A simple guide to moisturizing under makeup

Hydrated skin is the foundation for beautiful makeup—here’s why.

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Curology Team
Aug 03, 2022 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Moisturizer, sunscreen, makeup—ever feel like layering one after the other as part of your morning routine is a lot? If so, we get you. But believe it or not, face creams often make for the best primers. Applying facial moisturizer helps smooth your skin to help your makeup go on more evenly and easily. The benefit of moisturizer under makeup is to help keep your skin looking and feeling healthy, and it’s a step not to be skipped. The same goes for applying sunscreen. The trick is knowing how to choose a moisturizer that’s right for your skin type.

Why use a moisturizer under makeup? 

Moisturizers attract and help maintain water in the skin,¹ and hydrating your skin helps give it a healthy appearance and helps enhance anything you put on after facial moisturizer, including makeup. Using moisturizer under makeup is beneficial because it:

  • Helps minimize flaking. Dry skin is often flaky, but lotions and creams help prevent drying. Just watch out for products that contain alcohol or other potentially drying ingredients.  

  • Improves skin texture and skin tone. The big job of moisturizer is to hydrate your skin. Hydrated skin can have a more even-toned, smooth textured appearance. 

  • Offers sun protection. Some moisturizers work in more ways than one. Using a moisturizer that contains SPF helps hydrate and protect your skin from sun damage.

  • Helps makeup go on smoothly. The skin has natural oils that can interfere with how makeup goes on—and stays on. Moisturizing creams and lotions create a durable base layer for your makeup.

How to choose the right moisturizer to use under makeup 

There are some dos and don’ts when it comes to selecting a moisturizer. After all, the last thing you want to do is buy a moisturizer that doesn’t work or irritates your skin. What you put on your skin makes a difference, so be sure to scan your product labels for quality ingredients. 

  • Glycerin, glycols, and polyols. These ingredients are a type of humectant²—they attract and retain water. And that’s exactly what you want your moisturizer to do! 

  • Hyaluronic acid. Use products with hyaluronic acid to help keep your skin moist. Hyaluronic acid’s hydrating properties are used to help relieve irritation from atopic dermatitis.³    

  • Ceramides. Found in the membrane of skin cells, ceramides play an essential part in skin health. They prevent water loss and protect the body from the outside environment.⁴ 

  • Topical Vitamin C and oral and topical Vitamin E. Both can do wonders for your skin. Vitamin C, specifically, has been shown to protect against photoaging, ultraviolet-induced immunosuppression, and skin cancer.⁵  Vitamin E has been shown to reduce skin aging effects and cancer formation caused by UV rays in animals.⁶

You’ll likely want to avoid moisturizers with the following ingredients: 

  • Denatured alcohol. Alcohol is a common ingredient in skincare products. But it can be irritating and drying—the exact opposite of what you want in a moisturizer. 

  • Added fragrance. Often fragrances turn out to be irritants in many beauty products and makeup. Since manufacturers aren’t required to include added fragrance on the label, look for products that are fragrance-free. 

  • Coconut oil. This oil has a lot of benefits—antibacterial, anti-aging, and anti-inflammatory. But on your face, it’s comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores. If you’re prone to breakouts or have oily skin, you won’t be doing yourself any favors using coconut oil on your face.

Recommended moisturizers to use before makeup 

If you have acne-prone skin, you’ll want to choose the best oil-free moisturizer for under makeup. The same goes for using acne-friendly makeup and foundations for acne-prone skin. We know there are a lot of choices when it comes to choosing a moisturizer, but below are our favorite go-to's. These nine products are all non-comedogenic, and many are available at your local pharmacy. 

Combination skin

Dry skin 

  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Cream absorbs quickly like a gel but has staying power for all-day hydration. It’s one of the best moisturizers for dry skin under makeup. 

  • Cetaphil Rich Hydrating Cream deeply hydrates your skin and helps restore your natural skin barrier, making it ideal for dry and aging skin. 

Oily skin 

  • Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture SPF 35 doubles as a sun protector and hydrating agent, and its oil-free, non-greasy formula works well with oily skin. 

  • EltaMD UV Clear SPF 46 is another one of our favorite sunscreen-moisturizers for oily skin. It’s oil-free and formulated to protect acne-prone and sensitive skin. 

Mature skin

Makeup artist's tools in pink on a marble dressing table

What should you do before doing your makeup? 

Think of your skincare routine as the foundation for beautiful skin and makeup. Before applying your makeup, remember the three must-dos for optimal skin health: cleanse, moisturize, and apply SPF. We’re all about keeping skincare routines as simple as possible, so if you ask us, everything else beyond cleansing, moisturizing, and applying sunscreen is optional. 

  1. Cleanse. Start by splashing your face with lukewarm water. Apply a gentle cleanser using your fingertips to clean your entire face. Rinse. Pat dry with a microfiber cloth or soft towel. 

  2. Moisturize. Pull out your shades (figuratively speaking) because your makeup is about to shine—in a good way! Choose one of the moisturizers above to provide an ideal surface for your makeup depending on your skin type (oily, dry, combination, or mature).  

  3. Sunscreen. Don’t leave home without it! Sunscreen is your best defense against UV rays and sun damage. It goes on after moisturizer but before makeup. At Curology, we recommend an SPF of at least 30.   

The extras include primers, concealers, toners, and serums. If you experience breakouts, it might be because of pore-clogging ingredients in your makeup or other products. That’s why we find that a quality moisturizer (like any of the ones we’ve mentioned here) will do the job in lieu of toners and serums. 

Closeup of young woman applying body cream

Stop breakouts before they start

If you’re feeling unsure about what your skin needs to beat breakouts, talking to a dermatology provider can help. You can get started with one at no extra cost when you start your Curology free trial. Just take a quick skin quiz and snap a few selfies and one of our licensed medical providers will evaluate your skin.

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a 30-day supply of your Custom Formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products, for free—just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover shipping and handling.  Trial members can also try the micellar makeup remover and any or all Curology products at no extra cost. Sign up for your free trial of Curology now

FAQs

How long should I wait to apply primer after moisturizing?

There isn’t an exact time, but you might want to wait a few minutes until your moisturizer—and sunscreen—have been absorbed.

Can I use both moisturizer and primer?

Yes, but you might not need to. A good moisturizer will act as a primer, providing a surface for your makeup. Try it both ways to see which you prefer. It certainly doesn’t hurt to use a primer. Just remember to remove what you put on your face in the morning at the end of the day.

Should I let my moisturizer dry before applying foundation?

Just like applying primer after moisturizing, it’s best to wait a minute or two to let your moisturizer dry before you start with your makeup.

Can I exfoliate as part of my skincare routine before putting on makeup?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends skipping exfoliation during dry months or in dry climates. Exfoliating can strip your face of too much moisture.⁷

Can I use a tinted moisturizer under foundation?

Of course! Tinted moisturizers can act like color correction creams. Just know that it might cause your foundation to appear even darker. Give it a try—if you like the results, use both. If not, try skipping the foundation and using just the tinted moisturizer.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1.  Rizer, R. L., et al. Moisturizer efficacy: a kinetic approach. Skin Anatomy, Embryology & Psychology. (2004, March 1).

  2. Sethi, A., et al. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian Journal of Dermatology. (2016, May-June).

  3. Walker, K., et al. Hyaluronic Acid. National Library of Medicine. (2021, November 15). 

  4. Meckfessel, M.H., et al. The Structure, Function, and Importance of Ceramides in Skin and Their Use as Therapeutic Agents in Skincare Products. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2014, March 21).

  5. Al-Niaimi, F., et al. Topical Vitamin C and the Skin: Mechanisms of Action and Clinical Applications. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. (2017, July).

  6. Keller KL, Fenske NA. Uses of vitamins A, C, and E and related compounds in dermatology: a review. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Oct;39

  7.  American Academy of Dermatology. How to Pick the Right Moisturizer for Your Skin. (n.d.).

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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