There's good news for foundation wearers (and those who wouldn't dream of using it because it's too heavy, greasy or unnatural): You don't have to go bare to feel naked anymore. "Today, foundation is so natural you can't even tell that you're wearing it," says renowned beauty expert Bobbi Brown. And while their main purpose was once covering imperfections (usually with some pancake-weight, heavy-duty formula), the latest foundations do that and much more. They protect your face from environmental assaults (like sun and pollution), absorb oil, serve as an "anchor" for makeup (helping it last longer) and treat fine lines and acne.
"Most people choose a foundation based on what feels comfortable on their skin," says Christine Butt, director of color marketing at Elizabeth Arden. But you should look much deeper than that. Here are some key factors to consider.
As skin ages, dryness and loss of elasticity become more prevalent. For these, liquid foundations are best, because powders can get trapped in fine lines, making them more obvious. The good news is that many of the new liquid foundations contain powerful anti-aging ingredients like pro-retinol, or vitamin A, which work by gently sloughing dry, dull cells (try Estee Lauder Futurist Age-Resisting Makeup or Revlon Age Defying All Day Lifting Foundation). Elizabeth Arden's new Bare Perfection contains ingredients formulated to stimulate collagen production in the skin, as well as a mild form of salicylic acid to re-texturize the surface. Or try optical-illusion foundations designed to create the appearance of a flawless complexion by refracting light particles. This new breed of base can cast skin with a candlelit look (think Cybill Shepherd in vintage episodes of "Moonlighting"). Try Lancome Photôgenic, Estee Lauder Spotlight or M.A.C Hyper Real.
Is there never enough time in your day? Would you love a few extra getting-ready minutes in the morning? Then look for foundations that do double and triple duty. "Sticks are the easiest, most versatile options," says Brown. "You can spot apply them directly from the tube, or smooth them all over your face with your fingers or a sponge. You can layer them for more coverage, but they can also go on sheer." Try Revlon ColorStay Stick Makeup or Laura Mercier Foundation Stick To Go. Dual-finish powders (which are applied with a sponge and can go on wet or dry) also offer the option of more or less coverage, plus a matte finish so no additional powder is needed (try Smashbox Wet/Dry Foundation or Max Factor Silk Perfection Compact Make-Up). For more-active lifestyles, the newest wave in foundations is gel-based, oil-free stick formulas that glide on smooth and sheer. Because they have a high percentage of water in their formulas, they won't feel or look heavy. Try Aveda Cooling Calming Cover Sheer Face Tint, Cover Girl Clean Make-Up Sheer Stick, Avon Hydra Finish Stick Foundation or Almay One Coat Light & Easy Makeup.
How much makeup do you feel comfortable wearing? "If you don power suits to work and prefer a polished look, you'll probably want more coverage," says Brown. (Try Bobbi Brown Essentials Fresh Glow Cream Foundation or Olay Complete Radiance Liquid Foundation SPF 15.) On the flip side, if you don't like the feel of makeup on your face, lighter options can still even out skin tone. "Tinted moisturizers are the most natural choice," says Brown. But beware of versions that are so sheer they don't really do anything to even out the appearance of your skin. Instead, try Nivea Visage Tinted Moisturizer or Hard Candy Hint Tint SPF 15.
Is your skin shiny by noon, especially prone to breakouts, or does it feel desert-dry all day? If you have an extreme skin type like oily, acne-prone or dry, your foundation can help. For slicker skin types, choose an oil-free liquid (try Prescriptives Unmakeup with silicate mineral complex, which absorbs oils) or a powder to cut the shine (like Stila Illuminating Powder). Look for blemish-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid to help clear up or avoid breakouts. Try Clinique Clarifying Makeup Clear Skin Formula or Neutrogena SkinClearing Makeup. For drier complexions, consider supermoisturizing formulas (Laura Mercier Moisturizing Foundation, Clarins Extra-Firming Foundation). Just don't assume you need an oil-free foundation unless you have oily skin, advises Brown. "For years, dermatologists told women not to put oil on their faces, which resulted in everyone with dry skin walking around looking parched and dehydrated," Brown says.