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This Korean Trick Will Change The Way You Apply Foundation

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Illustration by Mallory Heyer
When it comes to applying makeup, I would say I’m above average but not good enough to consider quitting my job to start a YouTube channel. I can buff out my contour and flick a cat-eye with the confidence that 30 years of painting on my face has earned me. But there is a difference between what I’ve got going on and the jarringly perfect faces of K-pop idols. Yes, obviously I am not a K-pop idol, but I frequently come face-to-face with these manicured creatures — and I never thought I'd even come close to their makeup perfection. But that was before I went to Korea's prestigious Jung Saem Mool beauty academy. It was there that I learned a foundation secret so genius, it completely flipped the way I thought about applying my makeup. Seriously: Mind blown.

Jung Saem Mool, if you aren't familiar with her, is one of Korea’s most revered professional makeup artists, and her claim to fame is the “transparent” makeup look. Basically, no-makeup makeup applied ever-so-deftly, and you look like the best version of your natural self. It’s the compounded effect of subtlety and restraint as you apply. It goes against everything we've been taught about our makeup application, so it was — to put it mildly — a struggle to master. But it was so worth it, as it unlocked the secret to making your skin appear as though it just looks that way naturally, rather than coming from a bottle.

It all starts with controlling the thickness of the foundation applied. But don't fear: This is not your layer on endless layer of Kardashian-style makeup. Instead, Jung Saem Mool recommends heavier application along the “hard” features of the face and a thinner layer in the centre and perimeter, where skin is thinner, for a more natural, dewy finish. I know, sounds confusing. But let me break it down for you.

The line extending from your cheekbone down to the outer corner of your mouth gets a light swipe of foundation. This is all you have to work with for that side of the face. No more foundation is to be applied. Using a foundation brush, buff and radiate the foundation to cover the rest of that side of the face. Repeat on the opposite side. For the forehead, it’s the same idea. One light stripe across the centre, and buff it on out.

Check out the diagram below for a visual map. Wherever you see the number 3 is where you would apply your thin swipe of foundation. The 2 represents where your medium coverage is, while the 1 is where the barest whispers of foundation will be. The big difference here is that you aren't swiping foundation down the centre of your face and blending out. Instead, you are applying along those prominent features (cheekbones, mid-forehead) and blending out in both directions — outward and inward. The effect is magical and breathtakingly natural.
Illustration by Mallory Heyer
The technique isn’t easy. I noticed my instructor’s brush produced flick-y sound effects that I can only imagine her decades of experience could bring about. I ended up swatting at my model’s face when I tried to mimic this light-handed stippling technique. Baby steps, baby steps. The take-home here really is that less is more. I can imagine my foundation lasting forever if I use this technique, because it’s all about working in the minimal amount of coverage in patient, feather-light layers and not a swipe more.

Every brush stroke, I’d hear a "tsk tsk" and a prompting to “pull back, pull back...less less...” I felt like I was stroking the molecules next to my model’s face and not actually touching her face. It’s incredibly frustrating for someone like me, who’s been raised to squirt out a dime-sized amount of foundation and smear or stipple all around the face until all features have been erased to be re-drawn on. I wanted to yell, “But nothing’s happening!” But my young karate-kid heart would soon learn why getting this exercise in precision and restraint was so important.

Normally, no-makeup makeup is reserved for those with already great skin, but this technique, when done correctly, is for those with less-than-perfect skin. For example, our models didn’t have the best skin. They weren’t your picture-perfect department-store demonstration models. They were younger women who were working as apprentice models at the academy, and they had skin typical of teens — including some acne, redness, rough texture, and oiliness. This made the technique all the more compelling when the end result revealed convincingly smooth, even skin. I was seriously amazed that acne could be covered so counterintuitively; in light layers instead of drenched in concealer and globs of foundation.

Many weeks later, when I attended a professional makeup workshop in Turkey, the (kinda tyrannical) instructor went around the room calling out people for wearing and not wearing makeup. I felt victorious AF when he pointed his foundation brush at me and said, “no makeup.” Love and blessings, Jung Saem Mool — I’m your disciple forever.
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