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- I’ve worn foundation regularly for six years, partly out of habit and largely because it covered up the sins of temperamental skin.
- But I was sick of spending money and time to willfully clog my pores each day, sticking myself in an endless loop of relying on makeup.
- Gradually, I phased in products that helped me get my skin to a healthy equilibrium and even tone. At this point, I haven’t worn foundation in months — and my skin has been more consistently clear and smooth than ever.
- Below, I detail what products I used and why. You can also find what I learned when I had a celebrity dermatologist audit my skin-care routine here.
For a pale and easily scarred teen going through their first bout of serious breakouts, foundation was a miracle — like some divine being descended from another realm and gave cavemen a lit torch in the Pleistocene epoch. You mean I can cover this up and it will still look like skin, kind of? Using it in high school helped buoy my confidence, and that alone was worth the time, expense, and (comparatively) minor protests from my skin. It was even worth avoiding hugging people wearing white lest they look like a screen print of Forrest Gump’s smiley face shirt afterward.
In adulthood, though, I got more comfortable with the idea of imperfection. It no longer seemed like something to so actively avoid. But over the course of the last six years, foundation had become both a habit and a safety blanket. I was still almost unconsciously relying on it to cover up the aftermath of past breakouts, and said dependency wasn’t helping other concerns like my skin texture or clogged pores.
In other words, once you start using foundation, it’s hard to stop. But, about six months ago, I did. Rather than the expense or even skin clarity, it was the argument of time that finally got me to give it up. Instead of the 180 hours I would cumulatively spend every year just putting on makeup in the morning, would I perhaps be happier — both in the moment and with my priorities in general — if I could devote that time to enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper in the morning instead?
I understand that the simple decision of how you get to spend your time in the morning can be an immense luxury — especially for women, on whom the public passes judgment about appearance with all the nuance of an executioner. If someone had told me what I just told you during one of my severe breakouts, I would have felt anger and frustration at the sheer misconception and injustice of it all: you don’t think I want to spend my mornings doing something else, too? Years later, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to age out of those breakouts, and my focus has shifted instead to the aftermath of discoloration and small flare-ups. That’s why I can point to something like "time" and have the considerable privilege of that alone being enough of a reason to stop.
To transition out of wearing foundation, I began actively addressing my underlying skin concerns and building a more sustainable skin-care regime while phasing heavy makeup out. Before, my skin care had been reactionary. Now, it needed to be proactive — and tenable as well. For that, I used my collective experience as a commerce reporter, resources like renowned dermatologists, and plenty of research and self-testing to find the products that worked for me: clinical grade dark spot correctors, gentle but intense cleansers, cult-favorite clay face masks, and a prescription-strength retinoid treatment to name a few.
As of today, I haven’t worn foundation for about five months — and I haven’t needed or wanted to. I use a dab of my Holy Grail concealer and a brush to cover up any surprise blemishes, and I swipe on some mascara and head out the door in as little as ten minutes.
Altogether, my skin is the clearest, smoothest, and most evenly toned it’s been in years. I’ve figured out how to maintain that actively with products, instead of more or less assuming it would always be at the whim of the universe. I’ve also started using skin care as makeup, rather than makeup that mimics skin care — and it looks better overall. I’ve added sunscreen since I used to rely on foundations to supply SPF, and, when I do wear makeup, I have more fun applying it.
Below, I run through the products I used to give up foundation and why each one works for my specific skin concerns. Skin care is notoriously subjective, and what works for me may not work for you, but they may be worth checking out if you’re looking to do the same.
Below are the nine products I used to get my skin to a healthy state:
A micellar water that preps skin for face wash and respects the skin’s natural barrier
First, I wanted to get my skin to a place where going without foundation would feel comfortable — this meant at least partially addressing my main concerns, like clarity, hydration, and tone.
As I’ve heard echoed everywhere from the famed 10-step Korean skin-care routine to celebrity dermatologists, double-cleansing is a good idea. The first cleanser, such as a micellar water, removes the day’s cream, makeup, and dirt gently, clearing the way for the next cleanser to reach deeper inside the skin and draw out sebum and bacteria.
I’ve tried others, but I’ve preferred this cult-favorite French pharmacy micellar water since discovering it while living in Paris — and I’m not the only one. The company estimates that a bottle is sold every two seconds, and it’s firmly seated on Amazon’s best-selling skin-care products.
It’s gentle enough to wipe away the day’s grime without irritating my sensitive skin, and hydrating enough to make dual-cleansing viable for my dry skin. Equally important, micellar water respects the skin’s hydro-lipid film (no micro-scratches working like chinks in the armor) which helps get your complexion on a sustainable, self-managed clarity track.
A non-soapy face wash that uses acids to gently exfoliate the skin
For even tone, texture, and clarity that doesn’t strip the skin of moisture, I swear by Dr. Dennis Gross’ Alpha Beta facial cleanser.
Simply put, it’s the best cleanser I’ve ever used — and you’d hope it would be after it took Dr. Gross four years to perfect. It’s not a foam and wasn’t formulated with soap, so it doesn’t leave the skin feeling uncomfortably dry or tight. But, having said that, it’s also a more intense clean. It works into a rich lather, and the alpha and beta hydroxy acids work diligently (on multiple levels of the skin) to slough away dead, tired cells and facilitate healthy turnover to even tone and texture. Altogether, it’s formulated to treat skin concerns while maintaining the skin’s integrity and pH balance.
After using it, my skin looks brighter and tighter, and dark spots faded at a faster rate thanks to frequent exfoliation. This worked for the no-foundation project twofold: I didn’t feel the need to cover up my skin’s imperfections because there were fewer of them, and I didn’t want to cover it up because my skin actually looked better au naturel than it did covered in foundation.
I definitely still get the occasional blemish, but the texture and overall tone of my skin is so consistently even now that I typically just dab concealer on the spot, blend it into the surrounding skin with a brush, and head out the door.
A clinical-grade dark spot correcting serum
Dr. Dennis Gross
This was the high-impact, clinical-grade serum I turned to for treating dark spots quickly and efficiently. It has 10% L-ascorbic acid (which is another way of saying concentrated vitamin C) and Kojic acid, which is great for brightening dark spots, as well as lactic acid, a gentle exfoliator.
Within a few weeks (the company notes two to eight weeks depending on severity), I noticed my skin looking brighter and its tone evening out considerably. After four, it was even enough to skip foundation. That’s because the IPL exfoliates your skin in its current state and prevents any additional lower pigment from surfacing. It also helps protect skin from environmental aggressors like free radicals.
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