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How To: Nail the Underpainting Technique

How To: Nail the Underpainting Technique

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The secret to flawlessly blended makeup? Mary Phillips’ underpainting technique.


If, like us, you’re obsessed with the flawless makeup of It girl Hailey Bieber, then you’ve probably heard of ‘underpainting’, and its pioneer, Mary Phillips. The makeup artist went viral on TikTok when she revealed the secret to the model’s radiant makeup looks earlier this year. Since then, we’ve been lapping up every tip and trick in her book as she shares her wisdom on social media.

So, what is the process of underpainting makeup? It’s a face makeup technique that involves applying your contour or bronzing product first, followed by your foundation, which is applied on top for a seamless, diffused look. While it’s similar to the Scott Barnes (J.Lo’s MUA) technique used in the ‘90s; this is a more natural and modern take.

Sound a bit wild? Think of your contour as your bone structure, and your foundation is applied over the top, which, actually, makes total sense. The proof is in the pudding: #underpainting has amassed nearly 145 million views on TikTok.

What are the benefits of underpainting makeup? Airbrushed yet natural and healthy-looking skin every time; you can’t go wrong with underpainting. Want to know how to do underpainting yourself? We’ve broken it down.

Step 1: Do I need to skin prep before makeup?

It is a well-known fact that slacking on your skin prep will most likely result in dull makeup that doesn’t last. Prepping with ample skincare will hydrate and plump the skin ready for makeup, and Phillips swears by Crème de La Mer. Using both The Renewal Oil and The Moisturising Soft Cream, she applies skincare in light layers, using a gua sha for a lymphatic drainage massage.

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Step 2: What’s the underpainting contour technique?

Now the fun begins. Watch any of her videos and you’ll see Phillips begins with cream contour, taking it around the hairline, in the hollows of the cheeks, down the sides of the nose and under the jaw. It’s important to use all cream products for the underpainting technique, so all the formulas blend seamlessly together.

Phillips’ secret weapon? A fluffy brush. It may seem counterintuitive to blend a cream product with a brush more suited to powder, but trust us, it works. A key factor to looking buffed and diffused; with this technique, the tools are just as important as the products.

Step 3: When should I apply concealer?

We’ve always been taught that concealer goes over foundation. As the thicker, more full coverage product, concealer is usually only applied where needed. Not Mary Phillips. By applying the under-eye concealer first, it means you need to use less foundation on top. Less cakey and more cost-effective, it’s a win in our books.

It’s said that Phillips only applies highlighter under the base for an evening look, preferring to keep the skin slightly less glowy for the daytime. But when she does apply it, it sits on the high points of the face (think cheekbones, bridge of the nose and cupid’s bow). For this, we love the new Gucci Beauty Illuminateur de Beauté for a universally flattering glow.

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Step 4: How to apply foundation?

Looking a bit crazy? Don’t worry, now it starts to come together. The genius behind this technique is that you end up needing much less foundation, making the skin look more natural. This is also the point where you can decide if you’re going to use a tinted moisturiser for a more every-day look, or a foundation to dress it up for the evening. We love the YSL Nu Bare Look Tint for sheer, juicy skin, and the Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation for a high coverage, flawless base.

And once again, the magic is in the brush. Phillips continues to use a slightly sparse, fluffy brush for the foundation. In conversation with British Vogue, she said: “I think it makes it look airbrushed.”

Step 5: Is there a proper way to apply blush?

The final step before a dusting of setting powder is blush. Again, it’s important to stick to a cream or liquid formula for this step. Phillips says she prefers to apply blush higher up on the cheekbones, but correct blush placement will all depend on your face shape, so it’s worth trying a few variations to see which looks best. She regularly applies a bit of blush on the bridge of the nose and temples for a naturally flushed look.

At this stage, setting the under eyes and centre of the face with a loose powder will lock in your hard work. For oily skin, a light set all over the face would be best, and you can even top with powder bronzer and blush to lock all the cream colour in. Either way, the underpainting tip guarantees flawless, diffused face makeup every time.