What Is HD Makeup? A Cosmetic Chemist and Esthetician Fill Us In

Putting on foundation
Photo: Shuji Kobayashi/Taxi (Getty Images)

Ever since the trend of high-definition (HD) makeup began, we've been endlessly intrigued. Both light and smooth in application, these products are full coverage and bounce light, resulting in an Instagram filter-like effect that looks even (and not overdone) on camera. Hey, if we can look as in-focus and defined as the actors on our television screens, we're on board—as long as our breakouts aren't featured. But what makes HD makeup different from the average bottle of foundation, powder, or blush, and how is it best used? To get the lowdown on this seemingly magical bottled potion, we turned to some experts who gave us everything we need to know to get camera-ready faces.

Ready for your closeup? Read on to learn how and why you might want to try HD makeup and which HD foundations should be your go-to picks.

Meet the Expert

  • Nicole Caroline is a master esthetician with over 20 years of experience and founder of her eponymous brand.

  • Don Frey is the Chief Innovation Officer at The Honest Company and a former cosmetic chemist.

  • Sarah Barr Battle is the Vice President and Head of Marketing for Kérastase and Shu Uemura at L'Oréal.

So, What Exactly Is HD Makeup?

“HD makeup is makeup that essentially mimics natural skin while concealing some imperfections, dark circles, and uneven tone, but the goal is that it shouldn't look like makeup, meaning you shouldn't be able to detect it,” explains Caroline. “And, it shouldn't cake or settle into lines and pores, which wearing regular makeup on an HD camera can do.”

Caroline says HD makeup was essentially developed in response to the advent of HD TV screens, which suddenly had the capacity to show the details—and flaws—of on-screen skin like never before. “Seeing yourself in higher resolution quickly led to the need for some amazing makeup that could hide the ‘makeup look’ along with those no-longer-disguisable-by-pixels pores, fine lines, and skin imperfections that were magnified in HD,” explains Caroline.

How Does HD Makeup Work?

“It works by giving the skin a beautiful reflective sheen (thanks to the micro-particles of quartz, mica, or crystal and a silicone base) that reflects light the way your actual skin does,” explains Caroline. “It coats the skin in a fine veil of medium to light coverage that has pliability and moves with the skin, rather than just sitting on top of it and creasing, while looking heavy.” She says that this helps you see the skin rather than the makeup.

Frey says that in the past several years, advancements have been made in coating pigments that enable them to provide different visual effects, and HD foundations and powders use these qualities. “The pigments are coated with light-diffusing coatings, which help blur the light when it reflects,” notes Frey. “By softening the way the light bounces back, it helps soften the focus at an imperceptible level so that your eye (and the camera) get to see some of what is underneath, but mixed in with the pigment to present a more even yet translucent look.”

What Are the Benefits of HD Makeup?

Caroline says that perhaps the most significant benefit of HD makeup is that it does what it intends to do. “It looks almost completely natural while evening out your skin tone. It enhances a natural radiance and won't be detectable on camera or in photos.” She also notes that most formulas are waterproof and stable. “Some formulations can last roughly 12-24 hours without the need for many touch-ups, thanks to the fact that the oil in the skin won't break down the base as quickly, so you won't need as much powder or get as ‘shiny’ as quickly."

Maximizing the benefits of HD makeup is contingent upon getting a really good color match for your skin tone. “You want to stick to your closest color match as possible when working with HD makeup—the reason being is that the one thing to remember about this particular formulation is that it isn't designed to look like makeup,” says Caroline. “It can work wonders on darker skin tones when looking to enhance the skin’s natural pigment, and even out the tone.” Fortunately, the makeup industry is finally paying more attention to the vast palette of natural skin tones and producing products that mirror that beautiful range. “Shade ranges in regular foundation, as well as for HD makeup, have [improved] because formulators finally realized not everyone falls into the standard ‘fair, medium, dark’ range,’ (thank goodness!).” 

What Are the Drawbacks of HD Makeup?

Caroline says that while HD makeup has its benefits and can be a great fit for some people, it doesn’t work well for every skin type. She also says it doesn’t conceal bigger “flaws” well. “Due to the fact that it is meant to provide lightweight coverage (regardless if it is buildable), it is very hard or nearly impossible to conceal texture, acne, or dark hyperpigmentation marks,” she says. “It can make the skin appear more textured if applied with a heavy hand.” Caroline also notes that some HD makeup formulas are occlusive and can cause skin breakouts if left on too long. She advises double cleansing your face at night after using it.

HD makeup has to be applied correctly to enjoy its picture-perfect benefits. "You will notice that the conversation around how to apply [HD makeup] focuses on a brush or makeup sponge to get the proper effect. If you pile on HD makeup and apply incorrectly, you are not going to have a transparent look," explains Frey. Noted, which is why we love (and recommend) the following pro tips for flawless makeup application.

HD Makeup Product Recommendations

When it comes to foundation, HD makeup is working double time, so your skin looks flawless IRL and on-screen. Caroline says the “Holy Grail” of HD foundations (and one of the first to the market) is Make Up For Ever’s HD foundation, which she likes applied with a clean, damp makeup sponge in two applications for a little more coverage. And remember the ever-important need for color matching? Caroline notes that this product is great for that. “It comes in a wide range of shades (50 to be exact!), making it suitable for matching the different undertones of darker skin,” she says.

Battle is also a big fan of this camera-ready formula. “Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation takes the original beloved HD formula to the next level to meet the demands of 4K technology that's on the rise. With 4K technology, digital devices display images with unbelievable detail, stunning clarity, and heightened color," says Battle. "The product is meant to mimic a 'second-skin effect' both on camera and in person, looking natural and nearly invisible both on advanced 4K cameras and to the naked eye."

So how does Make Up For Ever's beloved HD foundation achieve such a flawless look on and off camera? According to Battle, it's all in the formula: "The Ultra HD formula is a little lighter in texture, goes on smoother, and has a more skin-like finish. It's neither matte nor dewy, but it truly mimics the skin texture and, therefore, is invisible to the eyes. Ultra HD was formulated to give the ideal coverage, comfort, and finish while maintaining the natural look of the skin."

Make Up Forever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation $43.00

If you want to prioritize the health of your skin, Caroline recommends opting for a fragrance-free product. Her favorite? The TEMPTU Air Perfect Canvas Starter Kit. This airbrush kit enables you to have a more professional application from the comfort of your own home. The TEMPTU Air allows you to easily apply uniform, natural-looking coverage and you can choose from one of 24 shades for ideal color matching. Plus, Caroline says the makeup is very hydrating, waterproof, and safe for your skin.

TEMPTU Air Perfect Canvas Starter Kit
TEMPTU Air Perfect Canvas Starter Kit $215.00

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