skin prep for makeup

Skin Prep for Makeup 101: Your Guide to a Nourished Base


Imagine looking in the mirror and noticing your once-perfect makeup is fading and needs a touchup. All that time spent trying to perfect your foundation, blend the concealer, and apply a bronzer, only for it to end up smudged so quickly. We’ve all been there.

Well, it turns out that while makeup application skills and tricks are essential, skin prepping is just as crucial for maintaining a flawless finish. You may be wondering why. The reality is that besides worrying about external factors like rain and humidity ruining our makeup, the skin and its natural oils can also work against us. Consider your skin a canvas – every artist needs to prep their canvas before they start creating a masterpiece; it’s as simple as that.

Prepping skin for makeup is very similar to your typical skincare routine. In fact, both processes share many of the same steps.  However, if you need to get more familiar with skin prep, we’ll break down the process, along with product recommendations and tips for different skin types.

Why Prepare Your Skin?

A foundation significantly impacts whatever is built over it; that’s the best way to visualize the importance of skin prep before makeup. What this means is that whatever you do before makeup application significantly affects how the finish looks. Imagine applying a new foundation over yesterday’s makeup; no matter how much you try to blend, it never comes out smooth. You need to start with a clean canvas for a flawless finish.

But skin prep isn’t just about removing old layers of makeup. As we mentioned earlier, your skin’s natural oil can also work against you. For instance, makeup applied directly to oily skin will smudge and slip away throughout the day. However, prepping can help control oil production and maintain the makeup for more extended periods. Ultimately, proper skin prep will make your makeup look smoother and last longer.

How to Prep Your Skin for Makeup

Skin prep for makeup involves starting with a clear complexion and ensuring the skin is maximally hydrated. As such, the prep process emphasizes three key steps: cleansing, moisturizing, and priming. If you already have a skincare routine, you should be very familiar with most of these steps.

However, some other processes also contribute to creating a nourished base for your makeup, mainly depending on your skin type. Beyond the key skin prep steps, we’ll also explore these additional steps and how they benefit each skin type. Let’s get started.


You guessed it; the first skin prep for makeup is to remove dirt, old makeup layers, oil, and other impurities from the face with a face cleanser. This process ensures you don’t apply new products over dirty skin and dead skin cells. In fact, skipping this step can increase the risk of irritation and inflammation, especially for those who wear makeup every day.

That said, not every cleanser works best with every skin type. If you have dry skin, we recommend you try a hydrating cleanser like La Roche-Posay Toleriane Dermo Cleanser, which also helps moisturize your skin. On the other hand, gel or foam cleansers like the CeraVe SA Cleanser are best for addressing oily skin without making it too dry and inflamed.

Products like Youth to the People Superfood Antioxidant Cleanser also work for combination and breakout-prone skin. Whichever the case, always consider your skin type before going for any cleanser.


While most people overlook the importance of moisturizing before applying makeup, it is essential for several reasons. Obviously, it keeps the skin hydrated, preventing dryness and flakiness, which can make makeup look patchy. However, beyond hydration, a moisturizer also helps in oil control and provides a smooth base, ensuring the skin holds makeup better.

Aside from face moisturizers, face masks and creams can also provide ideal hydration and luminosity to the skin before applying makeup. Folks with dry skin benefit more from moisturizing creams like the Embryolisse Lait-Creme Concentre, while oily skin can go for an oil-free moisturizer like Kate Somerville Oil Free Moisturizer.

The Josh Rosebrook Vital Balm Cream has been touted as one of the best moisturizing creams for combination skin. Finally, if you’re prone to acne, we recommend ultra-lightweight products that support the natural skin barrier, like the Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Moisturizer.


Priming is the last of three key prep steps, helping to improve the appearance of pores and provide a clear canvas for your makeup application. You should wait a little while and ensure your skin has completely absorbed the moisturizer before applying a primer.

If you already have clear skin from cleansing and moisturizing, your makeup will apply smoothly without a primer. However, this doesn’t mean you should skip the primer. Beyond improving the skin’s texture and appearance, primers also help other makeup products last longer without fading. Primers are particularly helpful for folks with oily skin that can ruin the makeup from the inside.

Our recommendation for primers includes BareMinerals Prime Time Original Pore-Minimizing Primer, as well as Milk Makeup’s Hydro Grip Hydrating Makeup Face Primer for combination skin and Pore Eclipse Mattifying + Blurring Makeup Primer with Niacinamide for oily skin.


The only way makeup can blend perfectly and last for a long time is if it’s applied on evenly textured skin. Among the skincare processes for achieving even skin, exfoliation remains the most effective. Exfoliation doesn’t have to be complex; you can simply use a scrub or cloth to gently massage dry patches and dead skin cells and prepare the skin for makeup.

Alternatively, you can also go for a chemical exfoliant with ingredients like salicylic acid to help eliminate dead skin cells quickly. Some of the best chemical exfoliants to use before makeup include Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and the Elf Cosmetics Holy Hydration! Exfoliant.

If you’re looking for something you don’t have to wash off, the Kate Somerville Liquid ExfoliKate Resurfacing Treatment is formulated to be left on the skin and followed with a moisturizer.


Incorporating a toner or essence into your skincare routine before applying makeup can also help enhance the overall look and longevity of your makeup. Toning usually helps to balance the skin’s pH levels, which, in most cases, are altered by cleansers. If you can’t get a cleanser that perfectly complements your skin type, a toner can ensure your skin is neither too dry nor oily, providing a more stable base for makeup.

Toners also provide a hydration boost and enhance the absorption of other beauty products, making it a crucial skin prep for makeup. That said, always avoid toners that have alcohol as their main ingredient, as they can dry out the skin.

The Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Toner is a perfect choice for various skin types. However, if you’re looking for something more specific, you can opt for the Farmacy Deep Sweep Toner for oily skin or the Murad Clarifying Toner for breakout-prone skin.


Serums provide another practical alternative for improving your skin complexion and refining its texture. These products contain active ingredients that target specific skin conditions, from hydration to anti-ageing, brightening, or acne. Like toners, they also boost the effectiveness of other products, including makeup; however, they usually have a thicker texture than toners.

Whichever face serum you choose should depend on the skin concern you’re looking to address; however, it should contain antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and hydrating ingredients. Some of the best facial serums include SeoulCeuticals 20% Vitamin C Hyaluronic Acid Serum and SkinMedica Rejuvenating Hydrator.

Eye Product

Finally, we recommend using an eye care product while prepping the skin for makeup. This is because we tend to apply a lot of eye-centric makeup, from liners to eyeshadows, mascara, and brow pencils. Hence, the skin surrounding the eye also needs to be cared for to keep it hydrated and ensure makeup blends smoothly and is long-lasting.

If you’re going for an eye cream, less is always best. Take a small quantity and rub it between your fingers, then tap it onto the eye area. Other options include under-eye masks and patches. Our eye product recommendations include Olay Total Effects Anti-Aging Eye Treatment Cream, Kate Somerville Line Under Eye Repair Cream, and PATCHOLOGY FlashPatch Eye Gels.

At this point, you are well-versed in how to prep skin for makeup. All that’s left is to implement this routine and explore the full beauty of your makeup. Remember, you can remove or add any steps to suit your requirements; as long as you prioritize the three key steps, you’re good to go.