Very rarely do I answer individual “reader” questions on my blog. It’s not because I don’t want to, but because very rarely are the questions people ask me something that I think can apply to most people. When it comes to blogging, I try to keep things applicable across the board so that as many people can find answers as possible.
But sometimes, I get a question that is so universal, I realize I’ve been neglecting writing about it.
Probably the number one question I get—from family and friends, in Twitter DMs, on Instagram, and in blog comments—is this: my foundation looks terrible sometimes. What am I doing wrong?
If you’re someone who wears foundation, you’ve undoubtedly had a moment where you’ve glanced in a mirror and thought, holy shit, what have I done to my face?
For me, it’s always in the tiny mirror in my car. Suddenly in natural light, I’ll notice how orange I look, or how splotchy, or how dry. It’s not flattering and often hard to fix on the fly while out-and-about.
So this question is about those moments: what’s gone wrong and how can you keep it from happening?
Potential Issue #1: Tools
Oftentimes, foundation that goes bad (in terms of: being splotchy, looking like a mask, or being oddly textured on the skin) is a matter of the tool that was used to apply it. Using the right tool for the right type of foundation is key and often requires a little bit of trial and error, what you prefer, and your skin’s texture. (That is: I’m not going to prescribe a specific tool for a specific type of foundation because it can be really variable.)
However, one really key aspect of any foundation tool is this: it has to be clean. So wash your foundation brush or sponge often (at least once a week) and let it dry completely. Always used a beauty blender-like sponge damp (not wet, not dry).
Play around with the tools you use to see what is causing the problem. I have found that using a foundation brush, then a damp make up sponge gives me the best texture, as well as easier application—that’s just what works best for me.
Potential Issue #2: Foundation Formula
Some foundations just don’t work on certain skin types. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the foundation or your skin. It’s just the way the cookie crumbles, after all. A prime example: a lot of people with dry skin simply can’t use the Fenty Beauty foundation. It doesn’t mean that it is a bad foundation or that no one should use it; it’s just a matter of being incompatible skin types and formulas.
If you find that your foundation separates, disappears, or oxidizes, it’s just a bad formula for your skin type.
If you find that your foundation makes you look drier than the Sahara, makes your skin feel and look tight, and is more like a mask than anything else, it’s just a bad formula for your skin type.
Finding a foundation that matches your skin (both in tone, texture, and type) can be a long and somewhat arduous process. But here’s my advice: take a skin quiz on Sephora or Ulta, go in to the store, and ask for some samples. It’s the only way to really test a lot of foundations and see how they wear on your sin. That’s what I did for this blog post on foundation matching and it helped me find my perfect match: Too Faced Peach Perfect Foundation.
Potential Issue #3: Incompatible Products
If your foundation separates, disappears, oxidizes, or otherwise looks like trash really soon after applying, there might be another culprit: your baking powder or your primer. Or both.
When wearing foundation, I often recommend wearing it once without primer and just powder. Once with primer and no powder. Once without anything. And then, once with both. (You can do this, obviously, on days when you’re just at home.) This will help give you an idea of whether your products are even compatible.
Some primers just don’t play nice with certain foundations, depending on their chemical make up. This is beyond my skill level; if you’re better at science than me, you can totally research this further. But some primers don’t work with every foundation (and they, like foundations, don’t work on every skin type). So testing everything separately to see how it plays with your foundation can help you figure out if it’s the foundation itself that doesn’t fit your skin type or if your primer is causing your foundation go bad.
With powder, some are too heavy for certain foundations and can either whisk the foundation away when you brush or pat it on. Or, they turn grayish. Again, this is just a matter of the chemical compounds not playing nice together. It’s funny to think that every time we put on make up, we’re working with chemistry in a small way: we’re layering our skin (which has its own oils, of course) with multiple different chemical make ups, and sometimes they just don’t work together.
Potential Issue #4: Expired Products
If you use foundation really slowly, you might notice that after a while, it starts to look different.
When I was in college, I went through a phase of leaving my foundation bottle open. It dried it out and made it more mattifying. (This was back when I was using basic Covergirl foundation. Not my best moment, surely.) This was not great for the product itself, but I liked how it looked on. However, after a while, it also started to smell really bad. Why? Because my foundation had expired from being left out in the open and from just being kind of old.
I write the date I first open and use something on every make up product I own. (Or, I write it on a list if it’s a smaller package.) Then, I really try to keep to expiration dates on the packaging. You know the little compact looking mark on packages that has a 6m or 12m inside of it? That’s how long you are meant to keep it. For some things, it doesn’t matter—like mascaras—but for foundation, I do try to stick to it.
Expired foundation can be the culprit behind foundation that is separating or oxidizing really bad.
Potential Issue #5: Skincare Issues
Remember how I said when we do our makeup, we are kind of being chemists? This is another example.
I started using a glycolic acid serum that I really like—but I noticed that if I used it before I put on foundation, my foundation would pill. That’s right: instead of laying on my face, it would ball up as I used my brush. No bother, I thought; I’ll just use a sponge. Nope, my foundation was coming off in layers then!
As it turns out, that product just didn’t play nice with my moisturizer or foundation. I had to stop using it if I wanted any of my other products to work.
If you’re noticing problems with your foundation, certain items of your skincare may be the culprit. This is another case where you’re have to test with and without each product to see how it plays with your foundation. If you’ve narrowed down every other factor, this is probably the one—you’ll just have to see what product is making your foundation go off!