"What the hell is happening?!" was the question flying through my head the first time I discovered (the hard way) that the moisturizer you use under your makeup pretty much dictates the end result. You see, I had been loyal to a certain moisturizer that played exceptionally well with my favorite foundation—it yielded a buttery smooth application, zero pilling, cracking, or creasing, and a long-lasting finish I didn't have to worry about touching up. Then, when I eventually ran out of said moisturizer and reached for another formula I had on hand instead, the complete opposite transpired. My foundation didn't apply well, it almost immediately started to pill and break up all over my face, and I quite literally felt like it was sliding off my complexion. In a nutshell, me and my foundation looked like a complete mess.
I've always known the importance of skin prep when it comes to makeup—in fact, every single makeup artist I've ever had the privilege of talking to has told me how you prep the skin and the products you apply, is more important than the makeup itself. And it's true! As I learned myself, you can use the same foundation, but if you switch up your moisturizer—or simply choose the wrong one—you can get an entirely different result.
To protect you from a similar experience, I reached out to some of the best makeup artists in the business to see which moisturizers they love to use under makeup—whether it's on themselves or their A-list clients. Keep scrolling for 14 of the best moisturizers that play well underneath makeup, according to makeup artists, Plus, some of their other top tips when it comes to skin prep.
The Best Moisturizers to Wear Under Makeup, According to Experts
"My personal favorite moisturizer is the 24H Dewy Face Creme by Julie Lindh," says Alixandria Capparelli, makeup artist, brow expert, and founder of Hairy Little Things. "I suffer from dry skin that is easily irritated due to my eczema, especially in the winter. This moisturizer is great for anyone who has dull, dry or damaged skin!"
"If someone is oily or acne-prone, I will typically use a serum as a makeup base rather than a moisturizer," explains Capparelli. "When applying makeup over skin texture, you want to limit the amount of shine or dewiness to help make the skin look more smooth. Using a gel or lightweight serum like SkinCeuticals' Hydrating B5 Gel gives the perfect amount of moisture without makeup the skin too shiny."
"If I'm using a foundation or complexion product that is fuller coverage, I love to hydrate with a very opulent balm like this one from Glossier," shares celebrity makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes. Note: formulated to help repair and nurture the skin barrier, this moisturizer is especially fantastic for those with very dry or sensitive skin.
"I love this moisturizer for my clients who tend to be super sensitive or have stressed skin from sun exposure," adds Martin. "Because of its milky lotion texture, it's comfortable under makeup, and it's also great for guys who don't like the feeling of anything on their skin but need the hydration."
Okay, this isn't a makeup artist-recommended moisturizer. Rather, it's my own personal secret for making my foundation look sublime. You've probably already seen Glow Recipe's fan-favorite Watermelon Glow Niacinamide Dew Drops on TikTok, but this brilliant highlighting serum drenches skin with watermelon, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, and moringa seed oil for optimal moisture, glow, and dewiness. Trust—any makeup you apply afterward will never look better, and it's an especially smart buy if your complexion can't handle heavier formulas.
More Helpful Skin Prep Tips Makeup Artists Want You to Know
Tip #1: Let Your Skincare Set Before You Apply Your Makeup
"I usually apply moisturizer, eye cream, and then primer, and I usually give it five to ten minutes to set," says Mellinger. In a rush? Get started on your eye makeup, first.
"While the skin marinates, I like to focus on the eyes," says Greenberg. "I get all of that extra wait time while the skincare does its job and dries. That way, the products you apply next won't try to compete!"
Tip #2: Try a Water-Based Mositurizer
"I tend to use water-based moisturizers under makeup because they are the most compatible with a lot of the long-wear foundations out on the market now," Martin tells us. "Anything too emollient will cause your makeup to slide and break down after hours of wear. Any silicones sitting underneath your makeup won't stabilize the pigment, especially when it comes to foundation, concealer, and other complexion products."
Martin notes that if you do choose a moisturizer that has more emollience to it, heed our tip above and make sure to let it dry down for at least five minutes before applying your makeup.
Tip #3: Make Sure to Remove Dead Skin Buildup
"To me, the most important step when it comes to prepping the skin for makeup is to remove any dead skin from the surface—I like using a cotton round and a micellar water like Bioderma, or something with AHAs/BHAs for a gentle exfoliation effect," shares Hughes.
Tip #4: Don't Forget Sunscreen
"I am always aware about my daytime makeup looks and SPF application," says Capparelli. "I believe that even if your makeup contains SPF, you should still apply a thin layer of SPF under your makeup. My personal favorite, which is also a non-toxic mineral sunscreen, is the Babo Botanicals Daily Sheer Tinted SPF. This SPF is super lightweight and not chalky at all. It also gives a nice additional slip under your makeup."
Tip #5: Less is More If You Want Your Makeup to Last
"When choosing a moisturizer to be worn under makeup, I always think, 'How long does this makeup need to last?'" explains Capparelli. "If this makeup needs to last all day and night for an event, I tend to use a multi-application serum base rather than a serum and a heavy moisturizer. The more oils and creams you have sitting on the skin under your makeup, the more those oils and creams are going to metabolize and break down your makeup foundation."
If you want your makeup to last longer than usual, Capparelli recommends applying a light serum like DMK's Beta Gel for protection, followed by the SkinCeuticals B5 Gel she recommends, above, for hydration.
Tip #6: Give Your Skin a Warm Up
"I also really like to warm up the skin before my makeup application," adds Capparelli. "When I apply my skincare before I do my makeup, I always incorporate a lymphatic facial massage to get the blood and lymph moving throughout the face. This also really helps work your skincare deeper into your skin and helps give your face a nice little pump for the day." When doing your facial massage, Capparelli notes the importance of always starting at the neck—where lymph nodes are concentrated—to "wake them up" and to start working and draining the excess fluid from the face. For a visual, watch her TikTok tutorial here!