Found! The Best Foundation

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.)

  1. JNJ says...

    Prior to discovering Tarte I strictly used Revelon Colorstay Mousse. Has fabulous coverage and stay all day power. But I’m now addicted to Tarte Clay!! Love it.

  2. Julie says...

    Caroline, which shade do you use in the YSL fusion ink? It’s not sold locally where I live, and I think we may have similar skin tones. Thank you!

  3. This was nice <3

    I use NARS Sheer Glow and L O V E it. That is for when I am wearing makeup, if it is just for “lazy days” I use Garniers BB cream : )

  4. RMS Beauty Un-Cover Up ALL DAY EVERY DAY! I have a major phobia of looking like I’ve got foundation on my face – it grosses me out. RMS Beauty is amazing. You should definitely try it. And it comes in the tiniest little container, like the size of a lip gloss, but lasts me 5-6 months at the very least. And it’s made of coconut oil so it heals and repairs your skin while you wear it. I am obsessed. All of the rest of their products — blush, lip colors, etc. — are also amazing. TRY IT!

  5. I don’t like foundation – it feels too heavy. I try to focus on good skincare and then all I need to use is CC cream and a bit of concealer. I recommend Clinique CC cream.

  6. Great post Caroline, and I may just have to try the YSL sometime. I have been a Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua foundation gal for about 5-6 bottles now. I don’t think I can fault it (except for the fact it contains parabens – this is the only product where I turn a blind eye to this).

    I remember the school days of Shiseido pancake foundation – we all looked like geisha girls!

  7. My favorite everyday base has been the Diorskin Nude BB creme. I have combination skin and the finish of this is beautiful, it gives a soft focus effect to the skin and stays that way all day with no oiliness at the end of the day. The coverage is what you would expect from a BB cream or tinted moisturizer, somewhat sheer but fine to me for every day with some concealer added where I need it.

  8. W3LL People narcissist foundation stick is my favorite!!…After years of dealing with acne and scars (14-29 yrs old) this is by far the most natural-looking, natural-ingredient, and natural-feeling (affordable) makeup I have ever used. It covers scars, but feels like I am wearing nothing- and takes just a few minutes to apply. It blends in like butter. They make a great translucent powder too. I changed my nutrition and beauty routine to a more natural approach about 5 years ago- not only did it heal my skin, but now I’m not hiding beneath tons of makeup. But I still love makeup (that doesn’t feel like makeup.)

  9. Oh, i’m excited about this! I vote for a tutorial too! :D

  10. I’ve never been a fan of the liquid foundations (always felt like war paint) but may try out one or two of your favorites!

    If you’re looking for an AMAZING pressed powder foundation though, I’ve been using Aveda’s Inner Light Mineral Dual Foundation for years and have gotten many friends hooked on it as well. It magically evens out your entire skin tone without looking like you’re wearing anything. And it comes in 9 different shades. I swear by it!

  11. I’ve only ever used Arbonne! I could never change. It’s lightweight and looks great, easy to apply, and it’s vegan, not tested on animals, and contains no mineral oil! Win win win!

  12. I still cannot bring myself to wear foundation. Maybe I will succumb in a few years (I’m 36 now)…but really I think all women should just take a pledge not to wear foundation until we’re, say, 50. That way we’re all in the same boat–walking around in our regular ol’ skin.

  13. Joanna (who made the psoriasis comment),
    I also get psoriasis from time to time and finally figured out a regimen that helps cover up any dryness.

    For every night, I use Origins “Drink Up Intensive Mask” as a moisturizer. It’s soft and luxurious and smells amazing. When the psoriasis flares up, I use a prescription cream called “Desonide” and it works wonders. If I put it on at night, any sign of dryness is gone in the morning.

    Good luck! xo

  14. Maybelline Dream Wonder is a great dupe for the Armani foundation. It’s completely weightless, easy to apply, and more buildable than Armani. And for a fraction of the price! I highly recommend it.

  15. I’ve been SO curious about the Giorgio Armani one as it’s always raved about! interesting that YSL beat it! I am going to try YSL when my current Chanel runs out. I agree the Bobbi Brown stick is SO makeup-y and it looks cakey on me (but it is good for touch ups).

  16. I have rosacea so high quality foundation is a must! For the past couple of years I have used Estee Lauder Double Wear Light and really like it. It is full coverage (which I need) and it stays put all day. After reading your reviews I am tempted to branch out and try some other brands. Thanks for the information!

  17. I’ve been using DERMAdoctor DD Cream with Tarte Mineral Foundation.

    I like the DD Cream as a base since it helps give my super pale skin a little color but then I can tone it down a bit with the mineral foundation.

  18. I use the YSL Fusion Ink stuff and while it looks amaaaaaazing when I put it on (seriously, my face looks like an angel has flown down and lovingly applied it to my face with a magic feather), I’ve found that it doesn’t stick around very long (even with primer). TELL ME YOUR SECRETS!

  19. Agree with Alicia M! I love Diorskin. Their BB cream is also amazing–very smooth with great coverage.

  20. Bare Minerals. Hides my blotchies but doesn’t look too makeup-y. Love it.

  21. It’s a few years that I use Korean BB creams. Etude House is my go-to now. I don’t use foundations anymore; but, when I have to go to an event (a wedding), my BB cream is not enough for a proper make up.
    Caroline sweetie, what happened to your new haircut? You look like always again (beautiful).

  22. Thanks for the review. I’m still trying to find one that suits me. Could you please tell us which ones are cruelty free?

  23. Would have loved more pictures! But then again, maybe its difficult to take pictures of something thats supposed to be invisible..

  24. This is great! After I moved to Singapore, my skin started breaking out due to the humidity. Now I’ve switched to Tarte Amazonian Clay Foundation, and I’m kind of obsessed with it right now! It stays on through the humidity and doesn’t make my face break out :)

  25. This is very timely – I’m about a week out from my 36th birthday, and my makeup sitch needs some shaking up. Thanks Caroline – this is a great starting point!

  26. Can anyone recommend something to cover/not further aggravate mild psoriasis? I have patches of it on my brows and forehead, but my Aveeno cream and Bare Minerals makeup are not helping. Any suggestions to help a gal with super dry skin??

    • Gaby says...

      Face and Body is amazing! And has been for like 20 years… Try it! It might not be luxurious but it is perfect for looking like you have nothing on. And photographs like no other. I am not a makeup artist and I have it in c3, c4 for summer, n5 to fake a little tan an white for Halloween!

  27. I wear Arbonne foundation and use their Primer under it, fantastic for a refined look, lasts all day especially if you use the Primer first. If after a less refined look I will use Arbonne CC cream, also great!

  28. I love Bobbi Brown’s Skin Foundation! It has SPF 15 and it feels like skin! It evens me out but looks so natural!!!!

  29. As a woman with crazy combination skin (acne + dry/sensitive skin), I find the reviews on Beautypedia to be invaluable. They deal in a detailed way with the science behind all the ingredients in each product they review. Unfortunately, they give YSL’s foundation a bad review because it contains a lot of alcohol and doesn’t offer broad spectrum sun protection: http://www.paulaschoice.com/beautypedia-skin-care-reviews/by-brand/yves-saint-laurent/_/Fusion-Ink-Foundation. I recommend checking out this list: http://www.paulaschoice.com/beautypedia-skin-care-reviews/best-makeup-products/Makeup/Foundations-With-Sunscreen.

  30. Yesssss!! Even before scrolling down I knew YSL would be the winner. I’m not a foundation person–I always think it looks powdery and obvious on me, but I tried the YSL Touche Eclat foundation last summer on the recommendation of a friend and I LOVE it. It’s by far the most expensive makeup item I own, but I would buy it again in a heartbeat.

  31. Chanel’s Aqua vitalumiere foundation is the best EVER! It’s light as air, barely there, and works wonders. And you only need the tiniest amount. My all time favourite!

  32. Big fan of Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer. I’ve always been afraid of full coverage foundation because I have light freckles that I’d rather not cover!

  33. I’ve been wearing Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer for years, but then read the ingredients and saw that it has a bunch of parabens,yuck! My new favorite brand of make up and skin care products is Beauty Counter. Every single product gets a perfect score from the EWG rating system. Beautiful products and no harmful ingredients. Check it out!

  34. Guerlain’s Lingerie de Peau. Totally worth it.

  35. Ah this is like the problem of my life! And problem #2 being that I can’t afford the ones I want to try! I’m super acne prone so I’ve always used Clinique, but heard great things about the new Bare Minerals.


  36. Thanks to Joanna, I found my holy grail: Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-hr Foundation. Applied with a Beautyblender, it is amazing. Like mascara, foundation is such an individual thing…

  37. I’ve used Clinique’s Super Balanced makeup since I was 18, so over 10 years. Last year I experimented with a few new ones, but I’ve gone back to it. It’s a medium coverage – very natural looking but still shows your natural skin (like my freckles). I was looking for a new one so I’d have a foundation with SPF, but now I just put that on under my Clinique. :)

  38. I love foundations that feel light so you can forget you’re wearing it. My current favourite is Guerlain light diffusing foundation.

  39. Jo says...

    Thank you for the awesome reviews, Caroline! I love the one I use (this natural brand called Mineral Fusion sold at Whole Foods — yes, I’m kinda boring!) but I’m so sold on Armani and YSL right now. I’m going to try them out soon!

    (Does Nordstrom ever offer discounts on beauty products and fragrances, just like how Sephora has one of those 20%-off VIB sales?)

    Thanks so much for yet another wonderful post!

    (Can I just tell you… You are SO beautiful with or without makeup!)

  40. I too have had a miserable relationship with foundation. liquid foundations or even tinted moisturizers make me feel perpetually sweaty and I swear my skin rejects them. I started using W3LL people mineral foundation and it’s a dream. I love Lily Lolo as well who has some great options for us very fair ladies.

  41. Thank you!!!!!!

    – A person who is terrified of foundation, but has been inspired to try it solely because of the Cup of Jo Beauty Uniforms.

  42. Lovely review! I find it weird though that there isn’t a picture of your face wearing the winning foundation?!

  43. I use the MAC BB cream foundation with SPF. It’s super lightweight and you can build on it depending on what you need. But it does kind of smear a bit and you have to make sure your face is moisturized and not flaky (ie. exfoliate when you wash) or else that will all show up. A foundation is usually only as good as your skin is though so if you live in a dry climate like me you have to choose wisely!

  44. Can anyone explain the difference between “BB” creams and “CC” creams and what they are? When did this terminology become commonplace? I’m so behind the times! Love the Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, for when I wear something.

  45. ND says...

    Pictures of Caroline wearing each would have been great!

  46. Intrigued by the YSL! I’m currently on Kiehl’s BB Cream. It’s got just enough tint, plus it’s SPF 50! It’s the closest I’ve gotten to a no-make-up-feeling product that makes my skin look great.

  47. I wear BB cream or tinted moisturizer. I love Garnier BB, it smells great, protects from the sun, covers nicely and gets the job done for $14 a tube.

  48. I was on a foundation hunt recently also. i didn’t try the more luxurious lines, due to price. my love goes to Becca ever matte foundation. i have very oily skin and this helped my shine stay at bay for the majority of the day! i have never found a foundation to do that for me…and i have tried a lot…bobbi brown (this is a fave, but i dont have a counter near me), laura mercier (this was good, but undertones were too pink for me), mac, make up forever, nars. i was stoked when becca came in to my life.

  49. H says...

    NNars Sheer Glow is my go-to foundation; I love it!

  50. Take heed y’all because this foundation will change your life — Dior Skin. AMAZE.

  51. What are your thoughts on powder foundations?

  52. I don’t like the look of heavy makeup on my skin, so I mist a real techniques brush with a little water and buff in my foundation. My current favorites are Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua and Hello Flawless Oxygen Wow by Benefit. Both are wonderful for sheer coverage.

  53. Interesting! I’ve used NARS Sheer Glow since my wedding 5 years ago (and Laura Mercier’s tinted moisturizer when having a stretch of good skin days), but am curious about other options. I may get some samples of these the next time I’m at Sephora/Nordstrom.

  54. After having my two sons my face became more oily! And living in Atlanta I usually wear Lily Lolo mineral foundation or the Bare Minerals Matte foundation. I LOVE Gerda Spillmann cream foundation for cooler months and the Laura Mercier oil-free TM is amazing too!

  55. I’ve been using Coola tinted sunscreen moisturizer. It’s similar to a CC cream in coverage and free of all icky stuff. I think it’s just right for every day!

  56. If you are prone to breakouts, I highly recommend Bare Minerals products, including their foundation. Does not completely cover flaws the way, e.g., a liquid MAC foundation would, but definitely evens out skin tone and helps camouflage blemishes. It’s also impossible to mess up application.

  57. This is so helpful! I’m 27 and wear moisturizer everyday because I’m terribly afraid of foundation and always thought it made me look like a high schooler and an old lady at the same time.

    I tend to have to switch up make up depending on the season. Do you think your picks would have changed if it was in the heat of summer or the dead of winter?

  58. My current foundation is No Foundation Foundation from Perricone MD. It’s not bad, but quite pricey. And I never know if I am applying enough or too much or what (probably not enough) with foundation, so I never know if I am getting out of it what I should. In the past I was using Korres anti-aging foundation which I really liked, and it was affordable, but I think it make have been discontinued. Before THAT, it was Diorskin, which I would probably go back to… but maybe not after your recommendation! Thanks, Caroline!

  59. and the dress…where is the dress from? xx

  60. the BB cream by trish mcevoy is what i use for foundation. after years of searching i swear by it. it only comes in 2 shades and it matches your skin perfectly. its 90$ but worth every penny and lasts about 6-8 months. its somehow very light with maximum coverage.