Back to Bases

Back to Bases

We all want to be flawless – and if there is one make-up item that makes flawlessness achievable, it’s foundation. After a summer of bare(r) skin, when maybe you got away with tinted moisturiser or a BB cream for skin perfection, this is the time to get back to bases. Because foundation evens out your skintone. Creates a long-lasting base, for blusher/shadow to cling to. And – chosen carefully – makes skin look pretty darned perfect.

Those two magic words – c-h-o-s-e-n c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y – are the key, though. Foundation may be a make-up-wearer’s biggest beauty boon – but it’s the make-up item it’s easiest to get wrong. (Both in shade terms, and how you blend it into skin.) After all, you want your friends and loved ones to comment on a lovely pair of shoes, or a nice frock. But your foundation? No way! So if memories of orange jaw line mean you’ve forsaken foundation (as 50% of women have, apparently), it’s time to give it another chance. So here’s everything we’ve ever learned at Beauty Bible about foundation.


The good news (especially for foundation-phobes) is that foundation is more natural-looking than ever: where once women ran in fear of those squat little bottles which delivered stucco-like complexions and taut, flaky faces the colour of calamine lotion, today’s textures are sheer, with less pigment, and let the skin’s natural highlights show through. The Holy Grail of foundations is one that blends seamlessly into skin – and stays fresh. Always buy your foundation at a cosmetics counter, where you can get professional guidance in choosing the right shade – and you can test the colour before buying it.


Getting the shade right is the No. 1 priority, though. Foundation must exactly and uncompromisingly match your skintone, so that it disappears into skin even in harsh daylight. (And there are some who’d say it’s almost easier to find your perfect match in a life partner than a foundation!) Remember: foundation is designed to even out colour – not to change it. (Blusher and bronzer can be used to warm up skin – but never foundation.) Many modern bases have yellow undertones – which (contrary to expectation) don’t make skin look in the least jaundiced, but are actually a much better colour match for most of us than the old-fashioned pinky-toned shades.

Shop for foundation bare-faced, or at the very least, swiping away every last trace of any base you’re already wearing, with cleanser and toner and cotton pads. (The consultant will find you some, if they’re not to hand). Apply a stripe of foundation in a downward strip, using a Q-Tip, just on the jawline where the cheek meets the neck, and the bottom of the cheek area. If at all possible, go to the nearest source of daylight and look at your foundation in that light; I’d recommend carrying a handbag-sized mirror or a decent-sized compact with you (this is not a decision you should make based on the reflection you see in the lid of a solo eyeshadow). ‘Don’t let your salesperson talk you out of this exercise,’ says Bobbi Brown. ‘It’s the only thing that really works.’ If the swipe is obvious and visible, move on to another shade; to save time, you can apply two or three promising-looking shades, for comparison. Go shopping for foundation during daylight hours, not after dark. That’s often when mistakes are made.

Whatever you do, don’t try out foundations on the back of your hand – unless you’re trying to establish how sheer or concealing a texture is; the skintone on hands is invariably dramatically different from faces (unless you make a habit of walking around in white cotton gloves and a parasol). If you really can’t experiment with the product on your face, the next-best-place is the inside of your forearm. (But don’t say we didn’t warn you, if you get it home and it’s wrong.) It can be worth taking a teeny travel-sized bottle along to the counter (we like Muji’s), and asking the beauty consultant to decant a little of your chosen shade into it, so you can try it out at home. Meanwhile, if you’re choosing between two near-perfect shades, pick the one that’s slightly darker. Setting foundation with loose powder – which I’ll come to – tends to make it look a bit lighter anyway.


You probably don’t want a finish that’s totally flat and matte – although you don’t want to be disco-shimmery, either. The optimum, flattering finish is somewhere in between – think ‘satin’, which gives skin a slightly dewy finish. The very best foundations around, in our experience, all nowadays contain ‘light diffusing pigments’ – bouncing just enough light off the face to create an optical illusion of perfection.


So let’s assume you’ve found your ultimate shade. There are some application techniques that will help your base blend in, more beautifully, and stay put, longer. Allow a good 15 minutes for the moisturiser to sink in, before applying foundation.

Don’t apply foundation as a mask. Dot or smudge only onto the areas where you need it (such as under eye circles, reddish spots, blemishes); you can always layer more on, but if you’re too heavy-handed it’s hard to remove it without mussing up your whole make-up. Pros apply foundation with sponges but in the hands of non-professionals, these can leave skin streaked – the best make-up tool we’ve ever found, for the job, is a foundation brush. We then like to finish by patting base into skin with fingers – and the advantage is that the warmth makes foundation slide into skin more easily, and they’re manoeuvrable (accessing even the tiniest crevices and corners).

Most pros recommend using a light touch with foundation, then using concealer over the top, to disguise flaws – broken veins, under-eye circles, etc. Tilt your chin down so that you are looking upwards, which will make it easier to identify under-eye shadows that need concealing. Then blend, blend, blend – checking your work, always, in natural light. (Find a window, or step outside with a mirror.) Watch for creases around the hairline, and for jawline contrast; correct by blending even more. Once you’re completely happy with the results, then you’re ready for a veil of powder.


To make your base go the distance and minimise the need for touch-ups, later on, use powder to mattify. But don’t overdo it, or even the dewiest complexion will turn matte and flat. The secret is to use loose powder – but don’t dip your powder brush (which should be large, fluffy and velvety-soft) directly in the powder itself, or you’ll pick up way too much with the bristles. Most pots of loose powder have a separate lid, in which just a little powder will be deposited – which happens usually to be just the right amount for whisking over your face to ‘set’ your make-up. Alternatively, load your brush with a small amount of powder from the tub, then thwack the handle of your brush two or three times sharply against a hard surface, and any excess will drop off. Unless you’re very oily-skinned, a light brushing on the centre of the face should be all you need, rather than an all-over dusting. And always apply powder in downward strokes, or you can accentuate pores.

Et voilà! Who says nobody’s perfect…?