The Most Common Foundation Mistakes — & Exactly How To Fix 'Em

Photo: MCV Photo.
Foundation can be, in a word, troublesome. Isn't that why so many of us love BB creams? They're easy, one-step, and come in fewer shade options, which makes picking one a lot less complicated. But, the benefits of wearing foundation can be awesome. They even out your skin tone, last longer than BBs, give you the perfect, photo-ready finish, and make your face look fresher and more luminous. A good foundation application is the hardest makeup move to master — other than, perhaps, the crazy world of contouring. Foundation application is what makeup artists pride themselves on: The right base will take you way farther than a killer smoky-eye technique.

Sadly, most of us have had bad experiences with foundation products: They cake, crease, settle in our fine lines, and somehow turn orange in the middle of the day. But, as makeup artist Benjamin Puckey insists, foundation is well worth the extra effort. And, once you get the hang of it, applying foundation like a pro can be pretty damn easy to do. 

Ahead, Puckey helps us outline the most common foundation mistakes and provide a simple, easy solution for each. May luminous, flawless skin be with you.
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You're using foundation to warm up your skin tone.
A lot of makeup artists suggest using a shade slightly darker than your face, so you'll appear healthier or more tan. But, Puckey says you shouldn't do this unless your face is lighter than your neck. "When you warm up your skin tone and your neck is pale, it looks very artificial," he says. "Foundation applied on the neck is a big no-no, because it becomes very messy and stains your clothes. Stick to a foundation that matches your skin, and give yourself a glow using a bronzer where the sun would naturally hit your face." For a realistic-looking glow, try a liquid bronzer — it sounds scary, but they have a similar finish to most foundations, so they will blend seamlessly into the skin. Apply just a dot or two to the back of your hand, then buff the product on to the tops of your cheekbones, temples, and lightly along the bridge of the nose for an easy, sun-kissed look.
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You're over-powdering during the day.
Wearing foundation often causes oily or combination skin types to become a bit shiny throughout the day, which usually leads us to reach for a pressed powder. "But, the combination of oiliness and too much powder will create the dreaded 'cake' effect," Puckey says. "Blot your face with a Kleenex or papers to remove excess oil, then apply a light application of powder." You can also carry a mini Caudalie Beauty Elixir in your bag and mist it three times over your face, then press it into the skin — it sheers out the foundation nicely and leaves a luminous finish on the skin.
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You're using the wrong powder.
"If you find that your foundation turns darker as the day wears on, you need a translucent powder," Puckey says. "Some loose powders that have too much pigment in them can change color when your skin becomes oilier during the day." Who knew?!
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You don't know your undertones.
It happens to the best of us, including this editor! A makeup artist actually made me sit down in her chair backstage, removed all of my foundation, and then reapplied it. I'm apparently peach, not golden like I'd always thought, and I was making myself look sallow! Knowing your undertone is especially important when you're applying product all over the face. "Women with darker skin especially should make sure that their foundation has the right undertone to prevent their skin from looking ashen," Puckey says. "Yellow and red are predominant undertones for Indian, South Asian, and most Black women. Ebony tones — think Alek Wek — actually pull blue. Some brands make it so easy to shop for foundation by undertone — try Bobbi Brown Foundation Sticks or the NARS Radiant Cream Compact Foundation."
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You're applying foundation like a mask.
"Foundation should be used to even out skin tone and mask redness," Puckey says. "Only apply it where necessary! Avoid the hair and jawline, and dutifully conceal blemishes with a proper concealer. The less product you have on your face, the more beautiful your skin will look in daylight." Our new go-to for a luminous look? Zelens, a brand invented by a dermatologist, oddly enough. It's oil-free and contains "photo-luminescent diamond spheres" that blur imperfections. It's decadent (and pricey), but worth it — trust.
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You're using the wrong lighting.
It's funny — the right light can change the way you view your face, which will drastically alter how you do your makeup. I have a friend, for example, who goes into the least flattering light possible to do her makeup, because she believes if she can make herself look good in that light, she can look good in any situation. Actually, Puckey insists, that's all wrong: "Apply your foundation in daylight, facing the window, or buy daylight light bulbs. When your skin looks good in daylight, it will look good in any light. When I'm not sure of the light at a certain location, I bring this trusted portable light source."
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You're overdoing it with the primer.
"The more primer you apply, the more likely it is that your makeup will bunch up and roll or flake off your face," Puckey says. Primers are usually made of silicones and other large-particle, "blurring" ingredients, which (when applied in excess) can make it difficult to layer on other products. Choose a primer that's lightweight and targets your skin's direct needs. This yellow formula from cult Japanese brand Koh Gen Do is a famous pick of Kim Kardashian's makeup team — it conceals redness and brightens the face. Apply it strategically to the corners of the nose, center of the forehead, and the tops of the cheekbones to supercharge your base.
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Your SPF is making matters worse.
"When you're going to an event where you know you'll be photographed, avoid choosing a foundation with SPF," Puckey says. "It will react to the camera flash and make the area where you've applied it look lighter than the rest of your skin."
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You're using it to contour.
"Avoid contouring with foundation during the day — it will look fake and mask-like in the daylight. Choose a bronzer to sculpt your face during the day, which will give you a more natural look," Puckey says. Stila's new contour creams are ideal for that barely-there shading effect — use your ring fingers to apply the darker shade just under your cheekbones and on top of the temples.
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You're not prepping properly.
While oilier skin types may get shiny from foundation, dry skin types face a different issue: flaking. Since nobody likes a flake, it's important that you nourish the skin underneath your makeup in order to achieve a seamless, natural look. "Skip the primer and apply a facial oil, such as Munskin No. 1 Aknari Youth Brightening Serum before your regular moisturizer," Puckey says. Hourglass also makes an oil primer, which is super-hydrating for the most even of bases.
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You're using the wrong tools.
This is the easiest one of them all: The right tools can make applying foundation faster and easier. The Beautyblender is the most revolutionary of makeup application products. It's beloved by artists and consumers alike, because it covers the right amount of surface area and lends a very natural finish to the skin as it bounces across the face. Put your foundation on the back of your hand, add whatever you like to customize it (a drop of your favorite face oil will do wonders), then dip the damp sponge into the formula. Start from the center of your face, bouncing outwards as you go, then lightly buff all over the face with a clean powder brush. Congrats — you've just aced Foundation 101!
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