Cup of Jo editor Caroline has a long and complicated relationship with foundation. Complicated meaning: For years she didn’t like it. So this month, she tried five of the top formulas out there, to find a winner, once and for all…

In high school, I always wore foundation — a cakey, drugstore version that came with its own sad sponge. Looking back at photos from that time, my skin looks not unlike those sponges — dry, flat and a tad too orange. I’ve been scared of foundation ever since.

In fashion, you are advised to make “investment purchases,” where you spend more on a big-ticket item, like a coat or bag. Since you wear it every day, this item makes the rest of your wardrobe look even better. Foundation is like the investment purchase of your makeup kit. A good foundation creates a flawless canvas, which lets you — quite literally — put your best face forward.

At long last, it was time for me to embrace foundation. So, in partnership with Nordstrom, I set out to uncover the very best.

The Tried-and-True: MAC Studio Face and Body Foundation
Before starting this experiment, this was my go-to foundation. I love how it’s buildable, almost like nail polish — one coat gives you lightweight coverage, while additional layers conceal flaws and blemishes. But after trying the fancier options, below, it began to feel less impressive. Suddenly, I became aware of the slightly sticky texture and rubbery scent. At $28 for a fairly big bottle, this foundation is a stellar value. If you’re looking to venture into the world of designer foundations without making a crazy investment, this is one to check out. But as I was about to find out, you get what you pay for.

The Glowiest: Laura Mercier Illuminating Tinted Moisturizer
Ever since Jennifer Lopez circa 1999 I’ve been enamored with that “luminous” look, but could never succeed at getting it right. I’d wind up looking sparkly or just plain greasy. (Ew.) But this cult product — which has been mentioned in more beauty uniforms than any other — does the trick. The “unique dewy complex” keeps skin moisturized. While I’m not sure what that means (science!) it did succeed in making me look lit-from-within. (For a true J.Lo glow, try pairing it with this.) It was a little much for daytime, but I wouldn’t hesitate to break it out for dates, weddings or whenever I want to glow.

The Traveler: Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
This stick provides smooth, full coverage, but the solid formula requires a lot of blending. I found it helps if you warm it up first, by using your hand as a palette. When worn on my entire face, this looked the most like makeup. (One afternoon, I caught a glimpse of myself and could see the foundation sitting on my skin. It was frighteningly reminiscent of my makeup in high school musicals.) But it worked well for spot coverage (more like a concealer), and due to its easy transport, I found myself using it daily. It was just so easy to throw in my bag for quick touch-ups. Need to dash from your office to a dinner? This will be your friend. It’s also perfect for travel.

The Most Hyped: Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
This is hailed as the holy grail of foundations. Everyone — from celebrities to models to makeup artists — has sung its praises. It turns out there are good reasons for this. The featherweight formula glides on incredibly smoothly, offers full coverage and lasts all day. At the office, Joanna said, “You look so nice. Did you do something with your hair?” No! Three hours went by. “What lipstick are you wearing?” she asked. Not wearing lipstick! Finally I ventured, “Could it be the luminous silk on my face?” That’s the thing about really great foundation: It makes you look good, but nobody can pinpoint why. And isn’t that the best possible outcome? Luminous Silk was a very worthy runner up. But my favorite is…

The Winner (!): Yves Saint Laurent Fusion Ink Foundation
This formula “feels like a feather but wears like ink.” And guess what? I love it more than any other product I’ve ever slathered on my face. So there. It is light as air and silky as can be, contains broad spectrum SPF 18 and lasts for 24 hours. The built-in applicator lets you apply it directly onto your face (no weird spilling or pouring). It even contains — get this — a special sweat and oil-controlling agent that helps your skin stay matte and your makeup stay in place, even through heat or humidity. “You look velvety today!” remarked a friend, who wasn’t even trying to solicit a favor. Favorite. Product. Ever.

Do you wear foundation? What types or brands do you swear by? We’d love to hear…

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo. This post is sponsored by Nordstrom. They carry all the top brands, and offer free shipping and free returns all the time. Plus, their in-store staff is very helpful, which is especially great when you’re trying to find your exact shade. Thanks for supporting the brands that support Cup of Jo.)