Health & Grooming

Bare-faced chic

Now ‘invisible’ foundations can correct flaws, smooth lines and give great glow – even to mature skin. Karen Wheeler reports on the latest developments.

November 27 2009
Karen Wheeler

When it comes to cosmetics, the one item that most women cannot live without is foundation, according to a recent survey of 1,000 women by L’Oréal. And yet conversely, if anecdotal evidence is to be believed, foundation is also the beauty product that many women – particularly those in their 30s and above – do not want to be seen to be visibly wearing.

“The heavier the foundation, the more lines are emphasised and the more you look as if you are hiding something,” says John Gustafson, independent skincare and cosmetic specialist at Fenwick in London. “It used to be that women in their 30s and 40s asked for coverage from a foundation. Now, many realise that it can be ageing and prefer the new lightweight products, which smooth out imperfections using light reflectors and are much more flattering.”

These “invisible” make-up bases, he says, are ideal for the workplace since they give a polished finish without making the wearer look overly made-up. Interestingly, it’s not just 20-somethings with perfect complexions but older women who prefer these more youthful, sheer products to the anti-ageing foundations. For example, Diorskin Nude Natural Glow Hydrating Make-up (£28, 30ml), which is designed to give the illusion of bare skin, is, he reports, more popular with 40-plus clients than Dior’s Capture Totale anti-ageing foundation (£54, 30ml), which is specially designed with them in mind.

Many brands now eschew the word “foundation” altogether, preferring to talk of “tints”, “veils” and “make-up bases”. By Terry’s Eclat de Rose (£58, 40ml), for example, is a sheer, tinted moisturiser that contains pigments and skincare ingredients for an “invisible correcting glow”, while Jemma Kidd Pro offers Skin Rescue Bio-Complex Veil SPF15 (£32, 35ml), an “all-in-one moisturiser, prep, primer, illuminator and tint” that gives an idea of what you can expect from the latest do-it-all bases.

One of the natural-finish skin bases most raved about by beauty professionals (including Gustafson and his fellow expert at Fenwick, Frey-ja Barker) in recent years is Becca’s Luminous Skin Colour (£33, 50ml). But this is now facing fierce competition from a raft of innovative new products, such as No Foundation Foundation (£41, 30ml) by Perricone MD, which arrived in the UK in August. Created by US dermatologist Dr Nicholas Perricone (he who created the cult anti-wrinkle diet based on eating oily fish), it is a one-shade-fits-all, multipurpose base. The medicinal brown bottle makes it look more like a skincare product than a cosmetic but the formulation uses specially treated pigments blended with light-diffusing mica (lustrous, rock-forming mineral) to correct skin undertones and mimic a traditional foundation without a heavy finish.

Le Métier de Beauté, meanwhile, is a new cosmetic range from the US, exclusive to Liberty in the UK. Its Classic Flawless Finish Foundation (£45, 28.3g), I can tell you, is really impressive, as is the Soft Touch Tinted Moisturiser SPF15 (£50, 28.3g). The latter is one of the few tinted moisturisers that can be smoothed on to dry skin without “dragging” or requiring a pre-application of moisturiser. The reason for this, according to Liberty beauty buyer Gina Cowey, is that “the products feature the highest level of hyaluronic acid [a highly effective moisturising ingredient] in a foundation, as well as light-diffusing ingredients and a patented technology called Nylon12, which sits on the surface of the skin like a fabric and moves with it.”

The addition of the hyaluronic acid, she says, also makes the products really sheer, so that you can build up the foundation where needed. “This is the way that many people wear foundation now, applying it just in the T-zone or building it up in areas where there is redness rather than applying all-over coverage. That way you get a more natural look,” she says. Also creating a buzz among beauty junkies, adds Cowey, is a new range of natural-looking foundations from Nars in Sheer Matte and Sheer Glow formulations (£29, 30ml). The Sheer Glow Foundation, which gives a dewy finish, is the most flattering.

But the hottest trend in foundations – and one that has shaken up the market – is mineral make-up, made from natural minerals. Elizabeth Arden’s Pure Finish Mineral Powder Foundation (£22, 8.33g) blazed the way and sold out within four days at the brand’s 350 UK outlets when it was launched in March. The UK has lagged behind the US – where BareMinerals SPF15 Foundation (£22, 8g), made from pure crushed minerals, is one of the bestselling foundations on the market – in selling mineral make-up, but now consumers are catching on fast.

Mineral foundations are very lightweight – they look and feel barely there – and offer skin treatment benefits and sun protection, as well as flawless coverage. “The other reason they are doing so well is that they don’t contain the usual cocktail of chemicals such as parabens and preservatives,” says Gustafson. “You are working with minerals that contain natural sunscreens, such as zinc and titanium, with colour added. You can also use mineral foundations straight away after chemical peels and other procedures, since they hide redness and give really good coverage. Some of the best ones are almost like skincare, with built-in moisturisers and antioxidants. And the more you use them, the better your skin gets.”

“In the US, mineral foundations are showing double-digit growth while sales of normal foundations are down,” says Karen Grant, senior beauty industry analyst with NPD market research group in New York. “Mineral products appeal to both older and younger consumers as they give a natural, less cakey look. There is also a feeling that these products, because they contain fewer chemicals, are going to be less problematic for the skin.” There is, however, an art to applying them. As a BareMinerals sales assistant in Selfridges explained to me, “You start in the centre of the face, rather than above the jaw, moving the brush in small circles, and the more you buff, the better it gets.” Or as Barker explains, “You have to build mineral foundation gradually to get medium to full coverage. One thin layer will give you the finish of a tinted moisturiser, though if you have an important meeting and want a more polished look or are going out straight from work, there is no need to remove it in order to start again. Simply apply a little more.”

“When BareMinerals arrived [in Selfridges] in March last year, it was nothing less than a revolution,” says Stephanie Traore, marketing manager for beauty at Selfridges. “It’s been around for several years and is very below-radar, but those who’ve tried it are immediately hooked, particularly when they realise that it’s 100 per cent great for your skin.” Traore claims to have tried many mineral foundations and believes that BareMinerals foundation is the best on the market. She also flags up the brand’s Mineral Veil (£19, 9g) as a “magic” finishing product. “You just brush it on over the foundation, or even on bare skin, and it creates almost the same effect on your skin as sitting in candlelight,” she says. “It smoothes everything out and makes it look very even. There are two versions: one of which is called Featherlight, soon to be renamed as Illuminating Mineral Veil (£19, 9g). It looks very glittery on the brush but when applied it just lights up your face in a very pretty way.”

My own reservation about mineral powders is that they look quite flat and too matte, and that by settling into the wrinkles around the eyes could emphasise them, but according to Barker, “After 15 to 20 minutes, the make-up warms up with your body and blends with your skin to give a luminous finish.” (Her favourite mineral powder, incidentally, is Diorskin Nude Natural Glow Fresh Powder Makeup (£28, 8g), “which contains 20 per cent water, so is great for that fresh-faced, dewy look”.) According to Gustafson, “The difficulty with many loose mineral powders, including Laura Mercier’s Mineral Powder SPF15 [£30, 9.6g], an otherwise excellent product, is that they are really messy.” The Elizabeth Arden Pure Finish Mineral Powder Foundation SPF20 (£22, 8.33g) addresses this problem with a special container featuring an in-built grinder that shaves off just the right amount.

And already the mineral trend has moved on, with easier-to-use liquid versions that will appeal to those with dry or older skin or who have reservations about the loose powder format. Estée Lauder’s new Nutritious Vita-Mineral Makeup, SPF10 (£24, 30ml), for example, is a sheer, lightweight formula containing skin-enhancing minerals, protective vitamins and antioxidant pomegranate. And according to Traore, the liquid version of the aforementioned Diorskin Nude “sold like hot cakes at Selfridges. We just couldn’t get enough of the stuff. It’s a fabulous product that allows the natural health and luminosity of the skin to show through.”

So is it the end of foundation as we know it? “The look is natural but nice,” says Gustafson. “It’s definitely goodbye to heavy, trowelled-on make-up.” And hello, it seems, to a flawless performance.

See also

Make-up