Ask a Beauty Editor: What Is the Best Way to Apply Foundation for a Flawless Finish?

From brushes and sponges to your trusty fingers, these are the pros and cons of each application method.

Ever wanted to pick the brain of a beauty editor? Or get beauty product recommendations from someone who has tried them all? You've come to the right place. Beauty editor Hana Hong answers your biggest skincare, hair care, and makeup questions.

Reader question: Give me the easiest, lightest, and fastest foundation application possible! - @speety00

Foundation is the biggest make-or-break item in your makeup routine. It can go one of two ways: beautiful, glowing second skin or a cakey, chalky catastrophe—that looks like, well, foundation.

And you don't want your foundation to actually look like foundation. But applying the perfect makeup base takes finesse. Finding the right formula is only half the challenge—the tools you use make a big difference in your final outcome, as do the motions you go through when applying it.

"While personal preference certainly plays a role in what tool you reach for, you do need a strategy," says celebrity makeup artist Cara Lovello. Timing-wise, your fingers would be the quickest method to apply foundation. However, it's also the most finicky, and since there are pros and cons with each application technique, I'll go over when and how to use each application tool based on your makeup goals. No matter what method you choose, always make sure to start with a clean face and a thin layer of moisturizer to prime and even out the texture of your skin. You'll also want to wait at least 15 minutes for everything to sink in before proceeding to your makeup.

How to Apply With Your Fingers

If we're being honest, our fingers are probably the most used beauty tool in our arsenal. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. According to Lovello, applying your foundation with your fingers is the best way to achieve a natural, "no makeup" makeup finish. You'll find that the product will absorb super fast, and you'll get a more controlled application. It's also the quickest way to get makeup on your face, but since your hands are unable to buff or distribute foundation as well as a sponge or brush, you have to take extra care in blending.

Start with completely clean hands. The last thing you want is a breakout courtesy of dirty fingers. Apply your liquid foundation directly to your hand—this will help warm up the product. With your ring finger (which naturally uses the least amount of pressure), spread the product gently around your skin, starting in your T-zone and blending outwards. Keep in mind that foundation shouldn't be applied like moisturizer—always tap and never rub to avoid uneven distribution.

How to Apply With a Brush

Makeup brushes allow for a concentrated application, so they're great if you're going for a full coverage finish. The downside is that the bristles like to leave little streaks and lines on your face. To avoid this as much as possible, choose a thin-bristled, synthetic brush. Thick bristles tend to streak, and natural bristles can be a bit porous, meaning they can absorb more of the product. "I never use flat foundation brushes, only stippling or blending brushes," says Lovello. "Unlike traditional foundation brushes that have a single layer of bristles, stippling brushes have two. The top bristles help pick up the foundation, while the bottom, denser bristles tap the product onto your skin."

When you stipple your makeup, you're essentially applying the foundation in tiny dots that are so close together they blend for a flawless finish. Apply several dots of foundation onto your face with your fingers, then grab the stippling brush and dab the brush along your skin to blend everything in. You can build up your foundation until you get an even layer of coverage across your entire face, and add more depending on the coverage you desire.

How to Apply With a Sponge

If you want the most professional, Photoshop-level finish, Lovello says that Beautyblenders (or any egg-shaped makeup sponge) are the way to go. "A Beautyblender will give you an airbrushed look, and you can use the same sponge to blend all your cream products. You can also use your sponge to apply loose setting powder and bake if you desire," she says.

First (and this is very important), soak your sponge and squeeze out any excess water until no water drips—this will cause it to double in size. "Most people aren't getting their Beautyblender wet enough, and it's going to soak up too much of your foundation," says Lovello.

Then, dip it into the liquid foundation you put on the back of your hand and use a dabbing motion—never smudge or swipe—to "bounce" the side of the sponge all over your face. Use the pointed tip of the sponge to blend out the foundation around your nose and eyes. Keep in mind that most people have a different skin tone on their face than their neck, so don't forget to bring the foundation all the way down to avoid the dreaded demarcation line.

The Takeaway

Beauty editors and experts all have strong opinions about how to apply foundation (I'm team fingers), but there's a case to be made for each application method. Fingers are best for a quick and natural application; sponges are good for achieving a flawless finish; and brushes are ideal for full coverage. And sometimes, a little mixing and matching can go a long way. It's worth exploring different tool combos with different foundation formulas to determine what works best for you.

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