Photo by Sam Cannon.
When you really think about it, makeup is weird. I mean, yes, adult women and men painting their faces to go and sit in an office or on a friend’s couch is already quite strange. But even weirder is what I call the makeup paradox. That is to say, some of the best makeup is the stuff that looks like it doesn’t exist at all.
Now, this rule doesn’t really apply to things like bright lipsticks or glittery eyeshadows, but it’s certainly a prevalent feature in the base. Because, let’s be honest, the look of foundation on the skin isn’t really very aesthetically appealing. But the look of perfect skin totally is. The best base is, generally speaking, the one which belies no base at all.
Achieving this “Makeup? Me? Nope!” look is no simple feat. You need a good quality base product, for sure, but you also need a particular set of application skills. Never fear, though—I’m here to help with both.
To start with, you have to get your prep right. And that doesn’t mean anything too extensive or complicated in the primer department. I think anything silicone-y and pore-filling is best avoided when it comes to a natural skin vibe. They look too airbrushed and often give a tell-tale velvety texture to the skin.
What you need is a moisturizer, more specifically the CeraVe Moisturizing Lotion. Yes, it comes in a big, unglamorous bottle which looks almost medical, but trust me. It has the best texture for under-makeup of literally anything I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot. It’s very thin and milky, but as you work it into the skin it leaves a dewy and slightly tacky finish. This helps force any base product to adhere to your skin, and gives it a fresher look. You literally cannot overdo it with this product, so keep applying until you’re at your desired level of juice.
My first category in the base department is the tinted moisturizer and BB brigade. These products tend to have a sheer to medium coverage, and offer extra skincare benefits including high levels of SPF.
The sheerest and dewiest option I’m featuring is the Milk Makeup Sunshine Skin Tint. If you have a drier skin type, this will be a godsend for you. It has a slightly oily texture, but as you apply it sinks into the skin and leaves a veil of sheer coverage. The rollerball applicator makes it great for travel, plus it has an SPF of 30.
If you want a satin finish, I point you in the direction of the Maybelline Dream Fresh BB Cream. This is one of the unsung heroes of the drugstore. It’s super easy to blend, sits on the skin beautifully, never cakes up, and lasts a surprisingly long time for something so lightweight. It also has a physical SPF of 30, which is a rarity among more affordable products.
If you want something a little fancier, though, go for the Dr Jart Premium BB Cream. This stuff is amazing. It offers buildable, lightweight coverage and gives skin a smooth, soft, and dewy appearance. It can even cover up some minimal blemishes and redness, where the others would struggle. It also offers SPF 45.
My other options for the skin-like base category are genuine foundations which somehow appear invisible on the face. Just a warning—both of these are really expensive. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to lie to you: they’re the best.
The queen of my heart is the Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk. If you just buy one item on this list, make it this. This gives the most skin-like finish I’ve ever seen. Not too matte, not too glowy, not too sheer, not too covering, this guy is just right. It also lasts through absolutely anything.
If you prefer a hint more glow, I point you in the direction of the Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation. This is creamier in feel than Armani, and sets to a slightly shinier finish. It honestly makes you look like you just had a facial.
In terms of concealer, a surprisingly skin-like option is the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Away. It offers not only very high coverage, but also a really unique feel. Creepy as it sounds, this feels like liquid skin. It dries in a springy, elastic fashion, so it moves with your skin and doesn’t crack or crease.
An honorable mention must go to the Glossier Stretch Concealer. While I think this is no use in terms of concealing prowess, I love this as a sort of solid tinted moisturizer. Apply lightly all over the face for a light coverage and an undeniable glow.
Application wise, you must make a decision between sponge or brush. Sponges are great for a fuller coverage, while brushes are super convenient but require a little more finesse.
In terms of sponges, I have two favorites. The Fenty Beauty Precision Makeup Sponge is totally fantastic in terms of the old dampening-a-sponge-then-bouncing-on-face category. I love the shape, which makes it easy to get into nose crevices and smooth out any potential cracks.
A weird but wonderful new addition is the Juno & CO Microfibre Velvet Sponge. I was extremely skeptical of this product, but over time have found myself reaching for it more and more. I don’t always dampen it (although you can), but I love it for applying lighter coverage bases and troubleshooting any blending issues.
I also have two brushes that I really recommend for an imperceptible base. The Tarte Airbuki has basically all the ease of a sponge without any of the hassle. It can apply a full base in seconds, and feels so luxuriously soft in the process.
For any fine detail work, though, the Zoeva Face Shape Brush is golden. It’s almost like a smaller, floppier kabuki, meaning it can blend concealer in seconds and make light work of any harsher edges.
The final step to any skin-like base is some sort of facial spray. Liberally douse your face in a fine mist and as it dries, your makeup will totally melt into your skin. MAC Fix + is a classic for a reason, and is a foolproof method for a soft, dewy skin vibe. An affordable alternative is the Heritage Store Rosewater & Glycerin. This offers a similar dose of dew, but is cheap enough that you’ll feel free to apply a lot. The natural, rosy fragrance never goes amiss, either.