Backstage at New York Fashion Week, we’ve seen the pros use their fingers, various sized brushes and even wet sponges to flawlessly airbrush models’ faces for the runway. But what technique should we be using at home to apply foundation? Are we skilled enough to do all three, or should we stick to one? We caught up with three makeup artists to find our their preferences and what they recommend for the average person.
“The technique you choose to apply your foundation is a personal preference,” says makeup artist Genevieve Herr, who works with Salma Hayek. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that your canvas should be well moisturized and primed.” Whether you use a brush, your fingers or a damp sponge, “the end results are very similar, so long as you blend the product well into the skin and do not use too much of it.”
On the contrary makeup artist and beauty expert Neil Scibelli recommends never using your fingers. “Your fingers can retain bacteria, dirt, and oils, which you don’t want on your face.”
So why use your fingers at all? Sonia Kashuk, makeup artist and founder of Sonia Kashuk Beauty, explains, “You can get your foundation on with your fingertips, but you perfect it with your brushes.” She explains that the body warmth from your fingers helps to melt the makeup into the skin. Using a tapping motion with the fingers helps to pat the makeup into the skin and create an even finish.
Scibelli uses the same patting technique, but with a brush. “Instead of smearing or swiping the product around, I use a small amount for each section of the face and apply it in a patting motion. This builds the coverage gradually and prevents the product from streaking.”
Kashuk uses a brush with a dense, rounded-out tip, such as her Synthetic Pointed Foundation Brush ($12.99, soniakashuk.com) after using her fingers to make sure the product is evenly placed along the face. “You get a very controlled application with a brush.”
Herr prefers a wet sponge. “I have never used a brush to apply foundation. I usually use a damp sponge because the sponge becomes softer once it is dampened. The foundation then blends better into the skin.” Both Kashuk and Scibelli swear by setting the look with a sponge. “I like applying with a damp sponge so you can break down the foundation just a little bit,” says Kashuk.
For beginners, this may be your best bet. To avoid caked on foundation, the sponge absorbs a small amount of the formula so you don’t over-apply. Start with a light moisturizing foundation—Herr recommends Nuance Salma Hayek Flawless Finish Liquid Foundation ($14.99, cvs.com), because it gives great coverage (the consistency is similar to a light cream) without being too heavy. Scibelli recommends Colorescience Sheer Créme Foundation ($48, colorescience.com), which has a whipped cream texture and using a damp Beauty Blender ($19.95, sephora.com). Blend in soft, circular motions to avoid streaks.
And if you choose to use your fingers (Sonia says it’s the best way to start understanding how foundation works with the skin), wash your hands thoroughly before application.
Read more: The Best Makeup For Every Skin Type