Finding Your Perfect Look, Part One: Skin Finish and Coverage

Not sure what look you're going for on your big day? How about knowing there's a picture in your mind but having trouble putting it into words? Since my early days as a makeup artist, one thing I've noticed is that makeup is so subjective and terms used to describe makeup are so fluid, it can be hard to tell your makeup artist what you want. Sure, you can cobble together a Pinterest board (which is really fun and helpful to your artist) but if that is not your style, you don't have the time, or you're not finding the exact look you want, here is a helpful guide to help you feel confident telling your makeup artist exactly what you're thinking.

Skin Finish

When most people think of makeup, they think of a color product like eyeshadow or lipstick, but when you look at a celebrity's makeup, for example, what probably drew you to their face was their skin. It is sort of like when you walk into a room and see how beautifully it is decorated, but what really sets the stage for a room looking great is the way the walls are painted. While almost everybody has painted a room before, selecting paint feels strange or overwhelming because the person at the hardware store that is helping you likely asked you if you wanted matte, eggshell, semi-gloss or glossy paint. Maybe you thought "is there really a big difference?" Lots of people feel this way about makeup too, but aren't consciously aware of how much it alters their perception of a look. Here are a few examples!

Cara Delevingne with a matte-skin makeup look

Matte skin is typically a full-coverage, "heavier" make-up on the face. While that might sound like too much for someone who doesn't typically wear much makeup, matte skin shouldn't be confused for "cakey" makeup. Matte skin can be achieved without piling it on, and your makeup artist should be able to do this for you if you don't like the feel of a lot of makeup (some people do like that feeling because they wear more makeup, and this is great too; just let your artist know what you prefer). Matte skin is great for people with skin with acne, and for oily skin, as it is easy to touch up with powder throughout the night without altering it very much, and skin that produces oil creates a really pretty glow after a few hours which is what a "glowy" makeup application on a person with drier skin is trying to achieve. Think of matte skin like the skin of a beautiful porcelain doll. It has no shine and gives a refined, formal appearance. If you like a mid-century vintage look reminiscent of Old Hollywood, its likely that you love a matte skin finish.

Jennifer Lopez with a glowy-skin look

Glowy skin can be a medium-to-almost-bare coverage look, and has a gentle shine to it, particularly on the cheekbones and "high points" of the face. This is a really popular finish for people who like a more natural look and want their skin to look like a perfected, photo-ready version of their skin when it doesn't have makeup on it.

Glowy skin can be achieved a few different ways, depending on the level of coverage. Sometimes, with a luminous foundation, skin can look glowy on its own; other times, very dry skin types get help to look glowy from reflective highlighters. Looking at Jennifer Lopez in the photo to the right, a makeup artist can easily tell she has an oily-combination skin type and didn't need the assistance of very much highlighter. When you see a celebrity or model with what looks almost like glitter on their cheekbones or down their nose. that typically indicates that their skin is drier or that they like a more dramatic highlight than their skin naturally produces. Currently, glowy skin is the most popular and most requested look for skin in regard to bridal makeup.

Kaia Gerber with a dewy-skin look

Dewy skin is typically a light-coverage makeup and looks almost wet. This is a beautiful skin finish for summertime, for people who prefer not to wear a lot of makeup, and for anyone who wants to look ethereal, refreshed, and undone. From the photo on the left of Kaia Gerber, you can see that this doesn't necessarily have to mean that the rest of your look needs to be this simplified. Kaia has a bronzed, monochromatic coloring to her face (this means her cheek, eye and lip colors are all the same or similar) and her hair is very polished. For those who want a glamorous look but don't feel like themselves with a lot of makeup on their skin, this allows for the skin to look well-hydrated and youthful while the rest of their features take center stage. If you are not crazy about the idea of wearing a lot of makeup but absolutely love your eyes or lips and want to show them off, this might be a great skin finish for you. It is a more difficult look to achieve with an oilier skin type, as dewy makeup and oily skin tend to "fight" with each other and can end up looking sweaty or "greasy," a great makeup artist can work with the natural oils your skin produces and pair them with oil-control products that create a harmonious balance.

Rihanna with a sculpted look

Sculpted skin, also known as a "full beat" or "contour/highlight" is the fullest-coverage of all of the looks listed. It concentrates less on skin texture and more on how the foundation shapes the face using shadows. Sound complicated? It is little, but the drama and perfection of a sculpted-skin look cannot be ignored. Rihanna is pictured here wearing a dramatic eye, cheek and lip, but you can see her skin is just as prominent. Sculpted skin is created using 2 to 4 different colors of foundation, placed in different areas of the face and blended together. This is an excellent skin finish choice for people with dark-to-deep skin with multiple tones on the face (if your skin seems like it is a different tone on your jawline than it is on your cheeks, this is a great option for you because it won't create a "mask" effect on your face that erases one of those tones). When executed correctly, it looks very "done" and intentional but doesn't look fake. This is a skin finish for someone who loves makeup, likes to play up their features, and carries a vibe of luxury and sexiness. Sculpted skin typically uses matte products, but because of its use of foundations that are intentionally lighter and darker than the wearer's skin tone, creates the illusion of light and shadow on the face. If you love any Kardashians' makeup, this might be the perfect look for you. It can also be great for people with acne scarring, skin discoloration or hyperpigmentation ("age spots," "pregnancy mask," etc) because the wearer's skin color is matched by the foundation but doesn't show through it, and the contouring and highlighting effect draws attention to where the skin is being "lit up." You'll notice when you first look at this picture of Rihanna, your eye is likely immediately drawn to the middle of her face. This is a great option for people who might have scarring or discoloration on the sides of their face and would like to draw attention away from it.


The amount of makeup we have on our face as well as the level of pigmentation that makeup has, makes a huge difference in how our skin will ultimately look. Tinted moisturizers and BB creams tend to be the lightest coverage, while HD foundations and foundation sticks tend to have the highest level of coverage. Choosing the right level of coverage for your makeup depends on a few things:

1. How do you feel about your skin? Do you like the way it looks generally, and just want it to look like a more-polished version of what it looks like when you wake up, or is your skin something you feel more confident covering so that your other features are front-and-center?

2. How does makeup feel on your skin? When you wear makeup, does the "weight" of it make you feel glamorous and ready to step out, or does it feel heavy and uncomfortable to you? If your makeup looks great but feels bothersome, the sensation of it (or lack thereof) can overshadow the experience of wearing makeup for you. I used to work for a mineral makeup company, and many first-time clients who were used to wearing heavier makeup said "it looks great but I FEEL naked." The physical sensation of having makeup on their face was important to them. Other clients I've worked with who weren't used to wearing makeup or avoided wearing it because it felt uncomfortable to them, loved how that mineral makeup felt and it was the only makeup they would wear. Makeup is so much more about how it looks, and is equally about how it makes you feel.

3. What is your skin type? Oily skin types on people who don't like to wear much makeup, require some prep work on behalf of your makeup artist to make sure that your makeup stays when your skin produces oil throughout the day. You may leave the makeup chair feeling like you're wearing more makeup than you'd prefer, but throughout the day you'll notice that it looks and feels perfect, whereas if your makeup artist gives you the level of coverage you want to have when you walk out, it might seem like it disappeared later. By contrast, a dry skin type might leave feeling like their skin is "shiny," and by the time they get to their event or photo session, their thirsty skin has pulled the hydrating properties from the makeup and set beautifully. For this and many other reasons, if you're getting your makeup done for your wedding day, it is strongly recommended that you schedule a bridal makeup trial run with your artist to see how the makeup performs throughout the day.

Here are a few visual examples of various levels of coverage and suggestions on how they can work for you!

Kesha with bare skin

Bare skin is exactly what it sounds like (or a close version using makeup that LOOKS like bare skin)! While it is not recommended to actually wear nothing on the face for a formal occasion or photography, products can be used to mimic what bare skin looks like so that when photos or video are taken (or if you have a couple of cocktails and your skin gets flushed), your skin will still have that fresh, effortless look. People who love their skin, have skin that is sensitive and reactive to too many products, or people with freckles, really love having a bare-skin look. This pretty photo of Kesha shows off her gorgeous freckles, but she IS wearing makeup (take a look at her cheeks, eyes and brows which have subtle earth-tones brushed across them). Depending on the person, a little correction (like concealer or a mattifying powder) may be necessary to make your skin look in photos like how it looks in your bathroom mirror. Barefaced skin that you see in photos or on TV, always has makeup on it, it is just very subtle and meant to look like there's no makeup on it.

Jessica Alba with natural coverage

Natural coverage is a level of coverage that looks polished but draws attention to a person's physical features rather than their makeup. The word "natural" is one of the most common places where there is communication difficulty between a client and a makeup artist. The word means different things to different people, and sometimes what can result getting a makeup look like Jessica Alba's on the right, where they might say, "where's the makeup?" Sometimes the word "natural" means "earth tones" to a client. I have had many clients come to me with a Pinterest photo and they say "I want it very natural like this" and I can tell that the model in the photo is wearing quite a bit of makeup. In this photo, you can see that Jessica's skin is made to look perfect but fresh. She's got some contour on the sides of her nose and on her forehead but it is very soft, and her eye makeup is a soft earthtone shadow coupled with a lipgloss that closely-matches her natural lip color. Natural coverage is a great option for people with skin that might be clear and smooth but has some redness or darkness in places, someone having a small localized breakout that they want to cover, or someone with the elusive "normal" skin type which is actually not typical or common and actually means "well-balanced" and not too dry or oily.

Lucy Liu with medium coverage

Medium coverage foundation is makeup you can see, but the skin doesn't take center stage. If you like a fun lip or a more dramatic eye and don't want your skin to get lost in the background, this is a great option for you. If you have ever had your makeup done at a makeup counter and the artist did your eyes first, and you couldn't tell if you liked it or not because you were distracted by the fact that your skin didn't have makeup on it, you are probably a medium-coverage type of person. Medium coverage makeup is great for people who wear a full face of makeup on the daily and want makeup that lasts all day long but doesn't feel too formal or obvious for their liking. This is the most common request for makeup for weddings because it looks fresh, it is a little more makeup than people may wear to the office but isn't so much that they feel it "doesn't look like them." Medium coverage makeup is usually wonderful for any skin type, and just requires the right type of products for skin type along with a varying level of concealer or color correction based on skin condition.

Kim Kardashian with full coverage

Full coverage foundation is makeup that is intentionally-dramatic. It is great for a very glamorous look and is perfect for people who may not like the way their skin looks with no makeup on. Kim Kardashian's look on the right shows us that just because a foundation is full coverage doesn't mean it looks garish or fake. Full coverage foundation is for people who love makeup, or who want a more formal look for their makeup. Just because your skin has full coverage doesn't mean the rest of your makeup look has to be just as dramatic either! While Kim's look is absolutely gorgeous here and has lots of lashes, sculpted brows and a bold lip, full coverage foundation can be amazing with everything else toned down too. If you like a nude lip, a bare eye, or beautiful natural brows without much done to them, but you want your skin to look "Photoshopped in real life," a full coverage foundation look would be great for you. Full coverage foundation tends to be the longest-lasting but does sometimes require more touching up because it is typically matte and will shift around if moisture, oil or sweat touches it.

Have more questions about finding your perfect makeup look? Send me an email at or fill out my contact form to schedule an appointment for a private makeup lesson or coaching.


    © 2020

     Angela K Morris