Mess-Proof Makeup: Foundations That Stay Put, According To The Pros

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Wearing foundation under a mask is inherently challenging. “First, you have the friction of taking the mask on and off that can smear makeup,” says New Jersey-based cosmetic scientist Ginger King. “Then, because you breathe into the mask, there will be moisture build up,” which, she adds, can create “an unsightly effect.” (I.e. a streaky, cake-y mess). That’s precisely why many of us have given up foundation lately. But a stark, bare face can reveal more than you’d like at times (where did those dark circles come from?). In this case, the best solution might be dab on foundation sparingly, and stick to formulas that stay put under grueling conditions. Here, cosmetic chemists—who analyze the ingredients and science behind products—weigh in on the best transfer-proof foundations for wearing under a mask or anytime you want a healthy glow.


For medium to full coverage, this transfer-proof foundation earns top marks from Sydney, Australia-based cosmetic chemist Michelle Wong. The humidity-resistant formula is especially great at preventing streaks even when there’s “extra moisture on the skin, which can break up the layer of pigment that you’ve applied,” she says. Reviewers agree, calling it a “game-changer” that “does not rub off even when wearing a mask for an extended period” and provides a “matte finish without looking artificial.”


The diverse shade range and oil-absorbing finish of this formula makes it’s a favorite of New-Jersey-based cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson. “It goes on smoothly and is the closest I have ever come to my skin tone without mixing shades,” she says. “Plus, I have oily skin and this foundation doesn’t feel like it’s slipping off. It actually stays put—there is a teeny amount of transfer, but far less than another foundation I wore, which left color behind on a colleague whom I hugged.”


If you only need a light touch-up, King recommends BB (blemish balm) creams, which work like a primer, moisturizer, sunscreen and foundation in one. “Most BB creams are silicone-based and they use coated or encapsulated pigments,” which King says, are less likely to smear. The finish is sheer, though, so don’t count on it to fully conceal dark spots or patchy areas. But as King says, “it’s color with skincare benefits and you don’t have to worry about it cracking,” which can happen with powder-based foundations.


If you want coverage with a foundation that doesn’t feel heavy, Wong recommends this drugstore pick, which performs remarkably well—it’s waterproof, sweatproof, has a 24-hour wear claim, and comes in 30 shades. “Apply as thin a layer as possible since thicker layers tend to wear off more obviously,” Wong advises. Even if you decide to slick on more, testers found that “it does not get cakey after long hours.”


If you’re serious about not wanting your makeup to budge, Toronto-based cosmetic chemist Stephen Alain Ko recommends alcohol-based foundations, often used in theater, which “generally stand up better to friction, humidity and water.” Temptu’s blendable fluid is among his topic picks: “It comes out as a liquid drop and can be applied with an airbrush, makeup brush or sponge,” Ko says, adding that it “claims up to five days of continuous wear.” That might be more than you bargained for, but if not, just remember that “it’s best removed with an oil-based cleanser or makeup remover.”


For a texture that’s pleasantly buildable so you can layer on concealer if needed, King swears by this cult-favorite pick, which contains well-vetted ingredients. “For stay-put makeup you want formulas that contain a polymer or copolymer, as they can form a film for protection,” says King. Her pro advice: “Apply the foundation first, then concealer, and blend in with another layer to smooth things out.”


For extra insurance to prevent migrating makeup, Ko likes this professional-level setting spray. “It contains a contains a fixing polymer, which helps provide a more smudge- and water-resistant finish to makeup. You can use it over your finished makeup, or mix a bit of it into your foundation before applying. It comes in a variety of sizes, which is great if you want to test it out, or use it on the go.” No matter the situation, Ko offers this tip: “Make sure you give your cosmetics enough time to dry and set before putting on a mask—even it means waiting ten to 15 minutes.”