Good skin is the best foundation, literally and figuratively. If your skin is clear, even-toned and hydrated you don't need foundation or at the most very little. On the other hand, if you suffer from acne, rosacea, dry skin, oily skin, large pores or any number of issues, then using a good foundation in a formula meant to manage your specific needs is a must. Most of us fall into this category. I have very oily, freckled, melasma prone skin so I have always tried to mask these things because like most women I always wanted what I don't have. I despised my freckles and thought that perfect skin had to be even-toned and free of any "blemishes".
As a teenager just starting to use makeup, I was terrible at choosing foundation colors. I pictured my skin as a certain color, and then when I was standing in the beauty aisle looking for that perfect shade, I nearly always chose wrong. Too orange, too pink, too yellow, too dark, too light. Even when there were testers available you typically try them on the back of your hand and that doesn't match your face.
The most common mistake I see women make is choosing the wrong formula of foundation for their skin type. The vast majority of women aged 18-50-ish think that their skin is either dry or oily, when in fact in both cases we are mostly just dehydrated. Those who have dry skin on the outside usually are not properly hydrating their bodies on the inside by drinking enough water. This results in dry, flaky skin. Nor are they properly moisturizing on the outside to protect the skin's natural moisture barrier. On the other end of the spectrum there are oil producers, like myself. I feel that I am one of the few that have truly oily skin. Most of the time, although not always, our facial skin produces excess sebum as a defense mechanism to lubricate and protect itself from outside influences: the sun, pollutants, chemicals in our skin care products and the lack of moisture through drinking water. There really is a fine line between the two, so knowing your true skin type is very important.
Let's start with dry "skin types". Our bodies are made up of more than 60% water. Since our skin is the largest organ on our body, we need to keep that organ functioning properly and first and foremost it needs to be hydrated from the inside. When you are properly hydrated, your skins' overall appearance will be dewy and youthful, soft to the touch and bounce back when pressed or pinched. The flip side is dry, flaky skin with fine lines and wrinkles which are exacerabated by sun exposure, harsh scrubbing in the shower, shaving and all of the products we use. To see if you are truly a dry skin type, drink 8-10 glasses of water each day, wash your face with a gentle non-foaming cleanser and moisturize your face each evening before bed. After 2-4 weeks you will begin to see either an improvement in your t-zone first, or the dryness will remain.
For us oily girls, we tend to over-exfoliate, strip our skin of natural oils using salicylic acid, alpha and betahydroxy acids, peels, clay masks and any number of products to reduce oil production. The problem for most people is that we are doing the opposite and making our skin fight to stay moisturized by overproducing sebum. The simplest way to find out if your skin is desperate for a drink or fighting to keep its' moisture barrier intact is this. Again, drink 8-10 glasses of water each day, use a gentle non-foaming cleanser, and use a lightweight oil every night to moisturize. I know, I know an oil she says? Are you crazy??? Although it seems counterintuitive to use an oil, the reality is that using an oil can help replenish your skin's natural oils, which can keep oil levels balanced and oil production to a minimum. I was terrified to use an oil on my oily skin, but miraculously within just a few days I started noticing I didn't have to blot my face every 2 hours, my foundation didn't look so cakey around my nose and mouth from touching it up throughout the day. Knowing which oils to use is key though as some will clog your pores and slip and slide around the top layer of skin. You want a lightweight oil that will absorb quickly and moisturize on many levels. These include marula oil, jojoba oil, squalene, argan oil, tea tree oil, green tea oil. My favorites are marula and squalene.
One more tip on oily skin: Oil free products in skin care and makeup are not necessarily good for your oily skin. Choosing the right type of oil in your cleanser, masks, skin care and foundation will be a much better option.
Back to foundation............you thought I forgot, huh? Once you know your actual skin type it's time to choose the right formula. I, like most women always chased the perfect shade. It didn't matter if the formula was made for dry skin types and was serum based, or was mattifying to the point of drying instantaneously on contact with my skin so I had to put on a ton and looked like I might crack if I smiled. If I could just find that perfect shade, I could finally look like the models in the magazines or actresses on my tv with flawless, non-freckly, tiny-pored skin. That was my entire goal, because I always compared myself to these ridiculously beautiful women. Of course I didn't realize that even Cindy Crawford or Healther Locklear don't look like their own pictures in real life. If you had make up artists, perfect lighting, personal trainers and chefs, not to mention editors and Photoshop at your disposal, you too would look "perfect".
Something I learned in my very early twenties completely changed the game for me. Let me tell you a little story. I learned in the newspaper (the kind that was delivered to your door everyday........yes, I'm old) that Jason Priestley was filming a movie called Calendar Girls and they were shooting in my home town. Not only that, but they were looking for extras. You had to bring your head shots downtown at a certain time, stand in line and you would be interviewed and photographed for consideration. I had done some print work modeling and had just received my Zed cards and look book, so this was going to be my big break.....I was on my way to stardom!
Not so fast....I arrived at said location to find many hundreds of people lined up around the building and down the block. I was awestruck at how many people in my small town also thought this was their big break. Didn't they know I was coming? There were kids, teenagers, men, women, everyone and their brother turned up. I almost turned around and drove home, but I thought I might still catch a glimpse of Jason Priestley, so all might not be lost. After an hour of waiting impatiently, a man came down the massive line all the way to the back letting us know that they had filled their call, thank you for your time, now go home. I was so disappointed. As I was walking back to my car this same gentleman stopped me and asked if he could see my book. I handed it over and after a few minutes he asked if he could take a polaroid of me. This was in the olden days before smart phones :) I said yes, of course and drove home on cloud 9. It was mean to be, there WERE looking for me.
Months went by and I had completely forgotten about Jason Priestley and my missed chance at stardom, when I received a call from the talent agency. They asked if I was interested in the chance to be an extra in a new movie starring Robert Downey Jr. I could barely stop myself from screaming and jumping up and down, but I calmly asked when I would be needed and where? I wrote down the information and 2 weeks later I found myself in a giant airplane hangar in San Bernardino, standing with 7 other girls in front of Producer Ron Underwood. I felt like I was going to throw up and I'm sure he could see my lip quivering while I tried to smile and look unimpressed. Mr. Underwood pointed at me and told me to go to hair and makeup. Another man excused the rest of the girls and told me to follow him.
I know this story is supposed to be about foundation and I promise I'm getting to that....
I was led outside to several mobile buildings, kind of like a cross between a mobile home and an RV. The man opened the door for me and let whoever was on the other side know that I was to report back on set in an hour. As I stepped through the door, I was blinded by all of the lights and asked to sit in a chair in front of a bank of lights and mirrors. I was in a fog, freaking out that I had been chosen. Me, little old me was going to STAR in a movie with Robert freaking Downey, Jr.!!! Just to my left, in my peripheral vision I see movement and someone say, "I'm Robert, and you are?" with his hand outstretched toward me. "Tamara" I say and shake his hand. Tamara? TAMARA? My birth certificate says Tamara, but up until that very moment I had never introduced myself as anything other than Tami. "Where are you from?" he then asked. "Perris" I tell him. "Wow, they brought you all the way in from Paris?" he asks. "Uuuummmm" yah I muttered. Little did he know the Perris I was referring to was just 30 miles away, and definitely nothing to write home about. He turned back to his make up artist and I swore I would never wash my hand again as I sat in that chair while they curled my hair and plastered my face with makeup.
At just 21 years old I looked about 14, but this magic spackle that was smeared around my face suddenly transformed me into a movie star! Gone were my freckles and pimples. Gone was my pasty, almost translucent skin and left in it's place was an airbrushed, flawless finish accentuating my cheekbones and tiny button nose. I couldn't stop staring at myself in the massively lit mirror in front of me. "How did you do that?" I asked the woman staring back at my awed expression. "Magic" she said, "and a little help from my chemistry set". I had no idea what she was talking about as she held out the nearly dinner plate sized thing in her hand. There were bottles and jars and brushes and sponges all over the place I realized. "Will you show me?" I pleaded with this sorceress. And at that moment I learned the greatest lesson in makeup that still resonates with me all these years later. She said that to create a flawless canvas you must do two things: 1) find the best foundation formula to suit your needs (dryness, oilyness, then sheer, medium or full coverage), and then 2) instead of trying to eyeball the right shade, you should always purchase two bottles of foundation. One that is much darker than your natural skin tone and one that is much lighter than your skin tone. This way you can mix up a small amount of each on the back of your hand to perfectly match your chest. MIND BLOWN
She went on to say that although you are investing more initially for two bottles instead of one, these bottles will last twice as long and you will always have the perfect shade no matter what time of year it is. During the summer when you might get more sun and be darker you mix in more of the darker shade, and in the winter when you are mostly indoors you can mix in more of the lighter shade.
Over the years I have perfected my own skin care routine. So much so, that I no longer get acne, hormonal or otherwise. I do still have freckles, thanks mom, but my melasma is completely gone and sunscreen is my best friend. So back to the beginning.....good skin creates the blank canvas and your foundation can enhance or completely change the finished painting. If you take these lessons and apply them to your specific needs, you too will change the entire game.
P.S. I didn't end up having a starring role to my disappointment, but I was the airplane mechanic in a little movie called Heart & Souls starring Robert Downey Jr., Elizabeth Shue, Kyra Sedgwick, Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard and Tom Sizemore. It was 3 days of shooting with incredibly talented actors and an experience I will never forget.