Foundation can be the best friend in your make-up bag – or your face’s foe. Quite simply, that’s the difference between ‘getting it right’ – in which case, your skin will simply look like a beautifully enhanced version of its natural self – and getting it wrong. Which could mean: foundation that’s basically wearing you (rather than the other way round – usually because you’ve got the shade wrong), or which cakes, or simply disappears by elevenses.
We know plenty of women who can get away without foundation. Mostly, they’re under the age of 30. Beyond that, foundation can make a huge difference: it’s a brilliant canvas for other products, and it evens out imperfections. As our make-up artist friend Trish McEvoy once told us: ‘As we get older, we lose evenness (principally due to cumulative sun damage), clarity, colour and definition. That’s the difference between a young face and an older one. Your aim should be to recreate these as naturally as possible.’
The better your skin, the lighter the foundation
That’s the golden rule, according to all the make-up pros we respect. But at the same time, if you’re a certain age and you’ve always worn lots of foundation, you should probably go lighter; you want uniformity – but not a mask-like effect. Never use your base as an all-over corrector/concealer. If you have flaws, use a specific corrector/concealer sparingly.
Begin your ‘layering’ with a primer
Applied after your moisturiser (and don’t forget to let this sink in for at least five minutes) and/or serum, a primer adds softness and luminosity, can go some way towards evening skin tone, and helps turbo-charge the staying power of your make-up. (We’re longstanding fans of This Works In Transit Camera Close-Up, which creates a wonderfully smooth undercoat.)
Decide what finish you’re after
‘Nothing too matte, nothing too heavy,’ is the mantra – but you’ve still got plenty of options nowadays, from serums (dewy) to creams (which tend to soften to a velvety finish), powders (fairly matte to really matte) to liquids. Personally, we like foundations which offer the line-blurring power of ‘light-diffusing pigments’ – literally creating the optical illusion of more flawless skin.
Check out the shade on your neck
Just below the jaw is the right place,’ our friend Mary Greenwell always advised us. ‘Your base should match your neck, not your face or even the jaw-line itself, and should literally “disappear” to avoid that telltale join line.’ Be brave, and check it out in bright daylight.
Try a foundation brush
We’re big fans of the O, Wow! Brush – not only for ourselves, but we regularly give them to friends who find them pretty life-changing. You can literally smoosh this into your face and apply your base without looking, in the dark, and it’ll look great. (Although daylight and a mirror nevertheless preferable!)
Apply a little foundation to the back of your (clean hand), and pick the foundation up from there with the brush, a little at a time. You can always add, but it’s harder to take away. And then at the end, use the warmth of your fingers to “press” the foundation into the skin, which makes it look really natural.
Alternatively, use your fingers
Fingers have always been Mary Greenwell’s preferred ‘tools’. As she puts it: ‘They are warm, and so help “meld” foundation into skin. (We say: try a brush, try your fingers, and really analyse which gives you the best effect. Sarah favours fingers most mornings – with brushwork for dress-up days – but Jo always finds fingers take off as much as she’s putting on so invariably uses a brush – so the mantra is ‘experiment’!)) Don’t feel you have to apply it all over your face, says Barbara Daly. ‘Start from the centre and blend out, so by the time you get to the fine hairs at the side (don’t worry – everyone has them), there’s nothing there.’
Remember, your base is not a concealer
So, once you’ve applied your foundation, stand back and take a look. If you still have flaws you really want to hide, such as brown spots, red cheeks, scars or dark circles under your eyes, apply concealer to those areas. (A matte-finish product for blemishes and red veins, light-reflecting concealer for dark circles.) We find that applying foundation over the top simply wipes away concealer, so we prefer to apply it afterwards. Experiment to see which works best for you personally.
Pat on a silicone-based filler, to smooth away lines
For frown lines, try patting on one of these magic line-smoothers, which will soften the edges – always over your make-up, rather than under.
Apply face powder, if you want to ‘set’ your foundation, with a fat eyeshadow brush
We learned this from our friend Mary Greenwell, who advises using an eyeshadow brush (albeit the largest shape you can find) to target powder on the areas of the face that tend to shine: nose, chin, centre of forehead. Leave the rest of your face naked of powder: you want to be able to see the radiance, and powder may dull that.
What we will add, last of all, is that foundation is one area of make-up where we can’t be totally, 100 percent prescriptive – so you’ll need to experiment to see which of our various proposed options above work for you. Some will, some won’t. So – here’s the fun bit – we suggest setting aside a little playtime to experiment with the different techniques to see which give you the best results. If you use two mirrors (one hand mirror, to get a side-view), you should be able to judge for yourself. If you’re not certain, ask a friend who you trust.
And look forward to a more flawless future…