‘Underpainting’ Is the Latest Makeup Artist Hack That Promises Sculpted, Natural-Looking Skin—And You Don’t Even Need Foundation

Photo: Stocksy / Miquel Llonch
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There's nothing quite like an understated, lit-from-within radiance. And makeup allows you to get that look even on days when you feel anything but glowy. A great way to fake it while keeping your makeup looking as natural as possible is to try out the latest trend on TikTok—underpainting. It's when you put on bronzer, blush, contour, and concealer either in lieu of or before foundation.

"Underpainting is a classic makeup technique where you create structure and depth on the face before you do foundation," says Mary Irwin, a celebrity makeup artist who has been in the industry for nearly two decades. "It's a very old technique first used by painters, particularly oil painters! It adds a lot of depth to the skin and can look more natural than regular techniques."

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Experts In This Article

If you want to give underpainting a try, Irwin says to use cream products. Work with a light hand and get ready to create the your-skin-but-better look that dreams are made of. "This has been one of my favorite techniques for a flawless face for years and I’m so happy the rest of the world knows about this technique now," says Irwin. Below, she shares how to underpaint and some of her favorite products to help you do it.

How to try out underpainting for a natural makeup look

1. Ready yourself to apply without blending

Typically, when you apply bronzer, blush, and contour, you want to blend them into the skin until they look natural. But with underpainting, you'll want to resist that urge and leave them stark until step five.

2. Start with bronzer

"Apply cream bronzer on the high points of the face—think about where the sun naturally hits," says Irwin. This means targeting the tops of your cheekbones, your temples, your nose, and your chin. Irwin loves the Tower 28 Beauty Bronzino Illuminating Cream Bronzer ($20). It comes in five slightly shimmery shades and is packed with anti-inflammatory green tea extract and mango butter.

3. Add blush

Next, "apply cream blush on the apple of the cheek, or on the cheekbone," says Irwin. Her go-to cream blush is the Rituel de Fille Color Nectar Pigment Balm ($24), which comes in five gorgeous shades. “They’re so hydrating and the pigment quality is so good,” says Irwin. “And because they have a jelly texture, I feel like they don't catch, even on dry skin—the color goes on evenly."

When it comes to picking a color, this is the perfect time to go bold. "When underpainting, don’t be afraid to use a blush that’s brighter than you might normally try," says Irwin. "You’ll end up sheering it out with blending, and with putting concealer or possibly foundation over it."

4. Contour

"Contour in your usual places—hollow of the cheek and structure the nose if you want," says Irwin. The Makeup by Mario Soft Sculpt Shaping Stick ($30) is a great option, explains makeup artist Melissa Hurkman. “They have a cooler undertone so it helps sculpt the skin," says Hurkman. "This formula blends out like butter—it’s incredible.”

5. Soften the edges, but still don't blend!

"Don’t blend it all like you normally would, yet," says Irwin. Instead, softly blend the edges of each product with its own dedicated brush. "You’ll want several blending brushes. Ideally, you’ll have one brush for each item—a cream blush brush, a cream bronzer brush, a contour brush, a concealer brush, and a general face blending brush. Using one brush for every product can muddy the final look."

6. Add concealer and blend

"Then apply concealer just where you need it, and buff it all out," says Irwin. Her favorite concealer is the Surratt Perfectioniste Concealer Palette ($58). "It gives you a huge range of coverage whether you need just a hint of concealer or a whole I-definitely-didn’t-sleep-last-night’s worth," she says.

7. Finish with foundation, if you'd like

For many, this trick is enough to make skin look naturally smooth sans foundation. "But if you still need coverage, you can layer foundation over the top," says Irwin. Just make sure you don't use a heavy foundation. The point of it is that it looks very natural and you can see the skin through the makeup." The Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez Liquid Touch Weightless Foundation ($30) is a really great option. It's super breathable and can be built up to achieve medium coverage.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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