Underpainting Is TikTok’s Viral Technique for More Natural-Looking Makeup

Trust the process.

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If you’re a fan of no-makeup makeup, listen up: A new makeup technique has hit close to 100 million views on TikTok for its ability to make makeup—specifically contour—appear more natural. It’s called underpainting, and although it may sound complicated, it’s actually a super simple technique that you can easily master on your own. If you wear makeup, you’re probably doing all the steps already—this one just requires you doing them in a different order.

We tapped celebrity makeup artist Alexis Oakley to learn more about the technique, what products she recommends for the look, and a step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

What is underpainting?

Underpainting is a makeup technique where you apply your face makeup (i.e. contour, blush, and concealer) first, underneath your foundation. “I love this method because it always uses way less product than if you applied each step in the traditional way,” says Oakley. In addition to being efficient, the technique creates a look that is more diffused, yet still sculpted and glowy. In other words, your makeup will look like good skin and not, well, makeup.

This technique, while inherently simple, does require some blending to ensure you’re getting that natural finish. “The key to natural-looking makeup would be to blend until all of the products are seamless,” says Oakley. Instead of applying a heavy amount, apply each step in light layers and slowly build it up to your liking. “Use your beautyblender in between each step to really melt the products into your skin,” she advises.

“My favorite contour product for underpainting is cream formulas, like Milk Makeup’s Matte Cream Bronzer Sticks,” says Oakley. “I love that they have a cool undertone which helps to mimic your natural shadows.” As for concealer, Oakley recommends liquid consistencies as it will blend better—her go-to is Jouer Liquid Concealer.

Are there certain products to avoid when underpainting?

“I would stay away from heavy, high-coverage foundations when using this technique.” says Oakley. “Since you are applying your foundation after your contour, you want to be careful not to apply too much or anything too thick; otherwise it will completely cover up everything underneath.” Instead, she tries to stick with tinted moisturizers so that it doesn’t take away from the dimension she already created.

Step-by-step guide to underpainting

  1. Prep the skin with plenty of hydrating moisturizers. Since the stark contouring colors must be applied directly to the skin first, hydration is important to avoid patchiness.

  2. Apply concealer to your undereyes and blemishes. If you have dark circles, your undereye shade can be 1 to 2 shades lighter to brighten the area. Don’t worry—since you will be applying foundation on top, the difference will be less stark.

  3. Apply a cream contour (preferably stick as application is easier) to your forehead, cheekbones, and jawline. Make sure to blend thoroughly!

  4. If desired, apply highlighter under the eyes, on the top of cheekbones, in the middle of forehead, and down the center of the nose. Apply a touch of blush to the apples of your cheeks.

  5. Finish with your foundation. “I find that a stippling brush gives the best application because it will allow you to thin out the foundation a bit more than a dense brush would,” Oakley notes. The stippling motion will also help to avoid mixing the contour and foundation together. Ensure that the foundation is applied lightly so the underlying colors can peek through.

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