You may have seen those TikTok videos of people applying contour, highlight, and blush before foundation. You may have thought it was just another in a long line of viral makeup hacks dreamt up by Gen Z. But you would be wrong. This technique, known as underpainting, has been a staple of makeup artists for decades.
Los Angeles-based makeup artist Jill Powell, who counts Demi Lovato and Sabrina Carpenter among her clients, describes underpainting as a soft-focus filter for your makeup. “All the color goes on first, and then you apply this sheer layer of complexion that softens and blends everything out,” she explains. “I highly suggest you try this technique if you don’t know how to contour or are intimated by it. You’ll get a soft shadow peeking through, but it won’t be very strong because of the veil of coverage over top.”
Think of it as a way to create dimension on the face before layering over it with extra coverage. You start out with your contour, highlight, and blush colors, then do your foundation routine over top. “You get a much more natural effect by using this method,” says Los Angeles-based Jamie Greenberg, who works with Kaley Cuoco, Chelsea Handler, and Rashida Jones for the red carpet.
What You Need to Underpaint
Underpainting requires many of the same tools you already have in your makeup stash. Basically, if you’re already contouring and highlighting — or wearing makeup at all for that matter — chances are you’re already well-equipped to carry this out.
Since the contrasting colors must be applied directly to the skin first, it’s important to be well-prepped and hydrated to avoid patchiness. “Depending on the client’s skin, I generally try to use a very hydrating moisturizer so the foundation lays beautifully on the skin and we get a glow,” says Los Angeles-based makeup artist Beau Nelson, who works with Kristen Stewart and Ashley Graham. If you’re in the market for a new hydrator, try the Best of Beauty-winning Fresh Lotus Youth Preserve Moisturizer.
After you prep your skin, you’re going to need a product to contour with, one to highlight, and also a blush. Greenberg, Powell, and Nelson all recommend using makeup products with creamy textures when underpainting because they’re easier to blend and deliver a second-skin-like finish.