8 Ways to Make Your Foundation Look Natural, Not Cakey

Tips for a foundation that looks like a second skin.
Using the foundation to achieve a flawless complexion is a lot easier said than done. For as many concerns as a foundation can fix—hiding unwanted blemishes and evening out skin tones—it can also be the source of a lot of frustration.

We’ve all experienced foundation that feels and looks thick, cakey and, well, fake. It can turn people off from using foundation at all. But there is hope! To ensure that those who want to wear foundation can do so and get natural-looking results, we enlisted some of our favorite makeup artists to give us their best tips on how to make foundation appear smooth, beautiful, and natural.

Start with a smooth surface by exfoliating first.
The start of a good makeup routine is a good skin-care routine. It’s obviously easier to improve the look of your skin with the foundation if your skin is healthy underneath. “The first step in getting a natural-looking foundation application is skin-care,” says makeup artist Suzy Gerstein. “I am big on using an exfoliant—whether chemical or physical—to slough off dead skin cells and get the surface of your skin looking bright and smooth.” Exfoliating to a get a smoother surface will also keep the product from catching in bumpy or flakey areas.

Moisturize before putting on your makeup.
This is another key skin-care step that helps foundation application; you want to find the moisturizer that’s right for your skin’s needs and will complement your base makeup best. “Taking care of your skin-care is the most important thing, but there may be different levels of richness that are better or worse for you,” explains makeup artist Andrew Sotomayor. “If your foundation tends to look dry, you may want to switch to a richer cream or face oil.”

You can also use a bit of moisturizer post-application to smooth out flakey spots.
Even if you do exfoliate and moisturize before applying foundation, you can still come across flakey dryness, especially around the nostrils. You can combat this with a bit of moisturizer overtop the foundation. Gerstein recommends using a cotton swab or a small buffing brush and dabbing a bit of the moisturizer onto the dry areas to smooth out the makeup.

Opt for liquid foundations, which generally create a more natural look.
One of the easiest ways to get a flawless and natural application of foundation is to choose a liquid formula instead of a cream or a powder,” says celebrity makeup artist Joey Camasta. Overall, liquid foundations are easier to apply, are better to build on, and they mimic the texture of actual skin, as Camasta puts it.

Apply your liquid foundation with a damp sponge.
Makeup artists agree that using a damp sponge is the best way to minimize cakiness. “Tapping a damp sponge, such as the Beautyblender, all over your face will even out the coverage and diffuse the product,” says Camasta.

Gerstein points out that the key to using a sponge is to make sure it’s damp, not soaking wet. To get a perfect consistency, she recommends using warm water and wringing it out in a paper towel. “Use that sponge to really work the product into your skin so it doesn’t just lay on the surface,” she says.

You’ll also want to run the sponge under your chin and around your neck to blend the shade so the coverage looks even more seamless.

Start by applying just a small, thin layer.
Instead of packing it all on at once, Gerstein tells clients to work in light, thin layers. “This allows you to stand back and assess whether you really need a full face of base or can just spot apply,” she says. “It also gives makeup time to settle and for you to see how your skin reacts to a particular formula.” Meaning, if your foundation starts to flake in certain areas, you can go back and buff on moisturizer. Or if the top of the nose is getting shiny, you can add a bit of setting powder.

“Even those with the most problematic skin won't be doing themselves any favors by spackling on the product,” explains makeup artist Ashleigh Ciucci. “Always start as light as possible and use your concealer with a small pencil brush (for blemishes) or a fluffy shadow brush (for larger discolored areas) to add coverage where you need it.”

For a natural glow, use face oil underneath your foundation.
Instead of applying highlighter over top of foundation, Ciucci recommends applying a skin oil or liquid highlighter on the cheekbones, in the center of the forehead and down the bridge of the nose before putting on foundation. “This will make your glow appear from the inside out,” she says.

Remember: Less is more
When it comes to getting a natural-looking foundation, pretty much every single pro shared the same key advice: Less is always more. After all, it’s easier to build onto coverage rather than take away from what you’ve already applied. Camasta recommends buying a foundation with a dropper instead of a pump to avoid the over-dispensing products, adding that it may help you conserve your foundation so it lasts longer.

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