How To: Get an Airbrush Finish Without the Airbrush

Thanks to Instagram, it’s easy to look like you have a flawless complexion (not to mention a bit of a tan and a more defined jawline). In real life, however, it’s a bit more challenging. Sure, we’d love to use the gold standard: airbrushing, which harnesses air pressure to spray millions of tiny makeup droplets onto skin. But since most of us don’t actually own an airbrush (or have a makeup artist on call), we’ve created a routine that gets the same effect—no high-tech tools (or filters) required.

Step 1. Exfoliate and Cleanse
First things, first: You need a smooth, clean canvas. If your complexion is flaky, bumpy, or dirty, no amount of makeup will get you the look you want. Opt for a gentle exfoliator that cleanses, like Origins’ Modern Friction. It uses rice starch to eliminate dry patches and won’t leave skin red or irritated the way a more aggressive formula might.

Step 2: Moisturize
Next up: hydration. Steer clear of heavy or dense moisturizers to avoid looking like you’ve caked product onto your skin. Lightweight, fast-absorbing formulas work well under makeup, and we’re partial to Marcelle New•Age Precision Anti-Wrinkle + Firming Day Cream. It not only moisturizes, it also uses caffeine to firm skin and an amino-acid complex to trigger collagen production and reduce the appearance of fine lines.

Step 3. Formula, Formula, Formula
The most critical step is picking the right makeup formula. You’ll need something with at least medium coverage, meaning enough to mask pimples, but not enough to erase every freckle. A matte finish is also important if you want a polished, see-no-pores look. You can get the best of both worlds by using a tinted product with shine-busting ingredients, like Benefit’s new Big Easy. This “bigger than BB” multitasker evens out skin tone, plus it controls oil and self-adjusts to your exact shade (reason enough for us to be superfans). The liquid formula is particularly innovative because it dries to a powder-like finish, giving your complexion a soft velvety look that’s so smooth, you’d swear it was, well, airbrushed.

Step 4. Use the Right Tools
We use our fingers to apply most, if not all, of our makeup (racing out the door to an 8:30 conference call is not the time to be futzing with brushes). But there’s a reason why tons of makeup artists use sponges—the porous surface mimics the texture of skin. Every artist we know keeps a beautyblender in their kit because the handy egg-shape fits the contours of your nose, jaw, and other areas. Be sure to press and wiggle your product into place for a more natural look.