Allow me to take you back in time. The year is 2016. You were just introduced to The Crown after binge-watching the first season of Stranger Things. You're listening to Beyonce's latest album Lemonade as you do your makeup. You reach for your favorite matte, full-coverage foundation and apply it with abandon.
Fast forward to 2020, and that old matte, full-coverage foundation is out. Dewy, light-reflecting foundations are in. Your goal is to have glowing skin—no matter if you call it glass, jello, dolphin, or glazed donut skin (or something else entirely...let's be honest, there were too many monikers going around).
Okay, let's take it back to the present. It's 2023, and a new trend is going viral on TikTok (it has 43 million views and counting). It's called "cloud skin," and it's a combination of the 2016 and 2020 trends. In other words, it's not about a fully matte finish (at least not the same matte finish from back in the day), and it's not about a fully radiant finish. It's somewhere in between—a velvety, natural-looking complexion with a soft-focus, lit-from-within look. Still, it's bringing matte foundations back into the spotlight, as people use them to achieve a velvety, cloud-like complexion. Ahead, learn how to achieve "cloud skin" with the right product recommendations and the right advice from professional makeup artists.
If the thought of reviving your long-abandoned matte foundations fills you with fear, know that this take on matte skin is different; it's modernised. According to Kristen Fortier, Makeup Artist & Product Innovation Lead for Crunchi Cosmetics, “The goal is a 'no filter' needed look." It's not about heavy, cakey-looking coverage. It's about something in between true matte and radiant. (Call it a conscious response to the super dewy trend of recent years...it just goes to show how cyclical beauty trends really are).
Celebrity Makeup Artist Emily Gray agrees. "'Cloud skin' is a trend that is basically a new way of describing a soft, matte complexion. Cloud skin is still a lighter foundation routine (as opposed to a full coverage matte foundation), however, it is like the matte version of the popular dewy skin finish. This is a popular trend right now because it still goes along the lines of minimal makeup, but it is better for people with oily skin and it is better for film and flash photography. The cloud skin effect gives your skin almost a filter quality."
Cloud skin can only be achieved if you're prepping your skin correctly before makeup. "You still want to keep your skin very hydrated and glowy underneath the makeup, so prep your skin according to your skin type," Gray says. "For oily skin, I would choose a lighter moisturiser, maybe a gel moisturiser, and for drier skin, really concentrate on extra hydration, and choose a heavier moisturiser. I’m a little extra, so I like to mix in a bit of a liquid highlighter into the moisturizer to give the skin a lit-from-within effect."
Because this look is all about smooth, soft-focus skin, skin prep is everything. To us, that means using a serum, moisturizer, and undetectable SPF before even reaching for our makeup products. Fortier recommends adding a primer to that line-up to minimise the appearance of fine lines, pores, and texture and help the makeup grip for all-day wear.
Once your skin is prepped, it's time for foundation. The trick is to find one that has a natural finish, meaning it is somewhere between matte and dewy. "I would choose a foundation that’s a natural finish, such as Catrice's True Skin Foundation (£12), which is perfect for drier skin too," Gray says.
TikTokers tend to use true matte foundations to achieve the look, but Gray says this can backfire if you have dry skin. "You don’t want to choose a foundation that is too matte because you are going to be putting powder all over on top of it, and you still want it to look hydrated and glowy underneath the powder," she says.
A good hydrating, soft-matte moisturiser forms the perfect foundation for base makeup, allowing your complexion to stay matte yet moisturised.
Choosing the right foundation is important, but Fortier says finishing with setting powder is even more critical. This is because it creates that natural, velvety, and soft-focus effect on the skin. She likes applying it with a fluffy brush that she works in circular motions for an "airbrushed finish."
Gray agrees that powder is an important step in securing cloud skin's popular soft-focus look. "I personally like to take a triangle-shaped powder puff and dip it into a loose setting powder. Take the puff and tap off the access powder on your palm. Next, place the powder puff all over the face and gently stamp in the powder. You do not want to have too much powder on the face. It will make it too matte."
"The last step is optional, but I particularly like to do this with drier skin types," Gray says. "I will take a hydrating spray, and spray the entire face to marry the powder and the foundation together."
Shop 10 "Cloud Skin" Foundations
A new launch from Gucci Beauty, this foundation has a "luminous matte" finish, which basically means it's made for a cloud skin complexion.
This medium-to-full coverage foundation is perfect for the cloud skin look (especially if your skin is on the oily side, as it mattifies for up to 24 hours). It's lightweight, long-wearing, and even waterproof.