The Ultimate Makeup Application Order, According to Several Experts
How we layer our beauty products often comes down to personal preference, note all of our professionals, who shared the regimens they turn to the most.
If you are someone who regularly wears makeup across all your features—including skin, eyes, lips, and cheeks—you likely have an ordered application method that you turn to over and again. Perhaps you always apply foundation and concealer first before moving on to eyeshadow; maybe you define your brows before drawing on eyeliner. Whatever your regimen, if it works for you, it's perfect the way it is, says celebrity makeup artist Moani Lee. "I always encourage anyone and everyone to come up with an order that suits them," she says. "I don't believe there is a mathematical approach to how products should be placed. I think the goal is always to have fun and enjoy the process, as one would a meditation."
With that said, if you find that your personal method isn't getting the job done—perhaps your eyeshadow crumbles and smudges onto your freshly-applied base, for example—it might be time to switch things up. One tried-and-true option is the top-down method, explains Lee. Enhance your brows, eyes, and lips, in that exact order; whether you begin or end with skin is up to you. To dig further into this iteration (and many others), we tapped several leading makeup artists to share the product application order that makes the most sense to them. The main takeaway? Be open to trying a few different approaches to land on the list that works for you; as these professionals affirm, there's simply no one-size-fits-all routine.
Don't forget to prep your skin.
According to Etienne Ortega, a celebrity makeup artist and Deck of Scarlet brand ambassador, every successful makeup routine begins with effective skin care. "After cleansing the skin, I use micellar water to make sure there's no oil or residue," he shares; a hydrating primer is next. Lee agrees, explaining that a rich, nourishing moisturizer, like 111 Skin's Space Anti-Age Day Face Cream ($270, nordstrom.com) properly prepares the complexion for makeup. If you really want to go the extra mile, she says, consider a treatment; she often begins with 111 Skin's Rose Gold Brightening Facial Treatment Mask ($32, nordstrom.com), which she lets sit for 20 minutes.
Start with either base or eye makeup.
Sarah Lucero, the global executive beauty director at Stila Cosmetics, prefers to begin with foundation and concealer—after washing with Dr. Barbara Sturm's exfoliating Enzyme Cleanser ($75, sephora.com) and applying plenty of moisturizer, that is—but if your desired look is eye intensive, you might want to start there. "If you are applying a strong eye or using a powder eyeshadow, you may want to do eyes first," she explains, adding that color run-off or smudging, however, is preventable with the correct formula; try her go-to Stila Liquid Eyeshadows ($24, ulta.com), which comes in an array of colorways and finishes, from glitter to suede. Lee agrees, noting that eyeshadow shedding could also be the result of improper application: "This could mean you are using way too much product. You could benefit from flicking the brush to remove some excess shadow before applying to your eye."
For base, foundation typically comes first—then concealer and the rest of your face-centric arsenal.
Lee applies foundation—her favorite is Chantecaille's Future Skin ($79, nordstrom.com)—before concealer, and then layers on contour, powder, and highlight (in that exact order). Lucero takes a similar approach—she advises taking your time and melding base products together with a sponge, like the Beautyblender ($20, ulta.com) for a seamless finish—but prefers to "keep face powder to a minimum, so you don't lose that gorgeous glow." Emmy Award-winning makeup artist Nyssa Green, however, likes to dab on concealer (only where it is needed) before foundation; then, she reaches for highlighting and contouring products before finishing with loose powder.
Blush is your wild card.
As for when to apply blush? You have a few options, say our experts. Lucero, who takes a face-first approach, applies blush directly after concealer; she prefers rich formulas like Stila's Convertible Color Dual Lip & Cheek Cream ($25, amazon.com), which puts "a little color back into your complexion." Lee, a follower of the top-down method, gets to cheeks after eyeshadow, but before lips.
Whenever you get to your eyes, try defining your brows first, pre-shadow.
For Green, eye makeup (sans mascara, which she coats on at the very end!) is always the first step—beginning with the arches. "Fill in brows with your favorite pencil, brow gel, or powder," she explains, adding that she tackles eyes first so she can wipe away any mistakes without unnecessarily disrupting other areas. "It creates a guide for the next step—and, on a quickie face, a nice, clean, defined brow can be all you need." Lee often takes this approach, as well, "to frame up the eye" before shadow, she says.
Lucero, on the other hand, makes the case for a mascara first, brows last approach: "I personally apply my mascara first—I know this might sound strange to most, but it works for me," she says, explaining that the product defines her eye shape, which makes eyeliner application more precise. "It helps guide your liner along and allows you to create the shape you want to see versus follow the shape you have." As for the reason why she fills in her arches last, post-mascara, liner, and eyeshadow? "You tend to over-apply and go too heavy or dark because you over-compensate for the lack of eye definition you get from liner or mascara," she offers. The gist? There are many ways to create a pretty eye look—give both methods a try before choosing a winner.
Lip liner or lipstick first? The answer might be product dependent.
Virtually all of our experts tackle lips last. While Green prefers to "line them directly on the lip line, then fill them in with color," Lee goes in with lipstick first—then cleans up the edges with liner. "I find myself being able to push lipstick into natural lip lines much more easily than if given the confines of a liner first," she explains. For Lucero, the approach is product dependent. If she's working with a liquid or cream lipstick, she applies that first, before liner. When she wants to use a pigmented gloss, however, she defines her mouth first: "The liner goes on first, in this case, to shape up my lips."
Your method might change if you're going for a more natural look.
Since you likely don't apply a full face of makeup each and every day, expect your routine to shift when you need less, notes Ortega. While he "likes to do eyes first 80 percent of the time," for no-makeup makeup, he prefers a skin-forward approach. "If we're going with a more natural look, I focus more on fresh skin and minimal makeup. I add Deck of Scarlet's new Dual Drama Liquid Eyeliner ($29, deckofscarlet.com), as a last step," he notes.
There's only one hard-and-fast rule: Moisturize first and add powder last.
"The only step I think requires an order is moisturizer first and powder last," says Lee. "Everything else in between can be based on personal preference. Don't let order confine you to rules of how to do things. Makeup should be an art and the flow of it should be entirely up to you. Explore and have fun!"