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The correct foundation can make your skin look absolutely amazing, and healthy, glowing skin can do more to enhance your appearance than anything else. That's why foundation is your most important makeup investment. However, it can be one of the most difficult makeup products to choose correctly. The wrong colour will either wash you out completely or make your face look too dark for the rest of you. The wrong formulation can make your foundation appear blotchy and uneven, or prevent it from staying put all day. Finding the right colour tone and formulation is critical, because starting with a flawed base significantly detracts from the rest of your makeup, no matter how skillfully and beautifully it's applied.

Quality also makes a difference. The purer the ingredients, the more expensive the foundation is likely to be. Higher quality formulations contain a higher quality of pigments which last longer on the skin and are more flattering. A product's consistency and the way it goes onto the skin is the key to even, flawless coverage. So don't skimp on foundation.

Types of Foundation

The purpose of foundation is to even out the complexion and cover imperfections so naturally it looks like you're not wearing anything at all and that your skin is that gorgeous all on its own. The colour and type you require depends on your skin. If your skin is smooth and clear then your coverage should be sheer, but if you have multiple "imperfections" you will need a product that provides heavier coverage.

Sheer foundation provides a thinner, more transparent finish that makes the product seem to disappear into the skin for a soft, natural appearance. Sheer foundation helps mature skin appear brighter and fresher without drawing attention to fine lines and also works great on younger skin that simply needs to be evened out.

Foundation comes in a variety of finishes - matte (a flat finish with no shine), satin (a soft, smooth finish with sheen but no shine) or dewy (provides a fresh and glowing look with a slight sheen). For oily or blemished skin, choose matte. For normal or dry skin, any finish will be fine so it's a matter of personal preference.

Foundation also comes in a variety of different types: liquid, tinted moisturizer, mousse, creme, stick, creme-to-powder, spray on, and pancake. Then there are the various powders.

As explained in the Skin Care Basics section, liquid foundation is an essential part of an effective skin care program. It helps lock in moisture and provides an extra layer of protection from pollutants in the environment. It is the most popular foundation type and comes in either a tube or a bottle. It provides varying degrees of coverage (generally more coverage than tinted moisturizer but less than creme) depending on brand and formula, and there are different formulations to address the special needs of the various skin types.

Water based foundations, often referred to as oil-free, matte, or mattyfying, are designed for people with oily skin. Oil based foundations are formulated for people with more dry or sensitive skin.

Liquid foundation goes on very smoothly, particularly if applied with a damp sponge. (Personally, I prefer to use my finger tips as I find it gives me better coverage with less product.) It is good around the eyes where you may want a bit more coverage and can be applied with a small lip brush in that area for better control. Be cautious of waterproof or smudge proof versions because they may cause irritation to people with sensitive skin or breakouts in acne prone skin.

Tinted moisturizers even out the skin tone while providing minimal coverage and often contain sunscreen. This makes them great for people who do not want to spend a lot of time on their morning toilette because they combine the application of moisturizer and foundation into a one step process. Tinted moisturizers generally work well on all skin types, although I’ve found from personal experience that for very dry skin they may not provide enough moisture, particularly during the winter months.

Mousse is creme foundation with air whipped into it for light and sheer coverage that evens out the skin tone without appearing heavy. Mousse tends to sink into the skin rather than sit on top of it, providing great coverage that appears very natural. This foundation type is good for all skin types, but particularly nice on dry or aging skin because it tends not to collect in fine lines like the heavier creme formulas.

Creme foundation is smooth and creamy (oil based) and therefore formulated for dry-to-normal complexions. It provides a natural finish with the highest coverage. Though it tends to be thick, you can make it sheerer by applying it with a damp sponge. Because it covers so well you can also use it as an under eye concealer. Though creme foundation is great for dry skin, if your skin is flaky it could cause it to look dull and cakey.

Stick foundation is best for normal to dry skin and is a good option for those who want more coverage as it works like a creme foundation and concealer together. So it offers maximum coverage for imperfections, including ruddy skin and uneven skin tones. It can, however, look a little heavy on clear skin where a lot of coverage is not required.

Creme-to-powder foundations are applied as a liquid and then dry to a powder finish so usually no additional dusting of powder is required to set it. This foundation type tends to minimize oil and last all day. It is easy to apply and provides relatively full coverage.

Spray on foundation has become a hot cosmetic item, popularized by makeup artist Carmindy from What Not to Wear. Originally developed to help women hide imperfections while healing from cosmetic procedures, spray foundation has moved into mainstream cosmetics because of its quick and easy application, lightweight feel and ability to provide as little or as much coverage as required by applying it in layers. A single layer provides coverage similar to a tinted moisturizer, while five layers can hide a tattoo. It can be applied directly on the face and blended with a makeup sponge, sprayed onto the sponge and then applied to the face, or sprayed into the palm of the hand and applied with foundation brush, sponge or fingers.

Pancake foundation comes in solid cakes or sticks and provides opaque coverage for scars, blemishes and other camouflage therapy. It is commonly used for film, television and theatre, but is too heavy for everyday use.

In addition to the above foundation types, there are also various foundation powders. Powder is used to set foundation so that it lasts the day and to remove excess shine and oil so that the complexion remains smooth and matte looking. It makes your skin appear more smooth and natural and also creates a smoother surface for the application of blush. For best results, apply with a brush rather than a sponge or puff – sponges and puffs deposit more product onto the face which can result in a heavy, cakey appearance.

Powders come either loose or in compact (pressed) form. Compact powder is an extremely versatile product. You can apply it with a brush for sheer coverage, with a dry sponge for a little more coverage, or with a wet sponge for even greater coverage closer to that provided by liquid or creme foundations. Because it's low in oils and doesn't clog pores, it's great for teenaged girls who are more acne prone. It's also great for touch ups throughout the day. (Just wash your puff regularly to prevent bacteria build up.)

Loose powder is of the same consistency and coverage as pressed powder, but comes loose in a container with removable lid. Applied with a powder brush it provides light, natural coverage, but can be messy. However, it works better than pressed powder for setting makeup. It also contains more oil absorbers than pressed powder so it better for oily skin. (Powder is an absolute must for people with oily skin.) The finer the powder, the higher the quality and the less likely it is to cake on your skin.

Iridescent powders are available in various colours and forms, and is dusted over the face and chest to create sheen and luminosity.

Mineral powders have become popular because they contain very few ingredients and the inert minerals in them are great for people with allergies or sensitive skin. These powders should be applied with a large, puffy brush. I personally use mineral powder to set my liquid foundation, with great results. I apply it lightly in a circular motion and the final effect is an airbrushed, flawless finish.

A word of warning about powder products. If you have either dry or mature skin (or both, like me), then apply powder very sparingly, otherwise it settles into fine lines and draws attention to them, making you look older. I therefore apply powder very lightly and primarily in my cheek area so that my blush glides on more smoothly. I keep it away from my eye area completely and provide only a cursory dusting on my forehead since I’ve started to develop facial lines in that area.

Foundation primer has become somewhat popular in recent years with makeup artists. Much like moisturizer, primers make the application of foundation easier and create a barrier between foundation and skin. However, they also even out skin tone, help makeup stay on longer and absorb oil with salicylic acid. Some contain botanicals to soothe and refresh the skin. Most people don’t require foundation primer as long as they properly moisturize before applying their foundation, but if you have difficulty keeping your makeup in place in hotter weather you could consider giving primer a try.

As you can see, there are many types of foundation products on the market with varying degrees of coverage and the trick is to find the type that suits you best. A foundation that is properly matched to your skin tone and skin type will blend so smoothly into your complexion you will hardly be able to tell it’s on your face. If your foundation is visible then either the colour tone is off or the formulation is wrong for you.

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Tips for Choosing the Right Foundation

Here are some tips for choosing the right foundation:

  • When evaluating a new foundation, always try it directly on your face. The colour in the bottle or tube is not a good indicator of how it will look on your skin, and wrists and hands are almost never the same shade as your face. Make sure you wait a few minutes to allow the colour to adapt to your skin - the natural oils in your skin could change the colour pigment of the foundation.
  • If at all possible, check the colour in natural lighting.
  • If your skin is ivory or beige, test the shade by applying in a stripe from jaw to neck. Women with these skin tones tend to have redness in their face but not their neck, so they need to ensure their foundation matches their neck.
  • If your skin is bronze or ebony, apply your test stripe from cheek to jaw. Some women with these skin tones have facial masking (lighter skin on the interior of the face and darker skin on the outer edges). If the mask is quite pronounced, two shades of foundation may be required in order to fully even out the skin tone.
  • First, match the foundation to the lightness or darkness of your skin. There are approximately 15 different shades or "depths" to the skin, ranging from porcelain (very pale) to ebony (very dark).
  • Once you are comfortable with the shade, you then need to match it to the undertone of your skin. Foundations come in different undertones – cool (pinkish), warm (orangish) and neutral tones (yellow to beige or olive). The majority of women have warm undertones, which is fortunate as warmer skin tends to look more youthful. To determine the undertone of your skin, select a shade close to your skin colour in each of the undertones and apply a bit of each. The one that “disappears” the most will be the correct undertone for your skin.
  • Yellow-based foundations work on most skin types because everyone has some degree of yellow to their skin. Yellow neutralizes any pink or red undertones and results in a clearer complexion that looks alive and natural. Yellow also counteracts the effects of rosacea and broken capilliaries. (If you have redness to your skin, a yellow foundation may initially look strange because you're used to seeing the redness. But once you're used to it you will most likely notice a more even, natural tone.)
  • Beware of pink-based foundations, as pink foundation on a pink face can become red. The only time a pink foundation is desirable is if there are also pink tones in the neck, but most women with pink in their faces do not have it in their necks. Although many mature women like to use pink tones to give their face more colour, pink actually ages the skin and makes it appear more unnatural. Colour should always be provided by blush and lipstick, not via foundation.
  • Golden orange tones work well for brightening ebony skin. It is always best to brighten, as opposed to lighten, ebony skin.
  • If you’re having trouble choosing between two shades, go with the slightly darker one. However, keep in mind that foundation should not be visible on your skin – it is meant to even out the skin tone and provide a flawless finish without it being obvious you’re wearing makeup. This means that people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer may need a lighter foundation colour during the winter months when their tan fades.
  • When in bottle format, liquid foundations tend to look darker than they actually are.
  • Thicker, dryer makeup provides better coverage, but can be difficult to blend. However, although lighter makeup is easier to blend, it does not conceal the skin’s imperfections as easily.
  • Your skin can change from season to season and so you may require different foundation formulations during the summer and winter months.
  • For ivory or beige skin, when using powder to set your foundation, either a neutral undertone that matches your shade of foundation exactly or a yellow based powder (to warm up skin or correct imperfections) works best.
  • For bronze or ebony skin, use a powder with golden orange undertones to brighten and freshen the face. The darker the skin, the more warm brown you can go. Loose powder with a hint of shimmer will absorb oils and keep it looking fresh. Matte powders on darker skin can make it appear flat and ashy.

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Foundation Application Tips

Here are some tips for applying foundation:

  • When you apply foundation, it should not be noticeable by anyone but you. Foundation should always match your skin tone exactly. If you want a tanned look then use a bronzer rather than darker foundation.
  • Although facial products should generally be applied in an upwards and outwards fashion, your foundation should always be smoothed into the skin in a gentle downwards motion so that the tiny hairs on your face will lay flat against your face as they are coated by the foundation.
  • If you discover that you are between shades then you can blend two foundation colors together.
  • You might find that you need a slightly darker shade of makeup for summer.
  • Creme or longwearing foundations provide heavier coverage, and liquids or tinted moisturizers provide lighter coverage.
  • Before applying foundation, cleanse and moisturize the face and let the moisturizer be absorbed. Doing so keeps the foundation on top of the skin.
  • Apply liquid or creme foundation sparingly in tiny dots around the face and then blend well with a sponge or your fingertips.
  • Blend the foundation from the eyes and T-zone outwards. Then work from the top of the face downward, to create a smooth, even finish. Make sure you blend well into your hairline and also underneath the jawline so there is no line between the foundation and the skin on your neck. (If your foundation is the correct colour, there won’t be.)
  • Open your mouth while applying the foundation as this will help you expose the neck area to better eliminate any obvious line at the jaw.
  • If you feel your foundation is a little heavy, gently pat a tissue over your face. This will blend the product more evenly as well as soften your look.
  • Applying foundation on the lips creates a base so that your lipstick will stay on longer. Similarly, placing foundation on the eyelids will do the same for your eye makeup.
  • When checking your coverage, pay special attention to the corners of the nose and corners of the mouth as well as areas over and under the eyes.
  • In order to touch up a particular spot (i.e. blemish or scar) you should re-apply lightly and then blend.
  • When applying foundation over concealer (or vice versa), use "stipling" to blend the two. Put the foundation onto your fingertips or sponge and gently pat it onto your face carefully so that what's already there won't be disturbed.
  • Prior to setting the foundation with a translucent powder, you should make sure that there are no creases in the base, particularly around the eyes or mouth. If there are then smooth them out with the help of a makeup sponge. Let your foundation dry before setting it.
  • Foundation set with powder will last longer. The powder should be applied with a large, fluffy brush in a circular motion, in an outwards direction from the centre of the face. This will result in a smoother, more flawless finish.
  • Powder can be re-applied throughout the day to prevent shine.
  • If you prefer powder over liquid foundation, apply the powder by gently pressing it into the skin somewhat liberally. Then, dust off the excess using a large powder brush or puff.
  • If oil surfaces during the day, you can blot the area with a tissue then apply a light dusting of powder.
  • Here’s one I’ve not yet tried myself but thought I would include it anyway. To give the skin a dewy finish (fresh and glowing with a slight sheen), moisten a gauze pad or washcloth in astringent and gently pat the made up face. The astringent will remove the matte look of makeup and leave the skin radiant.

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