The Great No-Foundation Experiment

Foundation is appropriately named: It's the starting point of many a makeup routine. Plenty of us put it on with the same mindlessness as we do our moisturizer. And, with the contouring and highlighting techniques that have been #trending, it's no wonder. In order to build a house, you need a good structural support system.

But, what would happen if you ditched your foundation for something else — or (gasp!) nothing at all? Would the roof cave in? Would your makeup routine crumble to the ground? For every #NoMakeupSelfie out there, there are a handful of women whose skin crawls at the thought of a base-less face.

Being the sadists pseudo-scientists we are, we posed this hypothesis to four of our staffers, all of whom are regular foundation-wearers. Three of 'em got different base products, while one (yours truly) went completely bare for seven days. The results — like the women involved — were diverse. Some flourished, while others (ahem) floundered. Our experiences did, however, point to one idea: Your base truly is the crux of your beauty look.

Click through to see how we fared, and then let us know: Would you give up your foundation?

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Who: Jada Wong, assistant beauty editor, brand experiences
What: Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream

How often do you wear foundation?
"Every day, actually. My skin's a bit uneven, so I like the coverage that a heavier base makeup offers me. I'm also super-bad when it comes to wearing sunscreen daily, so I gravitate toward any base makeup that has SPF in it, so it's one less step for me."

What were your biggest apprehensions about this experiment?
"For starters, not knowing what makeup I'd be given to swap with foundation. I'd been wearing foundation regularly since college, so just thinking about going a week without it gave me hives. When I got assigned a BB cream, though, I was initially relieved because I knew it was a slap-on-and-go type of product with a good amount of coverage. Then, I remembered that most of the BB creams I've tried made me look like a vampiric K-pop star, so I was all like, shit. But, seeing as how Smashbox had a wide range of colors (read: more than two light shades), I was fairly comfortable knowing I wasn't going to end up with an unnaturally pale mug for a week."

Tell me about your week.
"I'm pretty low-maintenance (or lazy, whatever you wanna call it) when it comes to makeup, so I was happy that applying the BB cream was the same as applying foundation — smush a bit between your fingers and rub it all around your face. I've read that patting it on offers more coverage and a smoother finish, but, c'mon people, ain't nobody got time for that.
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"On the first morning I tried this product, I just rubbed some on and boom — all done. It looked fine all day — I actually didn't need to blot my T-zone in the afternoon, since this product's got a cool oil-sucking formula. I did notice that the formula was thicker than my usual foundation, so on the second day, I mixed it with some moisturizer to thin it out so I wouldn't end up rubbing my face raw just to work the product in. I usually use moisturizer before base makeup, but adding more moisturizer in with the BB made my face glow just a bit more — so, works for me!

"On the third day, I ended up using too much product so I wound up looking like a K-pop star with a super-pale face — my nightmare came true! I actually don't know how that's possible, since the color I was using (Fair/Light) matched my skin. Maybe it's the titanium dioxide for sun protection? I was able to tone down the white cast with a face mist and a few blots with a tissue, but, oh well, lesson learned the hard way: Do not OD on BB cream. The last two days, I had gotten so used to using this that it felt like I was reaching for my regular foundation. Okay, I've been converted, guys."

How did your feelings change from the beginning of the experiment to the end?
"I had gotten so used to using foundation that the thought of using another base product threw me for a loop. But, after using this BB cream for a week, I gotta admit that change is good — and so is my face. If I mix it with moisturizer or even serum, I can see myself reaching for it every day."

Would you consider going foundation-less again?
"Big yes. I've actually been using this Smashbox BB cream since the experiment."
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Who: Jade Earle, executive assistant
What: Marc Jacobs Re(Marc)able Full Cover Concealer

How often do you wear foundation?
"Every day!"

What were your biggest apprehensions about this experiment?
"I cringed at the thought of not wearing my NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation for a week. It's not like I've never been out of the house without it, but I never simplified my everyday routine to just concealer before. I knew this was going to be a doozy."

Tell me about your week.
"I woke up on day one, put on some sunscreen, dabbed my undereyes, nose, and chin with the concealer from Marc Jacobs, and headed out the door (about 30 minutes earlier than usual, mind you). The weirdest thing is that I never realized how much I tolerate stained fingers when I have on foundation. When I scratch my nose, or even take off my shades, beige streaks are all over, and I just deal with it as part of the routine. It was nice not to see beige fingerprints on my notebook page for once.

"My face definitely felt a little lighter than what I was used to in the morning, but by 5 p.m., my skin felt as dry as sandpaper. It's crazy how much I depended on foundation to give me that glow. My face felt so thirsty, and from a glance in the mirror, it looked as much.
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"On day two, I started taking my skin a little more seriously, especially at night. I've always worn sunscreen under my foundation, but I never really looked into getting a night cream that's a little heavier. I believe the best way to repair your skin is getting more sleep, so I made sure to do that, and added a good moisturizer to my routine. SheaMoisture's African Black Soap Problem Skin Moisturizer gave me the fresh glow that all the IG girls show off in their morning posts.

"By day three, a Saturday, I felt like I was finally in the thick of it — no turning back. I wasn't sure how long my morning glow was going to last, considering how humid it was, but my friend made me feel like it had lasted. She was in shock that I didn't have a base on my face. 'I'm shivering just thinking about going without for a week. But, you look great.' Too bad I felt sticky. All I wanted was a blotting tissue."

How did your feelings change from the beginning of the experiment to the end?
"If there's anything this experiment taught me, it's that I need to hydrate more. Seriously. I can use all the concealer in the world, but nothing can keep my skin dewier than drinking copious amounts of water. It's really the best medicine. By the end of the experiment, I realized that my initial hesitance came from not wanting to deal with my skin."

Would you go foundation-less again?
"I'm now more inclined not to use foundation as much anymore. I plan on examining my skin more frequently. I'll always be the girl who's here for a soft contour with lashes, but now I know I can take it easy with my daily routine."
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Who: Maria Del Russo, beauty writer
What: "Nothing — I went bare-faced."

How often do you wear foundation?
"I wear some kind of base product every damn day of my life. The only places you won't see me with it are in bed or at the gym. Okay. I lied. I've totally worn concealer to the gym."

What were your biggest apprehensions about this experiment?
"I've been having some major issues with my skin — issues that got so out of control that I went to see a dermatologist, who put me on a round of doxycycline. (Story on that coming soon!) My skin had been clearing up, but three days before I started the experiment for the story, my derm lowered the dosage, and I broke out in some glorious whiteheads along my chin and jaw. So, naturally, I was scared shitless about being out in the world sans foundation. In fact, I was more scared than I was not to shave for two weeks last summer. The things I do in the name of journalism..."

Tell me about your week.
"I work out in the mornings, which means my makeup routine happens at the gym. On day one, I sat at the long line of mirrors and creepily stared at the other women gleefully applying their base makeup. Then, I looked back at my uneven, pimple-ridden face, and cursed myself. I popped on some mascara, some light eyeliner, and then reached for my trusty red lipstick, but stopped myself. Wouldn't the red just draw attention to the crimson volcanoes erupting on my jaw? And, since I wasn't wearing foundation, would my touch of bronzer look strange and out of place? Paralyzed, I called the whole thing off, and spent the day with the least amount of makeup on I'd ever worn.

"Days two and three proceeded the same way. I felt my lipstick getting lonely at the bottom of my bag, and I was convinced people were looking at me, feeling sorry for me and my uneven skin tone. I began relying heavily on my facial oil to give me at least some kind of glow. It's made by a company that performs Reiki treatment on its products after they're bottled, which is supposed to help promote positive energy. I secretly prayed it would rub off on me and my skin.
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"After the first two days, I got so discouraged that I stopped wearing makeup altogether. I had to actually remove my base makeup from my cosmetics bag, because I'd reach for it in a moment of weakness. I had a first date with a new guy, and when we parted ways after one drink, I was convinced it was because my chin zit had secretly winked at him. I counted down the days until I could wear my concealer again.

"By day five, I was exhausted, and this was when I hit my moment of clarity. I was making myself feel bad about loving a ritual and a product that made me feel my best. I'd probably never have skin worthy of a #WokeUpLikeThis selfie. And, you know what? That's okay. For me, makeup is a way to feel my best. I can be confident in every other part of my life, but if I don't feel put-together, my whole day is off. So, I stopped giving myself a hard time, and cracked open a bottle of rosé to celebrate my reunion with my makeup."

How did your feelings change from the beginning of the experiment to the end?
"I'm still a base-makeup loyalist, and I'm kinda done apologizing for it. I used to feel funny when people would roll out the door with their faces raw, and I'd still be blending my undereye concealer. If this is what it takes for me to feel my most confident, and live my best life, then what the hell does it matter? I've stopped letting the 'Oh, I don't wear anything on my face' people make me feel inferior, and it feels pretty damn liberating."

Would you go foundation-less again?
"That said, I have been giving myself a break and going makeup-free once in a while. My skin really isn't as bad as I think it is, due in large part to the drugs I'm on — my shaky confidence is residual from my acne-tortured youth. So, if you see me at Whole Foods on East 87th and Third on a Sunday, I probably won't be wearing base. But, I'll be wearing a smile — and a metric ton of face oil."
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Who: Rebecca Smith, senior audience development editor
What: Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer

How often do you wear foundation?
"Around freshman year of high school, I started dabbling in the land of foundation. I thought foundation would make me appear more put-together and grown up. I couldn't find a drugstore formula that worked because I am pale — the kind of pale that results in kids asking, 'Are you a ghost?' Instead, I started stealing my mom's concealer and mixing it with my lotion as a quick fix. But, surprise, my mother wasn't a huge fan of her concealer always magically being empty. So, I found my own foundation: Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra 24 Hours in Ivoire."

What were your biggest apprehensions about this experiment?
"When I received the email about the Great No-Foundation Experiment, I signed on. Who would be better than someone who has worn the same foundation for 10 years? It's part of my daily routine; I don't have to think about it. Most people have no idea I wear foundation, yet the idea of going without it was terrifying. I was picked to wear a daily moisturizer instead of foundation, and I was relieved. At least I got to wear something (sorry, Maria!)."

Tell me about your week.
"To my surprise, the color and formula of Laura Mercier's tinted moisturizer blended onto the skin on my hand perfectly. So far, so good.

"The first hiccup came the next day. I was about ready to leave my house when I realized I had my normal foundation on. I forced myself to go back to my vanity, take off all of my makeup, and start all over again. I promptly hid my foundation to avoid this process every day for a week. Going from seeing my face with foundation to seeing it with tinted moisturizer was not a great start. I couldn't just pretend like there was no difference. There was. I saw it. But, surprisingly, no one else did.
8 of 9
"The next few days were pretty uneventful. No one made any comments about my skin looking any different. One person even told me I looked more radiant than normal. Then, I went to the gym. I am not someone who purposely puts on a full face of makeup to go to the gym, but since I go to the gym after work, I often have a full face of makeup on already. And, well, this tinted moisturizer was 100% gone by the end of my class, and there was a rim of it along the collar of my white shirt. Lesson learned: Take this moisturizer off before a true sweat session, unlike my regular foundation.

"The makeup was actually keeping my skin soft, and, yes, glowing. I was starting to give in. But, there was still one big test: my mother. Yes, the woman who had to deal with me stealing her beauty products was coming to visit at the tail end of this experiment. I wore the tinted moisturizer the first two days, without a single comment. Could it be that the person who knew me best didn't notice a difference at all? Feeling dubious, I decided to wear my normal foundation the last day to see if she'd say anything. And, guess what? She didn't. It turns out that not only is the tinted moisturizer a lighter formula on my skin, but it also passes the mom test."

How did your feelings change from the beginning of the experiment to the end?
"While the tinted moisturizer didn't make a big difference in my day-to-day life, I did feel weirdly naked as I got all dressed up to go out with friends. Yet, from the minute I met my friends, they were all raving about how my skin glowed, and how I had "the perfect summer skin." Sitting there, I realized I didn't have to use my normal moisturizer all week."

Would you go foundation-less again?
"At least for the summer, I am sold on the tinted moisturizer. I even put my foundation back in its hiding spot."
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