How to apply pancake makeup

Updated April 17, 2017

Pancake make-up is a thick, full-coverage foundation used primarily to cover major skin discolouration, scars, tattoos or facial hair. It is also used to give the skin a flawless finish in film, television, theatre or photography settings. Pancake make-up was invented by Max Factor in the 1930s to replace the greasepaint used in film and theatre productions and was even used to darken the faces of commandos for nighttime operations. Max Factor still produces pancake make-up in traditional skin tones primarily for use for people with very uneven skin. Pancake make-up specifically for theatre, film, and photography applications can be purchased from Ben Nye, Kryolan or Mehron. Pancake make-up is not suitable for daily wear and is the maximum amount of coverage a foundation can provide. Applying pancake make-up can be tricky, so follow these instructions to get the best results.

Selecting your shade is the first and most important step to correctly applying pancake make-up. If you are trying to hide mild to moderate discolouration or just want to avoid having your complexion "washed out" by camera flash, then you will only need one shade of pancake make-up. This shade should match your skin as accurately as possible. Pancake make-up should be tested in person at the cosmetics counter. Do not wear any make-up when testing cosmetics or your results will not be accurate. The clerk should be able to provide you with a make-up sample and a clean, damp cosmetic sponge. Apply several shades to your jaw line to determine which is the closest match. Do not test make-up on your arm or hand as this will not provide accurate results. If you have to cover severe discolouration, hair stubble or tattoos, then you will need to purchase an additional shade of pancake make-up that is one shade lighter than your skin tone

Prepare your make-up and skin for application. Pancake make-up is water activated. This means that it must be dampened to work well. A very light spritz of water in the foundation pan will help prepare the make-up. You should also dampen your cosmetic sponge wedges by dipping them in water and squeezing out all the excess. Your skin should also be well hydrated. While your pancake make-up is absorbing water, take the time to wash your face with a gentle exfoliating cleanser. Once your face is clean, softly pat it dry and apply a light moisturiser. A moisturised face will allow for the best streak-free coverage. Do not be rough with your face during this process; pancake make-up is not gentle on the skin, so the less irritation your skin undergoes, the better. If you must shave prior to make up application, wait 30 minutes before moisturising and applying make-up to avoid further irritation.

Apply the pancake make-up in layers. If you are covering severe skin discolouration, hair stubble or tattoos, begin with the lighter shade of foundation. Lightly tap the damp cosmetic sponge into the make-up cake until there is sufficient colour on the sponge. Dab the foundation over the dark areas, carefully blending with swift, light, upward strokes until the dark areas are covered. With a clean, damp, cosmetic wedge follow the same process with your skin-tone-matching make-up. Begin in the centre of the forehead and use light, quick, upward strokes in a starburst pattern to cover the forehead. For the nose downward, swipes should be followed by upward swipes for total coverage. The eyes are best serviced by lightly daubing the make-up over the lid and under the brow. The cheeks should be covered in the same manner as the forehead. Make sure that the hair and jaw lines are thoroughly blended. While the entire face should be well blended, poor blending of these two areas will ruin the effect. It is best to apply several thin layers of make-up instead of one thick layer. Once the make-up is dry, you will have a flawless, matt finish.


Pancake make-up has a very matt finish. Blushes and bronzers with a touch of shimmer will help liven up your look. Touch-ups on the go are virtually impossible. If you will be wearing your make-up for longer than 4 hours, carry oil blotting sheets to absorb facial oils and refresh your look. Pancake make-up is perfect for extreme lighting conditions. In ultra-high lighting situations like camera flash, pancake make-up can keep your complexion for "washing out." In lowlight situation, pancake make-up can give your face a beautiful, flawless finish.


Pancake make-up is not suitable for daytime, outdoor or casual wear. Is is also a poor choice for hot or humid environments. Pancake make-up is very heavy and can be uncomfortable when worn for a prolonged period of time. Pancake make-up can clog pores and cause breakouts. Use it only on special occasions when you will be photographed, filmed, on stage or during evening events where light levels are likely to be low.

Things You'll Need

  • Pancake make-up in two shades
  • Cosmetic sponge wedges
  • Water
  • Spritz bottle
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