“Oh, I never wear foundation.” Have you ever felt a pang of envy when someone dropped that carefree statement into conversation? I have. “How nice for you, you radiant woman, but most of us aren’t blessed with clear, glowing skin every day of the week.” Well, my friends, since realising that the less cover-up you wear, the less you need to cover up, I’ve weaned myself off the hard stuff and come out the other side.
I’m here to give you the tools you’ll need if you’re looking to banish foundation from your makeup bag for good. Having worn foundation for over 10 years, this was no mean feat. Using a long bank holiday weekend to bear the brunt of my exposed skin, it’s taken two weeks in total to get used to not wearing the hero product of my makeup arsenal.
Why would I want to stop wearing it? Well, thanks to my oily complexion, while my skin looks pretty great in the morning, by the time I reach work it’s mostly patchy and, by lunchtime, there’s nothing left but an oil refinery. During my period, spots flare up that require heavy-duty concealer, which then builds up into a cakey texture. It’s all rather unpleasant and, after seeing friends who have foregone foundation in favour of natural skin, I rose to the challenge.
So why is foundation so problematic for the skin it's supposed to save? “Foundations are often high in mineral oil or other comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients, like silicones. This gives them a superb texture, but also congests the pores and inflames the skin, generating breakouts and uneven surface,” a spokesperson from REN explained. “Therefore using less foundation will allow the skin to breathe better and improve your overall skin health.”
While I’m not claiming that living a foundation-free life will guarantee great skin all the time, I do believe your skin will look healthier, and surprisingly fresh. Read on for the pro-approved tips and star products that will help you – from the oily and blemished to the dry and uneven – reach peak skin peachiness.
Perfect your base
First things first: in order to stop wearing your trusty cover-up, you need to work on whatever it is you’re trying to conceal. That means you still have to keep your skincare routine in check, so commit to a simple makeup remover, good cleanser, tailored serums and a moisturiser. “Your skincare routine should give you the base for perfect skin,” REN’s representative says. “It should protect, energise, and facilitate the skin’s renewal and health, so your skin looks perfect with or without makeup.”
Up first? You guessed it: double cleanse. “Make sure you deeply cleanse your skin, morning and night. It is very important that you remove all traces of makeup, dirt, dust and pollution from your skin. We firmly believe in double cleansing, especially at night. This will prepare the skin to absorb and utilise at its best the rest of your routine.” REN’s Rosa Centifolia™ No.1 Purity Cleansing Balm gets down to the nitty-gritty without stripping your skin, while our Beauty Editor cannot stop raving about the combination of CeraVe's new Micellar Cleansing Water with Niacinamide & Ceramides and Facetheory's Clarifying Cleanser C2 Pro for a deep, thorough cleanse. Can't be bothered with all the different products? The Pixi + Caroline Hirons Double Cleanse is an oil and cream duo that leaves you with plump, clean skin.
For those of us with oily skin, the idea of foregoing foundation to reveal our shiny selves is slightly scary. “One of the most common mistakes people with oily skin make is to avoid using a moisturiser,” Dr. Murad, founder of Murad Skincare, tells me.
“Hydration is critical when keeping the balance and harmony of the skin – it stops the sebaceous glands going into overdrive to compensate for the lack of moisture.” So prioritise a decent moisturiser. Murad’s Oil-Control Mattifier with SPF 45 is a great oil-free moisturiser, controlling that pesky excess oil, while REN’s Clarimatte™ T-Zone Balancing Gel Cream mattifies by evenly redistributing the oil on the skin and reducing its production, avoiding congestion and breakouts. The Ordinary’s Hyaluronic Acid is also a great way to restore moisture to the skin without creating excess slick and shine come midday.
What about uneven skin tone and hyper-pigmentation? Foundation provides an amazing base tone to give your skin some equilibrium, so what’s the alternative? “Using products with brightening and illuminating ingredients will help even out skin tone”, Dr. Murad explains. Pixi’s Glow Tonic is the holy grail for its brightening abilities – sweep over your face with a cotton pad several times a week and you’ll notice a vast improvement. Tata Harper’s Replenishing Nutrient Complex is as rich in vitamins as it sounds, repairing cells and creating a barrier between your skin and the nasties of the world (pollution, weather, etc.). New brand Epara has a whole range based around the hyper-pigmentation most black women deal with, but it can be used by anyone who suffers with acne scarring, too. Looking for something a bit more budget-friendly? Our Beauty Editor loves Facetheory's Lumizela Azelaic Acid Serum A15 for brightening skin and calming acne at the same time.
And for those prone to breakouts: The Ordinary’s Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion is really effective and after two weeks of use you’ll notice a huge difference in your complexion. It’s become a cult hit for a reason. Reducing redness is always key in keeping inflammation under control, and Murad’s Blemish Spot Treatment is a good place to start. “This actively reduces redness, enhances skin cell turnover with a blend of hydroxy acids, and instantly zaps spots with a combination of sulphur and zinc. Always use a cotton bud for hygienic application.” Finish up with Facetheory's Supergel Oil-free Moisturiser M3 for a dose of hydration that won't block your pores.
Take it step by step
You don’t have to go into this cold turkey. “Try a step-by-step approach to let the skin recover”, Dr. Murad suggests. Try a few days per week without foundation until your skin improves and you feel confident enough to go the full seven days. Weekends, hibernation days or holidays are a great time to start if you’re self-conscious.
If your skin is really playing up or you’re just not ready to bare all, start with tinted moisturiser and go from there. A personal favourite is Laura Mercier's Tinted Moisturiser. It comes in a range of shades, divided into cool and warm undertones, and is so lightweight you’ll forget you’re wearing anything at all. As her cult Secret Camouflage proves, the brand doesn’t scrimp on decent coverage, and this base skirts around all manner of sins without caking. Our Beauty Editor also recommends the YSL NU Bare Look Skin Tint ("I've received countless compliments on my skin") and the Fenty Beauty Eaze Drop Blurring Skin Tint for the sheer amount of shade choice.
While we’re on the topic of SPF: most of us rely on our foundation having SPF built in, but this mustn't be an afterthought once you’ve stopped wearing base. “You may find your skin improves dramatically when you stop using foundation, but don’t compromise on sun protection”, Dr. Murad warns. I’ve been using the brand’s silky-smooth skin-blurring Invisiblur Perfecting Shield SPF 30, which acts as a pore-reducing primer as well as sun protection. Alternatively, the Heliocare 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF50, is touted as one of the best on the market for being non-greasy and super-lightweight, or The Inkey List's SPF 30 Daily Sunscreen for a budget-friendly alternative.
Don’t worry about the bad days
Look, we’re all going to have poor skin days. Thanks to stressors like an unbalanced diet, transitional weather, hangovers, unruly hormones and lack of sleep, you’ll still have flare-ups occasionally. The trick is to accept what you’ve got and work with it, not against it.
For an emergency quick-fix, when I have angry blemishes, tired eyes or generally look quite grey, I always return to the NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer. It is the best concealer I’ve ever used and it miraculously removes all traces of stress, period spots, and last night’s tequila without sitting heavily on the skin. Another fabulous alternative is the aforementioned Laura Mercier Secret Camouflage, which provides two shades to reduce redness and dark patches.
Looking for something lighter and more hydrating? Those with drier skin and fine lines with love Saie's newest offering, the Hydrabeam Concealer. Packed with squalane, glycerin, cucumber and tomato extracts, it's ultra-hydrating, lightweight and illuminating.
Know your tools
Last but not least, understand that there are little things out there to help you if you get an attack of oil just before a meeting, or look so shattered by 3pm that your colleagues ask if you’re ill. The (Re)setting 100% Mineral Powder from Supergoop! is perfect for when you're on the go (plus it's SPF 30). If your skin is more dull or dry, then facial spritzes are for you. Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir has a reputation for revival for good reason, with brightening and energising elements waking you right up, while the Molecular Saviour Probiotics Repair Mist from Allies of Skin is like a shot of moisture, feeding your skin some much-needed hydration.
That doesn’t seem too scary, right? Whether you’re trying to forego foundation in the to summer, or you’re just kind of tired of covering up every day, I wish you luck in your voyage to a fresh, glowing, peachy visage. Now, go show ‘em some skin.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.