The Underpainting Make-Up Trend Explained
The Underpainting Make-Up Trend Explained

The Underpainting Make-Up Trend Explained

Racking up more than 60 million views on TikTok, underpainting is the make-up technique taking the beauty world by storm. With roots in the 90s, it involves applying contour, blush and bronzer underneath your foundation to achieve a more natural but still sculpted finish. Here, we asked two make-up artists how to get it right…
By Rebecca Hull

All products on this page have been selected by our editorial team, however we may make commission on some products.

Know What It Is

“Underpainting isn’t actually new. It’s a layering technique that make-up artists have loved for decades. It was pioneered by drag culture and the theatre, and originally made popular by Kevyn Aucoin – a legendary make-up artist and content creator who was seriously ahead of his time. He worked with all the big supermodels and was known for creating sculpted, defined skin by using underpainting – something he explained in his iconic books Making Faces and Face Forward. Recently, the technique has experienced a resurgence in popularity thanks to celebrity make-up artists like Mary Phillips. Her viral video introduced a whole new generation to this technique – hence the millions of views on social media.” –Jennifer Oliver, Bobbi Brown editorial pro artist 

Start With Skincare

“Before you get into underpainting, it’s essential to hydrate your skin – you need some slip for the products to be able to blend easily. Start with a serum and a cream, massaging both in to boost glow and hydration. Wait for everything to dry then go in with make-up. This means you won’t get any pilling or rolling of product. Skin prep is a big part of getting this trend right, as the better your complexion looks to begin with, the less make-up you need overall.” – Jennifer

"You want to prepare skin so that it feels clean prior to underpainting. If you have dryness, use a gentle exfoliant once or twice a week. I am a big believer in my facial devices that I use. I like LYMA and TriPollar. Depending on how much time I have, I multitask and prep my skin after exfoliating by using one of those devices in combination with my new skin activator. That is the perfect skin prep for any underpainting as it ensures the make-up goes the distance." – Gucci Westman, make-up artist & founder of Westman Atelier 


Get Your Layers Right 

“In its simplest terms, underpainting involves applying your face make-up – blusher, contour and concealer – before your foundation. It goes against the tradition of using foundation as a canvas, and instead you use it as the final product in your routine in a very light layer. Doing it this way gives the skin a hyper realistic look. It means make-up is barely detectible because the colour sits directly on the skin. I love to use the technique on clients who want that ‘no make-up make-up’ look.” – Jennifer 

Use Creams & Liquids 

“The underpainting technique works best with cream and liquid-based products. This is because they blend well together and give skin that softer, dewier effect. Look for cream-based contour and bronzer products, as well as a liquid concealer with cool undertones to mimic a natural shadow. I recommend the Bobbi Brown Skin Concealer Stick in a shade or two lighter than your own skin tone. Finish with a foundation that’s sheer and lightweight, like the Summer Friday’s Skin Tint or Bobbi Brown’s Intensive Serum Foundation. Both of them will boost radiance and let everything underneath still breathe through.” – Jennifer

"You need to bring textures together that are compatible for underpainting. A lot of my Westman Atelier products are cream-based and any powders we have are very light and easy to blend. I recommend starting with the latter if you are a first-timer and are intimidated by the trend. It's key you use a good blending brush too in order to meld everything together." – Gucci

Know The Benefits 

“It might sound obvious, but the underpainting method is beneficial if you want to use less product. You’ll use far less foundation than you would traditionally. In addition to being efficient, the technique is ideal for a more diffused look, but one that is still sculpted and glow-y. It’s also ideal for those new to sculpting and highlighting – when you buff the foundation over top of your other products, it softly blurs the lines of any contour underneath, so it won’t matter if your application isn’t perfect.” – Jennifer


Blend, Blend & Blend Again

“The secret to flawless underpainting is to blend everything in as much as possible. You want to keep blending until everything merges into a seamless finish. Instead of applying things heavily in one go, apply each step in light layers and slowly build it up to your liking – if you need to. You can use a Beautyblender in between each step to further melt the products into your skin. Sponges aside, a good full-coverage brush and fluffy powder brush are essential for smoothing out cream products and ensuring you don’t leave behind any harsh edges.” – Jennifer

Finally, Nail Your Application 

“If you’re using bronzer, apply it to your cheekbones to add warmth and give your complexion a sun-kissed look. I recommend focusing the product beneath your cheekbones and into your jawline to enhance definition. For blusher, apply it directly below the pupil of your eye for a youthful flush – using blusher in this area also adds brightness and volume to the cheeks. Neither product competes – you can use both under foundation to ramp up the warmth.” – Jennifer

"Contouring products are brilliant for underpainting as you can conceal the heaviness with light foundation on top, making the definition feel really believable. Highlighter is another great product to use when you underpaint. I love our Lit Up Highlight stick for this. Use it to enhance and brighten and widen your eyes. For example, try a cream shadow under a powder shadow then add some highlight on top of that. These layers create a new, lived-in texture that's natural and fresh. Ultimately, underpainting is all about creating believable, healthy skin." – Gucci

Follow @Jennifer_Makeup & @GucciWestman for more beauty tips & tutorials.


DISCLAIMER: We endeavour to always credit the correct original source of every image we use. If you think a credit may be incorrect, please contact us at

Fashion. Beauty. Culture. Life. Home
Delivered to your inbox, daily