EDIT: 5/11/2015 -- Thanks for all of the continued interest in this series! For more recent tips and tricks on using this product, check out my Kevyn Aucoin tag.
No doubt about it: my little pot of Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer is a God-send. Got a blemish? No problem. Undereye Circles of Doom looking extra black and icky? Not a big deal. Need to cover up my redness AND keep my makeup from melting off in a Pennsylvania summer? Easy. This product is expensive and deceptively tiny, but as I stated in my YouTube review, it's a miracle product for those of us who love it and know how to wield it.
Of course, no product can work for everyone. Plenty of people have fallen victim to the hype, only to find out that the KA SSE just isn't their bag. Maybe they can't find a good shade match, or it just wouldn't sit on their skin right, or they couldn't stand trying to "work with it" to avoid the Sherwin Williams look. These are all perfectly valid complaints. But I find that some people give up on this product before giving it the good college try because they can't figure out how to make it work on their skin. This is especially true for people with dryer skin: this is a full-coverage matte product, and those can be tough to work with if your skin is dryer than the Sahara. The "damp sponge method" is probably the most publicized application method, and while it works for many--including some people with dry skin--it's a complete fail for others. Hence, I decided to post a kinda-sorta tutorial on the three ways that I apply this product to my sensitive combination-dry skin: as a spot concealer, as a light-coverage foundation or tinted moisturizer, and as a full-coverage foundation. They're all quite simple once you get the hang of them, although my full coverage method requires another expensive product to work.
Before we get too engrossed, let me make a few recommendations. First and foremost, be sure you get the shade that is the best match for your skin. Full-coverage products will look mask-like and absolutely TERRIBLE if you get the wrong shade! There are some Nordstrom's with Kevyn Aucoin counters. If you don't have one near you, try listing foundations and concealers that match you on forums like MakeupAlley and asking fellow posters for guidance, or look up swatches and shade lists. I always, always check multiple sources to find my best shade match, but for starters, here's a rough "KA SSE as an Undereye Concealer" shade list compiled by Gingitsune at MakeupAlley:
SX1 -- Lighter than PPP, lighter than MAC NC15, neutral undertones
SX2 -- PPP with rosy undertones, MAC NW15
SX3 -- PPP with yellow undertones, MAC NC15
SX4 -- LLL, strong yellow undertones, MAC C2
SX5 -- LLL, neutral with slight yellow undertones, MAC NC20/NW20
SX6 -- LLL/FFF, neutral-yellow undertones, MAC NC25/30
SX7 -- FFF, neutral but with more yellow undertones, MAC C3
SX8 -- MMM, strong yellow undertones, MAC NC30/35/C4 (*note: C4 is lighter than NC35 but more yellow)
SX9 -- MMM, rosy undertones, MAC NW35/40
SX10 -- MMM, neutral-yellow undertones, MAC NC30/35
SX11 -- GGG, yellow undertones, MAC NC40/43
SX12 -- GGG/DDD, yellow undertones, MAC NC43/45
SX13 -- neutral undertones, MAC NC50, N4 (C6 could work too, but might not be yellow enough)
SX14 -- strong red undertones, MAC NW50
SX15 -- rosy brown undertones, what W7 would look like, think C7 depth but with pink undertones.
SX16 -- golden brown undertones, MAC C8-N9.
Personally, I disagree with this list a bit and would probably "roll back" each shade by 1 notch. For example: people who wear Sx01 are usually around MAC NC5-10, I wear Sx02 and I'm a MAC N10, so on and so forth. But of course, everyone's skin is different, so again, use as many resources as you can to find your best match.
Also, I would depot some of the product in to a different container and use it from there instead of straight from the original jar to avoid contamination. I've been using the same depotted tablespoon for about 6 months now, no joke--you need so little of this stuff! And I always wash my hands or wipe them on a cleansing wipe (depending on how far I'm in to doing my makeup) before dipping in to my KA SSE.
METHOD #1: Spot Concealing
I pretty much always use my KA SSE as a spot concealer--it's my go-to blemish hider and one of two undereye concealers I actually like--but sometimes, all I need is concealer. Okay, so my skin is pretty good on most days, but then there are days where my skin is exceptionally good, where just about none of my redness is showing through and I don't have any bright red blemishes. Those are the days when I skip foundation all together and just blot on concealer as needed.
The first thing I do is figure out where I need concealer and how much concealer I need in each of those spots. The spots marked off in this image are actually my sort of "regular" concealer spots, parts of my face that always need a bit of coverage. The sections highlighted in red are areas that are strongly discolored and need a good amount of concealer applied directly to them; they're also, coincidentally, the spots I tend to pat concealer on after I've applied foundation. The spots in blue are only slightly discolored and need a tiny amount of concealer when I'm not wearing foundation; if I AM wearing foundation, I usually skip adding concealer to them.
Then I use a light, slightly glowy moisturizer all over my face and down my neck. I do this because my skin leans towards the dry side and because KA SSE--left entirely to its own devices--is matte, a finish that doesn't really do much for my skin. My favorite light moisturizer is the Elizabeth Arden Let There Be Light SPF15 day cream, which is unfortunately discontinued, but you can still find it at places like TJ Maxx. I use about a pump and a half and apply it all over my face, even rubbing a tiny amount in to my oily eyelids and nose.
Next, I start concealing. 95% of the time, I just use my fingers. I gently tap one finger in to the product, then tap the excess product off on to the inside of my petri dish (scroll up and check out the "smears" on the bottom half of my petri dish--that's what it's from!). What you see in this picture is enough to conceal the discoloration on my chin and nose, plus my red lip scar. Seriously. That's it. That's all you need. I've met a few people who claimed that this product was cakey even when they used a small amount, and when I saw what they considered "a small amount," it was still way too much. Start with a barely-there smidge, like this, and work your way up. I always tend to warm the product up by rubbing it between two fingers, which makes it blend better.
I start by applying the concealer directly to a part of my face that needs more coverage, ie, the areas I marked in red in that first image. (Look at the cream-colored smear to the left of my finger in the first image--that's the KA SSE.) I use quick patting motions with my finger to blend it out. Once that area has been concealed, I use the tiny amount of product that's left on my finger to conceal the areas that need a bit less product, ie, the areas I marked in blue in that first image, still gently patting with my finger.
Here's what it looks like after I've blended the KA SSE in to my chin, nose, and lip scar, but not my cheeks or my undereyes. Notice the difference? Once that's done, I do the same thing with my undereyes: pick up a small amount, warm it up between my fingers, and pat it on, then pat the excess in to my cheeks to cover up the redness.
Here's that dark purple lip look sans the lips, just so you can notice the skin a bit more. As you can see, all of my discoloration is covered, but you can still see my freckles and skin texture, and I'm not uber-matte and dry looking. That's the benefit of using the tiniest amount of this product, warming it up, and applying it over freshly-moisturized skin. Every once in a while I'll use a bit of powder on top, just to keep it in place if it's super hot out, or I'll spritz my face with a setting spray to add more glow, but 9 times out of 10, it's not entirely necessary.
Also, if I've used a very thin foundation like MAC Face & Body, I'll sometimes add a smidge of the KA SSE to whatever foundation is left on my hand, blend them together, and apply that to my blemishes and undereyes with a fluffy brush. This might be a better method for people who want a more sheer, less matte finish.
UP NEXT -- Method #2: Light Coverage