Beauty IRL: Foundation’s All Right, I Guess

There’s something about foundation that has always confounded me, but I have made a vow with myself this year to figure it out. Why would you want to hide your face like that, to conceal what your skin has gone through? Scars, zits, weird splotches, that patch of freckles that you look at every month or so and wonder if you should get it checked out or not — it’s just you, pure and true. Why would you want to cover it up? Why would you want to make your face look like a weird-mannequin face, smooth, plasticky and unreal?

I get the appeal of wanting to cover up monster zits and weird splotches, but foundation has otherwise always confounded me. Why would you want to hide your face under a smooth, plastic-y, singular toned, gloppy mask? The matching of skin tones, and the ability to be able to point with confidence to a swatch on a color wheel and say, “Yes, this is my skin” is easy if your skin tone is, well, more prevalent than others. I’m bi-racial. My skin tone is weird. It’s tan in the summer and fades to a mottled yellow, with hints of red near the nose and chin, when I’m not basking in the glow of vitamin D. For a long time, I was convinced that I had “olive” skin, but upon further investigation, I’m not entirely sure I know what that is. If my skin has a greenish cast to it, wouldn’t that imply that I am a witch, or unhealthy? Foundation, CC cream, BB cream, tinted moisturizer and all the others have been tricky territory for me only because I find it to be one of the more frustrating beauty journeys to embark upon.

Lipstick is easy — you swipe it on and if it looks good, great, and if it doesn’t, tissue wipes it away. But foundation requires a bit more skill. You simply have to have the right shade. What looks great from the dim light of your bedroom before you’ve had coffee often looks garish, ghoulish and woefully wrong when you actually step out in public. I’ve seen enough bad foundation looks to know that I shouldn’t really mess around unless I know 100 percent what I’m doing.

It feels like advanced-level Makeup Competency to be able to select and apply foundation correctly. The point of any base is to make it so that your face looks like your face, but better, smoother, blurred where blurring is required, and even-toned where you are not. It’s the kind of thing that should actually, really and genuinely, be unnoticeable. “You look so well-rested!” says the passive-aggressive coworker who always smells like Chloe and seems to have mastered a curling wand. “You look like you just go back from vacation!” You will smile and nod and grit your teeth, partially happy that whatever it is you did in the mirror this morning, with the brushes and the puffs and the tap-tap-taps of your ring finger on your delicate under-eye area. actually achieved something. Too bad you actually had to wake up early to do it right.

There are methods to this madness. If you’re scared of foundation like I am, and clumsy about putting things on your face that require precision, start with a tinted moisturizer. I have always been partial to Benefit’s You Rebel, because it’s really sheer and just blends right into your skin, unless it’s really, really the wrong color, in which case it’ll look like it’s just sitting on the surface of the skin, like one of those peel-off face masks. No matter what you’re using, check to make sure you’ve matched your skintone correctly by applying it in bright natural light. I know. Bright, natural light is terrifying. But a thick line of three-shades-to-dark foundation at your jaw bone is even more so.

Once you’ve mastered tinted moisturizer, and are yearning for the kind of smooth-skinned, reality-TV star perfection we all secretly crave, step up to a lightweight, medium-cover foundation. Use your fingers, or a beauty blender, or a brush, if you’re crazy, to apply. Blend forever. This Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer is step up from the Benefit stuff, but a couple of steps below the pancake makeup you’d use for dance recitals. If you’re looking to like, actually hardcore conceal whatever is on your face, like that scar from the zit you picked at a couple years ago, or a birthmark that you think is not really the cutest, or every single pore, then go big. MAC’S Full Coverage Foundation does exactly that. You will look eerily composed, like yourself run through an Instagram filter once or twice.

I am not telling you to use foundation. I am not telling you not to use it. Wear foundation, or don’t, but if you do it, do it right.