Apply make-up in this order for the best, longest-lasting finish

Get a beautiful base and a long-lasting finish with this step-by-step guide on how to apply your make-up in the right order.

how to apply make-up: makeup brushes
(Image credit: Getty)

If you’re a little confused about how to layer your make-up and apply it in the right order, we’re here to help. There are so many products filling beauty shelves that it can be mind-boggling knowing where to start. Fret not. This is your ultimate checklist for getting the most from your make-up to get your best base yet.

So, you've bought the best foundation, nude lipstick or face primer and treated yourself to the best brushes and tools. Once you’ve learned the basics, you can experiment and try out new products. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to make-up, it’s there to explore and be creative with! But, if you need a little point in the right direction to start with, read on…

Step 1: Skin prep

Your skincare is the first step when creating a flawless base. Look at your skin type – are you oily? Dry? Flaky? Experience excess redness? All of these things can be improved by choosing the right skincare. As a general rule, you should be applying an antioxidant first and on bare, clean skin. Allies of Skin 20% Vitamin C Brighten + Firm Serum, £85,, is a fantastic vitamin C for evening out pigmentation and giving glow. 

This should then be followed by your eye cream. We suggest a de-puffing formula like Clinique All About Eyes, £28.50, Boots, to look your best. 

Finally, apply your moisturiser. For everyday use, we rate Dr. Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser, £25,, as it’s deeply hydrating, suitable for all skin types and created by dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting.

Dr. Sam’s Flawless Moisturiser

(Image credit: Dr Sam)

Step 2: SPF

Sun protection is an essential step all year round to prevent UVA/UVB damage and premature ageing. Go for one that sits nicely under make-up such as Estée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Multi-Defense Aqua UV Gel SPF 50, £36, Boots. It’s non-greasy and hydrating but won’t make your foundation slide off your face. SPF should always be your last skincare step before you start applying make-up. 

Estée Lauder Perfectionist Pro Multi-Defense Aqua UV Gel SPF50

(Image credit: Estée Lauder)

Step 3: Prime

Depending on the finish you like your base to have, glowy and dewy or a more velvety and matte look, determines your primer. It’s not a must-do step, you can apply your foundation straight on top of SPF, but if you’re wanting a long-lasting look, you’ll need a primer. 

We rate the Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer, £32,, with different finishes to suit your skin type and concerns.

Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Primer

(Image credit: Laura Mercier)

Step 4: Foundation

Start in the centre of your face and apply your foundation by blending it out either with a brush or a damp beauty sponge. Some of our favourites include Nars Sheer Glow, £33.50, Look Fantastic, for a lovely dewy finish or L'Oreal Paris True Match Liquid Foundation, £9.99, Boots, for a more matte, velvet texture. Less is more with foundation and many people apply too much and it ends up looking ‘caked’ on. Start slowly and try a thin layer to begin with.

Nars Sheer Glow

(Image credit: Nars)

Step 5: Conceal

Applying your concealer after your foundation means you won’t overdo the coverage, as your base should have covered most discoloration or blemishes in your complexion. You’ll need two concealers – a liquid one for under the eyes like Hourglass Vanish Airbrush Concealer, £32, Space NK, and a creamier one for blemishes or marks such as MAC Studio Finish Concealer, £17.50, Look Fantastic

Hourglass Vanish Airbrush Concealer

(Image credit: Hourglass)

Step 6: Set

Keep your base flawless all day by using a setting powder in the areas you need to, keeping excess shine at bay. If you have really dry skin you may want to skip this step altogether but most women find they get a little shiny in the T-zone. We suggest a finely milled, pressed powder like Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish, £35,, for a non-cakey, smoothing effect. 

Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Finish

(Image credit: Charlotte Tilbury)

Step 7: Bronzer/blush

Adding a pop of colour to the cheeks will instantly lift your complexion, while bronzer gives a healthy, sunkissed look. If the formula you love is a cream or liquid, apply it before you set your foundation in step six but, if it's a powder product apply  afterwards. We rate the gorgeous pigment and easy blendability of Lily Lolo Pressed Blush in In The Pink, £11,, and the subtle warmth of Benefit Hoola Matte Bronzing Powder, £27,


(Image credit: Benefit)

 Step 8: Highlight

A great highlighter can really put some luminosity into your skin and accentuate your favourite features. Similarly to blush and bronzer application, if you opt for a liquid highlighter, apply this before your powder stage but if you choose a powder highlight like, The Balm Mary Lou Manizer Luminizer Highlighter, £20,, then apply afterwards. A touch on your Cupid’s bow and the tops of the cheekbones will give a natural looking sheen to the skin.

The Balm Mary Lou Manizer Luminizer Highlighter

(Image credit: theBalm)

Step 9: Fix or refresh

Once you’ve finished your make-up, it’s a good idea to use a setting spray to keep it in place. We love Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray, £26, Boots, for a light mist that helps your make-up last. If your skin tends to get dry during the day, a hydrating mist will give your skin a boost of much needed moisture. Try e.l.f. Hydrating Coconut Mist, £8, Feel Unique, for an instant refresh when your skin might be feeling a little lacklustre. 

Urban Decay All Nighter Setting Spray

(Image credit: Urban Decay)
Emma North

Emma North is a Beauty Writer who works for digital titles including woman&home, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own, Chat and GoodtoKnow. Emma’s career in beauty journalism began with internships at publications including Vogue, Elle, The Telegraph and Glamour. She was then taken under the wing of Funmi Fetto, Contributing Beauty Editor at Vogue where Emma assisted with Funmi’s debut beauty book, Palette.