Foundations line the drugstore aisles claiming to make skin look healthy, radiant and blemish-free. But that foundation will turn from silky to cakey in a flash if it’s applied in thick globs, pressed into dry skin or followed up with a heavy setting powder. A few quick preparation steps and some basic beauty tools can help you get the most out of your foundation, leaving you with smooth skin.

Skin needs regular hydration to create a smooth canvas for the foundation and to avoid that caked-on look. Even if you have oily skin, a lightweight, gel moisturizer helps soften skin and slows down oil production. Work a dime-sized amount of facial moisturizer into your skin and allow it to sink in for about five minutes.

If you have particularly oily skin or you need your makeup to last through a long day, then follow up your moisturizer with a primer. Primers minimize the appearance of pores and help foundation glide on smoothly and evenly. You only need a dime-sized drop. Work the primer in and allow it to set for a few minutes before you continue.

Creating that natural, flawless finish means investing in a compatible foundation for your skin tone and type. No matter your skin type, opt for a liquid formula foundation, rather than powder or palette foundations. Both of those options tend to settle into wrinkles after a few hours and leave behind that thick, cakey layer.

  • If you have naturally dry skin, look for a moisturizing, medium coverage foundation and avoid matte finishes. 
  • If you have oily or combination skin, invest in a lightweight, matte finish foundation, which helps stop shiny buildup and allows skin to breathe. 

Test the shade of foundation in the store, along your jawline. It should blend into your natural skin tone as closely as possible.

The correct application of your foundation, along with the right tools, means a natural finish, without uneven or heavy patches. Beauty sponges gently blend a light layer of foundation without pulling on delicate cells, if you tend toward dry or sensitive skin. To use a beauty sponge, wet it lightly and squeeze out the excess water. Dip the wider end of the moist sponge into your liquid foundation. You only need a dime-sized amount.

The tiny fibers in these tools pick up a small amount of product and redistribute it evenly. Use small sweeping motions, working from the center of your face outward, until the foundation is blended into the skin. Focus a little extra attention on problem areas using gentle pressing motions to work the foundation into the skin.

Foundation brushes offer slightly fuller coverage for those wanting to conceal redness or discoloration, while keeping the application even. Dip the dry, clean brush into the foundation and sweep down the center of your nose and across your cheekbones. Use gentle, short sweeping motions to blend the foundation out onto the rest of your face. Take your time with this beauty tool so that the product distributes completely evenly.

If you have a problem area, such as a pimple, that needs a little extra coverage, apply the concealer after your foundation so you have a more precise application. Generally, choose a shade slightly lighter than your skin tone.

  • If you have dry skin, opt for a creamy concealer to avoid that undesired flaky effect. 
  • If you have oily skin, opt for a liquid concealer that sets matte for a longer, smoother hold. 

Dip a concealer brush into the concealer and press onto the problem area. Use small dabbing motions to work the concealer into the skin. Keep the application as light as possible, since multiple layers of product can form a cakey layer that draws even more attention to the spot.

It’s easy to fall down the caked-on-setting-powder rabbit hole, leaving you dry and cakey. If you tend toward oily skin, invest in a sheer, colorless setting powder, rather than a tinted foundation powder. Ideally, look for a very finely milled powder because those tiny particles blend more naturally into the skin and are harder to detect.

Apply the setting powder with a large, fluffy kabuki brush. Tap off any excess powder before you begin the application. Buff it into the skin, focusing on any areas that tend to get shiny.

If you have particularly dry skin, skip the setting powder for a less cakey finish.