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 • Makeup  • Makeup Guides  • 9 Reasons Your Foundation Keeps Looking Cakey (and How to Fix it)

9 Reasons Your Foundation Keeps Looking Cakey (and How to Fix it)

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Main image – Annatabakova/Stocksy

You may have heard of the term ‘cakey’ when used in relation to makeup – particularly foundation. Cakey foundation often looks like it’s sitting on top of the skin, rather than absorbed in. 

It doesn’t look smooth or silky, it looks uneven, clogged and, well, caked. A bit like you’ve applied far too much to the point of it looking unnatural. 

If this sounds like the results you’re getting, you might be wondering where you’re going wrong. But don’t panic, there are plenty of reasons for it – 9 in fact. So, with a helping hand from makeup artists Ashley Gibson, Azesha Ramcharan and Nyssa Green, here’s how you can achieve a smoother, cake-free finish.


Image – Taylorcready/Stocksy


Reason 1: You’re not prepping your skin properly

“Makeup tends to go on cakey when the skin isn’t properly prepped or if too much product is applied,” says Ramcharan. “If the top layer of skin is dead and dry, makeup isn’t going to apply smoothly.”


The fix:

“Cleansing, exfoliating and moisturising before applying makeup is key,” she says. Gibson agrees. “Skipping moisturiser or using the wrong type for your skin can create an uneven base, causing the foundation to cling to dry patches,” she explains.

“Use a moisturiser that suits your skin type before applying foundation.”


Reason 2: You’re not using primer

Don’t worry, makeup primers aren’t crucial. A regular skincare routine will be more beneficial in the long run if that’s all your budget can stretch to. But it can’t hurt to use one if you can, especially if you’re noticing a particularly uneven finish or your foundation isn’t lasting. 


The fix:

“Skipping this step might lead to a less smooth application,” says Gibson. “A primer can smooth the skin’s texture and help the foundation apply more evenly.”


Reason 3: You’re layering too many products

Gibson explains, “applying multiple layers of different products (skincare, sunscreen, primer, foundation, concealer, powder) without giving each layer time to set can lead to a cakey appearance.”


The fix:

“Don’t layer too many different products under your foundation and allow your skincare time to absorb or set before adding makeup,” she adds. 

I cleanse and apply my serum, then allow it to sink in while I get dressed. Once I’m dressed, I will then carry on with my moisturiser so that the two aren’t fighting to sink in together.


Reason 4: You’re applying too much product.

It makes sense that putting on more foundation than you actually need will lead to an overloaded look. “Too much foundation can make it look heavy and cakey,” adds Gibson


The fix:

“Start with a small amount and build coverage as needed.” Ramcharan agrees. “Apply foundation in layers as needed. Even if you need more coverage, layer a little at a time,” adds Green.

Sometimes it helps to dab foundation on with your brush, rather than using a painting motion, so that you can see exactly where you’ve put it. Painting it on can dilute as you reach the end of each stroke, meaning you can’t see where the stroke ends and then you’re doubling up on product without realising. 

The same goes for your skincare. You only need a pea-sized blob of serum, moisturiser, sunscreen and primer. Anything more than that will take longer to sink in and clog up the skin, leading to a cakey makeup finish.


Reason 5: You’re using the incorrect foundation formula

“A foundation that doesn’t suit your skin type (eg a matte foundation on dry skin) can accentuate dryness and texture,” explains Gibson.


The fix:

“Pick a foundation formula that matches your skin type (dry, oily or combination),” she adds. If you’re unsure what your skin type is, you will know your foundation formula is the right one for you if it doesn’t exasperate your skin issues, like dryness or oiliness. 


Reason 6: You’re not blending properly

‘Insufficient blending can leave the foundation heavy and uneven,” Gibson says. 


The fix:

If your fingers aren’t cutting it, “use tools like a sponge or brush to blend the foundation evenly,” she adds.

“If you’ve applied foundation and it does look cakey, blending some of it off with a dampened beauty blender or sponge can help lift some of the density,” adds Ramcharan.


Reason 7: You’re applying too much powder

“Overusing setting powder or using a powder that’s too heavy can make the foundation look cakey,” warns Gibson


The fix:

The baking trend is aimed to expertly set your makeup look but unfortunately, it’s encouraging people to use more powder than they actually need, leading to a cakey finish. “Apply a finely milled powder only where needed and blend with a brush,” Green advises.


Reason 8: You’re using old or expired products

“A foundation that has gone bad or is too old might not apply smoothly, leading to a cakey appearance,” says Gibson


The fix:

First of all, check the label of your foundation to see how many months it’s meant to last, from around the date you bought it, for example, ‘12m’. You can also judge it by how it’s performing. “If you notice any changes in the foundation’s texture, smell or colour or if it separates, it’s best to replace it,” Gibson warns.


Reason 9: You’re not using a setting spray

“Skipping a setting spray can cause the foundation to break down unevenly on the skin, especially if you have oily skin,” says Gibson.


The fix:

Just like prepping the skin is key to a cake-free finish, so is its after care. “A setting spray can help your foundation look more natural and last longer,” Gibson adds.


The takeaway

Cake – most of us love eating it. But we don’t really want to be seen wearing it. Cakey foundation is caused by lots of different factors. But now that you’ve read our pros’ tips, you can hopefully put a new plan in place and notice different results the next time you apply it. 

As with most things in beauty, a regular, consistent skincare regime is the first step to achieving your dream makeup look. It’s the key to longevity, a healthy glow and an even finish.

Also, it’s important to not apply too much foundation – go slowly and build it up in layers – and allowing your skincare products to all sink in before you start your makeup regime helps. Invest in a primer if you can and remember to always read the label, just in case the quality of your foundation has seen better days. 


Meet the experts

Ashley Nichole Gibson is a licensed aesthetician and makeup artist who owns Paraposh, which provides on-site makeup services. Specialising in bridal makeup, her experience also extends to training and education for cosmetic brands, conducting master classes at Ulta, and working as a makeup artist at QVC for beauty brands.


Azesha Ramcharan is a makeup artist based in NY’s Hudson Valley region. Clients have included NBC, The Juilliard School, Hessel Museum of Art, Craftsy, and VOZ.


Nyssa Green is the Owner at The Green Room Agency. She has been voted “Best Makeup Artist” in Atlanta 4 times, and has has more than 15 years experience in TV, film, and print. Nyssa’s clients Include: Ebony Magazine, Real Simple, Vibe, Atlanta Magazine, Jezebel, The Atlantan, Simply Buckhead, USA Today, MTV, CNN, Fox 5, NBC, Bravo, and E! News.


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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University

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