How to Apply Foundation Like a Pro

That glowing, second-skin look? Here's how to get it.

model with glowing skin wearing a green shirt and hanging earrings
(Image credit: Getty)

Knowing how to apply foundation is no small feat. The ultimate goal? An ethereal, glowing complexion sans blemishes and scars. But often, despite your best efforts to apply foundation the right way, you end up with a visible, slightly chalky mask that screams, "Look, I tried!" In the quest for that I-woke-up-like-this, flawless foundation finish, we're here to help you fine-tune your foundation-applying skills—because doing your makeup shouldn't be a feat shrouded in mystery. To simplify the foundation process, we broke down the exact steps, products, and techniques that'll help you get the most natural-looking finish, every time.

Step 1: Clean Your Face

model removes makeup with a wipe

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Removing all traces of your makeup and washing your face every night is extremely key to maintaining a beautiful canvas for foundation. (You might even want to double cleanse if you wear heavier makeup.) If you cleanse properly, there's less need to thoroughly wash again come morning time.

To catch lingering makeup traces, oil, or grime, lightly swab your skin with a cotton pad soaked in cleansing water to kick-start your foundation routine with a clean, grease-free slate.

Step 2: Prep Your Skin

model moisturizing face before applying foundation

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Foundation gets a bad rap for looking dry and flaky, but 99 percent of the time, it's actually due to user error (sorry, user). Even the heaviest matte foundations can look soft and natural—as long as you correctly prep and hydrate your skin with a good moisturizer.

After cleansing, massage a thin layer of moisturizer all over your face (avoiding the eyelids), letting the cream sink in for five to 10 minutes before applying your foundation. Not sure which of the best facial moisturizers to choose? Try one of our favorites, below.

Step 3: Find Your Best Foundation Shade, Then Dab It On

model applying foundation with a foundation brush

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Take that bottle of too-dark foundation that's been rolling around in your drawer since high school and throw it away. Right now. Then buy a foundation that's creamy, medium-coverage, and actually matches your skin type and shade. Try one of these cult-favorite foundations:

Now that it's time to apply, add two pumps to your palm, then use a foundation brush to dab the foundation into your skin, starting at the center of the face and blending outward. Don't worry about making it look perfect just yet—that part will come next.

Step 4: Blend Your Foundation

woman blending foundation

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Here's where the second-skin magic comes in. Grab a damp makeup sponge (make sure you've already squeezed out any excess water into a paper towel), and gently dab, dab, dab—never smudge or swipe—the side of the sponge over your face to seamlessly melt the foundation into your skin. Be sure to use the pointed tip of the sponge when blending out the foundation around your nose and eyes. You'll get excellent results from the beauty sponges ahead, including the cult-favorite Beautyblender:

Step 5: Top Off Your Foundation

woman applying concealer to face

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Tap on a concealer with your ring finger for extra coverage to conceal zits, acne scars, or redness. Let it set for five minutes, then lightly bounce the tip of your sponge over the concealer to blend it out without smudging it off. A full-coverage formula will give you the most bang for your concealing buck:

Step 6: Fine-Tune Your Foundation

woman blending out foundation on her face

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

To keep your foundation from slipping and sliding by noon, dust a translucent powder over your T-zone—which is where all skin types get oily first—with a giant fluffy brush, like the Real Techniques Powder Brush. Dip the brush in the powder, then tap off the excess and swirl it over your forehead, nose, and chin in soft, concentric circles.

Step 7: Bask In the Results

woman with glowing skin

(Image credit: Kathryn Wirsing)

Congratulations—you've officially mastered how to apply foundation for smooth, glowy, non-patchy results. Please take a few (hundred) selfies, then share your new wealth of knowledge with the world.

Chloe Metzger
Beauty Editor

Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan, overseeing the editorial content and growth strategy of the hair, makeup, and skin space on digital, while also obsessively writing about the best hair products for every hair type (curly girl here; whattup), and the skincare routines that really, truly work (follow her on Instagram to see behind-the-scenes pics of that magazine life). She brings nearly a decade of writing and editing expertise, and her work has appeared in AllureHealthFitnessMarie ClaireStyleCaster, and Parents. She also has an unhealthy adoration for Tom Hanks and would like to please meet him one day, if you could arrange that. Thanks.