Airbrush Makeup vs. Traditional: A Makeup Artists Perspective

I wrote an article just like this about five years ago, at the height of my anti-airbrush parade. I stormed up and down these cyber alleyways loudly explaining why I just loathed this trendy makeup application, and let me tell you I had good reason! I had seen just so, so many terrible airbrush makeup applications, thing gone wrong, streaks and smears… I even had photographers who used our services because they hated having to retouch it. And then, in Feb 2011, it was like the clouds parted and I finally GOT it. This super-fantastic uber-artist came to town and offered a Airbrush HD class. The wealth of information I obtained was well worth the price of admission, and now I can gracefully end the parade knowing I’m savvier for it.

**NOTE: Airbrush makeup is NOT to be confused with Airbrushing in Photoshop. It often is.


Myth: Airbrush Makeup will make me flawless.
Now I tote my compressor and equipment with me wherever I go, but I don’t use it on everyone. Let’s start by going over the myths:

Any makeup can make you the prettiest version of yourself you can be, it doesn’t have to be airbrush and there are many times it isn’t. The correct application for your own personal needs is more important. (Read: It’s much more important that you hire a great artist than an artist solely based on if they airbrush or not). You know all those nifty You Tube video’s that show you how entirely unrealistic magazine images are? We cannot change the texture of your skin. Only Photo Shop can.

Myth: Airbrush Makeup is waterproof. (Is airbrush makeup waterproof?)

Well, there are a few makeup lines that are water resistant, but it has nothing to do with weather or not is comes out of an airbrush gun. And, when makeup is water resistant, it comes with it’s own set of problems. Personally, I adore Makeup Forever’s Full Cover Concealer. That stuff is the Mac Daddy of concealers, it comes out of a tube, and… its totally waterproof. No airbrush gun required.

Myth: Airbrush Makeup is good for bad skin.

No. Airbrush makeup is WAY to thin to be used as a foundation for acne, scarring, fine lines, wrinkles, or dry skin. At best, it may be used as a fine finish on top of a traditional foundation simply to give it a finer finish once most of the work has been done. And by work, I mean that a professional makeup artist will more than likely lay down an entire face full of foundation and concealer, giving you a flawless look long before the start button on the compressor is pushed.

So why all the hype?

1) You see this flawless model in a magazine whose been airbrushed. (Makeup or Photoshop?)

2) Airbrush makeup got a water-proof reputation, mostly because retail-lines promoted it that way. And because women saw all these airbrushed models, that became a buzz word and shrewd makeup artists figured out that they could charge more for it. So, of course, then they started promoting it as a better service with a higher price, and because women wanted to look like models, they paid. So the circle continues.

3) There are some cases where airbrush is not only suitable, it’s IDEAL, especially with High Definition camera’s becoming the norm. Especially on film or commercial sets, where durability isn’t an issue as there is a makeup artist standing by for touch ups. It’s also equally awesome when covering large portions of the body, doing body painting or tattoo cover, and of course special effects.

Bottom line:

Airbrush makeup is a much finer product, thinner than a traditional foundation. Because it comes out as a spray, it very closely mimics the way cameras see your face. Think of it as tiny little pixels being applied as opposed to a big block of color. Also, it makes blending a breeze! Carrying it down to the neck and decollete is smooth and seamless. The caveat is that because it is so fine, it only works best on skin that is already in pretty great condition and should never be applied heavily. And, it doesn’t really have a leg up on traditional methods unless a specific and unique look. You’ll find most well-respected celebrity makeup artists use traditional makeup, because it is more precise.

Traditional foundation is more opaque, and has a richer coverage. Also, because the finish is in hand-blending, you can work the product into skin that may have some texture issues, filling in all the nooks and crannys. It allows you to be more involved, more detailed, because you don’t have to worry about ruining a finish since the finish is largely contingent upon your skill as an artist and not a machine. Not to mention, traditional foundation is more flexible when it comes to building up or sheering down coverage, which gives the artist more control over the final outcome. With many professional brands offering silicone based formula’s, the durability of a traditional foundation is more water-resistant rather than water proof, but it looks, acts, and feels more like skin. It will still take patience and a makeup wipe to remove, but not an intense scrubbing.

For those wanting a water-proof application, keep this in mind: Makeup that is best water-resistant is not super dry, it’s actually still got some viscosity to it. The water beads up on the skin, as opposed to re-wetting it, kind of the way a freshly-waxed car would bead up against the rain. For live engagements, like your wedding day, silicone based traditional makeup or hand-applied airbrush formula’s tend to be the artists’s preferred method, for control and precision.

Our preferred foundation line is Makeup Forever in HD. This particular product can be used either as a traditional foundation, or combined with a mixing medium for airbrush application. Either way, we know our clients will be camera-ready and all-night-long fabulous!

xoxo-

Amelia C

49 thoughts on “Airbrush Makeup vs. Traditional: A Makeup Artists Perspective

  1. Love this post! I am curious now and would love to a test and see if people can tell the difference between airbrushing and traditional foundation.

  2. what mixing medium do you use to make Make Up Forever HD foundation right for airbrushing? Is MUFE S/B or W/B? I have Dinair airbrush kit and I heard that it only supports W/B foundation…

    1. Hi Kim- MUFE has a mixing medium called 246. It’s silicone based and is only one molecule short of formula 244, which you can buy at Frends (in CA, order online). I recommend the 244 instead of the 246 because it works the same and you can buy it at a pro rate in bulk. MUFE HD is SB.

      1. Thank you soooo much. Have never worked with airbrushing but you confirmed what I suspected due to airbrushing being so fine. Have oily hormonal acne prone skin. Very fair with skin with splotches of it on neck w/ no pigment. Have been using Laura Gellar & It Cosmetics. But sometimes finished result cakey on forehead & sometimes nose. Use brushes for application then blot with sponge. Haven’t ever noticed before. BB creams are way too oily, have never used MUFE. What do you recommend? Thank you for any help.
        BTW do have a Clairisonic as well as NuBrilliance (latter seemed to be make skin oilier).

        1. ELTrotAlot – new to this site and saw your post. I have REALLY oily skin and hormonal acne as well. The best foundation I have ever used is MUFE HD foundation. Once finished, I dust over with E.L.F. HD powder. It is the SAME EXACT thing as MUFE HD Microfinish Powder, but is 1/6 the price at $6. Though I have never found makeup to not show my oily skin by the end of the day, this combination has given me the most coverage and confidence. Give it a whirl – if you hate MUFE, Sephora’s return policy is the BEST! Sorry for all the caps…just excited to share =).

          1. Have you taken a photo with flash wearing the ELF HD Powder? If you have and there are no white patches, then 1) that’s good and 2) it’s really not the same as the MUFE powder. I can’t speak for ELF since I have no experience with that line, though I know what it is, but I can say for certain the MUFE HD Powder is WAY too finicky for most people to use. Remember when all those celebs had white patches under their eyes and around their nose and just looked awful? That was the MUFE HD powder. It is NOT a setting powder, it’s a finishing powder. Sure, if you use it the right way, it’s nice, but for me- there’s nothing so great about it that I would bother with it. It doesn’t have this amazing benefit that makes the risk of white patches worth it.

  3. I have NEVER used foundation in my life..mostly because my skin is eally good & I don’t knoiw how to put it on well. I’m curious if I should let it be or try the air brushing foundation. I am in my 50’s now..My skin still looks really good but If I don’t need it should I try it anyhow?

    1. I wouldn’t if I were you. I’d use one of those fabulous BB creams- they are super hydrating, which is ideal for mature skin, and since you have great skin already there’s no need to wear too much coverage. I bet you’ll love them!

  4. I am over 40 and having an outdoor wedding. My skin is very dry and I have fine lines because of it. I’m considering airbrush makeup, but I’m worried about it making my fine lines more pronounced. Sometimes, makeup like concealer under my eyes actually settles into my lines and makes them more pronounced. Is this a valid concern with airbrush makeup?

    1. Karen, I would talk to your artist about what they recommend. An experienced artist will not marry their craft to one single kind of application (like airbrush). Besides, airbrush tends to look like crap on dry skin. Let a professional decide how to get you to the look you want, try not to dictate how they get there as long as you like the end result. If your doing your own makeup, and have fairly good skin, I’d recommend a beauty balm. (sans sunscreen, of course). It will hydrate your skin and softly even out slight discoloration. To help hydrate your skin in the interim, get yourself a Clarisonic and use it twice daily to exfoliate off the surface layer of skin prior to moisturizing, so that it penetrates deeper and is more healing.

  5. Hi. Can you tell me how much 244 fluid to mix with the mufe foundation..I’m gonna use it in my airbrush….thank you!!!!

    1. Hi Jessie- Recently, I’ve actually switched to 246. You can buy this at MUFE, I believe. At any rate, there’s no exact measurement but for me it’s usually 1 part 246 to two parts foundation. I’ve made the mistake of bubbling back and damn near clogged up my gun, so be sure to use a small spatula or q-tip to mix the two instead.

  6. Hi Ms Amelia! Thanks for your article. It really opened my mind on airbrush makeup but I still need your opinion.
    I’ll be attending a ball-themed party next month. Of course, I’ll be wearing a gown which is quite expensive (currently saving on it). My point is, I’ve heard all the praise for airbrush makeup including its high cost compared to traditional. I would like to look good on that night; so would you advise that I avail of airbrush makeup over traditional? I’m torn between the cost and its possible effect on my skin.

    Btw, I have a ‘combination skin’. At times my skin is dry but then it also becomes oily after some time esp. on the nose and forehead.

    Thanks! God bless!

    1. Hey Maria- So the deal with the airbrush makeup is that it doesn’t matter if you sponge the stuff on your face or you spray it on your face**, if the person applying it is skilled and the formula is high quality, it will turn out great. You don’t need airbrush makeup to look flawless or to have it last all night. Airbrush makeup is psychosomatic: If you THINK it looks better, it’s going to look better to you. And when you have a bunch of makeup artists running around saying “Oh yes! Airbrush makeup is THE BEST, and that’s why we charge extra for it” (essentially, if you think it’s better, your going to pay more for it) of course your going to assume it’s better. The bottom line is- forget trying to tell your makeup artist how to do their job, just find an artist who’s work you LOVE and don’t micromanage how they get to the end result. Have fun at your ball!!! LOVE getting dressed up!!

      ** Unless your doing SFX, which for many instances airbrush is by far better.

  7. Hi my name is pamela, and i am getting married in about a month. My skin is not that perfect, but its not that bad either. I was thinking of getting airbrush, i seem to have the hardest time fining a perfect makeup, my skin is so oily and by then end of the day, its seems that it has dissolve in my skin making my skin look so oily, i always seem to be putting on more and more powder, please tell me what i should do, i really need help with this, want to be beautiful for my wedding. THANKS!

  8. Your advice is great. I’m trying to decide between traditional mu and airbrush for my wedding next August. I have very very fair skin- I’m usually the lightest makeup shade in product lines. I feel that traditional makeup is always unnatural looking and sits on top of my face. Would airbrush be a good option for me? I just want to look as natural as possible for my big day!

    1. Hey there Sara- It doesn’t actually matter if it’s airbrushed or not, what matters is the artist you choose. Just the other day I was speaking with a bride who had another company do her makeup with airbrush and she just hated it- it didn’t last, clumped under her eyes, and streaked. I’ve also heard the opposite- that someones traditional makeup application was awful. What is MOST important is choosing a very skilled artist, and then letting them dictate what is the best method to use to get you the result you want. For example- you pick a great painter to paint your new kitchen. You love their work and they have a great reputation. Painter shows up to paint the kitchen and you find out they use a roller method instead of a brush method. You tell them you want the brush method, even if ALL the work you saw and loved was done with a roller- your telling someone how to do their job even if you knew you already liked their work and didn’t know how they got to that result. For natural, softer makeup it can be done with both and airbrush or by hand. Most professional makeup lines make a face-and-body makeup that is super sheer but matte. I can’t say. What I can say is just choose an artist who’s work you love and reputation you trust, tell them what you want, and then let THEM decide how to get there.

  9. Hi Amelia,
    Love the post. I have been doing makeup for the past 7 years and I have also found that using a blend of the techniques yields the best result. I do my correction with creams and use the airbrush to give a great finish. It is also great for contouring!

  10. Hello,
    My daughter is getting senior pictures done. She has fair skin and some freckles and would like to cover freckles and look glamorous :) She has normal skin (not overly oily or dry).
    Airbrush or traditional??

    1. Hey Marcia- does she have lot’s of freckles or just a few? In my experience, trying to cover up lots of freckles makes the skin look muddy and unflattering. But, if she’s just got a few, and wants those covered, it should be relatively easy. More than likely a traditional foundation that is heavier weight would be best. Also- there’s lots of girls with freckles who still look glamorous :D She doesn’t need to hide her natural beauty in order to be stunning!

  11. hi amelia
    which airbrush is best for the use on the face?
    single action, gravity feed
    dual action,working at high pressure
    dual action, working at low pressure
    or single action, bottle feed????
    thanks
    debbie

    1. Hi Debbie-You can use any of those, but most definitely not high pressure. And bottle feed only makes sense if you are using a lot of the same color. I have a gravity feed dual action gun with a Ninja Jet Iwata wide-range PSI that I usually keep on medium low.

  12. Hi Amelia! What a great article..you put into words how I was feeling re traditional vs airbrush..I’m a makeup artist and jumped into airbrush full force this year but have been finding myself backing out of it again..and going back to traditional..u never considered finishing a traditional finish with airbrush on top and think it could possibly be the best idea ever! My question for you..I use Temptu pro s-one compressor for air brush and have been using LancĂ´me photogenic lumessence for my traditional foundation applications..do you think these two products would do well together? Thanks in advance!! Allison

    1. Hey there Allison! I’m not familiar with the Lancome line so I have no insight to it. But I can tell you this- if it does the job well, that’s really all that matters. My foundations of choice are Makeup Forever HD, Graftobian pallets, Temptu Dura for tattoo cover, and Inglot press powder (I believe it’s the AMC line, though I’m considering doing away with those.)

  13. I came across this post a week or so ago and loved it. I already had the MUFE foundation so I ordered the 244 from Frends and it arrived last night. I mixed as you suggested and it applied flawlessly. Looks so much better than I expected. Thank you for posting!!

  14. Hi Amelia,
    I’ve been doing makeup (mostly bridal) for a year after training and like the artist above have recently transitioned into airbrush. I had a client last week and to the naked eye her skin looked absolutely perfect (I used Temptu sb with the Temptu Air) but when she showed me pictures used with a flash later that evening her nose looked a little red and it didn’t look as flawless as it did to the naked eye although she said it lasted all night and she was in love with the makeup.
    I never considered using airbrush to finish instead either and this might just be the saviour I was looking for. Have you experienced anything like this?
    Thanks

    1. Besides her nose being red, what else was wrong with her makeup? How many hours after first initial application was the image taken? Had she been drinking? Was she outside for any length of time and was it windy? A red nose I really wouldn’t worry about- that to me sounds like she had a runny nose or allergies and had used kleenex. Remember, nearly any foundation, especially an SB, will come off with friction. I explain this to my brides, to dab and not rub. The trade off is to use the Dura line, in which case not only will your brides skin feel cracked and dry, but it will look dull and fake and cakey.

  15. Hi Amelia,

    Thank you for being one of the FEW who actually are honest about air brush makeup. I am the MOH in a wedding, and went with the bride for a hair and makeup consultation yesterday at a very elite, very well known bridal makeup company in Southern California. I flat out told the MUA that I did not want air brush because I like full coverage ( I am a native Southerner, and we like our “full face” and I HATE my freckles- they are VERY light though and easily covered up by normal foundation) She assured me that I would get “full coverage” I also was very honest, and showed her pictures of how I wear my face every day- nude smokey eye with black liner, moderate contouring and highlighting, rosey nude lip. I also told her I am very in to makeup, take classes regularly, and am always one to get free tutorials from Sephora, Neimans, etc when the big whig guru make up people come to town- thus, I am, not your average “just make me pretty” customer, and am fairly picky. The air brush was horrifying- I not only could see every freckle- even the lightest ones, and she airbrushed me a 1/2 shade lighter than my almost albino skin instead of two shades darker (which is still VERY fair) than I asked. Problem is- after you are airbrushed there is NO contouring, NO blending, No adding color. I am normally a person who regularly gets told I look 8-10 younger than I am- mainly because I have never gone in the sun, have porcelain silky smooth skin with zero blemishes and hardly any fine lines. I am also a person whose makeup normally doesn’t move a millimeter regardless of heat, because I don’t sweat much and have small pores. Within 2 hours in 70 degree weather my face was literally MIGRATING in every direction- down, left, right. It was settling into fine lines and cracking. I got asked if I was an albino by a stranger and the florist asked if I felt faint (we were unfortunately doing SEVERAL appointments for the wedding)- so I obviously looked sick. On me, the air brush definitely took a greyish undertone. To add insult to injury, if I touched my face the makeup wrinkled/peeled off like a zombie apocalypse look. Half way through the day, I ran into a Sephora, bought an oil based makeup remover, asked to use their bathroom and spend 15 minutes scrubbing this stuff off my face and went bare- which I HAVE NEVER DONE EVER- (once again- being a Southerner). So my opinion- if you like full coverage, contouring at any level, touch ups, powdering your nose, or a “layered” look- airbrush isn’t for you. And spend the money on a trial because the notes I keep seeing where this look doesn’t move in 12 hours – were most definitely not true for me and the bride.

  16. Hey there Jenny- of course, my pleasure. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the idea of charging more for airbrush than traditional- it’s my opinion that our clients pay us for an amazing service, and that if one method of application is more appropriate than another, then we should be providing that service without expecting an extra fee to do the job right. We switch between both depending on the situation. I’m sorry to hear you had such a lousy experience with a trial- I wonder what foundation line she used? It sounds water-based. Silicone wouldn’t move like that (at least not in my experience) and alcohol wouldn’t either, but it could crack and lift like you were saying.

  17. Thank you for writing this post! You have confirmed all my observations of airbrushing! I have been doing regular foundation application for many years and would fall in and out of airbrushing because I just couldn’t see how it was “better” than regular application. You are totally right. It’s really how it is advertised! This year I thought I would give airbrushing another try because I see many talented make-up artists showing “after” photos of their clients and their airbrushed skin looked amazing! Similar to what you mentioned, I’ve observed that airbrushing is great for skin that already looks flawless! I noticed that it enhances wrinkles and facial hair and it definitely isn’t flattering on acne prone skin. After observing this, I now tell clients that it depends on the skin type. I love using MUFE HD foundation for regular application and will now get the MUFE mixing medium as per your recommendation. I currently use a water-base airbrushing foundation so using my MUFE HD will be a good alternative for silicone-base. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on airbrushing, it reassures me that I’m not crazy and the only one who feels this way!! :P

  18. HI:) Wanted to thank you for your honesty. I am a future bride and had a makeup trial done with airbrush, and it was good for couple hours. I have pretty oily skin and I wear MUF mat velvet daily. I was not impressed with the airbrush compared to my daily foundation. The AB rubbed off onto people and faded. So I’m torn… should I use my everyday foundation or would you have a reccomendation for another?

    1. Sorry for the delay Shelly, it’s been a very busy wedding season over here! If the artist you choose doesn’t offer a traditional application foundation, then maybe find another artist? You have to keep in mind though that there’s a difference between artists error and product error. Of course the artist chooses the product and is responsible for it’s finish, but that doesn’t mean the fact that your face was airbrushed was the problem. There are plenty of amazing airbrush foundations that don’t fade or rub off, sounds like your artist choose a poor quality one. That’s what I’m trying to explain in my post- it’s the artist, not the method, that matters most. Forget trying to tell your artist how to do her job, and just choose an amazing artist and let her do it her way. However, if you are going to do your own makeup, MUFE in Matte Velvet is a lovely choice.

  19. Hi, I’m very curious to know the difference between HD Airbrush and Regular Airbrush. I don’t really know much about makeup, but someone told me that there is a difference between the two. I don’t even know if they were correct, so can you please help me out so I can make purchases accordingly. I want to use the better product, but if there is no difference then why is “HD” emphasized?

    1. Really all airbrush is HD- what makes it HD is that the spray mimics the pixels a camera picks up. It’s emphasized because it’s a marketing ploy. I mean, isn’t EVERYTHING HD these days?

  20. Wow this may sound dumb but I never even considered that make up would be applied with airbrush. Today’s day and age we have thought of everything.

    1. I have two- a Ninja Jet from Iwata that I don’t use anymore, but is incredible, and a tiny but powerful culinary compressor I got from a cake decoration store with a brand I don’t know. I switched because although my Ninja Jet was awesome, it was super heavy and bulky and I didn’t need all that power to do airbrush makeup.

      1. Hi Amelia,
        I’m a 42-year-old handicapped MUA student who is on SSI for my income. (My first day of class was actually today!).
        Would you ever consider selling your IWATA Ninja Jet if you knew that it was going to a loving home? Fingers crossed. :)
        Great article, btw!! I love the fact that you took the time to answer each and every question. That’s devotion to your subscribers. Thank you.
        Have a great day.

        1. Amy!! So great for you to reach for it! Congrats on starting school ;) If you asked me a couple weeks ago I’d say yes, I’d be willing to sell it, but I just learned how to do zombie makeup by airbrush instead of by hand, and I need the cahonas behind the Ninja Jet for it. But, keep looking! there’s inexpensive starter sets everywhere and plenty of MUA’s who would be willing to sell compressors they don’t use it anymore.

  21. WOW this post is incredible! I was seriously considering purchasing an airbrush to experiment with, but now I think I will put that on hold :) Thank you so much for this incredible post.

    Out of curiosity, what is the culinary compressor that you purchased called? And what airbrush do you use it with?

    Thank you so much!

    1. Hey there Rivkie,

      I honestly have no idea. But, it has an adjustable PSI that I could see from the package and that’s what I was looking for.

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