Have you ever worn make-up at night and noticed it looked chalky around your eyes and cheeks in photos afterward? At first, you might blame it on too much setting powder, or some weird camera effect, but chances are, it’s the result of something called flashback. It’s a common make-up phenomenon that happens as a result of certain ingredients in your foundation reflecting back the flash from your camera and creating a white cast around certain areas of your face. “Makeup flashback happens when you take a picture with flash and you basically see a white film around your face," explains celebrity makeup artist and founder of Camara Aunique Beauty, Camara Aunique.
And it happens to everyone, from Angelina Jolie on the red carpet, to me after a night out bar-hopping in New York City.
So, what exactly are those ingredients and how can you avoid looking like a ghost in your photos?
The main culprit is actually SPF. "What causes that is the SPF in foundation. So, if you’re using a foundation that has SPF in it, the flashback happens because of the properties that SPF has." These properties include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which by nature block and reflect the sun’s UV rays. When the same ingredients appear in your foundation, they do the same to the flash from your camera.
“Remember, SPF is used to protect us from the sun, so it reflects the sun and basically allows the sun to bounce back off of your face and body so that the sun is not harming the body,” Aunique says. “So it’s best to find foundations that don’t have SPF in it or have a low SPF count.”
But it's not just foundations that can lead to flashback. Concealers and certain powders can also cause a white cast to annoyingly appear in your photos, too—if you're not careful. While it's mainly SPF that causes flashback, any kind of shimmery formulas can also create that effect. To avoid this, "steer clear of any bronzers or powders that contain shimmers, which can reflect light and cause that flashback," says makeup artist Neil Scibelli. Instead, Scibelli recommends opting for a matte formula in your powders to help eliminate excess shimmer.
Ultimately, the best way to beat flashback is to skip the sunscreen altogether and use products with little to no SPF when you're taking flash photos at night (and only if you're out at night—you should never sacrifice your SPF application during the daylight hours when the sun is out). For foundations that have passed the test, take a look at some of these expert-approved picks below.
Foundations that won't give you flashback, according to MUAs
If you’re looking to stay out all night and need your makeup to last until the crack of dawn, this NARS Soft Matte Complete Foundation is here to help. It’s a full-coverage liquid foundation that comes in over 30 different shades and stays on for up to 16 hours. But really, it’s the moisturizing formula that stands out. This one features a combination of hyaluronic acid, which keeps your skin thoroughly hydrated throughout day (unlike some matte foundations) and micro-algae extract to control excess oil.
For those who like to keep their makeup looking natural and smooth, you can’t go wrong with this Dior foundation. It’s great to apply on your face and body if you need medium coverage. At the same time, it’s totally buildable if you want to try out a full beat or apply more coverage to hide pesky blemishes. Not to mention, the foundation is waterproof and sweat-resistant. “[It’s a] favorite because it’s super breathable yet buildable, and also doesn’t run the risk of of a flashback,” says Scibelli.
According to Aunique, this Fashion Fair foundation is not only great for helping prevent flashback, but it’s also a must-have for women of color. That’s mainly because of its rich selection of shades that are perfect for darker skin tones. The foundation goes on creamy, provides medium coverage, and ultimately leaves your skin with a natural-looking finish. Additionally, it includes top skin-care ingredients like vitamin C to help with skin brightness and smoothness, and turmeric to help with skin irritation.
If you’re not one to usually wear a lot of makeup, but still want a bit coverage to conceal blemishes or uneven skin tone, or to just “look alive,” Kevyn Aucoin Beauty Stripped Nude Skin Tint is a safe bet. It’s a lightweight foundation that gives you a pretty minimal and sheer coverage. Plus, it doesn’t contain any sunscreen or shimmer, which makes it a current top pick for Scibelli.
If there was any foundation that does it all in terms of coverage, less flashback and smooth skin, it may just be this one from Japanese cosmetics line Koh Geh Do. Its formula contains “light-diffusing minerals” that help brighten and reduce the appearance of your pores while giving you a dewy finish. And while it uses a special powder to help hydrate the skin, the bottom line: “It goes on really pretty on the skin,” says Aunique.
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