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Should I Opt for Airbrush or High Definition Traditional Makeup

 for my Special Event?

As a makeup artist who absolutely loves the art, and who wants to compete with hundreds of other talented and experienced makeup artists, not to mention more and more makeup artists pouring out of the schools and into the industry yearly, obviously I have been researching every single makeup trend as regularly as possible. 

This includes airbrush makeup application and comparing it to High Definition (HD) traditional makeup application, and other forms of makeup applications. I have researched airbrush application from the very day airbrush makeup was made more accessible in South Africa, not so long ago.

Airbrush makeup applicators and its fluid products have been around for many decades, it’s not a new concept. Yet this is what concerns me. It has been around since 1879, and first used on film set in 1958 for makeup application, and still can’t do everything that traditional HD makeup or any other makeup forms can do.

I have had airbrush makeup applied to my own face by a professional makeup artist and I have also practiced with airbrush foundations in a can. So I write also from personal experience.

 Let me share with you ...

I have very good skin. I sat for my airbrush makeup optimistically, expecting everything I had read about airbrush...

In my experience the airbrush formula or technique used on my skin by just did not work. 

I was rather horrified to see the way the foundation fluid magnified my hairline wrinkles where there were none obvious enough to notice before. As a makeup artist myself, I know how to get that flawless skin look with traditional makeup, and I was truly expecting more from the airbrush technique. 

Traditional HD as well as non-HD makeup foundations and concealers have never caused hairline wrinkles to suddenly show up out of nowhere, even without moisturiser and primer. I found the airbrush tone too yellow for my skin tone also. 

But that is no doubt the error of the artist, who did not do a proper skin tone match test beforehand - Or was it the very limited foundation tones that generally come with airbrush kits?

I will never know, but that experience has made me shy away from airbrush application in future. If it’s no charge, no problem, perhaps the next makeup artist is more practiced, but not if I must pay the typically high prices charged for it - And certainly not for an event as special as a wedding. 

I probably will eventually jump onto the airbrush bandwagon, as a makeup artist, merely to be able to give the clients more options, because it’s still seen as a makeup novelty by consumers who have been sold. 

At least when I do purchase my airbrush kit, I will know exactly what to test for and inquire about beforehand. Because I’ve studied it. But traditional makeup application will remain on the menu, because I know how many billions have gone into traditional makeup technology and it’s still my technique of choice - for good reasons.  

Just like traditional HD foundation formulas, certain airbrush foundation formulas wear better than others. No difference. Both are popular for HD video, film and TV. Airbrush is no more high definition on camera, than HD traditional makeup is on camera, judging by what other makeup artists who use both have to say about it.

Neither of the two HD techniques are supposed to be able to settle in the pores and wrinkles, or be visible on film, although this is a myth for both techniques - It depends entirely on the condition of the wearer’s skin, depends on the airbrush or HD traditional makeup formulas and brands chosen, depends on the respective application techniques used (various ways to apply both methods and different kinds of airbrush and non-airbrush tools), also depending on the makeup artist’s individual skills. Which vary.

Airbrush may begin to flake on drier, more mature skin types, especially if the skin has not been prepped sufficiently beforehand. Airbrush at this time, has no creamy formulas to solve this issue, whereas traditional makeup does.

If airbrush is not left to dry, set and cure properly it streaks if rubbed, especially after it has become wet from tears or rain. The trouble with that is, the makeup artist may no longer be around with her airbrush kit to fill in the streaks later on, and then it’s difficult to fill in the streaks with regular makeup.

Airbrush sales reps, as well as makeup artists who are trying to get value for their purchase, will say that airbrush makeup lasts from 12 - 24 hours. Implying that traditional makeup doesn't last as long. This is intended as a selling point to the consumer, yet traditional HD makeup foundation formulas can also last 12 – 24 hours with primer, setting liquid spray fixes/ powder fixes - often even without the setting fixes, depending on the quality of particular brands used. So too, traditional lipstick and mascara formulas can last up to 24 hours, depending on the particular brands and formulas used, also depending on what meals are consumed in that period - oily foods or not.

Most interesting of all, is that airbrush makeup is usually used as foundation only, by most makeup artists, the rest of the face makeup application is done with traditional HD or non-HD makeup formulas anyway – Because airbrush shadow pigments are limited compared to what’s available from traditional makeup brands, and because of the detail and blending of eye shadows, which can only best be done with brushes anyway. 

What is the use if different pigments can only be layered and not blended? This is where the talent, skill of makeup brushes and traditional makeup comes into play! This is where the traditional makeup artist shines. Makeup is an art. Traditional makeup allows for more freedom to experiment, with pigments and blending for instance.

It is said that men’s five o’clock shadows can be covered with airbrush makeup. The only problem there is, it is rarely actually covered, leaves a shine, and the cover is normally done in the wrong tone due to limited tones. Ever seen what shiny faces look like on camera? Looks like the skin is oily. 

The makeup artist is stuck with whatever limited tones and formulas are available in her airbrush kit ordered from the particular airbrush manufacturer. One cannot use traditional liquid foundation in an airbrush pen / gun.

This is where traditional HD and non-HD traditional makeup formulas have another advantage, there are specifically designed formulas for various needs, and this has still not been made available to airbrush consumers. Airbrush technology is getting there, but after all these generations; it still has a long way to go to become as versatile as traditional makeup. There is still nothing to match up with raw talent combined with the vast array of non-airbrush makeup products out there.

Let’s look at technique for a minute - To contour the cheeks there are endless blusher, contour and highlight shades on the traditional makeup market for professional makeup artists, and maybe a handful only on the airbrush makeup market, especially per airbrush brand. 

Secondly, the makeup artist can only layer - not blend - two or more contour, blusher or highlight shades to the cheek and cheekbone areas for instance, with airbrush. And pigment tones are nowhere near as diverse as in traditional makeup brands. Airbrush makeup artists are no longer spoilt for choice.

Finally, once set on the skin, the makeup artist cannot tone or blend  down the airbrush pigment, she /he can only tone, not blend it up – It’s not like a typical compact or loose powder pigment shadow that can be blended or toned down or up. On the other hand, traditional makeup formulas set on application and can still be blended and toned up or down thereafter. It’s more versatile. 

Hygiene – The airbrush tool, and the formula residue left over inside it, is only as sanitary as the user is. It still needs to be cleaned out at the end of the session. Same with makeup tools in traditional makeup.  If residue makeup is left inside the airbrush tool, the same thing happens as does when makeup brushes are not washed - Bacteria. The airbrush gun doesn’t only blow pressurised air out, it sucks some polluted air inward too - and airbrush makeup is mixed in a cup, which also needs cleaning or can become contaminated.

If you are curious about airbrush  – Opt for airbrush primer and silicone based foundation fluid formulas, rather than alcohol, water based or Polymer airbrush foundation formulas – if you want more lasting coverage, for most skin types, as it’s said to be somewhat waterproof, but can only be removed with a specific silicone makeup remover.  Remember to make sure your makeup artist supplies you with this specific makeup remover for later. 

Traditional makeup also has waterproof brands and products and also uses silicone in products like primers.

Water based airbrush formulas are best for oily skins, but have less lasting coverage. Same with traditional.

Polymer airbrush formulas are alcohol based, which tend to dry out the skin. It dries faster on the skin and is best used on the body. Unfortunately some airbrush makeup artists use it on the face, even for weddings. Guess what? Traditional HD and non-HD makeup formulas without alcohol in the products set faster.

Alcohol based “temporary” airbrush formulas are not meant to be used on the face because it dries out the skin, and is used to create a fake tattoo. Full body application is easier with airbrush.

Traditional makeup applications generally can be controlled enough with brushes, sponges and puffs, not to get makeup on the hair or clothing, occasionally a makeup apron is used. Airbrush application, whether done with pen/ gun or from a can, requires the hair to be covered, lest the mist settles on the hair or clothing. This is a biggie for clients. Hair is always styled before the makeup begins. Once styled it cannot be covered or touched, or it loses its shape.

Airbrush foundation tones are still generally very limited to whichever airbrush brand is used, even though different tones can be mixed together to create a new tone, whereas HD and non-HD traditional makeup brands are more accessible to the consumer and come in every conceivable formula, shades and tones, and come in a myriad of brands to choose from.

Stencils are often used to assist with airbrushed eyebrows, lips  eyeliner and can be limited to which lip, eyebrow and eyeliner technique or shape is desired by the makeup artist and client. That’s a creative drawback for airbrush. Most airbrush makeup artists skip these steps with the stencils, prefering to go on on with traditional makeup. In other words, most only do the foundation with airbrush.  

In order to achieve different levels of coverage and detail on a single-action airbrush tool, the nozzle has to be changed between applications. The dual action airbrush does not require nozzle changes between applications, but requires more skill.

Airbrush makeup is applied by layering several passes of makeup. The makeup is sprayed onto the face about 15-30 cm from the face. 

Depending on how much of the airbrush formula is distributed onto the skin by the user, it can feel just as light on the skin as what professional makeup brands do. Both can be barely noticeable to the wearer, if applied correctly. However many layers are sometimes used to cover acne, and then the finish is no longer light anymore. 

Due to the name, ‘airbrush’, its use conjures up an immediate comparison to the Photoshop program or app photo editor airbrush tool. And also due to marketers advertising airbrush kits coupling 'airbrush' with the word, ‘flawless’, clients, as well as makeup artists have been more and more intrigued. 

Yet airbrush is no more HD than regular HD products which have been on the market long before airbrush adopted this selling method. Makeup artists, always willing to break through into new niches, and improve for the sake of more business, therefore charge more for airbrush makeup - Not fair on their clients. 

Such marketing was clever yes, but misleading - Airbrush still requires conventional concealer to cover dark under eye shadows, under eye puffiness, acne blemishes, scaring and redness. 

Airbrush makeup is said to be light, it can be yes, but so to can traditional makeup brands, like Mica for instance. The airbrush makeup finish reminds me much of Mica. I happen to like Mica, but not necessarily used only on it’s own. Mica's coverage is similar to one layer of airbrush - without concealer.

Basic airbrush makeup is quick to apply if practiced - setup takes a little longer, but then it’s just very basic, usually only the foundation, contour and blusher is applied, thereafter to finish the look professional makeup brands are used anyway by airbrush makeup artists.  

More intricate airbrush makeup sections, for instance the eyebrows, eyeliner and lips take longer and more effort to do, because it requires an extra steady hand – remember the tool is held from a distance of half a ruler at least, with nothing to lean the side of the hand onto - as it takes time for the airbrush foundation fluid to set and cure sufficiently on the skin, even though it looks like it is dry /set – one mistake like getting the lips or liner wrong, and the artist can’t easily do it over without disturbing the rest of the makeup. Traditional makeup is easily touched-up or corrected without starting over. 

Airbrush still requires dipping into traditional makeup for parts of the look that still cannot be done with the airbrush kits, like mascara and eyeliner under the eye, or inside the waterline, or lip liner, for instance. There are no shimmery shades to choose from. 

Only seasoned airbrush users have mastered the art of intricate makeup designs. Many hours of practice makes perfect. In this regard, airbrush takes longer to apply than traditional makeup does.

From the makeup artist’s point of view: I have been reading their reviews....

Since the airbrush makeup artist still needs to carry traditional makeup around with her to venues - to do all the things she cannot do with her airbrush kit - she now has to lug around an extra tool and all its accessories and products. She already had enough to carry on her before, especially if she does hair also. (Read: "Don't Combine Your Hair & Makeup Service Providers" on the Home Page).

Cleaning all the nooks and crannies of airbrush tools are time consuming.

The airbrush is noisy.

The process it takes just to avoid getting the airbrush fluid mist onto the client’s hair or dress, all the while the client is freaking out because you are busy touching her new hairdo to cover it. Working with brides I know that they don’t like their new hairdo covered, not with a band nor with a salon scarf - not with anything. Therefore airbrush makeup needs to be done before hair. This is not ideal for the hairstylist. Hair is always done before tradional makeup is applied.

Just as an aside, it is extremely difficult for any makeup artist to do makeup while the hair is being done because the head is constantly being tugged at. The makeup artist or hairstylist may need to stop many times. If there's a schedule, or specific makeup required, this will slow one or the other right down. When the makeup artist needs the head turned up, right at that moment the hairstylist pushes the clients head forward. And then there's a mess. Hairspray  on the fresh unfinished makeup ... and so on.

Setup takes longer on location – great if you can leave your kit on location overnight, but that never happens.

No makeup application is a more “hands-on” art of mixing and playing with products, experimenting with new products, new makeup designs, thinking, creativity than what traditional is - Airbrush application takes the fun out of makeup application say makeup artists who have done both, because you can only do so much with airbrush application and every client ends up looking the same, kind of like run off a mill, if airbrush is not combined with traditional makeup techniques.

Which means that more often than not, even though the client is lead to believe that they are receiving just airbrush makeup alone, they are actually receiving both airbrush, plus traditional makeup on their face. It is more often than not combined. This is never expressed beforehand.

Well this is the outcome of my research thus far. I will no doubt be able to add to this article as I continue to research.

I hope this has helped shed more light on the airbrush /traditional makeup question.

I look forward to doing airbrush makeup one day, once I discover more comprehensive, user-friendly airbrush kits offering more advanced technology. The airbrush industry is doing well, which is marvellous, but nothing beats what can be done with traditional makeup – yet. 

Blessings to you!



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