The Very Best Foundations for Aging Skin

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photo: Getty

This column first ran in Valerie Monroe’s newsletter, How Not to F*ck Up Your Face, which you can subscribe to on Substack.

Valerie Monroe was beauty director at O, The Oprah Magazine, where she wrote the monthly “Ask Val” column for nearly 16 years. Now she writes the weekly newsletter How Not to F*ck Up Your Face. Her goal continues to be to shift our thinking in the beauty arena from self-criticism to self-compassion and to learn how to be loving witnesses to ourselves and one another as we age.

I don’t often write about makeup — probably because I don’t often wear it. Actually, since I left O, The Oprah Magazine, and we slid into the vast sinkhole of a pandemic, I’ve developed a “F*ck it all!” attitude toward makeup in general. With the exception of mascara and eyeliner, makeup is basically the last thing on my mind (right before stilettos). But a loyal reader— loyal to foundation, that is — needed some help.

Q: What are some good foundation options for aging skin? Mine is quite dry, and foundation has a tendency to sit in my pores, making me feel like I’m wearing a freaking neon sign that says, “I’m getting old!” I’m aiming to even out my complexion and diminish age spots and other signs of sun damage.

A: First of all, I just threw on a neon sign that says, “Congratulations, winner! You’re getting old!” But I understand why you’d like to diminish the clues suggesting you have spent a significant amount of time orbiting our star minus sunscreen and a hat.

You’re right that one of the best — by which I mean easiest and least expensive — ways to have a more even-looking complexion is to wear foundation. Makeup, after all, has always been worn not only for decorative purposes but also to trick potential partners into believing we’re quality breeding material. Skin clarity, evenness of tone, and a slight blush are all cues of youth and good health and, consequently, of a good choice of mate (in case you’re interested). I’ve mentioned several studies (like this one and this one) that demonstrate how the facial-skin age of women is influenced not only by the appearance of lines and wrinkles but by unevenness, discoloration, and a decrease in light reflection (the way light bounces off the skin). Researchers have found that the eye is remarkably sensitive to even small changes in skin-color distribution. The happier news: When discoloration is removed, faces are judged to be more attractive, so …

Making its grand entrance down the cosmetics aisle, please put your hands together for: primer! It seems that primer, dear reader, is what may be missing from your makeup routine. How do I know? I asked one of the most widely known (and loveliest) makeup artists of all time, Pati Dubroff.

“One of the best routes to even tone is to use a blurring or matte primer before applying foundation,” Dubroff says. “It acts as a barrier to the foundation’s seeping into pores and fine lines.” And why wouldn’t iconic makeup artist Laura Geller completely agree? She sells an excellent primer that moisturizes and, like all good primers, ensures that foundation stays put without emphasizing wrinkles. As for choosing a foundation, Dubroff advises, “For mature skin, I like to use a buildable liquid or creamy formula.” Drier formulas can accentuate any kind of texture on the skin — and not in a good way. Chiming in in case you happen to love a powder, Geller adds that her own powder foundation, which starts out as a cream before it’s magically baked into powder form, is more hydrating than pressed powders.

Dubroff offers a couple of bonus hints for good measure: Avoid a primer that promises radiance, as that radiance is likely delivered as sparkle, which … need we say more? And she loves a little extra moisture tapped lightly with the fingertips onto the cheekbones — no swiping! — on top of foundation.
There you go! By the way, your neon sign is on the fritz. It now seems to say, “I’m g … old!” Yes, yes you are.

Originally published on December 20, 2022.

Kenneth Proto

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