How to apply tinted moisturizer like a professional for the freshest possible finish

Want to learn how to apply tinted moisturizer? Let our expert step-by-step guide take you through the process

A tinted moisturizer bottle on a beige backdrop with beauty blending sponges to demonstrate how to apply tinted moisturizer
(Image credit: Future/Getty images)

Learning how to apply tinted moisturizer is as fuss-free as the product itself. There are ways you can take your application to the next level (investing in a primer, brushing up on tools, and spritzing a setting spray) but the beauty of tinted moisturizer is that it's a far more laissez-faire product than normal foundation. 

Tinted moisturizers are easier to apply than even the best foundations. And in turn, the best tinted moisturizers will be so seamless it’s impossible to tell where your skin ends and the product begins - so if you're debating foundation vs tinted moisturizer, this could swing it. "Thanks to tinted moisturizer being sheer in finish, the application doesn’t need to be as precise as say a full coverage foundation," explains pro makeup artist Hannah Martin (opens in new tab). “It’s a great option when you don’t have a huge amount of time to get ready or don’t feel like you need to cover your skin. If your skin is looking good but you just want to even out your tone slightly, then a tint is perfectly sufficient.” 

Equally, if you did want to cover your skin a little more, you don’t have to stop at tinted moisturizer. “Tinted moisturizer worn alone will create a more understated base for a natural, casual and relaxed look. However, I’ll often use a tinted moisturizer as a base and then layer concealer on top in the areas I want a bit more coverage for a more polished finish,” says Martin.  

How to apply tinted moisturizer like a proffesional

1. Prep the skin first

We know, we know, the name is confusing, but a tinted moisturizer is not a substitute for an actual moisturizer. It’s a color cosmetic product, which means the levels of moisturizing ingredients inside the formula will be far lower than in a stand-alone moisturizer. By prepping with your best face moisturizer first, you’ll also increase the staying power of your tinted one. Dry or dehydrated skin greedily soaks up any liquid it can get its hands on like a sponge, so if your tinted moisturizer is the first step in your routine, it won’t be sticking around for long. Hydration is key if you want your tinted moisturizer to stay on for longer than it takes to make your morning coffee. 

Another reason to moisturize is that tinted serum has far less coverage than a traditional foundation, and therefore more of your skin will be on show. Moisturizing will help your complexion look its best by plumping fine lines, smoothing away roughness, and evening out the texture of your skin to create a nice, clear canvas to work on. 

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Byoma Moisturizing Gel Cream | RRP: $13.99 / £11.99

Managing to be both lightweight and creamy all at once, this moisturizer is a treat to use. It contains ceramides to strengthen and nourish, and niacinamide to balance and calm. 

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Caudalie Vinosource-Hydra Grape Water Gel Moisturizer | RRP: $42 / £27

Hate the feeling of rich moisturizer on your skin? We’ve got the perfect compromise. This is so watery in texture that it’s more like applying a serum than a moisturizer, and leaves the skin feeling cool and fresh.

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Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base | RRP: $48 / £48.50
When makeup brands expand into skincare, sometimes it can feel like a going-through-the-motions rather than a must-have. This cult moisturizer is the exception to the rule, creating the softest, pillowy base for makeup. 

2. Start with a primer

A primer is a nice-to-have rather than a must-have in your makeup bag, but a good one will work hard to earn its keep. Consider it an optional step if your skin needs a little extra help before you apply your base. If your complexion is dull, try a primer with light-reflecting particles to restore brightness, a hydrating formula is the best primer for dry skin and a mattifying primer will help keep that pesky shine at bay. 

If it’s the tone of your skin that’s the biggest bugbear, no thanks to dark circles, angry red blemishes, or stubborn pigmentation, then opt for a color-correcting primer instead. It will help to dial down these unwanted tones, taking the weight off of your tinted moisturizer. How to use primer will vary slightly by brand and the type you’re using, but generally, they go over skincare and under makeup.

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Laura Mercier Pure Canvas Illuminating Primer | RRP: $42 / £35.50

A glow in a tube. The smattering of shimmer means this brings instant vibrancy to your skin. It also works well mixed with your foundation to soften the finish. 

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Milk Makeup Hydro Grip Primer | RRP: $18 / £17

Solving two problems in one bottle, this primer hydrates thirsty skin as well as ensures your base won’t budge. It’s slightly green in tone, which helps bring down redness. 

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Benefit The POREfessional Face Primer | RRP: $32 / £29
An oldie but a goodie, if you find that tinted moisturizer leaves your skin looking too shiny, this is the perfect prep. It blurs deep pores and uneven texture instantly. 

3. Pick up the right tools

… or don’t! The great thing about a tinted moisturizer is you don’t need to use brushes or sponges to get a gorgeous finish. “Tinted moisturizer is by its definition lighter in texture than foundation so you can just apply it with fingers if you wish,” says global makeup artist, brand founder, and beauty expert Ruby Hammer MBE. (opens in new tab) “As long as you blend, either tools or fingers are fine. The best makeup brushes or sponges will offer more control and be easier to blend quickly for those who are time-poor. It’s totally personal preference.” 

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Real Techniques Everyday Essentials | RRP: $19.99 / £20.99

If you’re new to tools, this starter kit has everything you need at a purse-friendly price. Use the bigger brushes for larger surface areas and the smaller ones for detail. 

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Beautyblender Original | RRP: $17 / £17

Sponges aren’t quite as popular as they were a few years ago, but the die-hard fans swear by them. Use wet for a dewier base and dry for more coverage.

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Fenty Beauty Full-Bodied Foundation Brush 110 | RRP: $44 / £26

Fluffy brushes can be quite tricky to apply tinted moisturizer with, as you feel you’re losing a lot of product along the way. A brush with densely-packed bristles like this is the antidote, making it easy to place your tinted moisturizer precisely onto the skin. 

4. Work with a light hand

Now for the actual 'how to apply tinted moisturizer' bit. As the texture is light, it’s easy to go in quite heavy-handed when applying tinted moisturizer. Applying more product than needed isn’t going to give you increased coverage (if that’s what you’re hoping for, try the best lightweight foundations) but it will increase the likelihood of a patchy, uneven finish. If you’re applying with your fingers, take a moment to warm the product between them first before smoothing it onto the skin. 

In areas where you really want to focus the product (for most of us that’s around the forehead, nose, and cheeks) press and pat your tinted moisturizer into the skin. Rubbing will only move the product around and can also drive unwanted redness. When applying with a brush, work in soft circular motions to buff the product onto the skin. 

5. Consider concealer

On days when your skin isn’t playing ball, a tinted moisturizer might not be enough to blur any complexion gripes like dark circles or spots. If that’s the case, then top with a concealer in those specific areas. As the coverage is targeted, it’s not going to detract from the overall natural finish. For under the eye, choose a lightweight concealer that won’t settle into fine lines around your eyes or add extra bulk to existing puffiness. You’ll need something heavier and more pigmented for spots.  

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Rose Inc Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer | RRP: $25 / £23

Hydrating enough that it won’t sit obviously on the skin or nestle into fine lines, this is one of the best concealers for tired eyes. The shade range is good too. 

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Hourglass Vanish Airbrush Concealer | RRP: $36 / £32
A real-life magic wand, this blurs and softens any bugbear that comes its way. The light-reflecting particles leave a really natural, soft-focus finish. 

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Tarte Shape Tape Concealer | RRP: $26 / £27

There’s concealer, and then there’s Tarte Shape Tape. Fantastically full coverage, even the angriest, most scene-stealing breakouts are no match for this. 

6. Finally, set in place

Wondering how to apply tinted moisturizer so that it sticks around for longer? There are add-ons that can help increase its staying power. Powder can be too heavy and mattifying for some, and if you apply too much, it will undo all the hard work you’ve put into creating a natural, glowing, soft-focus base. However, if you’re someone with oily skin, you’ll likely need a little by 3pm. The more finely milled the powder is, the lighter it will be. If you’re in an anti-powder mindset, consider a setting spray instead. These clever spritzes will help extend the life of your base, and can also add a little extra glow. 

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Givenchy Beauty Prism Libre Powder | RRP: $58 / £45

Don’t be put off by the colorful appearance, this comes in six shades, designed to be shopped by skin tone for the perfect neutralizing finish. It also lasts better, and for longer, than any other powder we’ve tried. 

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Urban Decay All Night Setting Spray | RRP: $33 / £27
This setting spray will persuade even the flightiest of bases to stick around for longer. For a quick fix, spritz onto your face two to four times after applying your tinted moisturizer.

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Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder | RRP: $23 / £34

Loose powders tend to give a more natural finish than pressed ones, as the pigment isn’t so tightly packed. The translucent shade of this one can still show up a little on the skin, so explore the other shade options to find the right one. 

Jess Beech

Jess Beech is an experienced fashion and beauty editor, with more than eight years experience in the publishing industry. She has written for woman&home, GoodtoKnow, Now, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own and Chat, and is a former Deputy Fashion & Beauty Editor at Future PLC. A beauty obsessive, Jess has tried everything from cryotherapy to chemical peels (minus the Samantha in Sex and The City-worthy redness) and interviewed experts including Jo Malone and Trinny Woodall.