Blurring make-up: The cosmetics that act like an Instagram filter for your skin

The next generation of primers, foundations and powders utilise light-reflecting technology to create the illusion of 'airbrushed' skin

Blurring make-up has gone mainstream thanks to social media, with users seeking the same effects that online filters provide. Photos: Huda Beauty, Peter Kalonji / Unsplash, YSL Beauty
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As technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our lives, one area in which it has made huge inroads is in the make-up bag.

Cosmetics companies and beauty brands have taken advantage of developments in skincare technology to produce new blends and formulas that eschew traditional mattifying techniques to reflect light rather than absorbing it.

The popularity of social media filters, which rid photos of flaws and imperfections, has led to make-up artists noting an increase in demand for cosmetics that can replicate that look. In recent years this has resulted in further development of blurring make-up that erases imperfections.

Scroll through the gallery for 10 blurring make-up products to try

Make-up artist Vimi Joshi, who works with celerities including Kendall Jenner, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria and Gigi Hadid, says: “Beauty products having access to more technology has resulted in product innovation and new formulas. Plus, a lot of it boils down to the fact that beauty is huge on social media. When people watch make-up videos, they want to achieve that wow effect.

"Contouring was one of the first big beauty trends on social as you could visibly see a difference from before and after, and that heralded the popularity of blurring.”

What effects does blurring make-up achieve?

Blurring make-up is designed to fill out fine lines and pores to create a smooth and Instagram filter-like canvas for cosmetics to be layered on top.

“Blurring is about keeping your skin natural, dewy and as fresh as possible,” says celebrity make-up artist Sarah Jane Thompson, who has created looks for Kate Moss and Uma Thurman, and worked on Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Furious 7. “This technique is about layering moisturisers and speciality products to reduce fine lines, wrinkles, texture and acne to achieve a youthful, blurred-out look.

“Blurring-effect products are the antithesis of 'pancake powders', proving lightweight and soft to the touch, making application and wear comfortable.”

How does blurring make-up work?

Celebrity make-up artist Sarah Jane Thompson has used blurring products to create looks for Kate Moss and Uma Thurman. Photo: Sarah Jane Thompson

While not a new addition to the make-up artist's palette — Joshi says she has been using blurring-effect products for more than 15 years — the technology has developed as the products have become mainstream, thanks to the explosion of videos on social media that show how to replicate runway, red carpet and editorial make-up looks.

“Traditional make-up products such as powders mattify the skin and reduce oil and shine, which has a flattening effect on the face,” says Joshi. “Blurring products are made with light-reflective qualities, which act like little mirrors, reflecting light back off the skin to create the illusion of blurring.”

Users also point to the ways in which blurring-effect foundation products, such as primers, can extend the wear time of liquids, powders and creams.

“They utilise a combination of blurring agents, light-reflecting and skin-smoothing polymers to optically smooth and even out the skin's surface to give an airbrushed look,” says Thompson.

What types of blurring make-up are there?

The most popular cosmetics, which use light-reflecting blurring technology, are primers, foundations and powders. Primers are applied first and worn under foundation to create a smooth base for the liquid by filling in fine lines and pores and creating a mattifying effect.

Liquid foundations also offer a blurring effect, adding another layer of smoothness while also minimising oil on the skin and providing hydration.

A trick that make-up artists and beauty influencers use is adding blurring make-up to traditional cosmetics to create light reflection.

“My introduction to blurring-effect make-up was many years back,” says Joshi. “I would add a little of the Mac Fast Response Eye Cream to foundation to create the effect of super-smooth skin, and it became my secret weapon. When I used it on my celebrity clients, they would say, ‘What have you just done?’”

Powders have also emerged as an effective addition to the blurring cosmetics bag. They can be used by themselves on top of primer or to set foundation.

“The idea is to achieve a shiny, glossy but translucent glow,” says Thompson. “Glass skin is a Korean beauty import that refers to blurred skin, which is the silky and glistening airbrushed effect that everyone is after.”

Joshi adds, “It gives the illusion of serene skin and glowing from within.”

What to apply and how to apply it

Celebrity make-up artist Vimi Joshi suggests new users pick one or two blurring products to begin with. Photo: Fenty Beauty

With plenty of blurring products on the market and millions of hashtags on social media, knowing where to start can be overwhelming.

“Anyone new to using blurring make-up should start small and not buy too many products. Don’t cover your entire face, just use on certain areas,” says Joshi. “Apply foundation and powder as normal, then use a blurring powder and apply it where it’s needed around the eye to blur fine lines and crow’s feet and over the nose and chin to cover pores. In this way, you’re reflecting the light against skin imperfections.”

Joshi cites some of her favourite brands as Mac, Laura Mercier, Sisley, Fenty Beauty and Charlotte Tilbury.

Thompson, who uses Yves Saint Laurent, Nudestix and Kiehl’s, suggests knowing your skin type before choosing products.

“You really need to know your skin type and how to make the most of the products,” she says. “Each is different so you need to follow the guidelines and remember that less is more.

“If it makes people feel better about their skin and more inclined to ditch the filters on social media then it’s massively a positive product tool.”

Updated: March 28, 2023, 12:48 PM