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beauty

How I Overcame my Fear of Foundation

One of my goals since I became a job-having 20-something has been to learn how to apply a full face of makeup. Not because I need a full face for every day of my working life, but just in case, I’d like to have that skill set in my back pocket. I’ve got my eyeliner and mascara combo down pat, and lip color’s a breeze, but I just have not been able to get over my fear of foundation.

My first memory of foundation was during a summer theater camp when I was in elementary school. The camp was run by one of my older sister’s friends in her backyard and we were putting on a production of something called “Jenny Jones Shakespeare” in which I had the minimal-dialogue role of Titania, queen of the fairies. (The only other thing I remember about the content of that play is that the boy playing Oberon, my king, really did not want to do the scripted kiss. And of course, that the premise had talk show host Jenny Jones moderating the drama of Shakespearean characters, performed by children.) In preparation for our performance, our fearless camp leader slathered me in foundation from her big bag of makeup.

I was orange. Like, “Willy Wonka called and he wants to know when you’re coming back to the factory” orange. Like “Snooki took me tanning but we only had time to do my face” orange. I remember my sister laughing at me.

My other experiences with foundation were no better—stage makeup (at more legit theater camps, or for kids’ club performances on family Club Med vacations) that made me look like a weird ghost-child or like one of those terrifying children on Toddlers and Tiaras. By the time I reached middle school, I knew very little about foundation but I knew this: I needed heavy duty applications of Noxzema to get it off and it made me look like a weirdo.

After years of the most sophisticated products in my medicine cabinet being concealer and tinted moisturizer, this winter I decided to take the plunge and confront my demons head on, the best way I knew how—by actually trying out foundation. I decided to try a few different brands in hopes that it would help me figure out exactly what I want in terms of color, texture and final appearance. I tried out four brands: Iman Cosmetics, because as a woman of color, finding my skin tone can be a pain (and who doesn't want to emulate Iman?), Urban Decay, because “naked” is exactly how I’d like my skin to look in foundation, Kat Von D, because if it can cover tattoos it can definitely cover my skin imperfections, and Sephora, because I trust Sephora for everything. Deciding what shades of foundation to try was probably the hardest part—with so many options with only slight tonal differences, what was I to choose? Luckily, both Iman Cosmetics and Urban Decay provide a super helpful 'find your shade' tool on their websites, giving me more insight into what my tone and undertone are.

I used all my gathered knowledge about foundation application—test it out on your neck for color matching, apply in downward strokes, etc.—starting testing. What did I learn? For one, foundation has come a long way since the mid-1990s. Each and every one of these foundations felt weightless on my face (a welcome change from the heavy, orange-y slap of yesteryear) and went on super smoothly—impressive given my beginner status. And another thing: foundation doesn't look as crazy as I thought it would. Even though I could tell I was wearing foundation—largely in part to my amateur application skills and unrefined blending—they all looked pretty natural, and my face didn't look like a basketball. I also learned that the flawless skin gifted to me by the foundation gods necessitated other flawless features as well. On top of my normal eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss routine, I needed to add a little blush to restore the color to my cheeks. Foundation is a commitment.

Though I'm not a complete convert to wearing foundation, mostly due to laziness, I'm not scared any more. And I'm even ready to tackle new makeup challenges. So what's the deal with primer?

The Contenders

I tried out foundation from four different brands: Sephora, Iman, Kat Von D and Urban Decay.

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