Why Your Foundation Separates + 6 Quick Fixes

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Did you spend hours doing your makeup expecting a perfect glammed-up look? Or have you gotten through your usual routine for a daily natural do?

Cropped image of beautiful girl applying foundation cream with brush isolated on white

Whatever you’re going for, you probably know the horror of looking at the mirror and seeing your foundation separate and cake over your entire look. 

It’s embarrassing and frustrating when your hard work goes to waste. 

Lucky for you, we are here to give you an in-depth guide so you know what to do when your foundation separates so you won’t have to worry about looking blotchy and cakey anymore!

The Different Foundations for Your Skin Type

As the beauty world keeps evolving, new makeup types, formulas, and application techniques are born. And that’s not something to be mad about. 

More skin issues are addressed, as well as skin tones. The options are now limitless. And with that, we’ll give you some of the most common foundation types out in the market.

If you have normal skin, then you’re lucky enough to be able to try any type of foundation you like. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everybody. 

Choosing the right foundation based on skin type can be just as crucial as picking the right shade. A mismatching formula can botch your entire look, so it’s important to know which one you should invest in based on your skin type.

For Oily Skin

If you have oily skin, what most likely happens is your foundation sliding across your face and leaving you looking greasy.

You need something to control the shine and absorb oil to keep your foundation from looking like a disaster. 

The best foundation types to reach for your oily skin are powder or oil-free liquid foundations

Mineral foundations are also a good option because of their moisture-absorbing and mattifying benefits. If you stick with this type or the powders, make sure your face is completely dry before the application to avoid clumps and discoloration.

For Dry Skin

The biggest enemy of dry skin is the foundation settling into the creases and lines and forming dry patches, which is why people with this skin type need something to quench the dryness and keep the skin hydrated and moisturized.

Cream, mousse, serum, and moisturizing liquid foundations are ideal for dry skin. The creamy consistency of these foundations delivers the necessary hydration while providing reliable coverage. 

It’s also best to keep it lightweight and dewy so your skin can breathe and stay fresh throughout.

For Combination Skin 

Having combination skin may feel like you’re stuck in chaos, and finding the right type of foundation may seem tricky. 

Since you have different conditions to address, you’re pretty much left with three options: tame the oiliness, hydrate the dryness, or use multiple products to do both.

You can choose between liquid, matte, or a strategic blend of both, or you can practically choose a whipped or serum foundation for a simpler recourse.

For Sensitive/Acne-Prone Skin

Wearing foundation can be a struggle if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin. You’d want to avoid foundations that are too heavy or too fragrant as these can trigger and aggravate the irritation on your face. 

Aside from looking for gentle and soothing ingredients, non-comedogenic, hypoallergenic, and mineral foundations are the safest options.

For Mature/Aging Skin

For mature or aging skin, blurring the fine lines and wrinkles is your foundation’s primary goal. Not to mention keeping the skin hydrated and looking fresh.

You need to keep your base breathable and not cakey, so cross powder and stick foundations off your list. 

Water-based liquid foundations, cream foundations, tinted moisturizers, or foundations specifically formulated for mature skin are your best options for keeping the skin looking plumped and healthy while providing the necessary coverage.

What Makes Your Foundation Separate on Your Face?

Wrong Foundation for Your Skin Type

Probably the main reason your foundation separates on your face is that you’re not using the products formulated for your skin type. 

Your base may look flawless, but if you’re using cream, mousse, or stick foundation on super oily skin, it’ll only take hours before it gets you looking like you’ve been smeared with butter.

Or if you have dry skin and used layers of matte powder foundation, it will look like the product has sucked up all your skin’s moisture. Additionally, powder foundation will accentuate textured skin and dry patches on your face.

Either of these two scenarios can leave you with a foundation disaster.

Poor Skin Care

The condition of your skin prior to the makeup application plays a vital role in how your foundation wears throughout the day. 

And if you’re the type who often experiences getting patchy or flaky makeup even before the clock strikes 12, one culprit to blame is your poor skincare routine.

Every day, your face accumulates dead skin cells and other impurities that build up over time.

As much as we want to avoid this, unfortunately, it is a natural occurrence that affects how your foundation looks and how well it adheres to your face. 

So it’s vital to maintain a consistent skincare routine that involves properly cleansing your face daily for a long-term solution to this issue.

Make sure not to go overboard and use too many skincare products in your skincare regimen. Doing so may strip away all the natural oils from your face or clog your pores, which can also negatively affect your foundation application.

Quick Tip

For a quick fix, prep your face with a primer that’s suitable for your skin type before applying foundation.

Applying Too Much Foundation

In hopes of getting the perfectly flawless makeup base, sometimes you get caught up in the moment and unintentionally stack layers of foundation in one go. 

This won’t just make your foundation slide off and separate easily; it will also cause you to look visibly cakey, especially once you set everything in. 

A Mismatch in the Formulas Used

When talking about a formula mismatch that makes the foundation separate, we’re talking about two of your base products: the primers and foundations. 

Yes, we see the intention behind using primers and choosing one that works for your skin type. 

But have you checked if the ingredients are compatible with your foundation? 

Imagine using an oil-based primer and water-based foundation. We all know oil and water don’t mix!

A clash between the two conflicting compounds greatly affects how your makeup wears and stays on the skin.

The relationship between your foundation and primer is literally for better or worse; that’s why their ingredients should always be considered. 

More on this in this next section!

6 Quick Fixes to a Patchy Foundation

1. Prep Your Skin

Beautiful smiling young woman touching face and looking at mirror in bathroom

To prevent dirt and impurities on your face from getting in the way of your foundation application, you must prep your skin well and establish a rigorous skincare routine.

This usually starts with cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing the night before. Remember never to exfoliate just before you apply your makeup because this can cause irritation.

First, use a gentle face wash or cleanser to remove dirt and excess sebum from the surface of your skin. 

Next, unclog the pores and improve the skin’s texture by removing flaky bits, dead skin cells, and stubborn impurities by exfoliating. 

For gentle but reliable exfoliation, products with BHAs like salicylic acid work well for people with oily skin. Meanwhile, AHAs like lactic acid work best for those with dry skin. 

Afterward, use a high-quality moisturizer to hydrate your skin. After all, dull and dehydrated skin can’t be covered by makeup; foundation can even accentuate the issue!

These are just some of the basics; if you want a more in-depth guide to skincare routines, you can try reading this.

2. Get A Good Primer

While some are blessed with naturally good skin that gets even more improved with a good skin care regimen, some need more help. And to ensure you’re acing the foundation game, reaching for a good primer is the way to go. 

When makeup blends with the natural oils in your face, it creates a reaction that may cause your foundation to melt and slide off. To avoid this, creating a barrier between the skin and your makeup helps. 

And what does a better job than face primers?

Despite the makeup-sealing and mattifying benefits of primers, you should also use them with the right foundation. They should be composed of the same base ingredient. 

Silicone-based primers should be partnered with a silicone-based foundation, and the same goes for water-based ones. This can easily be detected by looking at the list of ingredients. 

For silicone-based products, look for dimethicone, cyclohexasiloxane, cyclopentasiloxane, and cyclomethicone. 

Other types of silicone can be easily identified by looking for their commonly used suffixes:  “-cone,” “-methicone,” and “-siloxane.”

For water-based makeup, neither silicones or oils can be found in the list. In the case of oil-based makeup, oils are listed among the first ingredients, such as argan, sunflower seed, avocado, and mineral oils.

3. Choose the Right Foundation for Your Skin Type

Foundations may not be a “one-size-fits-all” kind of product, but there sure is a specifically formulated one for each skin type. 

Aside from prioritizing a shade match, choosing a foundation formula that complements your skin type is essential in preventing your foundation from separating; otherwise, you’re one pump closer to a traumatizing makeup experience.

Whether you have oily, normal, dry, or combination skin, there are foundation types for you, and believe it or not, a mismatch can affect your overall look worse than you expect.

Refer to our guide in the previous sections to learn which foundation to buy.

4. Apply Less Product and Blend Your Way Through It

Sure, applying less foundation keeps the skin looking as natural as possible by still allowing your skin to peek through. 

But did you know it also saves your makeup from getting patchy?

Stacking one layer of foundation after another can alter its blendability. You’re more likely to drag the makeup across your face than blend it, resulting in a streaky and uneven base. 

If you’re really into precise coverage, starting with a thin layer of foundation first and adding where you need it more is better than bombarding the face with thick layers. 

Aside from the amount of product you put on, two more things play supporting roles in acing your foundation game: the tools you use and the way you blend.

5. Use The Right Tools

The way your foundation will sit on your face is predetermined by the tool you use to apply and blend it. For starters, the most common applicators are the following:

Fingers

While makeup newbies find using their fingers to apply foundation a bit difficult, this method is preferred by a lot of makeup artists and professionals! 

Why? Thanks to the natural warmth of the fingers, foundation and other creamy makeup products like concealers, blushes, and eyeshadows melt naturally into and are easily absorbed by the skin. 

Since it’s a skin-to-skin application, you’ll have great control when blending and get the best color payoff for the most natural-looking results. 

But of course, this still depends on the consistency of the foundation you’ll use. This method works best on light and watery types of foundations. 

Never forget that you’re applying makeup and not skincare products; therefore, the application should always be in a tapping motion, not rubbing. 

Brushes

Makeup brushes are a beauty arsenal that comes in all shapes and sizes. Every makeup type has a specifically calibrated brush for it, just like how every foundation type has one. 

Foundation brushes allow you to distribute a concentrated application as much as your fingers do, but this time, you can go full coverage with a smooth and even base.

However, you’ll have to use the right type of bristle, shape, and thickness for the type of foundation you’ll use.

A classic flat foundation brush works best for thinner and lighter formulas, while the dense or puffy brushes should be used for blending and buffing the thicker and creamier ones.

Damp Beauty Sponge or Cushion

These are your best bet for a natural-looking base, not because they’re heavily promoted by influencers and gurus but because they do a fantastic job at blending your foundation evenly and seamlessly until it looks like your actual skin. 

A damp beauty sponge or cushion can be used on almost all types of foundation, and it’ll doubtlessly look flawless each time.

You’re locking in an airbrushed or blurred-out finish with just a simple bouncing and dabbing motion. 

You might be wondering why it is important to dampen your sponge before each use.

The reason for that is sponges are porous materials, which means they have the ability to absorb liquid and keep it in.  

Water allows the sponge or cushion to swell and soften for comfortable, easy, streak-free, and flawless product application.

Water also ensures that the sponge deposits product on the skin rather than absorbing the makeup into the sponge.

Remember, sponges should be damp, not soaked or dripping wet. There should only be enough liquid to keep it soft and swollen.

6. Keep Your Tools Sanitized

It may not always look obvious, but the more you use your tools, the more they accumulate oil, product buildup, and dirt, which can affect the way your foundation feels, blends, and stays. 

To prevent other compounds and microorganisms from getting in the way of having a 10-out-of-10 complexion makeup, make sure your tools are clean each time. 

Let’s use the tool categories we’ve provided to give you a short how to:

If you use your bare fingers to apply the foundation, wash your hands thoroughly before you start doing your makeup.

If you’re the type to put on foundation through brushes, make sure you clean them after at least a week of use. Bacteria and product buildup can meddle with your foundation and make it look streaky.

The bristles can be delicate, so either use gentle everyday products you can find at home, like gentle shampoos and liquid dish soaps, or purchase brush cleansers. You can also try spritzing antibacterial sprays designed for makeup. 

Lastly, if you’re into sponges, you know that even if they constantly get in contact with water, bacteria and dirt can easily build up inside their pores. So make sure to wash them thoroughly after each use to prevent the growth of mold.

After at least three months, replacing them would be a smart move.

7. Set Your Base

“But why does my foundation still separate? I’ve done all the necessary steps to keep my makeup from sliding off my face!”

If you’ve gone over and above each step, but still end up getting the same result, then maybe you’re missing the final touch to the perfect foundation: the setting spray and powder.

For people with oily skin, you’ll find your foundation separating on the areas of the face where you tend to get oily, like your T-zone.

It’s a rule of thumb that every cream or liquid product applied to the face must be set by its powder counterpart. This helps to control oil and also intensify the color.


Some of the most common powders used for setting the makeup are banana powders and translucent powders.

For those with dry skin, heavy foundation may end up looking cakey on you.

With heavy foundation, you’ll find that there are areas that look flaky and patchy, especially around the mouth and on the regions where you have prominent lines.

The trick to avoid this is to use the right type of foundation (i.e., oil-based or hydrating foundations with a dewy or satin finish) and to add a spritz of hydrating setting spray to remoisturize the face and to lock everything in place. 

The right type of setting powders and setting sprays can even be applied together on different skin types. 

Why Does My Foundation Separate in the Bottle?

Foundation bottle with cotton and brush isolated on black

Makeup junkies also know the agony of looking at your beauty stash only to find that the product you’ve been saving for the most important occasions are starting to metamorphose. 

Yes, your face isn’t the only place where foundation tends to separate. 

After leaving it steady and sitting for quite some time, you might find your liquid foundation is beginning to divide itself into two. 

The first thing to do is not to panic; this is a natural phenomenon that happens with emulsified foundations. 

If you own various types of foundations, you’ll notice that this usually happens on oil-based liquid foundations.

As we all know, oil and water don’t mix, and this is when an emulsion happens. It is a mixture of two liquids that don’t go together even when used with a stabilizing ingredient.

The presence of stabilizers only slows down the separation, but they don’t make them invincible to chemical reactions caused by natural factors like heat and oxygen, and this is why foundation separation keeps recurring from time to time. 

How To Prevent Foundation From Separating in Its Bottle

Shake Well Before Use

Once you see oil sitting on top of your foundation, you know it’s time to wake up all those liquids and stir in the pigments.

Giving your foundation a good shake before pumping them out can prevent separation and keep you from having a discolored and emulsified foundation. 

Follow the Safety Precautions

Each makeup comes with safety and storage precautions that can help prolong your makeup’s quality and life. 

Ideally, foundations should be stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. This is because drastic temperature changes can interfere with the formula, making it fail or go bad quicker. 

Don’t Neglect The Shelf Life

Can you recall when you bought your foundation? If it’s been more than a year since, perhaps the reason why your foundation breaks down is that it’s already expired.

Most foundations, except for the powder types, are prone to bacteria, so the typical shelf life for this type of makeup is just 12 months.

If your foundation comes with an applicator that requires you to stick it directly from inside the bottle to your skin, the foundation should be disposed of within 6 to 12 months.

Keep the Lid On

Your foundation is made up of oils and pigments that are strategically blended.

But it won’t hold up its formula forever. One way or another, it’ll reach its end game. Exposing the formula to air and other molecules can speed up this process even more. 

Keeping the lid on is just as important as cleaning your hands before applying makeup. This doesn’t just prevent bacteria from living inside your products; it also spares your foundation from oxidizing.

FAQs

How long does foundation last in the face?

With most long-wearing foundations claiming they can last up to 12 to 16 hours, their lasting powers will still be definite, and there will be many factors that affect their longevity, such as the following:

  • The outside weather conditions
  • Your skin’s condition prior to the makeup      
  • The technique of application and the tools used   
  • The type of foundation you use and how appropriate it is for your skin type

If my foundation separates in the bottle, can I still use it?

Do you still remember when you bought and opened your foundation? If the separation happens within its shelf life, then maybe it’s just the emulsion. If this is the case, your foundation is still safe to use.

However, if your foundation hasn’t gone by its expiry date and it separates and you happen to notice changes in its scent, color, and consistency, it’s better to dispose of it.

How to tell if your foundation has gone bad?

The usual 12-month shelf life is the quickest way to detect it. 

In the previous question, we mentioned that there’s a tendency for your foundation to go bad even before it expires, and there are three things to watch out for: smell, color, and consistency.

The color of your foundation changes once it goes through oxidation, and if it’s accompanied by a strong chemical smell and the formation of bubbles or chunks of pigment, you’ve ticked all of the warning signs.

Stop using that foundation right away and dispose of it properly.

Don’t Be Afraid to Try Again

Attractive girl applying powder on face with cosmetic brush

Going through a foundation mishap can be traumatizing, but doing your makeup is more of a journey than a routine. This means each mistake you commit is completely acceptable!

Don’t be afraid to try again — with new products, techniques, and lessons. Acing your base is difficult at first, and that’s normal! The more you explore the different types of makeup and learn more dos and don’ts, the easier it’ll get! 

Trust the process.

Are you exploring different makeup techniques? 

Here are more guides to help you get started!

Authors

  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

  • Noelia Genov

    Noelia boasts eight years as a professional makeup artist and 6 years mastering skincare. She is a licensed esthetician and makeup artist in New York and her expertise spans from transformative makeup looks to in-depth skincare solutions.

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