The Best Way To Apply And Remove Makeup According To Dermatologists

If you are looking to keep your skin in tip-top shape, there is a right and a wrong way to apply and remove makeup. The AEDITION spoke with board certified dermatologists to get the scoop.
Expert Opinion
Written by Samantha Stone
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The Best Way To Apply And Remove Makeup According To Dermatologistssirtravelalot/Shutterstock

Prior to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, applying makeup was something that many of us did on a daily basis. While you may be wearing less now than you were before, even a slathering of sunscreen or brush of mascara require proper removal at the end of the day. If you are looking to keep your skin in tip-top shape, there is a right and a wrong way to both apply and remove makeup. We spoke with board certified dermatologists to get the scoop.

How to Apply Makeup

If you’ve looked back at photos from your teenage years, you probably recognize that some methods of applying makeup yield a better result than others. There’s an art to seamlessly blending foundation around the jawline, contouring the cheekbones, and achieving a perfectly symmetrical cat eye. And there is also an art to applying makeup in such a way that promotes and maintains healthy skin.

1. Don’t Forget the Prep Steps

The skincare products you put on before your makeup are just as important to the finished look as the cosmetics themselves. With that in mind, it’s important that products are applied in an order that will allow them to perform as intended. “First, wash your face,” says Amy Spizuoco, DO, a board certified dermatologist and founder of True Dermatology in New York City. “Next, apply products from thinnest to thickest.” Generally speaking, a toner is the first step after cleansing, followed by serums, oils, moisturizers, and — last but not least — a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

2. Dab, Don’t Rub

Rubbing is one of the most common mistakes people make when applying skincare and makeup. It may be a time-saving option, but it can create bigger problems down the line. “Dabbing is always better than rubbing because rubbing can lead to irritation and clogged pores,” Dr. Spizuoco explains. “Always use a sponge or some type of applicator to apply makeup, in order to minimize any bacteria or contaminants.” She recommends using a natural brush rather than synthetic as they typically minimize irritation on the skin, especially for those with sensitive or dry skin. And if you can’t remember the last time you washed those brushes and sponges, Dr. Spizuoco reiterates that it’s important to use a clean applicator.

3. Choose Mineral-Based Products

“I recommend mineral-based makeup because it has less chance of clogging pores and leading to acne than other makeup,” Dr. Spizuoco says. “Because the molecules are larger, they have a harder time penetrating into the skin.” She often recommends lines that are tested by dermatologists, like Almay, bareMinerals, Colorescience, Neutrogena, and Physicians Formula.

4. Don’t Forget SPF

Sure, your foundation might be formulated with sunscreen, but chances are you won’t apply enough of it to protect you all day. “Makeup with SPF isn’t always sufficient as a sunscreen,” Dr. Spizuoco says. “It’s not formulated to be a sunscreen, so it’s important to apply a separate sunscreen every day.” Instead, apply a standalone sunscreen as the last step of your skincare routine (before applying foundation). That way, any SPF your makeup routine does have can serve as the cherry on top.

How to Remove Makeup

Perhaps even more important than how you apply your makeup is how you take it off. If you’ve ever felt too lazy to cleanse your face before going to bed only to wake up with dull or broken out skin in the morning, you know that washing the day away is worth the couple of extra minutes.

1. Always Remove Makeup Before Going to Sleep

“Leaving your skin clogged with makeup will cause breakouts because you’re allowing all the toxins that settled onto the skin during the day to be reabsorbed into the skin,” warns Julie Russak, MD, a board certified dermatologist and founder of Russak Dermatology in New York City. “Leaving makeup on overnight also prevents your skin from excreting toxins and regenerating at night like it’s supposed to.”

2. Makeup Remover Wipes Are OK

Makeup remover wipes are perfectly sufficient for, you guessed it, removing makeup. But it’s important to not confuse makeup removal with cleansing. “[They] help dissolve makeup particles, but the skin still needs to be washed afterwards with a facial cleanser,” Dr. Russak says. When compared to cotton pads and cotton balls, she says they are comparable in their gentleness — unlike washcloths, which are often too abrasive for the delicate eye area.

When removing eye makeup like mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow, be as gentle as possible. “Make sure to avoid rubbing too hard or tugging on the skin,” Dr. Russak advises. “Because the skin around the eyes is so thin, it can easily get stretched out and wrinkled with repeated rough motions.” Consider that another reason not to rub your makeup during the application process, too!

3. Don’t Skip Cleansing

“It’s important to cleanse for different reasons in the morning and night,” Dr. Russak says. “In the morning, you want to remove the night’s detox products to give your skin a fresh start for the day. At night, first remove makeup — either with wipes or makeup remover fluid — then do a double cleanse.”

An oil-based cleanser (we’re longtime fans of the DHC Deep Cleansing Oil) is ideal for breaking down and removing makeup, as are micellar waters (French pharmacy mainstay Bioderma is a cult-favorite for a reason). “It’s important to remove your makeup before you cleanse, so you’re actually cleansing the skin itself and not just trying to penetrate the makeup,” Dr. Russak explains. From there, a cream, gel, or foaming cleanser can thoroughly clean the skin ahead of skincare application. “It is necessary to cleanse your skin to remove toxins, dead skin cells, and environmental build up, so your products can better penetrate the skin and do their job,” she says.

4. Avoid Harsh Ingredients

To avoid drying out or stripping the skin during the cleansing and toning process, be sure to read the label on your products to avoid potential irritants. “You want to avoid harsh ingredients, such as alcohol and fragrance, because it can be irritating to the sensitive skin around the eyes,” Dr. Russak says. She likes Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes because they aren’t too abrasive for the skin around the eyes and are free of sulfates, parabens, fluoride, aluminum, and dye. Micellar waters are also good for removing eye makeup, she says, because they are gentle but still very effective. “Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O is formulated with vitamin E, which is nourishing and healing to the skin,” she adds.

The Takeaway

The best thing about learning to apply and remove your makeup the right way? In the long run, you might end up wearing less of it. Properly prepping the complexion with skincare and using clean applicators can prevent clogged pores and unwanted bacteria from making its way onto the skin. Similarly, taking the time to fully remove your makeup (first with an oil cleanser, micellar water, or makeup remover wipe) before cleansing will ensure you remove all the dirt, debris, and toxins from the day. The result? Brighter, clearer, and smoother skin.

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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SAMANTHA STONEis a contributing writer for AEDIT.

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