How to Apply Makeup When Your Skin Is Dry and Flaky

Each season comes with its own uniquely annoying beauty challenges. In the summer, it’s finding a way to keep foundation and eyeliner on our face through sweat and oil. Impossible as that might be, putting on makeup with dry skin in the winter is somehow even worse. Between the dry air sucking moisture out of your hands, hair, lips and face, the idea of putting makeup on top of that is just unappealing. But rather than throw in the towel and skip makeup until spring gets here, we wanted a better way.

So we went to one of the best celebrity makeup artists in the game, Katie Jane Hughes, for her tips on how to apply makeup when your skin is dry and flaky. True to excellent form, Hughes let us in on exactly how she pulls off the incredible looks she demonstrates on Instagram, no matter what beauty issues the season serves up. All that winter brings, from chapped lips to the weird flaky dry patch that shows up next to your mouth around midday—consider them resolved. Welcome to a better world. Meet back here in spring, and we’ll get to allergies.

Cleanse With Micellar Water

During the winter, Hughes says she starts with a micellar water for both herself and the models she works with. First step is always a few swipes with it on a cotton pad, which leaves your skin clean and free of makeup, but not dried out (the danger with too-harsh cleansers—which is why foams are also great in the winter).

Get Rid of Flakes

If you’re only exfoliating at night, your life is about to get so much better. Hughes says that a quick, mini chemical peel in the morning is a crucial step, especially during the winter. She recommends a peel pad with glycolic acid, specifically Dr. Dennis Gross’s, to get rid of flakes and dry skin without the harshness of buffing exfoliants. Heads up: In the winter, go super easy around your nose, chin, and brows, where we tend to get most dry.

Mist Like It’s Mist O’Clock

Applying moisturizer to wet skin is one of those things we always hear about, but still slack on actually doing. No longer: Hughes says she swears by Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir and Tatcha’s Luminous Dewy Skin Mist to get her face just slightly damp, so her moisturizer has some hydration to lock in. It’s a small thing, but makes all the difference when you’re heading out into a dry, cold wind.

Add a Heavy-Duty Moisturizer

Then we get to the key player, a thick, creamy moisturizer. Hughes recommends Glossier’s Rich Priming Moisturizer, and her technique is super interesting. If you put on moisturizer from the center of your face out (so, the classic dab on each cheek, T-zone, and chin), Hughes says you’re actually doing more harm than good. We get oily in those spots first, so focusing moisturizer there leaves your makeup slipping away while the rest of your face gets dry. Instead, put on moisturizer starting from the edges of your face and working inwards, towards your nose.

Swipe on Eye Cream Pre-Concealer

Of the undereye trifecta of dark, puffy, and crepe-y, that last one gets the worst in cold weather (common sense: fragile skin gets even more so in harsh conditions). Eye cream is notoriously hit or miss, but Hughes says that Sunday Riley’s is the rare one that delivers. And even with caffeine and horse chestnut in the formula, Hughes says it’s good for sensitive eyes: “I actually slept in it the other night—and I can’t sleep in any eye creams, I wake up really puffy. I didn’t look puffy with this one.” The effect is brightening and slightly pearly, and leaves a layer of moisture that keeps your concealer from sinking into fine lines.

Keep This Dry Spot Fixer In Your Bag

It’s probably not the worst feeling in the world, but it’s up there. You’re washing your hands or reapplying lipstick, and bam: You see a dry patch. It’s rejecting foundation, it could be red, it’s just generally a nightmare. Hughes’ fix is Weleda’s green tube of Skin Food, a thick, super-moisturizing cream that your face drinks up. She says to massage it onto dry patches (and flaky zits), and you’ll be set. The cream’s so moisturizing that it bounces light away and minimizes the spot, so peoples’ eyes slide right over it.

Dab on an Ultra-Creamy Concealer

If you’ve ever seen Hughes’ Instagram, you know she’s gung-ho about the power of concealer. Foundation can easily skew cakey in dry weather, so she says that most days, she reaches for Glossier’s Stretch concealer for all-over coverage. She compares the creamy consistency to a solid tinted moisturizer, so if you’re looking for more glow-y luster than serious pigment, it’s the pick.

Or Use This In Lieu of Foundation

A runner-up to the dry patch experience: Your foundation goes down on the sinking ship of dryness and separates on your skin. If that’s the case, Hughes says she puts Skin Food everywhere with her moisturizing outside-in technique, then buffs Laura Mercier’s concealer all over with a brush. The concealer’s heaviness will get sheered down, it’ll still cover what you need, and you’ll stay smooth all day.

The Key to Concealer Isn’t the Brush You Think

And for really getting concealer to sink in and look natural, Hughes says she skips traditional concealer brushes. Flat brushes can make your concealer look streaky, so she uses a MAC 217 eyeshadow brush instead. Any fluffy eyeshadow brush would work, she says, since it’ll get into every angle around your nose and eyes to blend.

For More Coverage, Build It

Concealer is one route, but if you’d rather the coverage of a full-fledged foundation, Hughes says she uses Surratt Beauty’s Surreal Skin all over, or Wander Beauty’s Dualist Matte and Illuminating Concealer. Both are easily adjustable, which is essential in the winter. When the weather dips colder (or the humidity level sinks), she says she uses a lighter coat of foundation, or more of the Wander’s fluid side. If it just snowed and it’s super humid, the dryer stick side is her go-to.

Pick a Hydrating Powder (It Exists)

Not necessarily breaking news: Powder, a typically drying product, isn’t great for your skin the winter. Hughes says she keeps it to a minimum, but if she wants a light dusting, she likes one with plumping hyaluronic acid built in. Above all, she says powder should feel satiny when you rub it between your fingers—that means it won’t dry you out too much.

Make Your Eyes Shine

Turns out, powder’s time to shine is actually on your eyes. Season regardless, Hughes is known for her ultra-pretty, high-intensity eyeshadow looks. Behind the scenes, she says she starts by putting concealer on her lids, then powdering them and packing on shadow. The impact comes from a spray of MAC’s Fix+ on your eyeshadow brush, and then adding a final layer of eyeshadow. It’ll stay all day, and give your eyes some gleam.

Cream Textures Everywhere

With winter comes paler skin, and with paler skin can sometimes come the look of being a little dead. No judgement—sometimes you feel a little dead. That’s not Hughes’ desired vibe, so she uses a duo-fiber wispy brush to buff on a gel or cream blush. She recommends Glossier’s or Clé de Peau’s since the texture plus the brush makes for an airbrushed, sheer flush.

Of All the Mattes, One Stands Out

With almost every beauty brand coming out with its own spin on liquid lipstick, two camps have formed: There’s the “sucks the life out of your lips, but it stays on” family, and the “moussey, feel it on your lips” division. For winter, Hughes says that she’s in love with the latter, especially BareMinerals’ liquid matte lipstick—she says “it’s really, really creamy,” and not “the matte-est of the mattes.” For a true matte finish, Hughes says Nars’ Powermatte formula is unbeatable.

Take the Next-Gen Approach to Lip Balm

Even the creamiest matte lipstick still takes its toll, as does the dry air in general. We’re talking about lip chap. The only solution? A lip balm on hand, and a lip exfoliant at night. The old toothbrush routine might be enough in the summer, but Hughes says this set from Kaplan MD is necessary for winter. The first step is an enzyme mask that gets rid of your dead skin, and then the second step swoops in with a soothing lip balm.

Don’t Overdo the Lip Scrubs

Other than the Kaplan exfoliating mask, Hughes steers clear of harsh, scrubby lip treatments—once you start messing with the texture of your lips, she says that it can get so much worse. If she only has the Weleda on hand, she says that’s a good option; the other is Lano’s 101 Ointment, which she says is a great, natural lip softener.

And to Take It All Off, a Cleansing Oil

The big skin care guns come out during her morning skin routine, so at the end of the day, things are more lowkey. Hughes says she uses Farmacy’s cleansing oil and one more round of Caudalie’s face mist, then Glossier’s Milky Jelly cleanser if makeup is still holding on. Another dose of Sunday Riley’s eye cream, and the day’s wrapped—makeup (and your skin) making it to the finish line firmly intact.

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