How To Apply Airbrush Makeup (The Ultimate Guide)

Ultimate guide to applying airbrush makeup
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Airbrush makeup gives an incredibly smooth finish, helping you get maximum coverage while still looking natural, almost like you are not wearing foundation. There are plenty of at-home airbrush kits that you can buy to recreate the professional make-up look, and once you get the hang of it, it will take you the same amount of time to get ready as a traditional foundation.

Airbrush makeup will last at least 12 hours, and you can control the coverage with each pass of the nozzle. Keep in mind that you will want to supplement traditional concealer to cover dark circles and other blemishes. Here is the ultimate guide to making sure you get even, smooth coverage when you are applying your airbrush makeup. You cannot go wrong with these tricks.

Choose Your Airbrush Kit

There are many different types of airbrush kits out there, and choosing the right one will make a huge difference in how you apply your makeup and how it will look on your face. There are three types that you can typically select between, and each has a different yet similar application process. If you are good at one, it doesn’t mean you will be good at applying all of them.

  • Traditional airbrush sprayer
  • All-in-one rechargeable sprayer
  • Aerosol sprays.

This ultimate guide focuses on the traditional airbrush sprayer, as many professional makeup artists and home artists use these. These are the most popular for a reason, and you will get the best experience and highest, most buildable coverage using this type. Still, no matter what airbrush you use, the makeup itself will have an impact on how it looks and sits on your skin.

You will need to practice a lot to make sure you master the coverage and the look you want to achieve, whether you use the traditional airbrush sprayer, all-in-one rechargeable sprayer, or aerosol foundation sprays. Choking the right airbrush kit will make a difference in how much time you take each morning to get your foundation applied and its finish on your skin.

Traditional Airbrush Sprayer

The traditional airbrush sprayer uses a nozzle, a well to hold the product, and an air compressor. There are different settings you can use to control the speed at which you apply your makeup. Overall, this sprayer will take a few drops of makeup and turn it into a fine mist. That fine mist is applied to your face in circular motions until you get the desired coverage.

The air compressor is what pushes the makeup out of the device, and you have a lot of control over the application of your foundation, contour, highlight, or whatever you are choosing to apply using the sprayer. Because the coverage will start sheer, pay close attention to minute changes in coverage. You should look more even and glowing without looking too cakey.

The benefit of this sprayer is that you can build the coverage in ways you cannot with other foundations. It gives you precise control that you can use with all different types of looks and makeup.

All-in-One Rechargeable Sprayer

There are more streamlined sprayer systems that, instead of having the pen, well, and compressor, it is all in one single device. This is bulkier to use, and you won’t feel like you have the same amount of control. Still, it can give you a similar airbrush finish. The well is enclosed, so all you need to do is put a few drops in the machine, replace the cover and compress the button.

Unlike other systems that need to be plugged in to use, these are rechargeable, so you will have more range of motion when you are using them. The nozzles are wider, so the range is a bit larger. You will want to test and get comfortable with it. If you are used to the traditional pen airbrush system, there is a learning curve that will come with the all-in-one rechargeable system.

Aerosol Sprays

There are pre-made foundation sprays that remove the need for an airbrush system at all, though they will not give you the same finish. The foundation is applied almost like you are spraying a can of hairspray, you simply shake it up and spray. Keep in mind that these can be more expensive for less product, and it may be better to use the system to get the real look.

You will want to hold your arm at about a 90-degree angle and spray about 6 to 8 inches from your face. With your eyes closed, apply it in a Z motion. Check your coverage and reapply in the areas that you may have missed. Aerosol foundations are good in a pinch, but they will not give you that long-lasting professional makeup looks that you may be trying to achieve.

Select Your Makeup

Typically, you will need to purchase a special type of airbrush makeup to use with your machine. It is formulated particularly for your machine and will not cause any build-up or damage to your foundation sprayer over time if you clean it properly. This airbrush makeup will typically come in four different formulas, each of which has unique benefits that will determine which you select.

  • Water-based
  • Alcohol-based
  • Silicon-based
  • Mineral-based

If you don’t want to use a special airbrush makeup and have your heart set on your favorite foundation, you may be able to use it in your airbrush sprayer. You can purchase an airbrush makeup thinner, which will help dilute it so that it is safe to use in your machine. Be sure to read the instructions though, not all foundations are compatible with airbrush sprayers.

If you use the wrong products with your airbrush sprayer, you could damage your machine or even break it – even from just one time. The instructions will outline if there are any ingredients that you should avoid to not damage your machine and promote optimal performance. Some may suggest a certain brand or brands for optimal performance.

Water-based

You will get a matte finish when you use water-based airbrush makeup. You can build coverage with ease, and it will help to control shine over the course of the day. It will feel very light on your skin, but because it is water-soluble, it will likely wear off sooner than other formulations, especially if you are prone to sweating. Primer can help with the longevity of your look.

Water-based airbrush makeup will be best for those with normal, combination, or oily skin. If you have dry skin, you should not use a water-based foundation. It will look cakey instead of radiant on your skin. Many skin professionals, including dermatologists, would recommend a water-based airbrush foundation because it is more breathable for your skin.

Alcohol-based

Alcohol-based foundation is the longest-lasting type of airbrush makeup, but it is also the harshest for your skin. That is because it has a very high alcohol content – sometimes even 99 percent – so it is very drying. Because of this, you should use alcohol-based makeup sparingly and those with dry, sensitive skin should not use alcohol-based foundation.

If you do want to use an alcohol-based airbrush foundation, there are a lot of benefits. Alcohol-based airbrush makeup is waterproof, nontransferable, and smudge-proof. Typically, it is not going anywhere unless you remove it, which is why it is often used for actors. You can even use it to conceal tattoos and any severe scarring.

You will, however, lose some of the natural finish so be sure to use it sparingly. You do not want to build this coverage too thick lest you want to get a cakier finish. It will also be harder to take it off and can be more damaging to your skin.

Silicone-based

You will get the sheerest finish when you use silicone-based airbrush makeup, but it also has heavier coverage, so while it will be a sheer finish, it may feel heavier on the skin than you may be used to. It is long-lasting, water-resistant, and bonus, these are often very natural products. These types of products are very popular with professional makeup artists for their versatility.

One benefit of using silicone-based foundation is that it can help improve how your skin’s texture looks, appearing smoother than it is. This will be best for those who may have larger pores or scarring that they want to conceal. You will get all the coverage that you want from a traditional foundation with all of the benefits of a sheer, airbrush makeup glow.

One thing to keep in mind is that silicon-based foundation tends to oxidize, so you will want to pick slightly lighter colors than you typically would. It will darken on your skin when exposed to the air. You can build your coverage using a silicone-based foundation, but remember to color match carefully. You don’t want your face to be a different color than the rest of your body.

Mineral-based

Mineral-based airbrush makeup is a favorite among professional makeup artists. It provides full coverage with a sheer finish that you will often get from traditional mineral makeup products. Mineral-based makeup feels light on your skin, and it is water-resistant. You don’t need to worry about it fading, especially when sweating.

You will get lasting coverage when you use mineral-based airbrush makeup, up to 24 hours. It is good for all types of skin, including normal, combination, and oily. You can even use it on dry skin though you will want to keep close attention to the finish so that it does not become too patchy.

Prep Your Face

You want to put airbrush makeup on a clean canvas, so you will want to prepare your skin. Wash your face, removing any residue of old makeup. Cleaners that help restore the pH balance of your face are preferred as it helps to give you a normal, even canvas to work on. Dry your face before you start to apply your regular skincare routine.

Next, apply any eye creme, serums, and moisturizer to your face. The more moisturized your face, the smoother the application. Any dry spots will cause your face to look patchy. Let your face dry completely before you start to put on any makeup. If you are looking to prolong your airbrush makeup look, you may want to put on a primer.

This will help your foundation to stick, and be sure to consider what you are hoping to accomplish before applying. If you are looking to control oil, you may want to add a mattifying one. If you are looking to enhance your glow, you may want to add a radiance primer. Be sure to apply your primer before your concealer to help your face products adhere smoothly to your face.

Apply Concealer

You will want to apply your concealer before applying your airbrush concealer. This could be to conceal your dark circles or blemishes or to add a highlight to specific areas. Anything that needs thicker coverage should be addressed before applying your airbrush foundation. While some will make a meaningful difference in appearance, it is generally too thin to conceal darker areas.

Blend out your concealer and repeat until you get your desired amount of coverage. Because the concealer has a different texture and thickness, you will not be able to touch it up after you airbrush your foundation without making it look different. You want to be happy with your coverage before starting, understanding that it will be slightly built on with the foundation.

One thing to note is that you will not be able to use airbrush makeup for all of your makeup needs. Concealers will always be an important part of your makeup routine that you will apply manually. You can always add layers and build your airbrush foundation coverage, but it will never build to the level you need to conceal dark circles, for example.

You can find our favorite Tarte Shape Tape Dupes and NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer Dupes here.

Set Up Your Airbrush Sprayer

Set up the space you will be using to apply your airbrush makeup, clearing counter space to rest your machine and makeup on. Plug in your makeup sprayer and air compressor and make sure that you have enough clearance that you will not knock over anything, especially any product.

If your sprayer has a compressor, set it to low or medium, depending on your expertise level. Low is best for beginners, and you can work up to medium as you get more comfortable. This will determine the speed. The lower the speed, the more control you will have over the application of your foundation. Shake your makeup well before you add it to the airbrush well.

Add 6-10 drops of makeup to your airbrush sprayer. A little bit will go a long way when you are working with airbrush makeup. Before you start applying, make sure to test on the back of your hand or a white piece of paper. If you notice any blockages, be sure to clear them before using it. Any blockages will prevent you from getting a very clean coverage.

This will also help you to see the spray radius of your pen, so you can get a sense of how close your passes should be for even coverage on your face. It will be best if you are using a mirror, regular or magnifying, to see your coverage in real-time.

Apply Your Foundation

Make sure your airbrush sprayer is turned on and that you have makeup in the pot. Hold the sprayer between 6 to 12 inches away from your face. Using circular motions, start to apply your foundation. Use the same number of passes on each side of your face. It will make sure that you get even coverage all over your face. Repeat until you get the desired coverage.

Do not use too much as it can cause a caky appearance, and resist the urge to layer up coverage in specific areas. This will likely draw more attention to the area than concealing it. After you are done with the foundation, you should look like you are glowing, though it may be muted if you are using a matte finish airbrush foundation instead of some of the more radiant ones.

One pro tip is to be sure to continue your foundation down your chin and neck towards your décolletage. This will help make sure the coverage looks even throughout your face and your neck. Because you continue it down, you will not have an abrupt color change between areas with and without makeup. This is a good tip for all types of foundation applications, not just airbrush ones.

Wait for your Makeup to Dry

Before you move on to the next steps in your makeup routine, make sure that your foundation is dry. This can air dry or you can use the air-only setting on your airbrush sprayer if you have one. Letting your makeup dry will prevent any smudging in your foundation and help it to set. The drying process should only take a few minutes, especially if you have been working in sections.

Once your foundation is set, you can move onto the rest of your face, with or without your airbrush sprayer. You can, however, use it to apply additional makeup types.

Clean Your Airbrush Sprayer

Once you are done with your makeup, it is important to clean the airbrush sprayer. This will help preserve its lifespan, making sure that it will function properly in the long term and prevent any clogs from the next time you want to use it. Get in the habit of doing it immediately, and you will not even worry about checking the next time you turn it on.

Most airbrush sprayers come with their own cleaning solutions, and you will want to make sure that you purchase a cleaner that works best with the type of makeup you are using. Refills of your solution or new formulas can be purchased directly from your airbrush sprayer manufacturer or other companies.

To clean, all you need to do is to add a few drops of cleaning solution to the airbrush well. Using a small brush, cotton swab, cotton ball, or other small items, apply the cleaning solution inside of the cup, making sure to remove any dried makeup residue. Use a napkin, and spray the cleaning solution through the airbrush sprayer until color no longer shows up on the napkin.

And, if you are using your airbrush for different types of makeup, be sure to flush out your airbrush sprayer between colors. This will help prevent any color contamination. You don’t want to mix colors. Once the colors run through, you will be unable to match the different tones on your face, which will cause your makeup to look uneven. This will be difficult to fix.

Apply Additional Makeup

The best part of airbrush makeup is that it is incredibly versatile. Once your airbrush sprayer has been cleaned from applying your foundation, you can use it to apply your contour, highlight, blush, lipstick, and even your eyeshadow! Each will have a different finish, and you will want to practice to achieve your desired look. It will be sheerer than a traditional application.

Contour

If you plan on contouring after you have put on your foundation, it is a good idea to use your airbrush sprayer to do so. If you use a different formula, it may not look right. After all, the goal of airbrushing is to have a more natural look. You would hate for your contour to look blotchy or unnatural because you tried to layer powder or another type of formula over an airbrush formula.

To contour, add a shade of foundation that is slightly darker than your skin tone. Add a few drops, less than you used to do your whole face, to the airbrush well. Place your sprayer 6 to 12 inches away from your face and press the button. Using a figure three (frontward or backward depending on the side of your face) start to spray.

You will focus on your hairline, your cheekbone, and your jawline. The closer your sprayer, the more defined the lines will be. You want the shading to look natural, following the natural lines of your face. Start very light and build up the coloring. You do not want harsh lines because they will be difficult to blend out once they are dried and in place.

Highlight

You will want to do the opposite for highlighting. Using a shade that is a few shades lighter than your foundation, place a few drops into the well. You will likely need no more than 4 four drops, if not a little more. You may also want to consider selecting a shade that has a pearlescent finish or some other type of iridescent glow.

From 6 to 12 inches away from your face, spray on the places that you want to highlight likely your cheekbone, nose, and chin. On your cheekbone, start at the top and work your way to your hairline. For your nose, start at the top and work your way down. Spray a little bit on your chin and jawline to add dimension.

Be sure to avoid areas that become oily over time to avoid additional attention. The highlight may look greasy unintentionally.

Blush

Add a few drops to the airbrush well. You will want to use fewer than four to make sure you are not wasting any product. Smile so you can see the apples of your cheeks. Holding your airbrush sprayer from about 6 to 12 inches away from your face, start to apply your blush in small, circular motions.

You should start by your nose and then work your way up towards your cheekbones. The more passes you make using the color, the more dramatic the flush will look.

Lipstick

You can use a blush color to add a lipstick-like stain to your lips or a lip liner. Apply your desired color to your well, again adding just a few drops. Because you want the color to be more concentrated, you need to hold the sprayer closer to your face, just a few inches. Using small precise movements, either line your lips or draw in your lips with the desired color.

After you have the desired color, blot to remove excess. You may want to add an additional layer to deepen the color. Let it dry and blot it again.

Eyeshadow

Add the desired shade to the well, 1-2 drops since it is a much smaller area. Make sure that the setting is on low. The skin on your eyes is very sensitive, so you do not want to damage it by using too strong of a setting. Holding the sprayer 1-2 inches away from your eyes, start to apply the shadow to your lid using small circular motions.

You can use a deeper shade to contour your eye crease for added definition. Lighter, more pearlescent shades can be used in the corner of your eye to fake a more awake look. You can apply your eyeshadow with your airbrush sprayer much as you would with brushes. Be sure to hold it close to your eye so that you can better control the radius of your spray.

By doing so, it will create a more uniform look on your eyes. Consider adding additional shade for dimension and darken as you normally would. Remember that the airbrush will create a sheerer finish than traditional eye shadow, so it will not be as dramatic as you’re used to.