Sounds Doable

WTF Is Underpainting, & What Are The Best Face Products To Do It?

This TikTok makeup trend is worth carrying into 2024.

Originally Published: 
A woman applies makeup to her face.
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When it comes to makeup trends on TikTok, they can really run the gamut. Glazed donut nails? Sure, we're on board. Foundation frothing? Ok, you're starting to lose us. The longer-lasting makeup trends typically come from techniques that are actually easy to do at home and have genuinely great results. One such trend that seems to be sticking around is "underpainting."

Popularized by makeup artist Mary Phillips, the makeup technique involves putting on your contour, highlighter, and blush products before applying foundation. The resulting look is supposed to give you a more natural, dewy appearance.

To better understand the popularity of underpainting, I spoke with Kenna Ehman and Lauren Kunijo, makeup artists, stylists, and co-owners of the salon Kenna Kunijo in North Carolina.

What is underpainting?

"Underpainting is the technique used to layer bronzer (for contouring), blush, and highlighter under your foundation to essentially give you that "Kim K" look," says Kunijo. "Typically, people will do foundation, powder, then powder bronzer, blush, and highlighter on top. Sometimes, this can look cakey and too layered. It can also cause the skin to appear or even be dry."

So, what is the benefit to underpainting? According to Kunijo, the result is more natural, giving you a more dewy look. "It also lasts longer because it's the base, and it doesn't wipe off as much," said Kunijo.

The key to underpainting is layering and lightly applying layer after layer. "When underpainting, you start with a bare face, and you go through and apply your contour first, then blush, highlighter, and blend those out," explains Ehman. "In the remaining spaces, very lightly add your foundation and blur that into the rest of your previously applied makeup."

How do you achieve the look?

For underpainting, using products that are blendable and layer well on top of each other is key. Both Ehman and Kunijo recommended brands like RMS Beauty, which are primarily cream-based products that can blend well with a brush or a beauty sponge.

To start, you'll want to prep your skin. Kunijo recommends beginning with a primer, especially if you have more oily skin. "I use Osea Blemish Balm to help with oil control," Kunijo says. "Underpainting is typically best for a more dewy look, but if you tend to get oily throughout the day, you should start with something to control that unwanted oil and then layer the right amount of 'dew' for your look."

Next, you can use a lightweight, blendable bronzer or contour shade, which is the product you'll want to apply first. The Jones Road Gel Bronzer is a great option for its adaptability. You can blend with your fingers or a brush, layering to get the level of intensity you want.

Lauren recommends doing blush next for a pop of color. The Tower 28 Beauty BeachPlease Lip + Cheek Cream Blush is a great option, giving the perfect flush of color to the cheeks (and you can use it for your lips as well!).

Next up, you'll want to use a highlighter on the high points of your face. The Westman Atelier Liquid Super Loaded is a sheer highlighting liquid that comes in different undertones depending on exactly what you're looking for. Bonus? It has skincare benefits.

Once your contour, highlighter, and blush are applied, you can blend a lightweight foundation on top of them with a beauty sponge or blender. Apply in light layers as needed so you are taking down some of the intensity of the initial layers without wiping them away altogether.

"Because you are applying your depth, dimension, and highlighter underneath, you can use far less foundation because you're not applying it all over the whole face and then putting those pigments on top," says Kunijo. "It's super cost-effective because now you're using far less product."

For a more natural look, using a more liquid-y foundation with a thinner consistency can give the best results. Ehman loves using the ILIA Skin Tint to finish off the look.

For any dark circles or spots you'd like to touch up, add in a bit of concealer, like the Jones Road Face Pencil.

To finish, use a lightweight translucent power like the Saie Radiant Airset Setting Powder, which will lock in the look without diminishing the shine.

Kunijo shares that she likes to use a setting mist with shimmer to lock it all in, specifically recommending ICONIC London Prep-Set-Glow as a product she and Ehman love.

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As for the benefits of underpainting, the big one is a more natural look.

"You can still see your skin through your makeup, so it also looks a lot more natural," explains Ehman. "Because I invest so much into my skincare, and I know Kenna does as well, I prefer this because I feel like my skin can breathe, and I can still see my clear skin through my makeup. It feels softer, more natural, and more effortless."

Count this as a TikTok trend we can fully get on board with.

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