A transformative moment for foundation

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Badly matched foundation can look downright scary: too gray, too goopy, too mask-like. This is an area where one size does not fit all. And now the diversifying face of America, the rise of high-definition image technology and a photo-happy population has translated to consumer demand for foundation that’s natural looking, full of skin-healthy ingredients and color-customized for the fairest through the deepest complexions.

Beauty companies, rising up to meet the demand, have steadily expanded their offerings — and it seems to be paying off. According to market researcher NPD Group, in the 12-month period ending in October, total U.S. foundation sales generated $965 million, up 7% in dollars from the same time last year.


Here’s a look at some of the areas of innovation:



Color traditionally has been the biggest problem with finding a good foundation to even out skin tone and cover imperfections.

For super model Iman, author of “The Beauty of Color: The Ultimate Beauty Guide for Skin of Color,” the quest to find a good match was personal. A native of Somalia with a honey-brown complexion, she remembers having to blend her own foundation when she was modeling for Vogue in the mid-1970s because the makeup artist didn’t have any that matched her skin.

“As a top model, I never went to the set without my own batch of foundation in my bag that I made at home,” she remembers. Other women constantly stopped her on the street asking where she found her foundation, which led her to create Iman Cosmetics. She says 75% of her business is foundation sales, and she recently added a modern BB skin cream as well (the Skin Tone Evener BB Crème SPF 15, $20, at

“I wanted to create something that was beyond race,” Iman says, adding that dark skin comes in a myriad of tones and that some African Americans are very light-skinned. “I can’t just generalize one group of people because there are so many shades within that one group …You can find people in China who are darker than I am. With Latinas alone, you find girls who are as dark as I am or blond and blue-eyed. You can’t say that Latinas only have ‘olive’ skin, you know what I mean? The future is about skin tone.”


MAC Cosmetics senior makeup artist Christopher Del Castillo cites his own half-Mexican, half-German heritage as an example of the increasingly mixed population that is leading to a whole rainbow of complexions. He has both yellow and pink skin undertones and says makeup companies and beauty department store advisors need to eschew oversimplified skin color notions.

At MAC, “our motto is ‘all ages, all races, all sexes,’” he says.

MAC has been among the companies at the forefront of offering a wide range of foundations, and other companies are expanding their product ranges, too. For example, L’Oreal True Match Super Blendable Makeup (about $10.95, available at drugstores nationwide) now comes in 33 shades, and in 2011, Burberry added four deeper shades to their Burberry Sheer Luminous Fluid Foundation ($52,

Hyper-customized foundation


Technology is making it easier than ever to get a good match. Sephora + Pantone Color IQ, for instance, is a hand-held digital device that scans the skin, assigns it a Pantone skintone number and directs customers to matching foundations made by various brands sold at Sephora.

Several makeup brands recently launched foundations that, via patented micro-technology, adapt to your skin’s undertones. They include Giorgio Armani’s Maestro Fusion Makeup with “smart pigment technology” ($62,, MAC Matchmaster foundation with clear acrylate spheres that encapsulate micro-fine pigments ($33, and Almay Smart Shade Makeup ($9.99,, which contains what the company calls “shade-sensing beads” that transform to the color of the wearer’s skin.

New brand Sayuki Custom Cosmetics, based in Laguna Hills, invented a machine that creates perfectly personalized foundation ($65, for you on the spot. (See related story.)

Or go with a lower tech option and visit a professional makeup artist, Del Castillo says. A pro can determine your undertones, the right formula (sheer, semimatte, matte or luminizing) and whether a liquid, cream or powder is best. Castillo says he often uses a color that matches the center of the face and a different color matching near the hairline, “But that’s the advanced class,” he says. With so many new products on the market, “you should be able to buy only one foundation that’s close enough to your skin tone,” he says.

Digital impressions

In a digital age, it’s not just models and movie stars who need to look good on camera. You never know when you may be digitally photographed and the image uploaded, Tweeted, posted on Facebook and memorialized online for eons. And high-definition technology exposes every little imperfection. In HD, heavy foundation that once hid a multitude of skin sins looks clown-like. New HD foundations help create seamless coverage.

Make Up For Ever, founded by onetime painter and sculpture Dany Sanz, launched HD Invisible Cover Foundation ($40, in 2008 when TV stations were transitioning from analog to digital.

“Makeup artists love Make Up For Ever foundation because it is very blendable,” says Darcy Gilmore, makeup department head for NBC’s “The Voice.” Make Up For Ever foundations are naturally textured, full-coverage formulations available in an array of undertones including beige, pink, yellow, olive, coral, peach and combinations thereof. Gilmore says this makes it easy to find shades that match various complexions. “On ‘The Voice,’ we don’t try to change someone’s skin undertone but, instead, match it completely,” she says.

Other prime-time-ready HD foundations include Smashbox High Definition Healthy Fx Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15, Smashbox Camera Ready BB Cream (each $39, and Revlon HD Photo Ready Foundation ($13.99,

Skin care

According to the 2012 Makeup In-Depth Consumer Report by NPD Group, eight in 10 women say that they use makeup with skincare benefits and that evening out skin tone is the most important benefit of foundation use.

Ingredients including antioxidant vitamins C and E, green tea, enzymes that prevent and repair UV damage, SPF and white birch extract are in a bevy of foundations. They include cult favorite Hourglass Veil Fluid Makeup ($60, and newer foundations such as Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus All-Smooth Makeup SPF 15 ($33,, Chanel Perfection Lumiere ($55,, Lancôme’s Teint Idole Ultra 24H ($44, ), Yves Saint Laurent Le Teint Touche Éclat SPF 19 ($48, ) and L’Oreal True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Foundation ($12.95, ).

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Even Finish Foundation SPF 15 ($42, and DiorSkin Nude Skin-Glowing Make-up ($48, stress that their foundations have a bare-skin, natural effect as well.