HomeThe science of cosmeticsHow Does Make-Up Work?How does foundation work?

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Foundations have four formulations

There are four basic facial foundation formulations: oil-based, water-based, oil-free, and water-free forms. Oil-based products are often best for dry skin, while water-based products can be adapted for all skin types. Oil-free formulations are used in oily skin foundations, while anhydrous or water-free forms are extremely long-wearing and used for camouflage or theatrical purposes.

Many foundations contain talc, for a smooth texture, and other powdery materials chosen for their ability to cover and hide tiny blemishes such as freckles. All foundations include some colouring material to enhance the natural colour of the skin.

Foundations come in many forms, including solid powder, sticks, creams, liquids and mousses. Some include moisturisers and especially benefit dry skin in winter. Other foundations contain sunscreen ingredients. You can speak to a beauty counter assistant to find out which will be most suitable for your skin type and colour.

What are foundations made of?

Depending on its formulation, each foundation will be made from very different ingredients.

  • Oil-based foundations are water-in-oil emulsions which contain pigments suspended in oil, such as mineral or vegetable oil.

  • Water-based foundations are oil-in-water emulsions which contain only a small amount of oil, in which the pigment is emulsified with a large quantity of water.

  • Oil-free foundations substitute oils with other similar substances, such as silicones. These products are usually liquids and packaged in bottles.

  • Water-free foundations are waterproof. Oils or oily substances will be mixed with waxes to form a cream.

Which type of foundation should I choose?

The choice of foundation is a highly individual one, and in the end is a matter of personal preference. Both the skin type and the season of the year need to be borne in mind before a final decision is made. You may find it helpful to speak to a beauty counter assistant to determine your skin type, and therefore which foundation format will suit you best.

New innovations

Many foundations now contain sunscreens to help protect you from the ageing effects of the sun while you wear them. Look out for the words UV protection and Sun Protection Factor (SPF) numbers on the tube or bottle.

Light-diffusing foundations
"Light-diffusing" foundations can be great for older skins. They contain hundreds of tiny light-reflective particles that bounce light away from your skin, making fine lines, wrinkles and blemishes less noticeable.

Colour-corrective foundations
Colour-corrective foundation can be worn under your normal foundation to alter the skin-tone. They can seem quite strange at first glance because they come in a variety of sometimes bright colours. However, they can be highly effective at toning down a high skin colour (e.g. green tone foundation) or boosting the colour of your complexion.

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