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A makeup artist shares her secrets for creating the perfect airbrushed look

One key tip makes all the difference.
Kara Birnbaum for TODAY

When you hear the word “airbrushed,” what do you think of? For me, it’s those stands in the mall that used paint to airbrush names, characters and slogans onto T-shirts all throughout the early 2000s. But in 2022, airbrush has taken on a different meaning.

Now, we’re talking about airbrushed makeup. And no, we don’t mean literal airbrushed with the full machine setup and paint being sprayed through a small nozzle.

Bridal makeup artist Samantha Centner describes the airbrushed look as “an Instagram filter in person.” The goal is for your skin to look as smooth, matte and blurred as possible so that it gives off the vibe of a photo you’d see on the app but in walking, talking 3D.

While most people think the key to achieving the look rests solely in the hands of the makeup, Centner argues that success begins before any makeup is even applied.

How to do airbrushed makeup

The key to getting the best results, Centner told us, is making sure the base of your look (your skin) is in optimal condition. “You want to make sure that you’re really hydrating, drinking a lot of water [and] doing a consistent skin care routine,” she said.

If it's within your budget, she recommends doing regular facials leading up to a special event to have the best possible skin for whatever special occasion you're celebrating. “That's going to really leave your skin nice and plump and it’s going to be able to handle all of the powders and the layers, which is the key to making it last all day.”

Another skin prep tip she offered is exfoliating regularly. Dry patches and vellus hair can cause makeup to look patchy, which is the opposite of what you want when trying to achieve this unreal-real look.

Once all of your pre-prep is done, it’s time to actually bring the look to life!

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Centner likes to start by overly hydrating the skin. This is something she recommends everyone does, unless you have extremely oily skin. “Usually the skin will overproduce oil if it’s lacking that moisture, so that’s why people get the idea that they have oilier skin but they actually have drier skin,” she explained.

She starts with a hydrating toner, follows it up with a serum depending on how dry the skin is and closes with a hydrating moisturizer. “In order to get that matte look, after you prep the skin, you can go in with the matte products. But you need to make sure that base is really hydrated 1) so it’ll stick and 2) so when you’re layering on the foundation, the powders…don’t look cakey,” she advised.

Soak it up!

After you’ve saturated and hydrated your skin, she says to take a few minutes to sit and let all of the products soak in. Make sure to push in the product when applying so that it’s not just sitting on top of the skin and will actually penetrate.

Apply your foundation

Once you feel like the products have soaked in, it’s time to apply foundation. She likes to use a fluffy, dense foundation brush to stipple the foundation onto the skin in a thin layer. She doesn’t recommend swiping it around but instead mimicking the light, bouncing motion of applying something with a Beautyblender, except with a dense foundation brush.

After your foundation is spread out in a thin layer, then she follows up with a damp makeup sponge and that same motion all over the face. “I find that that helps it to really sink in and give a really even base as opposed to putting it in with a brush,” she said.

Let it set

Now that your foundation is on, it’s time to set it and forget it. Centner likes to use diamond-shaped powder puffs to press in setting powder in areas where makeup tends to crease the most like the nose, around the mouth and under the eyes. It’s a technique she’s been doing on herself and clients lately and says she’s found that “it really gives that matte airbrushed finish more so than any other application method that I’ve used.”

“I think a key part of that Instagram look is a really smooth under eye,” she said, before emphasizing that this technique achieves that look. She likes to use a translucent powder in the aforementioned areas that crease most often and follow it up with a standard foundation powder around the rest of the face for a blurring effect.

No matter which powders she’s using, Centner attributes her airbrushed look success to the diamond-shaped puff. “You would never look at it and think that it could do that, but it does. It’s really great. It’s amazing. I do it on myself now, too, and I can’t believe I’ve gone so long without it,” she raved.

Best products to do airbrushed makeup, according to a makeup artist

Laneige Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer

This is Centner's toner of choice during skin prep. She likes this option because she says it "doesn't strip away the moisture like other toners do."

Laneige Glowy Makeup Serum

To add further hydration, Centner likes to follow up the toner with this priming Laneige serum. "It’s made specifically for makeup application and to be worn underneath makeup," she said. Diamond mineral powder is one of its highlighted ingredients to provide a visible glow.

Weleda Skin Food Original Ultra-Rich Cream

To close out skin prep, Center said she's been using this Weleda moisturizer recently. It's a thicker cream, but she says its stickiness helps makeup adhere to the skin.

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base Priming Moisturizer

Centner loves using this primer and she's not the only one. It has over 1,000 five-star reviews on Sephora's website. It's made with a slew of popular and beneficial ingredients like vitamins B, C and E, hyaluronic acid, squalane and shea butter.

Milk Hydro Grip Hydrating Makeup Primer

This line from Milk is not only a TikTok favorite, but also one of Centner's top choices for primers. The brand boasts its ability to "grip" makeup for up to 12 hours while simultaneously locking in hydration. According to a clinical study conducted by the brand, 93 percent of users said makeup went on easier and their skin felt more hydrated after using it.

Nars Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation

A favorite of Centner's, this long-wear foundation comes in almost three dozen shades and boasts 16 hours of fade-resistant wear. She likes that it has a satin finish that can be turned matte depending on how you layer it with other products.

Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Stick Foundation

If you prefer a stick foundation, Centner recommends this option from Make Up For Ever. It boasts "long-lasting, buildable coverage that glides on like a second skin." Offered in up to 18 shades, you can also use a shade or two darker for contouring.

Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Foundation

Centner also likes this foundation from Charlotte Tilbury's aptly-named Airbrush collection. According to a study conducted by the brand, it boosted moisture levels by over 200 percent in just one hour after use. "I wore this foundation for my outside wedding and it did not budge all day. Such beautiful coverage and it doesn't look cakey at all. I recommend this foundation for anyone who was has a big event coming up!" one Sephora reviewer raved.

Too Faced Born This Way Multi-Use Sculpting Concealer

If you're trying to get the most bang for your buck, this concealer pick from Centner is a no-brainer. The brand says its full coverage can also be used for contouring, highlighting and retouching. One Sephora reviewer called it the best concealer they've ever used.

Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer

Pair your long-wear foundation with this long-wear concealer that Centner likes. While it's boasted as a multipurpose product that "brightens, corrects and perfects for up to 16 hours," she also called this product out as a great option for mature skin.

Huda Beauty Easy Bake Loose Baking & Setting Powder

Once all of your foundation is applied and you're ready to begin your final step, you can use this powder that Centner recommends. This is the powder she uses with her secret weapon — the powder puff — to set the areas of the face that crease the most.

Mac Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation

For the rest of the face, Centner likes to go in with this powder foundation from Mac. It comes in almost 50 shades and, according to the brand, provides medium-to-full buildable coverage that lasts 24 hours.

Motzu Pure Cotton Powder Puff

These powder puffs are Centner's secret weapon when doing an airbrushed makeup look. Each set comes with six washable puffs so you can use them over and over again or collect a set in every color! For less than $10, it's a deal you can't beat.