The 7 Rules of Wearing Foundation in 2023 (So It Looks Like a Second Skin)

At its best, foundation can make your skin look more even-toned and smooth. At its worst, it can cause your face to look masklike and dry. Luckily, we have plenty of options that cater to our individual skin types and preferences.

In fact, some might say we have too many options to choose from, which can feel overwhelming when you're staring at rows and rows of foundations at Sephora. Fret not, we're here to help.

The first thing to consider is your skin type (is it dry, normal, oily or combination) and your desired coverage level (do you want the finish to be light, medium or full). Now look for those corresponding keywords on the labels.

Once you've narrowed things down to the formula that best meets those criteria, it's time to find your shade match. You can do this by picking up two to three shades that you think most closely match your skin color and swatching them along your jawline. Then, grab a mirror and head to your nearest window (or step outside for a second) to see which one disappears into your skin. Note: If you have freckles, match the shade to your overall skin and not the freckles themselves.

Now that you have your foundation selected, here are seven tried-and-true rules of wearing foundation—plus, the best products and techniques for getting the most seamless application ever.

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Maryna Terletska/Getty Images

1. Prep Your Skin

Always start with clean, well-moisturized skin. Makeup adheres better when your skin isn’t dry or patchy. For everyday wear, take your time massaging in your favorite moisturizer before you apply any makeup, and for special occasions, start off with a hydrating sheet mask. Tip: We also love using undereye patches for those mornings when we wake up looking a bit worse for the wear.

Shop Prep:


N.M.F Intensive Hydrating Mask

NYX Professional Makeup

Face Freezie Reusable Undereye Patches

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Peach & Lily

Glass Skin Water Gel Moisturizer

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2. Prime Sparingly

In general, the fewer layers there are on your face, the better. However, if you have especially oily skin or need your makeup to last all day, say, for a special occasion, apply primer to the hotspots of your face only, like the forehead, nose and chin. Makeup primers are used to create a smooth, even base underneath your foundation (and anything else you apply on top like blush) so the application itself is easier and you get longer-lasting results.

Shop Primers:


Filter Primer

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Benefit Cosmetics

The POREfessional Pore Minimizing Primer

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NYX Professional Makeup

Face Freezie Cooling Primer + Moisturizer

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Westend61/Getty Images

3. Lighten Up Your Base

Another pro tip for getting a more natural-looking base is to mix a little moisturizer into your foundation before applying it to your skin. This will sheer out the coverage a smidge and give your skin a fresher, dewier finish. (You can also use a liquid highlighter instead of moisturizer, if you’re after that glass-skin look.)

Shop Moisturizers:


True Match Lumi Glotion Natural Glow Enhancer

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First Aid Beauty

Hello FAB Coconut Skin Smoothie Priming Moisturizer

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Slam Dunk Hydrating Moisturizer

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4. Start in the Center

Once you have your foundation ready, apply it from the center of your face, moving outwards. This way, you get the most coverage around the nose and mouth (where there tends to be more discoloration) and it gradually sheers out as it reaches the perimeter of your face (near the hairline and jawline).

Shop Foundations:

Fenty Beauty

Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Liquid Foundation

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IT Cosmetics

CC+ Nude Glow Lightweight Foundation

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N°1 DE CHANEL Revitalizing Foundation

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iStock/Getty Images

5. Buff to Blend

Whether you use your fingertips, a sponge or a brush is a matter of personal preference, but the method is the same for all three: Gently tap or bounce your tool of choice over the foundation to blend it into your skin. Doing this will ensure you don’t end up with streaks or uneven patches.

Shop Tools:


Original Beautyblender

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NYX Professional Makeup

Cant Stop Wont Stop Foundation Brush

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IT Brushes For ULTA

Airbrush Buffing Foundation Brush #110

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6. Add Highlighter Strategically

A strategic application of highlighter just to the high planes of your face (i.e. your cheekbones and around your temples) will add the subtlest dimension to your features. As for the highlighter itself, most makeup artists we’ve worked with over the years tend to prefer a creamy or balmy highlighter over a liquid or powder formulas because they give off a more natural finish and you’re better able to control the application.

Shop Highlighters:

Iconic London


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Live Tinted


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Anastasia Beverly Hills

Sugar Glow Kit

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Dex Image/Getty Images

7. Be Intentional About Setting

Just as you highlight strategically, you want to do the same with setting your makeup. Using a lightweight translucent powder and a small, fluffy brush, dust a little powder over any areas that tend to get oily, like the center of your forehead and around your nose and mouth. The goal here isn’t to get rid of all your shine; it’s just to balance things out so you get a smoother looking complexion overall with just the right amount of glow. (Note: If you have dry skin, you can opt for a setting spray instead.)

Shop Setting Powders:

Laura Mercier

Translucent Loose Setting Powder

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Veil Translucent Setting Powder

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Mineral Veil Setting Powder

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Jenny Jin

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...
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