Skip to main content

How to Apply Foundation: The 7 Mistakes You’re Probably Making

How to master the most difficult part of your makeup application.

Perfecting your skin is, without a doubt, the hardest part of the makeup application process. 

It doesn't take any special skill to swipe on a lip gloss or brush some mascara through your lashes. But getting your foundation to look both natural and flawless? That's a bit of an art form.

Here are seven foundation mistakes you might be making:

Foundation Mistake #1: Using a Powder Formula

Powder foundation formulas can look dry and cakey.

I know, I know. I used to be a massive bareMinerals Foundation fan, too.

The problem is that powder foundations don't give you the best finish. They're drying, tend to look cakey and can even accentuate wrinkles because they settle into the creases on your face. Some of the ones with shimmer in them can even make your pores look larger. Horrifying!

It's more natural and youthful if your skin appears hydrated, and even a little bit dewy. And the best way to get said look is with a liquid or cream foundation. Here are a few of my favourites.

bareMinerals Foundation

bareMinerals bareSkin Pure Brightening Serum Foundation.

Rather than their mineral powders, I absolutely love bareMinerals bareSkin Pure Brightening Serum Foundation. This is a thin fluid foundation that you need to shake before applying. It gives buildable coverage and is silicone-free, oil-free, fragrance-free and non-comedogenic. 

Sappho Foundation

Sappho Essentials Liquid Foundation.

Another liquid foundation in my regular rotation is Sappho Essentials Liquid Foundation. It's made with all-natural ingredients, no silicones and gives gorgeous light coverage. See my review here.

Related:The Best Natural, Organic Liquid Foundation

RMS Beauty Foundation

RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up.

Speaking of natural formulas, I also adore RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up, which is best-known as a creamy concealer, but can actually be sheered out as a light-coverage foundation as well. It has the cleanest ingredients list of any product I've seen, and is super-hydrating. Just make sure to set it with powder—see my application tips here!

Related:How To Use RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up

Make Up For Ever Foundation

Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation.

If you are looking for higher coverage (and not specifically avoiding silicones), I recommend Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation. It gives a flawless, high-definition finish and has an impressive shade range.

Giorgio Armani Foundation

Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation.

Of course, the foundation every makeup artist loves is Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation. When I was a magazine beauty editor, it would always mysteriously disappear when we brought a bottle on set. Obviously, it photographs beautifully and the texture is to die for.

Foundation Mistake #2: Not Matching Your Skin Tone

The right foundation should be a seamless match to your skin tone (unlike Emily Blunt's).

I don't need to tell you how important it is that your foundation matches your skin tone! 

When you're testing products, check the colour in three places:

  • Underneath the eyes
  • On and around the nose
  • At the cheek/jawline

Do this all on one side of your face, so you can compare it with the no-makeup side. The perfect shade will pretty much disappear right into your skin.

These days, there are so many brands with extensive shade ranges that you should be able to find your ideal match. If not, go ever-so-slightly darker, not lighter. Erring on the side of a darker shade will help cover flaws, and will warm up your skin tone. 

But what if your face is a different colour than your neck and chest? 

If your face is lighter than your body, you can either choose a slightly darker foundation shade, or use a bronzer to warm it up. For the most natural look, avoid shimmer and use a matte formula, such as Too Faced Soleil Matte Bronzer.

Too Faced Soleil Matte Bronzer.

Related:What To Do When Your Face is Lighter Than Your Body

If your face is darker than your body, you can also use bronzer—but on your neck and chest. For a more semi-permanent solution, consider self-tanners or tinted lotions to darken your body only. I like The Body Shop Honey Bronze Tinted Leg Mist (yes, it's technically for legs but you can ignore that).

The Body Shop Honey Bronze Tinted Leg Mist.

Related:What To Do When Your Face is Darker Than Your Body

Foundation Mistake #3: Not Using Primer

Primer underneath your foundation can help control excess oil.

Primers go on underneath foundation, and help your makeup glide on smoother and stay put longer. That means your foundation is less likely to slip and slide around your face, and there's less chance of creasing.

But that's not all—there are now primers that can help mattify shine, soften the appearance of wrinkles, hydrate the skin or boost radiance.

Becca Primer

Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector.

If you're looking for oil control, Becca Ever-Matte Poreless Priming Perfector is the most mattifying primer I've ever tried, EVER. It also happens to be silicone-free! See my review here

Related:This is the Best Silicone-Free Primer for Oily Skin

Make Up For Ever Primers

Make Up For Ever Step 1 Skin Equalizer Mattifying Primer.

I also love the Make Up For Ever Mattifying Primer for oily skin. Again, it's silicone-free; instead, it uses silica to absorb oil and reduce shine. See my review here.

Make Up For Ever Step 1 Skin Equalizer Redness Correcting Primer.

In fact, Make Up For Ever's entire range of Step 1 Skin Equalizers are fantastic primers that address every possible skin concern. There are 10 to choose from. Besides the Mattifying one, I like the Hydrating primer because it boosts the skin's moisture balance, and the Redness Correcting primer because it has a green tint that neutralizes ruddiness.

Related: Make Up For Ever's 10 New Primers Solve Every Possible Texture and Tone Concern

Hourglass Primer

Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer.

Another primer I have known and loved (before quitting silicones) is Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer. It feels slippery when you put it on, but don't fret—it makes foundation go over top like a dream, and helps it last for hours. I love that it has built-in SPF, and is oil-free.

Chanel Primer

Chanel Le Blanc de Chanel Multi-Use Illuminating Base.

Finally, Chanel Le Blanc de Chanel Multi-Use Illuminating Base is one of the most unique (and beautiful) primers on the market. It brightens and evens out your skin tone while helping to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and reduce shine. AND it happens to be their national makeup artist's all-time favourite Chanel product (and she knows them all!). 

PS: I know everyone raves about this primer, but I just don't get the hype. It never did anything for me... but your mileage may vary.

Foundation Mistake #4: Using Your Fingers To Apply It

Brushes help blend foundation seamlessly into the skin.

Unless you're a real pro, it's best to apply your foundation with a brush, not your fingers. That's because a brush will help you blend and buff it into the skin—meaning you'll get a much smoother, more natural application. 

Damp sponges work well (I've been trialling this one lately and it's very nice), but be aware that they can waste product. Personally, I prefer to use sponges AFTER I've applied my foundation, to further push it into the skin and even take away excess product.

Scroll to Continue

From The Skincare Edit Archives

When looking for a foundation brush, make sure it's synthetic, not animal hair. (You should never use animal hair with liquids.) Here are my top brush recommendations:

Artis Foundation Brush

Artis Fluenta Oval 6 Brush.

Artis is the Rolls Royce of makeup brushes. Theirs have soft, densely-packed bristles and are designed to seamlessly buff and blend. The Fluenta Oval 6 Brush is ideal for foundation application.

Sappho Foundation Brush

Sappho Oval Buffing Foundation Brush.

A less expensive option is this Sappho Oval Buffing Foundation Brush. I have it, and it works well for me!

RMS Beauty Foundation Brush

RMS Beauty Skin2Skin Foundation Brush.

To apply my RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up, I'm devoted to the brand's Skin2Skin Foundation Brush. The bristles are packed in a swirl pattern that blends makeup without streaking. 

Bobbi Brown Foundation Brush 

Bobbi Brown Foundation Brush.

In flat foundation brushes, I love the Bobbi Brown Foundation Brush the most. Mine is like a decade old and still going strong! It will never fail you.

Sonia Kashuk Foundation Brush

Sonia Kashuk Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush.

If you have trouble blending foundation in harder-to-reach areas, such as around your nose, a pointed foundation brush is helpful. The Sonia Kashuk Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush is really great, and also very affordable.

Make it a priority to to keep your brushes clean. Wash them regularly with either a makeup brush cleaner or a gentle baby shampoo. The Sigma Beauty Express Brush Cleaning Mat is a worthwhile investment as it helps you get all the product off, much more effectively than with your fingers.

Sigma Beauty Express Brush Cleaning Mat.

Foundation Mistake #5: Applying It All Over Your Face

Apply foundation only where you need coverage—not all over your face.

The purpose of foundation is not, in fact, to cover up every square inch of your face like a mask.

It's really only meant to be used where you actually NEED it. And even then, it's purpose is more to lightly even out your skin tone, instead of wiping out every flaw (that's why we have concealer!).

I recommend starting your foundation application in the centre of your face, and working your way out. That way, you'll get higher coverage in the middle (where most of us get redness and uneven tone) and sheer coverage as you move closer to the hairline.

By the way, you probably need less coverage than you think. It's always best to go as sheer as possible with your base, and then spot-conceal any blemishes, discolourations, etc. with a tiny brush and an opaque concealer. That way, your skin will look more fresh and natural than if you were to use a full-coverage formula all over.

Foundation Mistake #6: Applying Concealer Underneath It 

Concealer should always go on top of foundation.

What's the point of applying concealer if you're just going to blend it all away by putting foundation on top? 

Foundation should always go on first, then concealer. (And then powder, but we'll get to that in a second.)

Depending on what you're trying to conceal, you may want to use different formulas, and different brushes.

Clé de Peau Concealer

Clé de Peau Concealer.

For the eye area, I like to use a creamy concealer. The cult favourite in the category is, without a doubt, Clé de Peau Concealer. Just about every makeup artist swears by it because it's easy to blend, covers incredibly well, and looks and feels super-light on the skin. If you haven't tried it yet, definitely check it out!

NARS Concealer

NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer.

NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer is quickly becoming a classic. It gives medium-to-full coverage and has a wand that replaces the need for a brush.

RMS Beauty Concealer

RMS Beauty "Un" Cover-Up.

Yes, the RMS Beauty "Un" Cover Up that I keep mentioning is not only a great foundation, but a gorgeous concealer, too. I usually dab it on with my fingers, but a brush would work fine as well.

MAC Concealer Brush

MAC 195 Concealer Brush.

My favourite brush for applying concealer to the eye area is the MAC 195 Concealer Brush. The brush is flat and slightly pointed for easy blending.

Make Up For Ever Concealer

Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer.

For blemishes, a full-coverage concealer is a must. By far the best one I've found is Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer. It's completely opaque, comes in a wide range of shades, requires no setting and will stay put all day. 

Japonesque Lip Brush

Japonesque Retractable Lip Brush.

You read that right–a lip brush! The tiny tip makes it ideal for spot-concealing pimples, without disturbing the rest of the makeup. I like the Japonesque Retractable Lip Brush because it's excellent quality, very portable and the bristles never get stuck.

Foundation Mistake #7: Setting It With Tinted Powder and a Big, Fluffy Brush

Set your foundation with a translucent powder.

To set your foundation, I encourage you to invest in a translucent powder, ideally made of pure silica. (Also known as "HD powder.")

This type of powder is colourless, so it will work on every single skin tone in existence. It's also very buildable. So you can add more throughout the day and never have to worry about it looking cakey, as often happens with tinted, talc-based powders.

Best of all, a translucent silica-based powder locks your makeup in place for hour and minimizes shine—without looking or feeling like you've got anything on your skin.

Make Up For Ever Powder

Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Powder.

The most famous HD powder is, of course, Make Up For Ever HD Microfinish Powder. I use it all the time, and it's still one of the best! 

RMS Beauty Powder

RMS Beauty "Un" Powder.

Another option, also made from 100 percent silica is RMS Beauty "Un" Powder. I think it's even more finely milled than the Make Up For Ever, and you're meant to apply it with the accompanying powder puff. 

It Cosmetics Powder

It Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Silk HD Anti-Aging Micro-Powder.

One more to try is the It Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores Silk HD Anti-Aging Micro-Powder. It's got anti-aging ingredients in addition to the silica, and helps blur pores and wrinkles.

Just make sure you use these powders sparingly, or this could happen:

HD setting powders can show up in flash photography, so apply them sparingly.

This incident came about because HD powders can show up white under flash photography, if they're applied too generously.

To avoid this, you only want to apply your powder in the areas where you tend to get shiny, like your T-zone (forehead, nose and chin). Don't use a big, fluffy brush, because it will deposit way too much product. Instead, go for powder puff or a domed, fluffy eyeshadow brush. I like the Clinique Eyeshadow Brush best.

Clinique Eyeshadow Brush.

And remember, if your face gets oily during the day, you don't necessarily need to add more powder. Blotting papers are handy and will remove shine without disturbing your makeup. Just make sure to get the kind that aren't coated with powder, such as Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens.

Boscia Green Tea Blotting Linens.

If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission. See our Disclosure for more information.