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Have combination skin? Experts share their tips for applying your makeup perfectly

The right strategy is key to perfecting your look.
TODAY Illustration / Sephora / Danessa Myricks Beauty

By now, everyone knows the importance of choosing the right skin care products for their skin type, whether they have oily skin or dry skin. Did you know that you should also be thinking about your skin type when you shop for makeup or that your skin type can also influence how you should apply makeup?

This is all pretty straightforward for people with oily or dry skin across their entire face, but when you have combination skin, there are a few more things to keep in mind. Shop TODAY spoke to a dermatologist and three makeup artists about everything you need to know when shopping for and applying makeup to combination skin. Plus, the makeup experts shared their favorite picks for every part of your beauty routine.

What is combination skin?

Combination skin is a term you’ve probably heard before, but it doesn’t exactly have a scientific foundation.

“‘Combination’ skin, though not a scientific term, colloquially indicates that the skin has characteristics that are both oily/acne-prone, as well as that which can easily be dry and sensitive,” Dr. Mona Sadeghpour, MD, FAAD, told Shop TODAY via email.

“There are certain areas of the skin on the face that may be more prone to higher oil production and thus more prone to acne production. This includes what many may refer to as the T-zone, including the forehead, nose and chin…In people who have combination skin, the cheeks and areas around the eyelid may in contrast be dry and easily sensitized,” she added.

Makeup artists Lindsay Kastuk, Melissa Drouillard and Eric Vosburg all said that when they encounter combination skin, it’s most often in the format Sadeghpour mentioned: an oily T-zone and dry outer regions. Kastuk added that eyelids can also be a common oily spot for people. (If you’re not an avid eye shadow-wearer, though, you might never have noticed.)

How to shop for makeup for combination skin

Like skin care, you can’t just apply any kind of makeup to combination skin if you want the best results. There are certain claims and ingredients you’ll want to look for and ones you’ll want to steer clear of.

Vosburg said he likes to look for hydrating ingredients like glycerin and squalane in products for combination skin.

“Squalane’s great because it mimics the natural skin tells our skin, 'Hey you’re good, you don’t need to produce any more oil,' so it’s really great for combination skin,” he added.

In general, Kastuk says to keep any sensitivities in mind when shopping. It’s also the first question she says a makeup artist should ask if getting your makeup professionally done. She advises avoiding products with active ingredients that can potentially irritate or dry out your face, calling out clay-based products as an example.

Since combination skin consists of largely oily areas, she recommends avoiding products that claim to be illuminating, glowing or dewy.

“You’ve got that naturally, so you don’t really need to add more,” she said.

Sadeghpour advises avoiding heavy foundation or other thick makeup that can “inhibit the skin from ‘breathing’.” Instead, she suggests using powders, oil-free or non-comedogenic tinted mineral sunscreens. They “even out the color of the skin while protecting the skin from sun-indued damage,” she shared. And when it comes to claims for foundations, Kastuk recommends looking for ones that offer “natural” or “satin” finishes.

Similar to Sadeghpour’s recommendation for foundations, Drouillard suggests using an oil-free primer to help control oil production.

“There isn’t one sole product that will remove oil from the skin, but there’s stuff that you can do to decrease the amount that comes out while you wear makeup,” she said.

While it might be tempting to buy every product that claims to be mattifying, Drouillard advises against that.

“Sometimes you have to tone down the amount of mattifying products that you use because it’ll make your skin overcompensate for the lack of moisture and even more oil will come out,” she shared.

Like Kastuk, she prefers to use a natural finish foundation and opt for a mattifying concealer. Since concealer is most often applied in the T-zone, it’ll help control oil production only in the places that actually need it.

Tips for applying makeup to combination skin

Vosburg, Drouillard and Kastuk each have the same essential application tip and it's relevant before any makeup is even brought out: prep your skin.

“I feel like prepping your skin is really the most important because it’s the base and what your makeup is sitting on top of,” Kastuk said.

Since you’re dealing with two skin types on combination skin, using one product on your entire face probably won’t provide the best results. Vosburg says he treats the areas of the face like individual zip codes, applying different products in different areas to balance them out.

While working with someone who has a higher rate of oiliness in their combination skin, Drouillard likes to dust translucent powder over primer to “reiterate some mattifying properties” since she wouldn’t typically use a very mattifying foundation.

Once all of your liquids are applied, Drouillard likes to press a setting powder in the T-zone with a powder puff. She prefers the puff over a brush because she feels like the brush can disturb the makeup and the puff locks in in place.

“It’s all about the technique of pressing in the product to keep that even complexion and mattifying rather than to swipe it around…you may get highlighter [in other places] and it’s gonna make the oils come out even quicker,” she said.

Kastuk follows a similar strategy for applying setting powders and sprays.

“If you don’t need [to set] there, we’re not gonna put it there,” she said. “Combination skin can also be very dry and if you’re putting powder where you’re already very dry, it’s actually going to enhance the dryness because powder takes out all the oils.” Because of this, she recommends only applying setting products where you need it.

Wearing makeup on combination skin can often leave you looking shiny, which is great for those who want a dewy, illuminating look and means you don’t need to pile on the highlighter. (One less product to buy!) If you do want to wear highlighter in order to achieve a specific look, Drouillard and Kastuk suggest applying it lightly and strategically.

Best skin prep products for combination skin, according to experts

Ursa Major Fortifying Face Balm

For people who have more normal to oily skin areas, Kastuk likes this moisturizer from Ursa Major because of its fresh scent and lightweight feel. These are two factors that she says makes it great for summer. It's a gel moisturizer that claims feel like a serum, is non-comedogenic and non-greasy.

Laneige Cream Skin Toner & Moisturizer

Vosburg likes to start with this two-in-one toner and moisturizer from Laneige. Since it's very hydrating, he likes to use it around the perimeter of the face for people with combination skin.

CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion

Vosburg follows up the Laneige moisturizer with this CeraVe pick in areas that are oily like the T-zone, following his method of only using products for certain skin types in designated areas.

"The ceramides help soothe the skin and provide balance to the skin and help protect the skin in the long run," he said.

Omorovicza Balancing Moisturizer

If you're willing to splurge, Kastuk recommends this moisturizer from Omorovicza for someone who tends to have oilier skin areas.

"It kind of just balances the skin out without being too matte," she said.

It's a bestseller on the brand's site that touts benefits like controlling shine and long-lasting hydration.

Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micellar Water

Drouillard specifically called out micellar water as an important prep step when working with combination skin to make sure the skin is "fresh and ready for whatever I put on top of it." This micellar water from Bioderma is a bestseller on Amazon and has over 28,000 verified five-star ratings.

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum

Drouillard likes to follow up the micellar water with a hyaluronic acid serum for hydration.

"Whether your skin is dry or oily, our skin needs hyaluronic acid because it pulls in moisture. Combination skin that tends to lean more toward oily, it just means that your skin is dehydrated, so you want to replenish that moisture," she said.

Chantecaille Anti-Pollution Mattifying Cream

For those who are extremely oily, Kastuk really likes this cream from Chantecaille.

"It’s actually a really great product in big cities because it actually helps protect your face," she said.

Best primers for combination skin, according to makeup artists

Smashbox Photo Finish Control Mattifying Primer

Drouillard uses this Smashbox primer solely in the T-zone.

"I don’t necessarily feel like you need primer all over the face. I just feel like you need it in the areas of concern because if the rest of your face is normal to dry, your serum and moisturizer should be enough in those areas," she explained.

Jason Wu Beauty Magic Matte Oil

Although this is technically an oil, Vosburg says it applies like a serum. He also likes to apply this is in the T-zone before makeup.

"It really helps absorb any excess oil throughout the day and it wears beautifully underneath makeup which I love," he said.

Danessa Myricks Yummy Skin Blurring Balm Powder

Vosburg also likes this balm powder, a recent release from Danessa Myricks.

"It basically is really great at absorbing oil and balancing the skin out during the day so you can use that as a primer or as a powder substitute," he said. A two-for-one deal!

Best foundations for combination skin, according to makeup artists

Monika Blunder Beauty Blunder Cover All-in-One Concealer/Foundation

This all-in-one concealer and foundation is a favorite of Kastuk's.

"It’s a cream but it kinda sets so it has that really nice glowy effect. You can set it where you need to...It’s beautiful," she said.

If you're a little apprehensive about the price tag, she also says that it comes with a lot of product that will last you a while.

Nars Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation

Drouillard says this is her go-to foundation. She likes to pair it with the Make Up For Ever Matte Velvet concealer and called the duo "perfection together...especially for summer." This foundation offers a wide range of shades with over 30 different colors.

Best concealers for combination skin, according to makeup artists

Make Up For Ever Matte Velvet Skin High Coverage Multi-Use Concealer

The other half of Drouillard's previously mentioned dynamic duo is this concealer that's offered in 22 shades from alabaster to mocha.

Nars Soft Matte Complete Concealer

When she's not using Make Up For Ever, Drouillard likes to use this Nars concealer. She says both products "give you really good finishes for combination skin."

Best eyeshadow for combination skin, according to makeup artists

IT Cosmetics Superhero No-Tug Eyeshadow Stick

Kastuk loves these eyeshadow sticks. She experiences oiliness on her eyes herself, which causes eye makeup to crease quickly. She lines her eyes with these sticks and blends out the color with her finger and she says the color lasts for a bit.

Best blushes for combination skin, according to makeup artists

Rose Inc Blush Divine Radiant Lip & Cheek Color

Kastuk likes using cream blushes on the perimeter of the face, outside oily T-zones. She likes these lip and cheek color compacts from Rose Inc for their small size, versatility and ability to use them on more than one part of the face. She says it helps you "look put together with matching lips and matching cheeks." Bonus: There's also a sustainability aspect of this product — you can buy refills for the compact instead of having to buy and throw away excess packaging each time.

Chantecaille Cheek Gelée Happy Hydrating Gel-Cream Blush

Kastuk is committed to buying cruelty-free brands and calls Chantecaille "one of the only luxe luxe brands that is actually cruelty-free so I have a lot of stuff of theirs," she laughed. She said these cheek gelées can be used on both cheeks and eyes and dry down enough to work well on every skin type.

Best setting powders and sprays for combination skin, according to makeup artists

Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish Setting Powder

Kastuk loves using this setting powder in oily areas.

"You don’t have to use a lot, especially if you’re super oily. It does have a tiny bit more coverage, too. That is a must," she said.

It comes in four shades: fair, medium, tan and deep.

Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder

This popular setting powder is another go-to for Drouillard. According to the brand, it can set makeup for up to 16 hours of wear.

Sacha Cosmetics Buttercup Setting Powder

Drouillard likes to use this setting powder in the undereye and T-zone areas. It comes in the standard buttercup color, a light buttercup color and colorless.

Danessa Myricks Set it Forever Mist

If you prefer to set your makeup with a spray, Kastuk likes this spray from Danessa Myricks.

"You can either do it before your makeup or after your makeup so it’ll control oil production," she said.

She likes to spray it onto a cotton pad, tap it into oily areas before applying makeup, let it dry before applying makeup and set the look with this spray again afterward.

Make Up For Ever Light Velvet Air Shine-Control Refreshing Spray

A big fan of setting sprays, Drouillard like this one from Make Up For Ever. Aside from its mattifying properties, it also contains aloe vera and green lentil extract to provide benefits like soothing the skin and refining the appearance of pore size, according to the brand.

Milk Hydro Grip Set + Refresh Spray

Drouillard also likes the TikTok-viral Milk Hydro Grip Set + Refresh Spray. This lightweight spray is designed to keep your makeup in place for up to 12 hours, according to its description.

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