How To Keep Your Makeup From Caking & Dulling Your Glow

Banish dryness with the right mix of products and techniques.

by Jessica DeFino and Mackenzie Sylvester
Originally Published: 
Why does my foundation look cakey?
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Despite its delicious-sounding connotation, cake face is something you generally want to avoid when it comes to makeup. The term refers to foundations and powders that appear thick and layered when applied — essentially, “caked on.” Your glow is dulled and looks anything but natural, which, especially in the era of dewy skin and blinding highlight, is kind of a no-no.

Even those with the end goal of dewy, moisture-kissed skin can wind up wondering, “Why does my foundation look cakey?” as they examine their finished masterpiece. As it turns out, caking your face is pretty easy to do, especially if you're heavy-handed with your brush. And fixing cakey makeup is just as easy, celebrity makeup artist Neil Scibelli tells TZR. “It's usually caused by the wrong foundation formula for your skin type, the formula itself, or your skin care regimen, which is reflected in your makeup," he says. The level of coverage in your foundation and the amount of products you use as your base can also contribute to an overall cakey look. “Layering can increase caking,” Kelly Dobos, a cosmetic chemist, tells TZR. “It can become even more apparent when dry powders are used.”

But you don’t have to skip the powder or the product layering to keep your makeup looking fresh. According to experts, fixing cake face is simply a matter of hydrating your skin, being conscious of the formulas you use, and mixing and matching products like a pro.

Ahead, nine expert-approved ways to keep cakey makeup from dulling your shine.

Start With Skin Care

If you’re wondering why your makeup looks cakey, it’s likely that the culprit is the canvas, not necessarily the makeup itself. “I think hydration can be a key factor for cakey makeup,” Scibelli tells us. “I recommend using hydrating serums under your makeup — especially ones that contain hyaluronic acid, which is a quick fix for instant hydration.” Prep your skin for foundation with a lightweight hyaluronic acid serum, like Glossier Super Bounce or PCA Skin Hyaluronic Acid Boosting Serum, to keep it moisturized and dewy.

Watch Out For Drying Ingredients

“Another factor can be any acne-fighting ingredients in your skin care regimen, which, if overused or if you're sensitive, can cause dry, flaky skin,” Scibelli notes. If you target your spots with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, two common ingredients for treating acne-prone skin that can lead to dryness, consider only using these products before bed — or adding a super-moisturizing (but lightweight) layer to your pre-makeup skin care regimen. Kiehl’s cult-favorite Ultra Facial Cream, which was re-released in a paraben-free formula, will do the trick. And to protect your skin from environmental damages while you moisturize, reach for Codex Beauty Labs Antü Brightening Moisturizer.

Avoid Heavy Creams & Powders

Just like heavy cream is essential for actual cake, it creates a similar effect for your makeup. The same goes for thick, powder-based formulas. “If you typically wear powder foundations, I would avoid them,” Scibelli tells TZR. “It creates buildup.”

Avoid the problem altogether by eliminating thick powders from your routine. “I would suggest sticking to liquid foundations that are water-based if your makeup tends to cake up,” the makeup artist says, since water-based makeup will blend better with any creamy skin care formulas you use. Tarte Water Foundation with Broad Spectrum SPF 15 is basically like a hydrating skin care product and a medium-coverage foundation in one. Or, if a no-makeup look is the goal, try Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint, which is basically your skin but better.

Opt For A Light- To Mid-Coverage Foundation

“Foundations are formulated to give different levels of coverage,” Dobos tells TZR. “The higher the amount of coverage, the higher the level of pigments that are used to give opacity” — and the higher your chances are for developing a case of cake face. Liquid foundations with light to medium coverage are a safer bet. Try Bare With Me Luminous Tinted Skin Serum for light, buildable coverage, or Urban Decay Stay Naked Weightless Liquid Foundation for a mid-level look.

Apply Foundation With A Damp Sponge

“Cakey makeup is a result of not blending enough,” Mylah Morales, a celebrity makeup artist who works with Rihanna and Jada Pinkett-Smith, tells TZR. “I like to use a damp Beautyblender sponge to apply foundation and concealer.” According to the pro, the damp sponge soaks up excess product and leaves behind a light, luminous layer of foundation. If you can’t or don’t want to spend a whole $20 on a sponge, Real Techniques has one of the best blenders on the market for just over $5.

Set Makeup With Translucent Powder

Dobos notes that powder foundations are more likely to pile up than liquid foundations — but powder is sometimes needed to set makeup. "Try dusting some finely milled translucent powder, or a rice powder, for a less aggressive powdering,” Scibelli says. The translucent layer won’t lead to caking, but will still keep your base in place all day long.

Finish Your Makeup With A Mist

“After I apply a full face, I use a spritz of Claudalie Beauty Elixir, or any hydrating mist that I have in my kit,” Morales tells us. “Misting lightly helps to avoid cakey makeup.” Claudalie’s mist is a multi-purpose powerhouse that tightens pores, tones, and sets makeup. Or, try a hydrating pick-me-up spray like Glossier Soothing Face Mist that moisturizes the skin with each spritz throughout the day.

Don’t Touch Up By Adding More Makeup — Just Re-Blend

“I would avoid layering foundation, concealers, and powders multiple times to touch up throughout the day, because it can create that buildup,” Scibelli says. In lieu of adding more product to your face when you notice your makeup slipping, just use a Beautyblender to redistribute what you’re already wearing.

This tip is especially helpful for when you've sweat through your makeup. Patting a damp makeup sponge over your face “will help to refresh and blend the existing makeup together,” Scibelli says — in the most natural way.

Or, Just Use Your Hands

“I also recommend simply warming up your clean hands by rubbing them together and pressing onto your skin,” Scibelli explains. “Use a patting motion to warm up the product against your skin, which will help bind the makeup back into your skin without adding any extra layers.” Cake face really is the only kind of cake that's better with fewer layers. The key word for blending with your hands, though, is clean, because wiping dirty fingers all over your face won’t do your makeup any favors.

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