We have drag culture to thank for a lot of trends, particularly in the beauty space. Drag makeup is powerful makeup—makeup that allows you to change the whole shape of your face and make it last all night. And one key component of face transformations is baking. Baking is a long-wear makeup technique where you use a liquid concealer, cover it with loads of powder, wait 10-or-so minutes, and then brush all the excess off.
The common denominator between its celebrity fans? Bright lights and lots of photos. Celebrities (Kim Kardashian), politicians (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), and YouTubers (Huda Kattan) all include baking in the final steps of their makeup routines.
But what about ordinary folks? Is there a way to make baking work in your everyday routine? Well, for those with oily skin or sweaty commutes, baking is actually more about practicality than HD-ready glamour. It’s really the only way to ensure smudge-proof concealer—let me explain.
Everything you’ve heard about baking is a lie
You may have read that it oxidizes your makeup—that’s not quite it. Another popular theory is that your body heat fuses the liquid and powder together for extra strength, or, from Kylie Jenner’s mouth to your ears, that it soaks into your skin. Are you ready for the truth? It’s all about evaporation.
Here’s how baking actually works
Liquid makeup is easier to control and gives fuller coverage, but it doesn’t do much to mitigate oil production. “When concealer sets, your body temperature helps the liquid parts of the formula evaporate,” explains cosmetic chemist Jen Novakovich. That’s why, if you trap liquid formulas close to the surface of your skin with lots of powder, it creates a sort of oven (hence “baking”) to evaporate those liquids faster and more completely.
Then, when your body produces its own moisture throughout the day—be it excess oil or sweat—the areas you’ve baked will re-hydrate, and bring you back to neutral. It won’t look too heavy, but it won’t slip and slide around your face either. Basically, drag queens discovered a miracle.
How to try this at home
If you want to try the technique at home, you can pare back the products and just stick to your favorite liquid concealer with a bit of dew like Nars Radiant Creamy concealer.
You’ll also need a strong powder. Look for a translucent powder that doesn’t have titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which will cause flashback in photos. Laura Mercier’s is a classic, while Huda and Kim make powders specifically formulated for baking.
Last but not least, grab a beauty sponge and a big, fluffy brush on hand for a smooth finish. Apply the concealer like normal, blend it out with the sponge, and then pack on your translucent powder.
You can move on to another part of your routine—eyes? brows?—or just do something else around your house. After a few minutes have passed (you don’t have to be too scientific about it), brush off all the extra powder. Try baking the places where your concealer tends to move around: under the eyes is obvious, but it works just as well on red bumps that are naturally a little shiny. And of course, with everything good, there’s a catch: if you have dry skin or are concerned with fine lines, you may want to take a pass. Heavy powder tends to settle into wrinkles and will end up emphasizing the exact areas you want to blur out. And if you’re not naturally oily or dancing the night away, those areas will just get drier and drier—the look has an expiration time. Instead, Novakovich recommends using a setting spray. With a base of denatured alcohol, they zap out the extra moisture so you’ll get similar staying powder without the dry, cakey feeling of powder.
For the visual learners of the world, here are a few baking YouTube tutorials to help you get started.