For something so simple, a good makeup sponge is arguably one of the most valuable beauty tools you can have in your makeup bag. We always say that both skincare prep and how you apply your products can make or break your makeup look. It’s true that having a quality makeup sponge can give you the flawless Instagram-filter finish everyone wants, and the best sponges can help you lay down a smooth base—whether your product of choice is a liquid, powder, and cream.
Although you may think it's only useful when you want to apply liquid foundation, the truth is, you can use this makeup tool for multiple important makeup steps—from applying face makeup like BB cream or tinted moisturizer, to more complex steps like contouring. Who knows, this versatile tool may eventually have you swearing off makeup brushes for good—or at least reaching for them less.
“I love using a makeup sponge because it blends the products into the skin without any streaks,” says Carissa Ferreri, an LA-based celebrity makeup artist. “The finish looks like real skin—not like makeup is sitting on top of your skin.”
Despite the simplicity of the tool, finding the right one for you and knowing how to use it correctly can make a world of difference. This includes cleaning it properly. Not being cleansed frequently and correctly leads to buildup, which then leads to faulty makeup application. Luckily, we're here to help you on all fronts. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to acing your makeup routine with a makeup sponge—and prepare to add one (or more) to your bag of beauty products.
About the Experts:
Hit up your local beauty store and you'll quickly find that makeup sponges come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and colors. These variations aren't just for show. Typically, the differences indicate their purpose, with different advantages on certain makeup tasks. Here's a quick guide to a few of the most popular makeup sponge shapes:
If you’ve never used a sponge before or if you're looking for a do-it-all option, a teardrop-shaped sponge (like the BEAUTYBLENDER® ORIGINAL BEAUTYBLENDER Makeup Sponge) is the perfect place to start. Ferreri recommends using the big, rounded end for larger areas of the face that you usually cover when you're applying liquid foundation, a cream blush, or a bronzer. “I also like to use it to blot any excess product off—leaving just the right amount of product on the skin,” she adds.
“The tip of the makeup sponge is perfect to blend hard-to-reach spaces, such as the inner corner of the eyes, around the nose, and underneath any elongated eyeliner to enhance sharpness,” says Ferreri. “I also like to use the tip for setting powder in the T-zone. This gives me a lot of control as to where I’m placing the powder to manage shine.” That’s right, you can use this sponge with powders, too!
Some teardrop-shaped makeup sponges feature a flat side (like the HUDA BEAUTY Basic B Sponge). Ferreri says she likes to use the flat side to press and blend concealer. She also likes using it to apply powder under-eye concealer to prevent creasing.
“Anything with both a rounded and more pointed edge to cover surface area as well as blend around harder-to-reach areas of the face like in the corners of the eyes or along the nose,” says Alex.
Sponges like the MAËLLE BEAUTY Like a Pro! Blending Sponge feature a unique hourglass-like silhouette. While it may look similar to the traditional teardrop-shape sponge, this cinched design allows for a better grip, giving you more control over your application. The sponge works well with liquids as well as powders, and we especially love using it to apply highlighter and cream blush. In a nutshell, this is the makeup sponge you should reach for on the nights when only a red-carpet-worthy look will do.
“Pear-shaped sponges are great for a smooth application,” says Esmeralda Hernandez, Founder and CEO of BEAUTY CREATIONS COSMETICS. “Their distinct shape allows you to hold the sponge and have control of product placement.”
Whether you’re using a makeup sponge to apply concealer, or you want your foundation to cover those hard-to-reach areas like under the eye, just below the hairline, or around the nostrils, a soft, pointed blending sponge (like the KOSAS Revealer Dual-Ended Makeup Blender) is what belongs in your makeup bag. The dual tips allow for a precise finish, and are great for reaching small crevices.
Hernandez calls these makeup sponges her favorite because “the skin underneath your eyes is very sensitive and a dual-pointed sponge is gentle, allowing you to seamlessly blend without tugging.”
It’s interesting to note the difference in what you could call a sponge’s squishability. The traditional BEAUTYBLENDER is super soft when wet, which is how we’ve always been instructed to use it. But as makeup sponges have progressed, we’ve seen different textures arise.
“Firm sponges are great for loose powder and full-coverage applications,” Hernandez says. “Bouncy sponges are flexible, and perfect for a smooth blend, leaving no harsh lines, and marrying everything together seamlessly.”
Now that you’ve picked out the perfect sponge, let’s get down to business. The first thing you’ll want to do is fully immerse your sponge in water. Squeeze a few times to allow the sponge to fully absorb the water. Then, thoroughly wring out to remove any excess water (you’ll know it’s ready when it’s grown about double its original size).
Why wet your sponge? A dry sponge is super absorbent, so wetting the sponge ensures the product won’t get all soaked up by the tool before it reaches your face. “Dampening a sponge will add a bit of moisture to the application, preventing the product from being too heavily absorbed into the sponge. Use patting, stippling motions to blend seamlessly rather than wiping along the skin, which could leave streaks or disturb the texture of the makeup too much,” says Levy.
Not only will it save you from wasting any product, but it’ll make your makeup application more even and smooth with a streak-free, flawless finish. That said, squeezing out your sponge is just as important as wetting it, because too much water can dilute your product, or alter the formula's texture, which can lead to a cakey-looking finish.
Pro tip: “After the beauty sponge is damp, I like to generously spray a facial mist or essence throughout the makeup sponge as well,” says Ferreri. “This adds moisture and refreshes the skin. It also feels and smells so nice and you get the added benefits from the facial mist infused into your makeup products.”
Now that your sponge is damp, dot your foundation evenly around the face. Once the product is distributed, you're ready to blend.
Rather than swiping the sponge across the face, you're going to use the large side of the sponge to gently bounce, dab, and roll out the coverage all over. “It’s best to use a stippling motion,” advises Ferreri. “This means to bounce the sponge in tiny movements over your skin, diffusing the products for a look free of any streaks and demarcations.” This gentle dabbing motion is the best way to create an even texture that closely resembles super smooth, real-looking skin.
“There are many different methods of application, but I find that the most useful way to create a seamless blend is to first apply foundation separately (either with a brush or fingers) to areas that need the most coverage,” Levy says. “Use the sponge to soften edges and spread product along the face.”
If you’ve spent years applying makeup with a foundation brush, it might be hard to break the habit of swiping when using a sponge, but if you drag instead of dab, you won’t get that effortless, airbrushed finish that this tool is famous for. Instead of creating a natural, buildable finish, you’ll just be moving the product around. It might seem more time-consuming at first, but trust us—it’ll be totally worth it once you master that glowy, flawless finish.
After laying down your foundation base, you’re ready to move on to concealer. Using a small spot on your oval-shaped sponge, dab a small amount of concealer under your eyes and around your nose, then use the small tip to gently blend it in. The same blending rules apply here; be sure to stipple, not swipe.
Pro tip: If you’re planning on contouring after, try applying your concealer in a V-shape under your eyes. This will add dimension to your cheekbones and give your eyes a lifted look.
To contour with your makeup sponge, try using a cream or liquid foundation that's two shades darker than your skin tone. Move onto this step after you’ve already applied your base and concealer. Apply the product to your face, focusing on the areas where you want to create more depth and definition. Not sure where to apply contour? Check out our full tutorial HERE.
Next, use a stippling motion to gently dab and blend until you've reached the effect you want. If you have a makeup sponge with a flat side, this can do wonders to easily create definition. And remember, it might be tempting to blend like you would normally, but always dab in short, light strokes until you can’t see any harsh lines.
Did you know you can also use a makeup sponge for more than just foundation and concealer?
If you're working with a powder formula, you'll want to lightly dab the big, rounded end of a damp teardrop-shape sponge into the product so that it gets picked up onto the sponge. Then lightly stipple the product onto the apples of your cheeks (or wherever blush best suits your face shape) until you've achieved that soft, rosy glow. If you're using a cream formula like the GLOSSIER Cloud Paint, try applying it the same way you would foundation; dot it onto the skin and blend using the rounded end of the sponge.
When applying highlighter with a makeup sponge, you'll want to flip that sponge around to use the pointed end for a more precise application. If you're using a powder, you'll dip the damp sponge into the product and dab it onto any areas that you'd like to highlight. If you're using a liquid highlighter, you'll again apply it directly to the skin and blend using the sponge.
For areas that require a more precise application like this, you might also consider using a mini makeup sponge like the BEAUTYBLENDER Micro Mini Makeup Sponge.
Pro tip: Using a sponge with a bit of your complexion product on it to blend other makeup can create a seamless transition. “If I use a sponge to apply foundation, and then use it to apply a cream blush, having some of that leftover foundation on the sponge will soften the color to match the tone of your skin, creating a more natural effect,” adds Levy.
Since you’re constantly wetting your makeup sponge and dabbing it across your face, it can quickly become a petri dish for dirt and mold, which is why sanitation and maintenance is key. By properly and frequently cleaning your sponges, you'll also reduce the risk of breakouts and stretch the shelf-life of your makeup sponge. “Especially because the sponge is moist with water and product, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria,” says Levy.
While there are a slew of cleansers on the market dedicated to makeup sponges, a gentle soap and warm water will work wonders on your dirty sponge. You can also use your everyday cleanser or even a gentle shampoo. Heck, even dish soap will do. In fact, dish soaps are designed to cut grime and grease (we’re looking at you, Dawn), so don’t be afraid to multitask.
To clean the sponge, simply apply a small amount of soap or cleanser in the palm of your hand and gently swirl the makeup sponge in it, slowly adding a little water to the mix until it works up to a lather. Once you've massaged the soap into all sides of the sponge, thoroughly rinse it out under warm water. Be sure to squeeze it out until no suds are left. Once all traces of soap are gone and the water runs clear, allow it to dry completely before putting it back in your makeup bag or case.
It's also recommended to keep your dry sponge in a clean, separate case so that it's not bopping freely around in your makeup bag and picking up traces of dirt and bacteria.
The best way to keep dust, dirt, and grime off your beauty sponge is by cleaning it after each and every use. While diligent daily cleansing is key, you still shouldn’t hold onto the same makeup sponge forever. Just like your toothbrush, you’ll want to replace your makeup sponge every three months (aka every time a new season strikes).
By keeping your sponge clean and fresh, you'll have the best chance of mastering that flawless finish time and time again.
There are some epic beauty hacks to applying your standard makeup effortlessly with a beauty sponge. But there are also general beauty sponge hacks that extend outside of general makeup. Hernandez shares some of her favorite unexpected beauty sponge hacks below.
No-makeup makeup isn’t what we typically think of when it comes to makeup sponge application. You can actually use them to apply BB/CC creams if you’re going for an all-natural, flawless finish.
Toss your makeup to the side! You can use makeup sponges to create a smooth gradient application of nail polish using 2-3 colors. Lightly tapping over your nail can create a seamless blend with no harsh lines.
Your face isn’t the only body part that needs to shine. Enlist the curved side of a makeup sponge to apply a body glow product on your decolletage for some summer shimmer!
Using a dry makeup sponge, Hernandez takes an eyeshadow primer (we love VISEART PARIS Seamless Eye Primer) for full and even coverage application on her lids to prep for eyeshadow.
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