The search for the elusive, perfect foundation is beauty’s Holy Grail. In the UK it’s thought that at least 23 per cent of the money we lavish on cosmetics goes on foundation. And since finding your fabulous foundation match is so tough, you can bet that plenty of those tubes, bottles and jars wind up unworn and unwanted in the back of the bathroom cabinet.  
Forty per cent of women don’t even try – call it ‘fear of foundation failure’. Yet applying foundation is an art that really is worth mastering. With great-looking skin – courtesy of Mother Nature or a cosmetics company – you can get away with a lot less of everything else, make-up-wise.

Meeting your match

The biggest mistake most women make is choosing a foundation that’s too pink. Skin isn’t actually pink; it has a lot of yellow in it, so putting on pink foundation creates an unnatural flushed look and an obvious tide-mark against the neck. (There are better ways to ‘perk up’ skin than adding too pink a foundation. That’s what blusher’s designed for.) Fortunately, many cosmetic houses have recently introduced ‘yellow pigments’ into their foundation formulations. These don’t make skin look sallow, just give natural results, instead.

  • Test foundation on the inside of the forearm – skin tone is closest to neck colour there, because it’s protected from UV damage. According to Mary Greenwell, ‘Make-up should blend with the skin colour of the neck, not the face.’
  • If in doubt, Bobbi Brown advises buying one shade lighter than your facial skin tone. (Going darker looks unnatural.)
  • Don’t make up your mind instantly. It takes about a minute for colour to dry and interact with the chemicals in your skin. The red pigments develop first, so it will appear pinkest at the beginning.
  • Then go to the nearest source of natural light. (Even the most flatteringly uplit cosmetics hall tends to have colour-distorting fluorescent lighting.) If you have chosen the right colour, it will disappear into your skin.
  • Don’t be shy about asking for advice; that’s what beauty consultants are there for.

Tips from the pros

  • Bobbi Brown always likes to put on make-up facing a window, if possible: ‘Daylight is the truest light, and if applied there you won’t get any nasty surprises.’
  • Priming the skin before foundation can really help make-up to stay put. To do that, cover your face with a light layer of moisturiser and let it sit for about ten minutes; less for oily complexions. Then blot off.  This not only provides better coverage, but it also keeps the foundation from changing tone and looking mottled during the course of the day.
  • Top make-up artist Mary Greenwell says: ‘Forget sponges. I always prefer to apply make-up with my (clean) fingers; it enables you to reach places that sponges never can, and avoids streaking – sometimes a problem with sponged-on make-up. It also warms the foundation slightly on the skin, which allows for smoother application and a seamless finish.’
  • Once foundation is on the skin, the key is to blend, blend, blend – especially around the nose, hairline and jaw, which are most often the tell-tale giveaway areas.
  • Mary Greenwell, along with many other top professionals, believes in stroking foundation, powder and blusher downwards, otherwise you are pushing pigment up into pores, so highlighting them. ‘And never put too much foundation under the outer eyes,’ she adds, ‘because it emphasises lines.’
  • Make-up artist Glauca Rossi, who now runs her own make-up school in London, sets foundation and powder by spritzing with mineral water. (If you don’t want to splash out on a can of Evian spray, fill a plant mister with mineral water, instead.)
  • Manhattan make-up pro Fulvia Farolfi believes in fixing foundation with an Evian spray, too. She then blots cheeks and forehead with a tissue to absorb any excess moisture.
  • Your foundation disappears? Vanishing make-up can be the result of either very dry or very oily skin, according to Laura Geller. Dry skin is so thirsty for moisture that it literally soaks up cosmetics. To combat the problem, Geller recommends choosing make-up formulations with creamy textures. Misting your face regularly with an Evian spray or a plant mister can help, too. With oily skin, enlarged pores allow make-up to seep right into your skin. Excess oils can tamper with the texture, making it rub off easily every time you touch your face. Skip the moisturiser and look for an oil-free formula – or consider all-in-one make-up/powder formulations, which are less likely to be absorbed into the skin.
  • Ideally, apply base and powder, then (if you’ve time) waiting five full minutes before you add colour to the face. It allows make-up to ‘set’ better, so it will last much longer.