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Makeup for When Your Fingers Are the Only Tool You’ve Got

In high school, I wore a full face of makeup every single day. Matte liquid foundation, a thick layer of powder, a smoky eye (it was the Naked palette’s heyday, after all), and several coats of mascara on my already-long lashes. It was, without a doubt, the definition of Doing Too Much. However, it also meant that despite being the only out queer kid in my year, I still could fit in with my suburban New Jersey classmates, at least on the surface.

I fell prey to Birchbox subscriptions in college, which meant that at any given time, I was trying out 3-5 new products on my face (not great for my already sensitive, PCOS-breakout-prone skin). I had an Ordinary phase (didn’t we all), and a brief dalliance with Glossier (which one of my friends aptly referred to as “makeup for people who are already hot”). The one thing I didn’t fall for was the Kylie Lip Kits, though I was (and am) a ColourPop kid and they are made by the same company so maybe I did indirectly fall for it anyway!!

My approach to makeup has become increasingly more chill as the years go on. My younger self would cringe if they knew how I’ve been living. The last time I washed my makeup brushes was last month (gross, I know, sorry!!). They’re sitting at the bottom of my makeup bag, covered in a thick layer of filth and purple blush. It’s not because I haven’t been wearing makeup. I haven’t changed that much. It’s just that I’ve stopped using my brushes, and started using my perfect, gay hands.

Turns out putting makeup on with your hands is surprisingly convenient. Maybe you went home with a sexy stranger and you’ve only got a few products in your bag. Maybe you’re home, but your brushes are all dirty and washing them feels like Too Much Work. Or maybe!! Maybe you’re camping and a bear ate your brushes!

There are a million reasons why you might wanna put makeup on with just your fingers. Here are some things you can use when brushes just aren’t doing it for you!

Serum Foundations / Skin Tints

Lightweight serum foundations and multitasking skin tints are really having a moment IMO! While Glossier and The Ordinary certainly have years of experience in this space, my personal favorite is the ILIA Super Serum Skin Tint (with SPF 40!). It’s a little pricey ($35ish, if you can find a good coupon), so if you want to spend a little less, the L’Oreal Hyaluronic Tinted Serum could be a solid alternative. There’s also the Saie Slip Tint, which I did not love but people seem to! I’m super curious about the Ami Cole Skin-Enhancing Tint — it’s specifically designed for melanin-rich skin — and will probably try that out next!

Your fingers are the best tool in your tool belt when it comes to putting on a skin tint. Dot a tiny amount on each major area of your face (or just drip the product directly on if you want to feel like an influencer) and use your fingers to massage the product in. The nice thing about using fingers instead of a brush here is that fingers are able to get into all the nooks and crannies that a brush might not be able to reach.

Many skin tints are buildable, so if you don’t get the coverage you’re looking for at first, you might be able to get there with a second layer!

Cheek(y) Things

For years, I swore by the Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-hour blush. I would buy two at a time (in the same shade!!) just because I never wanted to run out. Now, though, I’m exclusively on the cream or liquid blush train. They have much better staying power, and they make me look glowy which is all I’m looking for these days!

The Undone Beauty Water Blush is my favorite product I’ve ever purchased. The staying power is incredible and the formulation is honestly like putting cold aloe vera gel on my face. I’ll often come home after a 15-hour day and it’ll still be on my face despite having worn a mask!! Selena Gomez is a recent (and surprisingly successful) entrant in the cheek game: the Rare Beauty Soft Pinch Liquid Blush also has great staying power, plus it’s extremely pigmented (so much so that I’m sometimes scared of using it??). There are, of course, Glossier’s Cloud Paint and ColourPop’s Serum Blush, as well as the Color Haze Multi-Use Pigment from ILIA.

You can use your fingers to pick up a little pigment, then gently tap that pigment wherever your blush placement typically falls. This helps give a more diffused look and will also layer well, should you choose to add more color.

Shine From Space

Okay so let’s talk about getting an ethereal glow that will make sure you are visible from outer space!! Cream and liquid highlighters are so fun (and honestly very easy to dot along the browbone/cheekbone/tip of your nose/wherever you wanna shine).

Right now I’m using the Rare Beauty Positive Light Liquid Luminizer in Mesmerize (a rosy-bronze shade), but I’ve heard good things about the Live Tinted HueGlow and will probably try that next! There’s also the Fenty Liquid Killawatt Fluid Freestyle Highlighter.


You can absolutely do a full smokey eye with just your fingers. I know this because I have done it!! Just make sure you start with your lightest shade and use a different finger for each shade. Also, press a little gentler than you would anywhere else on your face — your eyelids (and your eyes) are super delicate!

Like with the other categories, cream-to-powder (or simply cream) formulations seem to be the most popular right now. There’s the Stila Glitter & Glow (if you need some glitter for Pride this year, this shadow could be it!!), the RMS Eyelights Cream Eyeshadow, and the ColourPop Super Shock Shadow (an unrivaled texture, honestly).

Could you use brushes for all of these things? Absolutely. Would it be as fun? Not at all.

Let us know what you’re putting on your face with your fingers in the comments!!

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Ashni is a writer, comedian, and farmer's market enthusiast. When they're not writing, they can be found soaking up the sun, trying to make a container garden happen, or reading queer YA.

ashni has written 48 articles for us.


  1. you’ve definitely sold me on the undone blush, it sounds perfect for summer. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts about makeup + masks. I was a big fan of makeup pre-pandemic, but now that I’m wearing a mask every time I’m in public (extra covid cautious person here), I’ve pretty much stopped wearing it and it’s bumming me out.

  2. I love this – I also started using my fingers a few years ago and never looked back! I put my foundation (which i use more like concealer tbh) on the back of my left hand and then dab it on with my right; it makes me feel like a painter

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