Random Sunday: Foundation

Every now and again, one of you asks, so did you ever find a foundation? For those of you interested in my foundation drama, here´s my final report.

I found the search for my “perfect” foundation fascinating. Unlike fragrance, I´m not looking for something quirky and offbeat in my foundation. I´m looking for something that gives me more even-toned skin with the least made-up look possible. I outlined my requirements and you all made your recommendations several months ago.

While it might seem counter-intuitive, it bears considering: there is no universal idea of what constitutes an “attractive” foundation. Look no further than the faces of the women who are selling it – I am often astonished at the amount of foundation they spackle on, and how matte they keep it. While the sweet young girls at Sephora may be hiding blemishes, some women are clearly going for a heavy-handed finish on what appears to be reasonably flawless skin. For instance, the Armani SA here, a very pretty young woman, wears makeup like she´s an extra in one of those Tim Burton movies. I like my foundation to have a little sheen on the finish, which to me looks “natural,” but I´m sure many women would look at my idea of a perfect finish and rush for the powder or blotting paper. All of this my way of saying, this was my dabble, it was fun, and Your Results May Vary. All of these involved at least two tests, one applied by me (I tried to get samples to take home) on the principle that if I couldn´t duplicate the effect it wasn´t worth it.

Armani Luminous Silk Foundation – the SA hooked me up with 4.5. I thought it would be ridiculously expensive coming from Giorgio, but it´s $55, the same as the Chanel I use (although they want you to buy their $45 sable brush to apply it with). Indoors, the finish looked amazing, and the color is a perfect match. Outdoors … I struggled to sort out what the problem was, until it came to me – LSF makes me look like I´m wearing really expensive foundation. When what I want is for my face to look like skin, only better. There´s something about the way LSF sits up on my face that isn´t quite right. I´m going to try again with a different moisturizer underneath it. Also it´s probably a heavier layer than I´d apply myself, and I want to try with a sponge. UPDATE: I got a take-home sample of this. I can´t get it to sit right on my face; as some MUA reviewers complained, it pools in my pores. (BTW I´d never really thought about my pores until I started trying foundations. Who knew something could magnify your pores so profoundly?) Also, I´ve now been matched by Armani SAs a 4, a 4.5 and a 5, which is humorous. Really lovely foundation, though, if it works for you. I think it would work better on less dry skin than mine.

Prescriptives – this is connected to the Armani story above in a funny way. I´m not a good match for any of Prescriptives´ ready-made colors. I had the (really nice, friendly, knowledgeable) Prescriptives lady fiddle with one side of my face, about an hour after I´d done the Armani. She told me after trying a few that frankly she thought the finish and color on the Armani LSF was fantastic on me, and I should try a different moisturizer or foundation base underneath and give it another whirl. This from an SA at Nordstrom. Now, that right there is the kind of honest advice I really appreciate. She gave me a generous sample of their cool serum base which I like a lot.

By Terry – we tried this at Barneys; the SA put pink-eraser-colored stuff all over Patty´s face, some kinda luminating thing. It was heinous. A perfect match if you are an oompa-loompa with pink undertones. Other than that, it´s perfect. She said, looks great on everyone! Which you know is pretty much your signal to flee. Also, their salesperson is insane, and kind of a witch to boot. I tried some of their regular foundations on my own because she wouldn´t speak to us any more after we wouldn´t buy the pink stuff.

Laura Mercier – I give up, they must hire the CIA to train those women, maybe using Tasers and deprivation techniques, I don´t want to know. I understand that in order to give me a good result, you have to prep my skin a little, including removing whatever crap I already have on there. It´s harder and more time-consuming to test foundation than it is to test, say, lipstick. But let us find the balance between slapping a foundation on dirty skin and trying to sell me, over the course of 25 minutes, five skin care products you want me to use and still we don´t seem to be getting any closer to actually putting on the foundation. I get all crabby and have to go do deep breathing in the ladies´, where, by the way, they stock their sink with the Laura Mercier gourmand stuff, and I am telling you, if you put the coconut-almond or whatever hand goop on, it will haunt you for the rest of your life, no matter how many times you scrub your hands. Stay Away.

Make Up For Ever Face and Body Liquid Makeup The winner!! Several people recommended it in response to my request. Perusing the reviews at MUA, I was surprised and amused by how strikingly similar the positive reviews were: they all sounded like women with my skin. They were women with dry/pale/red/sensitive skin, hoping to cover rosacea, looking for non-matte/natural/satin coverage. I was particularly amused by one reviewer who, fascinated by the ultra-naturalness of the finish, decided on a whim to see how many coats she could apply before it looked freaky. She gave up at seven. (It sounds like something I would do).

Armed with those reviews, I gave it a whirl. I´m glad I read the reviews, because I was prepared for the really odd texture – it´s sort of like a runny pudding, and a little gelatinous. Not disgusting, but a little surprising compared to most foundation I´ve tried. It comes in a wide-mouth, heavy glass bottle and I can´t imagine anyone applying it with something other than a sponge or a brush. It dries pretty quick, so you don´t want to dawdle. Also it smells strongly of something like alcohol. None of that filled me with great hopes, frankly, but I was already there, so why not. I tried the shade almost everyone recommended: Ivory 20, which in the glass bottle looked right — a pale, true neutral somewhere between bisque and beige.

The stuff looks amazing. Another weird bit is, given the texture and the way it dries, for the first few minutes it has that tight feeling on my face, like something´s maybe gonna crack. But I kept looking in the mirror and beaming at the finish. It toned down the red, matched my skin beautifully, had a satiny finish that looked neither dry nor greasy, and did a surprising job of minimizing my pores. It didn´t look like really good makeup. It looked, as one reviewer said, like skin, only better. It seems particularly well suited for summer in D.C., that is, unlikely to melt off my face in the humidity. I also love that I can use it to cover up the age spots on my chest and it doesn’t come off on my clothes.

At the end of all this foolishness, I wound up with:

Make Up for Ever in Ivory 20 (I think their lightest shade)

Lancome Renergie in Clair20, which has a really wonderful finish on me, and which is just slightly pinker than the MUFE and a little more luminous. Combined with a tiny bit of bronzer I think it´s a particularly attractive finish in the evening, and I like that I can basically smear it on with my fingers in a hurry, touch it up with my palms or a sponge, and still wind up with an excellent satin finish. I´ll probably wear this more in the winter, it´s very moisturizing (and I think would be a disaster on those of you with oily skin.)

I tried several foundations from Estee Lauder but could not get a good color match; the new Armani, I forgot what it´s called, the moisturizing one, doesn´t provide enough coverage. Anyway, it was fun, and thanks for all your help.

  • obscented says:

    Yes, my same quest….I have pale skin and a bit of rosacea. And made all the same stops. Most foundations pool ever so subtly into my pores; pores I had not really noticed until I started to try all these foundations. My winners? 1. Sisley Ivory (recommended by the ReVive agent–who at 65 has the flawless skin I have craved all my life). On me, it is a tad too yellow. Sisley is skimpy on its color selection, but it covered evenly, with a dewy glow, and no pooling. I was delighted until it broke out my face. a bummer at 40. But still, a good option if you have more stoic skin.

    2. Even better, but outrageous in price, is Serge Lutens’ compact foundation–it makes all pores and blemishes disappear; I am hard pressed to even tell I am wearing foundation- I wear it on the beach. I love that it comes in a slick little compact–no gooey mess. I touch up discretely on planes, etc. with the sponge included. Best, it last most of the day. A marvel. I do however have to wear a good moisturizer underneath to maintain the dewiness and long time hold. May be a tad drying? Or so my mama says, as I have also gotten her hooked. Barney’s has it. Thanks for sharing your testing, March–very helpful!

  • Sara says:

    I like the Make up Forever, but couldn’t get past the texture…plus I am a quick, apply with my fingers (maybe blend with a sponge) girl and it just didn’t work for me.

    I use the tinted mosturizer by Laura Mercier (SPF) for most days with a dab of Bare Minerals on top since I can be a little shiny.

    I love Shisedo for their light colors, but I mainly use them for night as I find them a little too ‘makeupy’ for day.

  • Lisa says:

    Thanks for the reviews. I will have to try the Make Up Forever foundation.

    I tend to be a drugstore girl because I find a lot of those tend to wear better on me than the higher-end stuff. My favorite drugstore foundation is Revlon Age Defying Light Makeup (it’s the one in a tube, not in a bottle). I have rosacea, fair skin, sensitive, etc. and it does a lovely job of smoothing everything over, leaving me slightly dewy and glowing. And it stays on. And doesn’t go into my wrinkles or pores. And it has SPF 30 with UVA protection. Might be worth a try if you decide you want to supplement the others or want a high SPF. The only down side is that it only comes in four colors (but Fair works for me).

    • March says:

      Wow, I love the high SPF!! I will definitely try that out. What annoys me about the drugstore foundations is, at least in our area, no testers so you have to guess. Although our CVS lets you bring them back opened, it’s a hassle. I will try Fair. There’s another drugstore foundation (the Almay) on here I want to try.

  • Melissa says:

    I have also embarked on the great foundation hunt. Although my skin is generally pretty okay, I have those annoying brown pigment spots that are so difficult to cover without a layer of mud/goop. Recently discovered that Awake has a foundation that does the trick without too much of a spackling effect, but of course I missed the BBW close-out! I have also become a “junior chemist” mixing shades and brands and adding other products to create a glow or sheen. Hmmm. Maybe $3,000 worth of various lasers will do it…..

    • March says:

      Seriously? Because I think you have gorgeous skin. We discussed that, right? You look like you’ve had minimal sun exposure.

      I have had a lot of lasering and there’s always room for improvement. I am trying some topicals now.

      • Melissa says:

        Awwww! Ditto to you! Yes, I think we were comparing the results of various oils and exfoliators. And you are correct-not too much sun exposure. My outdoorsy days were often spent hiking in the mountains shaded by trees rather than frying in the sun. Plus, my mother handed down some pretty good genes in that department. But never underestimate the power of a good foundation for hiding those little flaws that others miss!

        • March says:

          Not to trigger your gag reflex, but I was leafing through a copy of O (the Oprah mag) I picked up at the pool, and there’s the typical article about “seeing your beauty” and not nitpicking your face. For some reason, it really resonated with me. I think I need to remind myself of their #1 item, which is don’t look at your face in a magnifying mirror!

          It reminds me of the woman next door. She has a *stunning* garden. Really, stunning. A wonderful, free-spirited blend of annuals and perennials that blooms spring to fall. And invariably when I compliment her she’s focused on some tiny detail that bugs her, like she needs to move the lilac bush. I think our faces are like that. :)>-

  • Linda says:

    Thank you for being a guinea pig for me! I hate trying this stuff on and am wrestling with the ol’ rosacea myself. It’s so nice to have an idea where to start.

  • MJm says:

    Hear Hear! You just sold me on the MFE product – I want to look as natural as possible and run when a SA pushes primer (I am VERY low maintenance and my SPF 55 is my “primer”) or tells me “we have to cover up those freckles!” (NO we don’t – they are mine, I earned them). So glad to hear of something relatively natural that isn’t a mineral or requiring of four subsurface primers.

    • March says:

      I’d say give it a whirl. It will either work or it won’t. 😉 I found the color match bit was the hardest, and their palette is relatively limited. I do think if you look at the reviews on MUA, people with oily skin were less thrilled, you may want to check. I found that part of the guide (skin type) to be really useful. As someone with very dry skin, a lot of the “oil free” stuff made for oily faces looks absolutely terrible on me. And I’m with you — my moisturizing sunscreen is my base, and that plus my foundation is all the effort I’m up for.

  • Kristy says:

    Did you try the Estee Lauder renutriv foundation? Just curious, if you ever come across it, you should try it – it sounds like it would be perfect for your dry skin, and when I was a Lauder SA I loved that stuff – once I sat someone down in a chair and put it on them, a sale was practically guaranteed 🙂

    • March says:

      I *think* I tried it. The EL sales woman was wonderful and spent a lot of time with me, but I couldn’t get a good color match. I am very pale with a bit of rosacea (which is why I’m looking for foundation rather than tinted moisturizer) and there’s a natural mismatch between my face and neck, so it’s a bit tricky.

      • Kristy says:

        Totally possible, it doesn’t come in super light things (as most foundations tend not to). I am really fair with lots of pink in my skin and have a hard time with foundation as well, but I found EL DoubleWear to be my holy grail – but then, I’m very oily so the matte finish doesn’t dry me out at all, as I suspect it would for you.

        • March says:

          Ah, yes, the VERY OILY deal killer. It’s funny, on MUA I used the Oil Factor as a predictor. For instance — as everyone complains about what a grease-slick the Chanel Vitalumiere was, I knew it would be perfect for me. :d When oily-faced people say, this great product doesn’t slick me up! I know my face will look like I’ve slathered clay on it to dry. 😉

  • cynthia lesiuk says:

    Hi March
    I must have missed the original post, but I may have the answer. I also couldn’t find a perfect foundation. But about three years ago came up with this combo, which really works for me. I use the smashbox apricot tinted primer, the only thing which camoflagues the Grand Canyon size pores on my nose. Then I use Vincent Longo dew finish makeup. It makes my mottled, ageing skin glow. Don’t get the matte, it is not the same effect.

    I also am amazed at how these SAs pile on the foundation. I remember one at the Lamcome counter, beautiful skin but totally ruined by a thick layer of matte makeup.

    Do go to Sephora and give this a try. I love it.

    • March says:

      I’ll definitely check out the Vincent Longo, I don’t even remember looking at it! Thanks for the tip. That Smashbox stuff is amazing. I have one of the other shades and the pore reduction is great.

  • Francesca says:

    Interesting research. I’m pretty happy with my Estee Lauder Re-Nutriv, but I also like the LeClerc foundation that comes in a compact (as well as their–whoda thunk it?–banana-colored face powder). Still, your post makes me want to try out the Makeup Forever. I’m all for my skin looking as good as possible.

    • March says:

      Hey, I really need to spend more time with the Lorac stuff. The Sephora nearest me has crappy testers, but if I drive to VA they are always better stocked. I know lots of people love their product.

  • Gretchen says:

    For another “cheap thrill”, try Almay Smart Shade Makeup w/SPF 15. Dewy finish, plus for added amusement it’s white as it emerges from the tube, then turns to sheer color on your skin.

    • March says:

      I might have to try that just for the weirdness of it!

      • Gretchen says:

        You may be surprised. I tried it just for a laugh, but it turns out to be one of my favorite foundations ever. “Light” (the palest shade) works out perfectly on my Irish-American complexion. Also, it blends into itself nicely, so you can double-layer any areas that might need a little extra coverage.

  • Lisa says:

    Try Maybelline Instant Age Rewind Cream Foundation–man, this stuff is great! I picked it up based on the reviews at MUA (had been using Aveda tinted moisturizer), and I think it is as good as any of the expensive stuff. I have youngish looking, 42 yr old, combination, sallow (not quite olive,) pale skin. This is very natural looking, and I’m less shiny mid-day than w/others. I like classic ivory. Try it–cheap thrill.

    • March says:

      I love cheap thrills! And I have found the MUA guides very useful when evaluating purchases. Of course the other nice thing about having girls is, they are always happy to have my mistakes. 😉

  • Louise says:

    March, you always look mahvelous 🙂 In all lights /:)

    I end up with a mini-wardrobe of foundations-and often skip foundation altogether in summer, just slapping on sunscreen and powder. However, I do have a few favorites…they appear for evenings now, and in the fall on a daily basis.

    My closest match to skin (but with evener tone) is Lorac Performance. It is oil-free, with a slight dewiness, no grease. Really love this stuff, goes over major SPF sunscreen smoothly. I am in shade 3.

    I wore Armani LSF for years for dress-up, but agree it is kinda heavy and makeuppity, so now I use their Face Fabric-it’s supposed to be lighter, but has a lot of coverage for fancy times; also a lot of silicone stuff, not so good for my everyday wear (bad for zits).

    Overall, I prefer tinted moisturizers. Bobbi Brown is nice, but current fav is Lorac-SPF 30; also Laura Mercier has a new illunizing one-great mixed with other bases for that fresh
    glow :d/

    • Louise says:

      Illuminizing *-:)

    • March says:

      I think your skin looks amazing every time I see you, and I also think you have smaller pores than I do. (Your hands are pretty much flawless, have I mentioned that?) Anyway, I was amused about the way this experiment drew my attn to my pores, which I’d never given any thought to.

  • Nava says:


    Have you ever tried MAC’s Hyper Real? I had a love affair with it before I became a Bare Minerals junkie.

    Speaking of BE, have you ever tried their foundation? It does take a bit of getting used to, but once you do, you never go back to liquids. Mind you, I would never gush about it on an infomercial or call in on a BE show on QVC, but it is pretty fantastic. I just got my crazy aunt hooked on it (the one who eats all the organic food), and she loves it. She also has dry skin, like you. I on the other hand will be oily til the day I die.

    I defintely think you should investigate. I’ve had great experiences at the Bare Escentuals store near me. No scary Tim Burton-looking SAs in there. 🙂

    • March says:

      Nava, are you talking about the powdered stuff? Their famous stuff, right? It made me itch! :”> I think that must be one of those love-it-or-hate-it things … my face didn’t turn red or break out, but the itching was amazing. Never did figure out what the problem was…

      • Lavanya says:

        I think the itching is because of bismuth oxychloride (i’ve never tried BE but the itching with BE seems like a common problem)..There are a few indie mineral makeup companies thats don’t use Bismuth oxychloride and have gotten a lot of raves..:)