Don’t you hate it when your skin doesn’t look like skin? Those days when your foundation gets caught on every dry patch you have and separates around your lines. You flake and you shed like a snake–and while the grey winter skies are lovely and Christmas is in the air, the weather really doesn’t help things.
And just because a foundation says it’s moisturizing doesn’t mean it’s actually moisturizing. And there’s so much else to worry about. Will it clog your pores? Cover your blemishes? Will it look natural on you? It’s true that everyone was born into different skin, but there a few general guidelines you should keep in mind next time you go shopping.
Care to Explain to Me Why My Skin is So Dry?
The term “natural moisturizing factor” (NMF) was coined in the 1950s. It refers to the natural humectants (substances that attract water), such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid, which draw moisture into our skin and form a protective barrier between us and the outside world. And NMF is like the lid on a pot; it prevents the water in our skin from evaporating.
However, as we age, this barrier thins. So time can contribute to drying skin, as can external factors like air conditioning and the sun’s rays. A good foundation (and skincare routine) counteracts these issues; it doesn’t only serve to moisturize skin, but it also assists the NMF by repelling UV rays and other irritants.
In addition, I put on tons of moisturizer. I use multiple layers of serum, night cream, and a night mask to seal in the moisture. I often use eye cream as a facial moisturizer because it is thicker. I have to wear hats in the sun. And you can also always avoid things like alcohol and cigarettes.
How to Choose a Foundation for Dry Skin – Buying Guide
Unfortunately, your writer has skin so oily you could fry chicken in it. But to properly understand skincare and makeup, you need experience, as well as information. So this time around, we reached out to Renee, a beauty guru who has to do battle with the cold, dry winters of New York.
Beauty and the Cat
Renee (the lovely lady on the left, if you're wondering) is one-third of Beauty and the Cat. The other two-thirds consists of her pal Angela, whom we interviewed about hand creams, and the kitty beauty consultant Roxy, whom we unfortunately did not get to interview.
Both Angela and Renee have experience in the beauty industry and a love for anthropomorphic cats. They combined their passions to author the beauty-and-cat blog Beauty and the Cat, which may be one of the funniest blogs about skincare around. Visit them and the ever glamorous Roxy below!
What Type of Foundation is Best for my Dry Skin?
Let’s start off basic. Real basic. Like, what’s the difference between cream and powder foundation basic. It’s the easiest way to eyeball if a foundation is going to work for you. However, if you already know all of this, feel free to skip ahead.
Cream Foundations Moisturize for a Long Time and Give you a Lot of Coverage
Most of the time, cream foundations have a lot of oil in them. They’re thick, and if you come by a moisturizing formulation, they can keep your skin hydrated for hours (though there’s always a few bad apples in the barrel).
Most cream is full-on coverage, so you get to kill two birds with one stone: hydration and blemish correction.
But thicker cream foundations can also age people because it settles into your lines. It’s a very heavy look, and I would say the older you get, the less makeup you should appear to wear.
For a More Natural Look, Liquid and Cushion Foundations are Easy on the Skin
Let’s get this out of the way first–cushion foundation is just liquid foundation, but in a compact. You want it when you’re on the go and you need something you can throw in your makeup bag and put on in the car. Liquid–and cushion–foundations are good because they come in plenty of moisturizing formulas and blend out easily.
They can be light, medium, or full coverage, and even the lighter ones, you can usually build up to at least medium coverage. In general, they are lighter and thus easier on the skin than cream foundation, so they’re a good choice if you’re worried about damaging your skin with too much makeup.
Liquid and cushion foundations are both a little more versatile than cream because you can wear them in hotter weather as well. Since the coverage is lighter, you can build with multiple layers. However, I’ve found that they aren’t as long-wearing and can rub off with sweat.
If You Must Have the Convenience of Powder, Look for a Moisturizing Formula
This much is obvious: powder foundation doesn’t contain a whole lot of oil. Ten years ago, we might’ve even said none of them are suited for dry skin, but technology has changed and the beauty industry has changed. Nowadays, there’s powder foundation with moisturizing formulas. Mineral foundation also has a dedicated following who swear it’s best for sensitive skin.
Powder’s popular because it’s versatile; like liquid, you can get it in full, medium, or light coverage. It’s fast and easy to apply, though loose mineral foundations can get pretty messy.
See if There’s Moisturizing Ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid and Ceramides
Remember when we talked about NMF? It turns out that when you put those same substances in skincare products, they work the same way–that is, they draw moisture into your skin and shield it from irritants. That’s why hyaluronic acid and ceramides of two of the holy grail ingredients for, well, anyone, but especially for people with dry skin.
Squalane oil is another member of the NMF crew, though our skin produces it as squalene. But squalene is unstable and oxidizes as soon as it’s introduced to air, which is why the hydrogenated form, squalane, is used in skincare. Once upon a time, squalane was derived from shark liver, but nowadays, it’s usually harvested from plants, which is more sustainable and cruelty-free.
These three ingredients are pretty effective because our bodies are familiar with them. Our bodies recognize the NMF crew when they’re used in skincare products and know how to utilize them to hydrate and protect skin. Below, Renee shares a few shortcuts to picking out a moisturizing formulation.
Sometimes, I experiment with the brand of my moisturizer. La Mer, for example, I like as a moisturizer, so maybe their makeup would work well. People tend to separate skincare and cosmetics—one is a treatment and one is makeup. But if they want to try something good for their skin, then they can stick with the brand that does the skincare.
Also, I often use price as a proxy for what ingredients go into the product. If it's really expensive, it must have unicorn dust in it or something. But it’s mostly personal trial-and-error and reading reviews.
Want to Be Gentle to Your Skin? Get Formulas that Go on and Come off Easily
If the foundation doesn’t spread easily, it will need to be pulled and prodded into your skin. If you tug at your skin, you can irritate it and dry it out more. Morale of the story? Get foundation that spreads easily. Light formulas can give you good coverage if you’re smart about it. Build them up with a brush or tap them in with a beauty blender so you don’t stretch your makeup too thin.
Likewise, if you get a clingy foundation, you’ll need to either a) cleanse multiple times or b) use a strong remover to get off all the residue. However, if you have dry skin, strong cleansers, such as those containing surfactants, can deprive you of even more moisture. So think about getting a makeup that wipes off easily, even if you need more touch-ups throughout the day.
I use pretty caustic cleansers—sometimes even regular handsoap—to take off makeup because I don’t want any residue. Usually, the more liquid a foundation, the easier it comes off and the easier it is to blend. That is, unless it has a lot of oils and sunscreen because those are made to resist sweat and water.
But if it's long-wearing, long-lasting, it’s going to be hard to take off. So I target it. Do I have a wedding to go to? Am I a bridesmaid? Am I going to be on stage? Then give me the clingy stuff. It’s going to stay on. Or I just go light.
Top 10 Best Foundations for Dry Skin
With makeup, it’s try, try, and try again. In that spirit, here are 10 foundations that have been tried many times and have worked many times, in hopes that something will work for you.
10. bareMinerals Original Foundation
Radiant Foundation which Doesn’t Get Flakey, is Super Light, and Gentle on Sensitive Skin
Bare Minerals is an old favorite, but we thought we’d talk about how it wears on dry skin. First of all, it’s more radiant than most powders, so you get more of a glowy finish than you’d expect. Dry spots can get a bit flakey, but it holds up well as long as you a) moisturize your face and b) use a hydrating primer. It really keeps the foundation from settling into fine lines.
For those that don’t know, Bare Minerals has a huge following among people with sensitive skin. It’s made of just five mineral ingredients, which sit lightly on your face. If you’re not used to mineral foundations, there’s a bit of a learning curve with learning how to apply it correctly, so make sure you give YouTube a quick glance before picking up your brush.
9. Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation
A Moisturizing Serum in Foundation Form: Packed with Nourishing Plants and Anti-Aging Ingredients
We’re going to go out on a limb and say this foundation is more skincare than makeup. The coverage is very light and doesn’t do much for redness or hyper-pigmentation, even with a second coat. However, it does give you a nice dewy glow; it works well with a good concealer and powder on top. It doesn’t settle into fine lines over time, but it does wear off at about the 8-hour mark.
It contains a lot of skin-nourishing plant extracts, including vitamin E-rich wheat bran and rapeseed, as well as DMAE, which is supposed to firm up your skin over time–lifting skin and reducing wrinkles. (It does, however, have silica tucked away in the lengthy ingredients list.) For some reason, it only comes in two shades, running from light to medium skin tones.
8. Estee Lauder Double Wear Light Soft Matte Hydra
A Good Choice if You Want a Matte Finish on Dry Skin: Light, Comfortable, Has Hyaluronic Acid
The name says matte–the actual finish is more satiny and doesn’t wreck cakey havoc on dry skin. It’s less drying than the original Double Wear, the hydra pointing to the hyaluronic acid in the formula. It also feels lighter and doesn’t give you much more than medium coverage. It does do a good job of blurring out pores for a lightly airbrushed effect.
However, as it is a matte foundation, we’d recommend you do a lot of hydrating before applying or using it with a moisturizing primer. It does start to crease around motion lines halfway through the day, and it can look flakey around dry patches. But this is a good one to reach for if you do want a soft matte finish or have combination skin.
7. Maybelline New York Fit Me Dewy + Smooth Foundation
Might Not Have the Same Nutritious Skincare Ingredients, but Looks Just as Glowy as High-End Foundations
We can’t have a ranking without throwing at least one or two good drugstore foundations into the mix, right? This foundation might not have all those yummy skincare ingredients higher-end foundations have, but it looks just as good. As long as you moisturize well before use, it could be the dead of winter and this foundation won’t stir up any dry patches.
It leaves you glowing. It is non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores) and contains good amounts of glycerin, a humectant (attracts water into your skin). The foundation, however, is very hit-or-miss. It has all sorts of parabens in it, as well as fragrance, so it might irritate sensitive skin and make you break out. Figure out exactly what your skin needs first.
6. NARS Radiant Cream Compact Foundation
Most Convenient Cream Foundation: Comes in a Compact, Light-Weight, and Very Glowy
It’s like NARS looked at all the weaknesses of cream foundation and addressed them one by one. Cream is messy; this one comes in a compact. Cream gets cakey; this one feels smooth and lightweight. Cream tends to dry down to a powdery finish; this one stays glowy all day, even on dry skin.
As for ingredients, there’s hyaluronic acid, ceramides, good-for-you botanicals, and skin-repairing vitamins. It’s medium coverage, but you can build it up to a full. It seems to work best when you use a good brush and patiently buff it into your skin.
5. La Mer The Soft Fluid Long Wear Foundation
Skincare in a Frosted Glass Bottle, Contains La Mer’s Restorative Miracle Broth
As you read up there, Renee really likes La Mer skincare, so their foundation’s worth looking out for. It contains La Mer’s “Miracle Broth”–this soup that harnesses the regenerative powers of sea kelp, both hydrating and renewing your cells. There’s also SPF and antioxidants to shield your skin from lurking irritants.
It does spread like fluid onto the skin and builds easily from light to medium coverage. The finish is luminous. It’s light on your skin and doesn’t really feel tacky. It doesn’t settle into lines though it does break up along them over time. It definitely doesn’t dry your skin out, but it doesn’t plump you up either, so hydrate well. Bottom line: it’s worth it if you love the miracle broth.
4. Kevyn Aucoin The Etherealist Skin Illuminating Foundation
Your Go-to All-Day Foundation: Comfy and Holds up Well over Time
As Renee put it, Kevyn Aucoin makes “dry-friendly” foundation. The Etherealist is jam-packed with hydrating ingredients including jojoba seed extract and hyaluronic acid. While it might not be enough to replace your skincare, it definitely is not drying and will keep your skin protected over time. It slides smoothly onto the skin; it doesn’t cake, and it blurs enlarged pores quite a bit.
There’s a bit of a learning curve to this foundation. It likes to move around on the skin, which makes it difficult to sweep out with a brush; you have to stipple it in. It can settle into fine lines just a bit–just remember that a little goes a long way. It holds up well over time; some would even say the finish gets prettier, just a tiny bit more luminous.
3. BECCA Aqua Luminous Perfecting Foundation
If You Like to Glow, This Foundation Has You Looking Fresh and Dewy from Sunup to Sundown
Let’s talk about the cons first. This foundation is not for lazy people. You really have to work it into your skin. This foundation’s not very high-coverage to begin with; it builds up a bit better with a brush. However, it can get streaky so you might need to apply a second layer (if you do need more of a medium coverage) and smooth it out with a sponge.
Once it does meld to you skin, though, you get hooked. If you like super glowy, super dewy finishes, this one leaves you almost blinding (in a good way). It’s not cakey, doesn’t really settle into fine lines or creases, and is a long-lasting. We’d say you can get about 12 hours with a good primer and setting spray.
2. CHANTECAILLE Future Skin Foundation
Light Water-Based Foundation that Draws and Keeps Moisture in Your Skin All Day Long
Chantecaille’s another high-end brand known for their skincare, so Renee steered us toward their foundation line. It has all of these good-for-you-ingredients, 60% of it being charged water. But before you think you’re paying almost 80 bucks for very expensive water, do know this magic water is supposed to draw more moisture into your skin and keep it there.
There’s a bunch of good-for-you botanicals, including aloe and rice bran extract–the latter of which known for being moisturizing, vitamin E, and oil-rich. The foundation feels light and hydrating. It pretty much smooths over dry patches. It doesn’t really settle into creases, though the coverage is a little thin. You can build it up to medium, but it’s not the best for hyper-pigmentation.
1. Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Moisture Foundation
Looks like Skin and is Chock Full of Juicy Botanicals like Shea Butter, with Some Squalane
Renee steered us toward this one as a great all-around foundation. She called it light and buildable; it’s makeup that doesn’t feel like makeup on your face. It has all these healthy plant ingredients, including jojoba, shea butter, and aloe. It’s even got squalane.
The texture’s creamy, but it doesn’t get cakey and doesn’t feel like a layer of oil on your face; it just keeps you moisturized. It’s more of a medium coverage foundation; it does a good job blurring out imperfections, but it doesn’t block them out completely. It doesn’t really settle into fine lines or pores. It just looks like skin.
We gave you some general pointers on how to find a good foundation for dry skin. We gave you a list of foundations that have worked most of the time. But, really, the best thing you can do for your skin is get to know it. Sit down with a dermatologist–or at least in front of a mirror–figure out how your skin works, what kind of ingredients it craves and what it needs to avoid.
Once you’ve figured that out, finding a good foundation should be a piece of cake.