A Beautiful Face Starts With a Good Foundation

The biggest secret? Learning to use primer and concealer

Even a lifelong commitment to quality skin care can’t stop time and the environment from making unwanted changes to the face. After a certain age, we begin to lose plumpness and luminosity and gain discoloration and fine lines around the eyes, nose and mouth. For those of us choosing to avoid surgical procedures and injections, the secret to looking our beautiful best involves using age-appropriate makeup and learning the ABCs of laying a good foundation.

When we were younger, we could get away with a bare face. But at midlife, we need to learn some new rules. When we create the right foundation, it can be like photo-shopping our complexions, but done improperly or with the wrong products, makeup can cake up and actually accentuate wrinkles.

Lori Taylor, pro lead makeup artist for Smashbox Cosmetics, a global beauty company now owned by Estée Lauder, is an expert at prolonging skin’s youthful look. “Improving the appearance of your skin doesn’t mean you need to seek perfection,” she says. “You can achieve an even, natural-looking complexion quite easily by using products that add hydration and luminosity while providing light coverage.”

Even as she teaches women how to reduce the appearance of wrinkles for a more youthful face, Taylor emphasizes that lines are the roadmap to a woman’s life and there’s nothing wrong with them. “But it’s never too late to start caring for your skin,” she advises. “The more good skin care elements you feed your skin — like serums, moisturizers and primers — the better it’s going to look. Minimize powders that settle into the skin and emphasize wrinkles.”

You don’t need an entire arsenal, but you do need a good primer, foundation, concealer, powder and, if desired, blush or bronzer.

A Primer on Primers

It sounds like a paradox: You want a foundation that covers, but you want your face to look natural. Today's products, which are more sophisticated than ever, can help you achieve a happy medium. And you don’t have to have a science degree to find good-quality makeup that contains skin-loving ingredients, like antioxidant vitamins, hydrating hyaluronic acid and sun protection.

Different types of primers perform specific tasks, so choose one that meets your needs. A soothing water-based primer refreshes oily or sensitive skin and evens out lines and wrinkles. A hydrating primer reduces fine lines over time and fills in pores. Color-correcting primers even out blotchy skin tone, tone down redness and camouflage brown spots. “Squeeze a pea-sized amount onto your hand,” Taylor says. “Then, using your fingers, start at the center of your face and lightly spread it up and out.” 

Lay Your Foundation

The undercover work done, it’s time for the foundation. While some come pressed in a compact, the most popular foundations are liquids.
As with the primer, you want to select a product that is appropriate for your skin type: if dry, go for a hydrating liquid formula; oily, opt for an oil-control cream or powder; if normal, you can use anything. How to know which is right: Read the label or consult the store’s makeup specialist — and always try before you buy.

Because skin can behave differently depending on your health or lifestyle, or the environment or time of year, you may need to switch products accordingly. During summer, for instance, you might prefer just a light powder. But in dry, cold winter, sensitive skin benefits from moist layers of protection. “It’s like mixing a cocktail,” Taylor says. “You have to test, adjust and change up.”

In general, the two most important considerations are color and texture. You want a foundation that is lightweight and as close to your natural coloring as possible. If it’s too heavy or has too much of a matte finish, it will leave skin looking dehydrated, sallow and lined. “Look for something that gives you a youthful glow,” Taylor says. 

Today’s quality foundations go though stringent testing to meet Food and Drug Administration requirements, so if you have sensitive skin, look for a foundation that’s labeled hypoallergenic. Most contain some degree of sun protection, typically ranging from SPF 8 to 15. “The best foundations, which provide coverage and finish, are non-comedogenic, meaning they don’t block pores, and should not cause your skin to break out,” Taylor says.

Apply Like a Pro

The most important thing to remember about applying foundation is to tread lightly! Ultimately you’ll decide what works best for you, but in addition to fingers, you’ll need either a foundation brush or disposable foam sponges. Practice until you become adept with all three. 

Start with a good daytime moisturizer. Then, to create the thinnest and sheerest layers, gently massage a dab of liquid onto the skin with your fingers; their warmth helps “melt” and set the foundation. Next, use your sponge to “stipple,” or blend, the foundation by delicately patting it, or if you prefer, you can use a small, flat, wide foundation brush to evenly spread that thin layer of foundation upward and out.

Synthetic brushes are actually better than natural fibered ones, because they don’t absorb the product. Keep brushes free of bacteria by cleaning them frequently in warm, diluted dishwashing liquid. Lay flat to dry.

Conceal, Brush and Go

The last two steps are where your “photo-shopping” skills come into play. An often-overlooked aid is a good concealer, which when dabbed on top of your foundation acts like a spot treatment for evening out discoloration and covering imperfections. It's not a part of every woman’s beauty routine, but, Taylor says, it’s a smart addition.

Concealers come in stick, pot and liquid forms. Liquids are sheerer while pot concealers offer better coverage. Apply and smooth both kinds sparingly with your fingertips or a brush for an even, non-cakey finish. Some women like to highlight under their eyes with a shade that’s a bit lighter than their skin tone, but Taylor prefers a true color match for a more natural look.

Finally, lightly brush or buff on a thin layer of powder — luminous, not matte — followed by a light stroke of pinky or peachy blush or a sheer bronzer for a natural flush. Picture a croissant, Taylor says. “Every layer added is very lightly, and you end with a very soft, fluffy non-dense pastry.”

You’re free, of course, to do as much or as little of this as you like. But do let yourself be guided by Taylor’s one rule of thumb for every woman: “Enhance what you have, don’t mask it.”

Ellen Seiden is a Los Angeles–based freelancer who writes regularly about beauty, fashion and history.

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