Foundation has been one of my main concerns for about 3 years now, especially since I no longer "tan" up to MAC NW15 and favor a more natural-looking product than I did in my youth. But I'm not the only person who has bases on the brain. Makeup forums are flooded with questions from posters with strong pink undertones, painful skin conditions, and the deepest ebony skintone who can never find their perfect foundation. Dense cover-ups like Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer and Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage have such a steep learning cover that endless tutorials on how to use them properly are written and recorded. People know exactly what they want from a foundation, but aren't sure how to walk up to a counter and eloquently request a medium-coverage, demi-matte liquid foundation with neutral shades, a high SPF rating, and no glitter or shimmer. But most of all, makeup lovers are always looking for new ways to apply their foundation and make it look unbearably beautiful.
So I decided to hit the books--literally--and flip through my countless beauty tomes to provide some expert tips and suggestions. I've also watched plenty of videos from makeup artists and nagged many a beauty blogger and forum poster to get their own quirky tricks-of-the-trade. Finally, I've added my own 2 cents here and there, drawing knowledge from my 10+ years of wearing makeup (and looking utterly cake-faced for most of that decade).
BEFORE WE GET IN TO IT...
I find that there are some products people always mix up or misunderstand: in skincare, exfoliant, cleanser, and makeup remover cause confusion, and in makeup, there's a lot of debate about foundation, concealer, BB/CC creams, and tinted moisturizers. As a general rule:
- Foundations are bases that you build on top of--think of the foundation of a house. They're primarily made to even out your skintone and cover minor flaws. Concealers do just that: conceal. Most are higher coverage than foundations and are used to cover up acne, scars, undereye circles, and major discoloration. Tinted moisturizers are essentially very sheer foundations; most contain some skincare benefits and sunscreen, but at the end of the day, they can't replace your regular skincare. BB and CC creams are like foundations with added skincare benefits if you're in Asia; in the western world, they're usually just tinted moisturizers with a snazzy marketing campaign.
- An exfoliant gets rid of dead skin cells so that your skin is smoother. It does not clean your skin or remove makeup. A cleanser cleans your skin and removes dirt, excess oil, and so forth; very few are designed to remove makeup. A makeup remover does just what you think it does: it breaks down makeup and gets it off of your face. Generally speaking, if you wear makeup, you'll need a makeup remover AND a cleanser, not just one or the other.
- If you're unsure about what an undertone is, ie, "cool," "olive," check out this great source for starters.
FINDING A SHADE MATCH OR A FORMULA
1. "Where you test foundation is not on your face, but on the side of your neck...you want the foundation to be continuing from your neck" (Mary Greenwell). If you match to your face, you're most likely going to get the "floating head" look, where your face is several shades darker than the rest of you (Lisa Eldridge).
2. If you test foundation on your wrist, you're again testing it on a part of your body that is usually exposed to the sun and will more often than not be too dark to ensure an accurate match.
3. "Personally, I match to the chest. In Caucasians, the neck is often the lightest part of the body, and in some ethnicities, it tends to be the darkest part. Obviously, use common sense, but I've found the chest to be a better guideline for tone and depth" (mikmik90).
4. "NEVER buy a foundation from a store match." Take home a sample and try it out for a day or two, making sure you check it in different lights (natural, artificial, fluorescent) to see if it really matches you (HanSoloShotFirst).
5. Experiment with different application techniques or primers before you give up on a foundation (NanRX). For example: I hated MAC Face & Body when I applied it with a brush because it looked streaky and gross, and sponges just soaked all of the product right up, but when I apply it with my fingers, it looks PERFECT. Check this post for more of my MAC Face & Body tips!
6. "Just because you're fair doesn't mean you're cool-toned! A lot of super-fair people just grab the lightest shade in the range assuming it's right, but often that shade is a pink-toned one. Take the time to find out if you are cool or warm, and match your foundation appropriately" (rc630).
7. "If you ever have your makeup done in a cosmetics department or makeup store, take a mirror and go out into the daylight to see the truth. Often the lightest in makeup boutiques are not neutral. Once you get home, you may look completely different." (Kevyn Aucoin, "Face Forward")
8. "The concept of texture applies not only to the look, but to the feel of makeup too. Typically (though not always), matte makeup products contain little if no oil. So products of this type are well suited for those who tend toward oily skin. People with normal skin often favor water-based products with only a hint of added moisture. Those prone to excessive dryness lean toward oil-based cosmetics. But don't let the texture of your own skin keep you from experimenting with seemingly incompatible products." (Kevyn Aucoin, "Face Forward")
9. "To make sure you select the right color foundation, choose three shades that you think are about right and streak each one over your face and under your jaw line. Only one will completely disappear on your skin, and that is the color you should buy." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
10. "Do not use pink-based foundation to try to make yellow-toned skin look pinker, or vice versa. Instead, choose a foundation that matches your skin and let your color cosmetics do the work afterwards." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
11. "If your foundation formula is too oily, try adding a few drops of astringent. This will make the foundation a bit sheerer, but does cut down on the oiliness." (Kevyn Aucoin, "Making Faces")
12. "If, and when, you use foundation all over the face, be sure to blend into your jawline, and slightly onto the neck. Otherwise, you'll have a distinct line between the two, and it will make you look like you have a mask on." (Kevyn Aucoin, "Making Faces")
13. "As with anything in the cosmetics industry, it is important to take a step back and remove yourself from the marketing hype – i.e. THE BULLSHIT. As soon as you buy into the bullshit, you will be let down and you will have product issues. Everyone needs to be realistic, and understand that not everything will work for you. Heck, products may even make your skin worse" (BernB).
14. Don't be afraid to mix foundations to get different shades, textures or finishes, and levels of coverage (Lisa Eldridge).
PREPPING THE CANVAS
1. Your skin is an ever-changing organ, and unless you're some kind of magical unicorn, your diet is going to impact that organ. Drink plenty of water and try to eat lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Also, be aware of how certain foods or nutrients impact your skin. I find that low-fat dairy products make my skin look more luminous and feel more moisturized and plump, but some people actually break out from dairy. Soy and refined sugars are also common acne triggers.
2. "You are not a peach; get that fuzz of of your face! Fresh shave = best foundation application ever" (HeavensDevil).
3. Almost every makeup artist, YouTube guru, and beauty lover will tell you that regular exfoliation is an absolute must for smooth foundation application. Just be sure to use a gentle product; abrasive scrubs like the St. Ives Apricot Scrub can do more harm to your skin than good, especially if you scrub them on with lots of pressure. AHAs and BHAs are good chemical exfoliants (ATSV); if you really want something physical, try an Asian konjac sponge.
4. By the same token, don't over-exfoliate. Very few people need to have dead skin cells scrubbed off every day, especially if you use a physical exfoliant or a potent chemical one. Twice a week is enough for most.
5. "Even oily skins need moisturizer, because a moisturizer helps seal water into the top layers to keep skin soft and supple. However, don't load the skin down with a very heavy formulation. Instead, choose a light, watery fluid, as this will be enough for you." ("The Ultimate Beauty Book," by Norton, Shapland, and Wadeson)
6. "If you're unsure of your skin's oily and dry areas, press a tissue to your face an hour after washing it. Any greasy patches on the tissue signify oily areas." ("The Ultimate Beauty Book," by Norton, Shapland, and Wadeson)
7. "If you have combination skin, take this tip from the beauty salons and use two [products]: one suitable for oily skin and one for dry skin. Just apply each one to the relevant area that needs it." ("The Ultimate Beauty Book," by Norton, Shapland, and Wadeson)
8. The skin around your eyes is especially thin and delicate. Do not pull or rub at this skin! If you're applying product around your eyes (concealer, eye cream, etc.), use very gentle patting and sweeping motions.
9. "Make sure you give moisturizer time to sink in before you start applying your makeup" ("The Ultimate Beauty Book," by Norton, Shapland, and Wadeson). Makeup spread over freshly-applied moisturizer or eye cream can slide around and crease. You may want to reverse this tip if you have very dry skin and/or are using a super-matte product, however, as the added moisture can make the foundation apply more smoothly.
10. "A lot of people apply [hydrating eye creams] very incorrectly...don't start [under your eyes] where the darkness is. The idea of an eye cream is that you're keeping the area that is very thin at the corners of the eyes hydrated. So when you start, you want to tap around [the outer corner of the eye] and move inward...start on the outer corners and go around that orbital area" (Josh Collier).
11. Mix 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel with 1 teaspoon of silica powder (both ingredients should be available at places like TKBTrading.com and CoastalScents.com). Store the mixture in a small tub with an airtight lid. Apply a small amount of this mixture to your face before applying your foundation to prevent oil breakthrough (andreajunelle, BernB, and rayvnna).
12. "It is important to remember, mineral foundation is just minerals and pigment. It doesn’t have ingredients to control oil; it doesn’t have ingredients to make it long lasting. You must incorporate other products to provide these benefits" (BernB).
13. You need to wash your brushes thoroughly and regularly, and powder puffs should be replaced every few months, to keep your face clean and your application flawless. I cannot understand people who never clean their brushes or replace their puffs--you wouldn't use the same fork to eat all of your food and never wash it, would you? For help on how to clean your brushes, check out this great video. The actual soap or cleanser you use to clean your brushes is personal preference, but I personally have always used the Dr. Bronner's bar soap or baby shampoo.
"NATURAL" APPLICATION TIPS, TRICKS, AND IDEAS
2. I often get asked how I make my foundation look so "perfect but natural." The trick is...I use very little foundation. I'll usually just pour out a dime-sized amount of MAC Face and Body (a very sheer foundation) all over my face and the top of my neck, then I'll put a bit of powder on my oily areas and dot concealer on my undereyes and my zits. That's it. I'm not wearing a mask. Try applying half as much foundation as you normally do and see how that works for you. As per Kevyn Aucoin: "I prefer little or no foundation for everyday use. Too much foundation can give the face an artificial, heavy look." ("Making Faces")
3. "I have this sort of peeve with contour and highlight. A lot of people are obsessed with it lately...and I'll just be honest, I think it looks kind of silly outside of photoshoots because it's designed to make you look a certain way in a photograph. But when you're in a real life, having all of this brown around [the perimeters of your face]? A little bit of contour is fine, but c'mon!" (Dustin Hunter)
4. "Always work from the center of the face out" (purplecouch). For many people, the most discolored parts of the face are in the center (nose, chin, middle of forehead, apples of the cheeks), and the skin at the perimeters is often the cleanest and "prettiest" (temples, back of the cheeks, etc).
5. "If you are not a dab hand with foundation, applying liquid [products] with a damp sponge (make sure all the excess liquid is squeezed out first) is the best way to get even coverage. Fingertip application can result in a streaky finish if you are not extra careful." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
6. "Remember that it is always best to start with a little foundation and build up coverage slowly, rather than put on too much and have to remove it." (Barbara Daly quoted by Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
7. If you want to make your foundation more sheer, mix a little bit of that foundation in to your favorite moisturizer.
8. "Most foundations sit on top of the skin a minute or two before soaking in. This is at the root of my theory about why so many women are averse to foundation. It looks weird at first--you have to give it a minute!" (Molly Young)
9. Be careful about how many layers of product you're putting on different parts of your face. Too thick of a layer of makeup will look cakey and fake in daylight. For example: if you plan on using an undereye concealer, you probably don't need to apply foundation under your eyes.
"GLAMOUR" APPLICATION TIPS, TRICKS, AND IDEAS
1. Cream foundations are usually your best bet for very full-coverage. They also tend to photograph well.
2. Drag queens are a great source of inspiration and information when it comes to caking it on and looking good. Two important tips you can learn from a drag queen: let thick cream foundations and concealers sit on your face for a few minutes so that the heat of your skin will warm them up and make them easier to blend; this is called "cooking." If you do your base first, apply a thick layer of loose powder under your eyes; this will catch eyeshadow fallout (Manila Luzon). You can dust it away when you're done.
3. Too dry-skinned or worried about caking to do the drag queen powder trick? Just apply your eye makeup first. Clean up the fallout when you're done, then go on to your base.
4. "[Color correctors] work wonders to disguise uneven pigment, or to calm down the appearance of high coloration. Use them sparingly underneath your foundation, and you will be amazed at the results...green counteracts redness. Use on blotchy patches and also to disguise broken veins. Yellow can seem a godsend after a late night because it has an 'anti-fatigue' action that counteracts dark circles under the eyes. Lilac gives a welcome lift to sallow skin and helps to eradicate a dull complexion." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
5. "Concealer can be mixed with creme or liquid eyeshadows, creme blush, or lip colors to pale down or dilute the application." (Kevyn Aucoin, "Making Faces")
6. Many long-wearing and full-coverage products have a matte finish. If you want more glow, try spritzing your face with a finishing spray. These sprays add some glow to the skin and can cut down on how powdery or "flat" you look; as an added bonus, most of these sprays have ingredients that increase the longevity of your makeup. Skindinavia makes several formulations, and Makeup Forever Mist & Fix is great for a high-shine finish. Drag queens have been known to coat their faces in hairspray (not recommended) and theater makeup sealants (Mehron, Kryolan, etc).
7. If you want your skin to look extra-glowy and almost soft-focus in flash photography, try layering a luminizing lotion like MAC Strobe Cream under your foundation.
8. Instead of applying your moisturizer/primer, then foundation, then powder, try rearranging the steps, especially if you have oily skin. "We've been told to powder after foundation, and this makes total sense. And it works. But what works really well is to powder before foundation. After moisturizer and primer, then you powder. Then you apply foundation over the powder! This will fill in pores [and] keep your foundation in place all day. If you have dry skin, you will not need to powder your foundation after. You can just leave it. For those with very oily skin, you will need a touch of powder on the t-zone only" (Wayne Goss). People with dryer skin may get a glowier, less cakey look if they apply a little moisturizer on top of their makeup (The "Pixiwoo" Sisters).
ACNE, AGING, AND OTHER CONCERNS
1. Having acne doesn't mean you need a full-coverage foundation. For most people, a very light base all over will work best; then you can conceal the spots with a stronger foundation or a concealer (Lisa Eldridge).
2. "As someone who has 'ruddy' skin, I would say never try to match the light undertones of the skin. If you slap that light color all over your face, people will ask if you are sick. Instead, look for a NEUTRAL color half way in depth between the base color and the red areas. This will prevent you from looking washed out" (LyrA236).
3. "Always apply [concealer] with a fine-tipped brush...and place it exactly on top of [blemishes], not on the surrounding skin. If there is not a concealer to match your foundation, opt for one a shade lighter. A concaler that is even one shade too dark will serve only to highlight an imminent eruption." (Maggie Hunt quoted by Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
4. "Older women often think that their foundation has changed because it doesn't suit them anymore. What they don't realize is that often it is their complexion that has changed, for example become paler, as they have aged. It is important not to get stuck in a foundation rut." (Stephen Glass quoted by Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
5. "Remember to slather any exposed areas of your body with sun protection at all times, even in midwinter. Sun exposure is the single most important factor in premature skin aging." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
6. "If you feel you can't use any products on your skin without irritating it, cleanse with whole milk and moisturize with a solution of glycerin and rosewater. These should soothe it." ("The Ultimate Beauty Book," by Norton, Shapland, and Wadeson)
7. "If you are unlucky enough to have genuinely sensitive skin, avoid products that contain known allergens such as fragrance, live plant extracts, or lanolin." (Juliet Cohen, "Vogue Makeup")
8. You can temporarily reduce a pimple's redness by holding an ice cube against the blemish, or by dotting on some anti-redness eye drops.
9. Sheets and pillowcases are getting a lot of press with regards to skincare. Two common tips: wash your sheets and pillowcases regularly to remove oils and dirt, thereby preventing acne and breakouts, and try using a silk pillowcase to prevent neck and face wrinkles.
1. If you use any sort of long-wearing product, you'll probably need an oil-based makeup remover to break down the product and get it off. Water, mild soaps, and basic cleansers are usually not strong enough to remove all of the product, and leftover product can lead to clogged pores and breakouts.
2. Don't be rough on your skin, especially the delicate skin around your eyes. Just let the makeup remover soak on your face and break down the product, no need to rub (Lisa Eldridge).
3. Always wash your hands before you wash your face. You don't want to be rubbing dirt and oil all over your "cleansed" skin.
4. Avoid washing your face or showering in super-hot water. It can dry out your skin and cause broken capillaries. Go for warm water for makeup removal instead, then switch to cool or cold water for your final rinse to make your skin feel fresh and smooth.
5. STOP SLEEPING IN YOUR MAKEUP!!! Remove it and remove it COMPLETELY before you crawl in to bed.
6. "Wipes are not the same as cleansing. I meet so many clients in my line of work that tell me, 'Oh, you know, I'm breaking out from my foundation, I don't know why, I don't know what it is. I heard it was so good!' The first thing I always ask is not 'what foundation is it,' but 'how do you remove it'. And most of the time? 'Oh, I use a makeup wipe!' 'Okay, well, what do you cleanse with after?' 'I don't--isn't that the same thing?' It is NOT the same thing. [Makeup wipes are] not a cleanser, [they are] a makeup remover; those are two different philosophies of skincare, two different steps. You do NOT cleanse your face with a wipe, you remove your makeup with a wipe, and then you cleanse after." (Josh Collier)
7. Cetaphil's cleanser is commonly recommended for people with sensitive skin, but some complain that it leaves a film on their face or isn't effective. Here are some tips for making it work: "I've used Cetaphil on and off for over a year now, and I've found the best way to use it is to firstly ensure that your face and hands are dry. Squeeze a small amount of Cetaphil into the palm of your hand, then emulsify it by rubbing your hands together for a few seconds before applying it to your face. Massage this emulsion around your face for about a minute. Remove it with warm water and a soft wash cloth. Emulsifying it before application seems to help it cleanse my skin much better (it goes a lot creamier) and the use of a wash cloth not only helps to gently exfoliate my skin but also stops it leaving a film" (JoshuaP).