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5 Reasons Why Your Foundation is Patchy–Plus How to Fix It

Photo by Aja Koska / Getty Images

Have you ever been hard at work applying your favorite liquid foundation or bb cream and notice it starts to look patchy? When you lift your beauty blender, does it seem like your skin just won’t hang onto your foundation, causing bare spots in your makeup look?

No need to panic! Struggling with patchy foundation is actually a very common makeup woe. You might be surprised to hear that patchy or cakey foundation has everything to do with your skincare prep and skin type and rarely with your application technique.

Makeup artists Alex Levy and Jamie Greenberg break down all the reasons why your foundation might be patchy and share their hacks on how you can prep and hydrate your skin for your best foundation look yet.

About the Expert:

Alex Levy is a New York–based makeup artist and beauty marketing consultant.
Jamie Greenberg is a celebrity makeup artist, content creator, and entrepreneur.

What Causes Patchy Foundation?

1. You Skipped the Skin Prep Beforehand

We’re talking about your cleanser, toner, and moisturizer! The key to a flawless base and foundation application is taking care of your skin beforehand. Think of it like this, your foundation needs the smoothest canvas possible in order for it to look its best. Otherwise, your foundation will begin to separate, showcase unwanted skin texture and blemishes, or creases.

“I always approach an application like a mini-facial, massaging and applying light layers of product to plump the skin up with hydrating ingredients. Going in with light layers helps me determine how much is enough, and allows the skin to absorb more rather than slapping on a thick layer and overwhelming the skin,” says Alex.

In addition to cleansing and a great glowy skin toner, you should be using a hyaluronic acid based serum and a moisturizer that helps with dehydrated skin and smoothing. For makeup prep, we like the GOOD LIGHT Moon Glow Milky Toning Lotion, FACEGYM Hydro-Bound Daily Serum, and BELIF Aqua Bomb Moisturizer. Lastly - follow up with your favorite SPF.

2. You’re Not Using a Makeup Primer

You finished your A+ skincare routine but you have one more step before diving into foundation; applying a makeup primer. Using a hydrating makeup primer is key in making sure your foundation applies evenly onto your skin and lasts throughout the day.

“It’s important to start off with a good primer to ensure makeup stays on all day and doesn’t separate. I recommend finding a primer that’s a bit tacky, so that your foundation adheres and lasts all day long,” says Jamie. Try TikTok trending makeup primers like MILK MAKEUP Hydro-Grip Primer or PYT BEAUTY Baby Got Base Hydrating Primer.

Using a primer will also help blur pores in congested areas like your t-zone. If you’re struggling with patchy or creasing concealer, you can use a little primer or a hydrating eye-cream under your eyes too.

3. You Might Not Be Using the Right Foundation for Your Skin Type

Wait, certain foundations are better for certain skin types? Yes! Your skin type might benefit most from liquid foundations, matte foundations, or full coverage foundations.

“Using a matte foundation on a dry skin type can lead to the product clinging to dry patches and looking uneven. For dry skin, use a hydrating or luminous foundation for best results,” says Jamie.

If you have oily skin or are acne prone, a lighter formula such as a skin tint or tinted moisturizerwould better suit your skin. A full coverage foundation may have difficulty lasting throughout the day when your skin becomes more oily and could irritate blemishes.

“I tend to reach for cream or liquid products, as they are lighter and tend to look more natural on the skin. Because they aren’t as heavy, they are able to move with the skin throughout the day rather than settling into fine lines or skin texture,” says Alex.

4. You Haven’t Properly Exfoliated in a Long Time

Overtime, our faces can get kind of grimy! Between leftover makeup, dirt, sweat, and sunscreen; you could have a less-than-smooth canvas of a face and not even know. This is why not only a double cleansing is of upmost importance, but having a gentle exfoliant somewhere in your routine.

“Textured or rough skin can cause patchy foundation as the product will settle in and emphasize any skin texture. It’s best to gently exfoliate with a chemical exfoliant before the application to remove dead skin,” says Alex.

A good rule of thumb is to use an exfoliant 2x a week. This could be a BHA solution like the cult-followed one from PAULA’s CHOICE or a gentle lactic acid toner like this one from FRECK BEAUTY.

5. You Forgot to Use a Setting Spray or Setting Powder

Once you’ve perfected your dewy skin look, you’ll need to set your foundation. There are a couple ways to do this, either with a setting spray or a loose powder.

“Skin that is properly hydrated and prepped will hold foundation better than without. With that being said, a lightweight powder in areas that tend to get super oily or that crease easily will set the makeup and prevent movement,” says Alex.

He recommends PAT MCGRATH LABS Sublime Perfection Blurring Under-Eye Setting Powder to prevent creasing on delicate eye areas.

For setting your entire face, try this ELF HD Powder that you can score on Amazon or the TOWER28 SOS Facial Spray. “When foundation is feeling dull or cakey, press an essence, facial spray, or face oil over problem areas of the skin to rehydrate and bring radiance back. Make sure to press, not rub to avoid disturbing your makeup,” says Alex. You can also try this method with a beauty blender or makeup sponge to dab the product into skin if you don’t want to use your hands.

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About the author
Olivia Cefalu
Olivia Cefalu
Olivia is a freelance beauty writer. With experience in influencer marketing at Tata Harper Skincare and editorial at Very Good Light, she loves covering Gen Z beauty, wellness, and nail trends. Read her work on Very Good Light and Well + Good.
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Article Last Updated August 15, 2022 12:00 AM