "You can use a cotton ball if you have one, but I don't think there is an ideal way to set or mattify your makeup without using a tool such as a brush, sponge, or powder puff," she says. "If you find yourself stranded without brushes or tools and you need to set your makeup, use a facial mist. The effect won't be matte, but it will help the makeup stay." If you're looking for a more matte look, Mellinger advises starting with a mattifying primer (which you can apply with your fingers). She recommends Bioderma's Sébium Mat Control ($20) and using blotting papers like Tatcha's Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers ($12) on your t-zone so you don't end up overly shiny.
Above All, Embrace It
"If you don't have any tools with you, avoid doing makeup that required precision, such as a cat eye (unless you're a wiz with liquid eyeliner) or a super defined lip," recommends Mellinger. "While applying products with your hands does result in deeper pigmentation from the products, any sharp lines are incredibly difficult to achieve." As a final thought, she encourages to "embrace that lived-in look."