Whether it's because we've spent most of our time at home the past few months or it's because we're on the brink of summer, we've been leaning toward no-makeup makeup and the best products to achieve said no-makeup makeup.
Even though the premise of the aesthetic sounds easy enough, finding a spot-on product equation in terms of the texture of your formulas, the shades you reach for, and even the order of application can make no-makeup makeup more complicated than the more robust routine we may be used to. In fact, after I interviewed celebrity makeup artist Mary Phillips a while back on the topic, I realized there are actually a lot of important tips and tricks to keep in mind as you execute a more minimalist look. You can read the full feature with all of Phillips's advice here, but we'll also be sharing some of her tips below in conjunction with the best no-makeup makeup products my Who What Wear beauty PIC Courtney Higgs and I swear by.
Keep scrolling for a step-by-step product walk-through of the ultimate no-makeup makeup routine.
Step 1: Choose a Moisturizer-Primer Hybrid
I've talked to enough makeup artists over the years to know the way in which we prime and prep our skin can make a really huge difference in how our complexion looks and feels. (Especially, if we start adding layers of makeup on afterward!) As Phillips told me, hydration is paramount when executing a minimalist makeup look.
"Healthy, hydrated skin is the best place to start for any makeup look, especially a minimal, no-makeup makeup look," she explains. "I'm a firm believer in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and drinking plenty of water along with following a skincare regimen to keep skin looking and feeling its best. If your skin is in good shape, you'll need less coverage, and your products will go on so much more smoothly."
If I'm in a rush, I've found using a primer-moisturizer hybrid can come in extremely handy. Not only is it more time-efficient than layering serums, creams, and primers, but most of these products are designed to yield flawless, photo-finish results.
My fellow beauty editor Courtney Higgs and I are this product's biggest hype women. It's part of Victoria Beckham Beauty's collaboration with Augustinus Bader, so in addition to quenching your skin with moisture, smoothing perks, and a light-catching glow, it also delivers a dose of skincare magic thanks to Bader's patented skin-renewing TFC-8 technology.
If you're looking for something more affordable, but with just as many (or more) loyal fans, try opting for Glossier's best-selling Priming Moisturizer. If you have relatively normal skin that doesn't get too parched, you can opt for the regular formula show here. Otherwise, folks with ultra-dry skin who need heavier creams and skincare products can consider this option from the brand, which is a tad richer with its ingredient formulation.
This is a brand-new product from a brand-new brand I've been waiting to celebrate. Formulated in Italy and with almost exclusively natural ingredients (90% are of natural origin, and 10% are synthetic), this is basically your ho-hum primer on beautifying steroids. It instantaneously plumps the skin, locks in moisture, and protects your skin from blue-light damage. Additionally (yes, it gets even better), it's dermatologically tested, cruelty-free, noncomedogenic, and is housed in FSC Certified packaging.
I've been a longtime fan of this dew-enhancing skin elixir from IS Clinical. One part skincare, one part makeup, it was actually formulated with help from makeup artists and has a subtle, seriously beautiful glint to it that helps your skin beam. It looks impeccable under makeup, but you can really wear it whenever, wherever, and with whatever. (I'll also use it as my nighttime moisturizer if my skin has been looking dull.)
Step 2: Choose Your Base
It might seem obvious, but if your goal is to create a natural and believable no-makeup makeup look, it's just not the time to reach for a heavy, full-coverage foundation. The key is finding a formula that's lightweight but has the agility to effortlessly layer for more coverage.
"Use a foundation with buildable coverage so you can apply to areas that need more coverage without overdoing the whole face," Phillips confirms.
This serum-foundation hybrid hasn't even been around for a full year, and it's already generated pandemonium (in the best way possible) within the makeup industry. Essentially, no one seems to have a bad thing to say about it, including Courtney and me. Apply it, and your skin still looks like your skin, but just the most even, healthy, dewy, and glowing version. It's buildable, spiked with SPF, and pretty easily helps conceal redness and breakouts.
Even though other CC creams might be more well-known, this one from Erborian is a dark horse. It's available in an assortment of shades but still has the handy perk of adapting to your skin tone upon application. The finish is light, silky, and radiant. And yes, buildable.
This new formula from Bobbi Brown is a really great alternative for people seeking a tad more coverage without a dewy or shiny finish. (Not everyone wants to look like a glowing orb of light, after all!) It features a high-tech Power Protein Complex to keep the health of your skin barrier in check, and the cool, liquid-to-powder formula self-sets for a customized, light-matte result.
This multitasking CC cream from It Cosmetics is famous for a reason. It's amazing and a very user-friendly formula for someone who wants to get the most out of their makeup while doing the least. It's hyper-moisturizing and a little goes a long way—even if you want more coverage. It will also bless your face with a hearty dose of skin-protecting SPF. This OG formula is already pretty glowy on the radiance scale, but if you want even higher wattage, you can try the illumination-enhancing iteration, or, if you're prone to midday greasies, you can try the oil-free matte version.
Step 3: Concealer (If You Need It)
Depending on how aggressive your dark circles are or how much coverage you crave, you might be able to totally forgo this step. That said, I for one never have beef with giving my perpetually tired under-eyes an extra helping of brightness. And sometimes, (depending on how sour or sweet my breakout-prone skin has been) I need a little extra love to help camouflage any friends or residual scarring sitting on my complexion. Similar to your choice of base, something that spreads and blends easily and has a light but buildable coverage is recommended.
Tarte's Shape Tape Concealer ($27) is one of the most popular concealers on the market, so when a PR representative told me earlier this year that the brand would be launching a new concealer I'd love even more, I had some serious doubts. But here we are!
I actually find Shape Tape a little heavy and cakey for my liking, and this one has proved itself to be the ultimate antidote. It's classified as medium coverage, but it's incredibly hydrating and is specifically designed to move with your skin to camouflage and cover pesky things like spots or circles. It claims to keep the skin topped up with moisture for up to 12 hours, and I swear I've needed less eye cream since adding it to my no-makeup makeup routine.
YSL's Touche Éclat pens have a special place inside so many makeup artists' and editors' makeup bags. This version doesn't sacrifice any of the light-reflecting radiance of the original pen but has a higher ratio of coverage. (If that's what you're into—if not, you'll love the OG!)
Even though Pat McGrath's concealer is marketed as full-coverage, it's so lightweight that we'd never lump it into the dreaded category of cake- and crease-prone concealers. The finish is semi-matte with a hint of radiance, and the beauty really lies in that it melts into and becomes one with your skin.
Oftentimes, a product's name is misleading, touting benefits that are a little over the top or just completely exaggerated. Despite the fact that "magic" feels potentially hyperbolic, this best-selling concealer from Charlotte Tilbury really does live up to the name. The creamy consistency is easy to spread and blend, which allows you to pack it on wherever you want more coverage without it looking obvious. Conversely, you can really sheer it out or even use it in lieu of foundation. The options are endless, and the ingredients are great for your skin as well.
Step 4: Bronzer (If You Want It)
I don't always use bronzer within my no-makeup makeup routine, but if I have a little extra time and want to warm my face up a bit more—or create a little more definition with some contour—I'll swing a buttery formula around my jawline, hairline, cheekbones, and nose. Below, Courtney and I are sharing our favorite formulas. She typically prefers contour sticks, while I like powders, which strategically also help me from getting too oily.
Chanetcaille makes so many amazing products Courtney and I always want to happily shout about from the rooftop. This cool, gel-powder bronzer is one of them. A) the brand gets points for making a shade that will actually enhance a deep skin tone, and B) the unique pearl pigment technology ensures a natural, featherlight result that makes it look like, you know, you're not actually wearing a bronzer. (Which is the whole point of great no-makeup makeup product, right?)
If you're looking for more of a tinted-shimmer effect, this new skincare-grade compact from Kosas is beautiful. If you have darker skin, it will help sculpt and enhance your complexion with a bit of highlight, and if you're fair, you'll get the same highlight effect but a bit more of a color boost. Plus, the addition of shea butter will keep skin smooth and moisturized while other strategic and clean ingredients like meadowfoam oil plump the skin for a fresh, post-facial effect.
"I love a good contour stick for quick, easy makeup application," says Courtney. "This one by Uoma is one of the best. On one end, you have a lightweight, shimmery highlighter, and on the other end, you have a super-pigmented gel contour that glides on so easily and buffs out to a soft, blurred matte. The stick is so easy to use and comes in shades to complement a wide range of skin tones."
When it comes to new launches, Ilia just continues to hit home run after home run. This brand-new formula applies so smoothly that you'd think it was a cream, and since it's boosted with natural, noncomedogenic ingredients (like hydrating jojoba seed oil), your skin will stay balanced all day to boot.
I love how many different shade options you get with this light-reflecting bronzer from Hourglass. It's the perfect product for a no-makeup makeup look because it's less about adding or faking the look of color and more about adding depth, dimension, and the effect of perpetually perfect lighting. It's more of an investment piece, but I swear the pan lasts forever.
This stick isn’t even meant to be used on the face (it’s meant for your body), but Courtney tells me that she likes to use it on my face anyway due to how great the results are. "The hue is pretty metallic, so it brings an extra hit of warmth into the skin and looks way more subtle than a matte contour," she explains.
Step 5: Apply a Lip + Cheek Stain
I've never forgotten the following tip from Phillips: "For a seamless no-makeup makeup look, I always recommend using cream-based products that will adhere and blend more naturally into the skin."
Therefore, when approaching blush (which instantly makes you look perkier and more vibrant), it's a good idea to reach for cream or liquid-based picks when you're executing a less is more makeup aesthetic. Plus, they can do double duty on your lips!
Courtney and I both have a major soft spot for one of our favorite clean beauty brands, Rituel de Fille. "The best part about its products is the insane color payoff," says Courtney. "I love these Crème Pigments. You can dab color anywhere—cheeks, lips, eyelids, wherever—and expect a natural, flushed finish."
"Did I mention I love a good stick? The thing I love most about this one is how chunky it is," Courtney adds. "It's nice and thick with a flat top, so once you warm up the product you can literally stamp it into place and then lightly blend with your fingers. So easy!"
Yes, technically Versed's newest launch is a tinted lip oil, but the colors are so stunning (and the ingredients so lush and clean!) that it effortlessly pulls double duty as a blush. Spread it on your lips first and then dab a pea-sized amount onto cheeks—blend, baby, blend.
Benefit's lip-and-cheek combo tints have been around forever. The shade options are great, and they actually stay on your lips and cheeks, unlike so many cream or liquid formulas that can pull a disappearing act. I have yet to get sick of this product even though I've had one on standby since high school.
Makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes once used Glossier's cult-loved Cloud Paint on both my cheeks and lips, and I've continued the product trick ever since with basically every single shade they offer. (Separately, of course.) You'll get a satisfying amount of pigment, and I love how pillowy and lightweight the texture is—perfect for dabbing and easy-breezy summer wear.
For anyone who loves French beauty products, this stunning new palette is likely your next new favorite. Rouje Paris is Jeanne Damas's line, and my lips and cheeks can't seem to get enough. Not only is the packaging chic, but the pigmented yet weightless formula unlocks the secret to Damas's signature blurry, red lip.
Step 6: Tap on Some Glow
There's a fine line when it comes to no-makeup makeup looks and highlighter. If you find the right formula, highlighter can amplify your complexion and your natural skin texture with a pretty touch of healthy glow, but with the wrong formula in your hands, things can get really wet, strobe-like, or glittery, which kind of defeats the point. Both Courtney and I have found multi-use sticks and highlight serums are best for creating hints of radiance all over the face. We recommend tapping your cheekbones, eyelids, and nose, in particular.
Another fave from Glossier! It's so easy to just rub you finger into this stick and dab and blend wherever you want some extra focus. Just tread carefully—since it contains oils, it can get slick-looking if you go overboard on your product application. Go lighter than you think, and it will naturally get more luminous the longer you wear it.
"Erin left this product from my desk one day in a moment of 'trust me—you’ll love this' beauty-editor solidarity, and she was absolutely right. This serum is so good. I dab a drop or two on the high points of my cheeks, but it can also be mixed into foundation to give it a little more depth," Courtney says.
"Again with the sticks, but I swear this one lives up to the hype, too," Courtney tells me. "I cannot explain how beautiful these pigments are. They have the perfect amount of finely milled shimmer that gives your skin that lit-from-within glow. Plus, you can sweep the product over your lips and eyelids for extra radiance."
Step 7: Mascara
Mascara is pretty self-explanatory. It's the fastest way to make your eyes pop, and if you find a tube with the perfect mix of length and volume perks, your lashes will look fluttery and defined but still natural. Courtney and I actually agree on our two holy-grail favorites! (Tip: Curl your lashes before you start whisking your wand through.)
So Glossier's Lash Slick just might be the best mascara ever created. It's a strategic tubing formula that delivers extension-like length plus subtle curl and lift without added weight, smudging, or clumping.
Is there a more iconic mascara? Too Faced's unanimous hit ticks every box. It curls and defines, and just applying one or two coats gets the job done in record time.
Step 8: Groom Your Brows
Everyone has a different beat when it comes to their brows—some people like color and definition even on days they aren't wearing makeup, and some people just want something clear and quick to swipe through for a sleek holding effect. (I definitely fall into the latter camp!) Alas, Courtney and I have concluded that the following four formulas are all great options no matter your aesthetic.
Technically this a brow regrowth serum (and a very effective one, at that!), but I've taken to using it as my daily brow product. I simply swipe the clear serum over my brows, and then I use the handy brush and comb attachment to brush and fluff them to my liking. They don't move all day, they look polished, and I'm feeding them with nourishment. The dream combo!
Courtney and I have never met another human being who doesn't agree with us that Boy Brow is one of the most deservedly hyped-up beauty products on the planet. Choose from clear, blonde, brown, or black! By far, it's one of our favorite all-time no-makeup makeup products. Even if it's the one and only product you apply, we gave a hunch you'll feel a bit more put together.
I also happen to think Beautycounter's eyebrow gel is a superstar darkhorse. You can choose from five different shades (I either do blonde or clear or a little bit of both), and the light-hold, flake-proof formula immediately coifs and bulks up the look of your arches without being at all detectable.
"This brow pen is one of my all-time favorite brow products ever," Courtney confirms. "I love how natural my brows look when I fill them in with hairlike strokes instead of going in with an overpowering powder or pencil."