Women who naturally possess perfect skin can breezily laugh and say their skincare secret is just “moisturizer and drinking lots of water” when probed (hi, inhabitants of France). The rest of us—the ones who have struggled (or are still struggling) with acne, melasma, and uneven skin texture—treat good skin like the precarious fortune it is, knowing full well it could escape us at any moment. I fall in the latter camp and thus take foundation very seriously—as in, I hoard it, clutching it tightly to my chest in a Gollum-like manner and whispering my preciousss each morning before doing my makeup. My current foundation of choice is Make Up For Ever’s HD Foundation because it’s buildable, creamy, and doesn’t crease. Though it has my heart, as with all long-term relationships, you go through phases with your eye starts to wander—it’s normal; just ask any psychiatrist. That’s why I couldn’t help but notice my fellow Byrdie editors arriving to work each morning with gleaming, pore-less skin. And it’s why, naturally, I wanted to know the foundations they’d pledged their hearts to so I could try them as well.
Would I find a new holy-grail foundation? Would my skin/psyche freak out? I had so many questions but prepped my skin for the new products like I was preparing for battle. In the end, one foundation rose above the rest… Keep scrolling to read my honest reviews.
Who: Deven Hopp, beauty director
Deven’s pick: Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder Foundation ($45)
Deven’s praise: “It’s rare to find a foundation in your true match color. What’s even rarer is to find that shade in a formula you love. Light Wonder feels like a tinted moisturizer, but you can build it up for more coverage. When I’m running out the door in the morning, I squeeze some onto my fingertips, apply all over, and go. If I’m going for more of an airbrushed finish, I apply it with a damp sponge, and it allows me to layer the areas that need more coverage. Its radiant finish delivers a believable glow (i.e., not shimmery) without getting greasy, even after hours of wear. I never get so many compliments on my skin as when I’m wearing Light Wonder. My only wish is that they’d make a big bottle.”
My review: I have to admit this is not the first time I’ve tried Light Wonder. I had a bottle the Charlotte Tilbury team bestowed upon me a few years ago, and I remember thinking highly of it when I used it then. I can’t say why I stopped using it, but I was eager to try it again now. And had my tastes changed? Simply put, no. The foundation was as silky and light as I remembered, spreading evenly over my skin when I applied it with my fingers. Like Deven said, it really feels more like a tinted moisturizer, but you can easily build it for more coverage. My naturally oily skin was still glowing (not greasy) but the end of the day, and I didn’t experience any creasing whatsoever. Lovely seeing you again, old flame.
Who: Victoria Hoff, associate editor
Victoria’s pick: Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion Brightening Foundation ($65)
Victoria’s praise: “It’s a split between Sulwhasoo’s cushion compact and Laneige’s cushion compact. They’re [very similar], but one is budget-friendlier than the other. If you want the full VH effect, mix a couple drops of it with a face oil and moisturizer—I like to do more of a tint than a full face of foundation.”
My review: I have tried Laneige’s cushion compact before and liked it, so I chose Sulwhasoo’s version for this experiment. For those of you who don’t know, cushion compacts rose in popularity in Korea and came over to the States last year. The “foundation” is housed in a sponge, and you pat the applicator in the sponge to get the formula, then pat the applicator all over your face to apply it. I also had a love affair with cushion compacts (what can I say, I’m not one for commitment, beauty product-wise) and was eager to try Sulwhasoo’s version because 1.) Victoria had been raving about since before I even told her I was doing this experiment, and 2.) it has the word “brightening” in the name, which is my favorite skincare word ever.
Sure enough, it did indeed make my skin look brighter, and I loved the actual application process—the sponge applicator makes it easy to build coverage exactly where you need it and feels more sanitary than using a brush or your fingers if you’re on the go. My skin looked like my skin, only a better, less splotchy version. My only qualm was that the light-as-air formula didn’t do much to help with some of my uneven skin texture—a thicker formula and a bit more coverage would have made me feel more secure, especially if I was going through a breakout or not-stellar skin day.
Who: Lindsey Metrus, associate editor
Lindsey’s pick: Revlon ColorStay Foundation for Combination Skin ($9)
Lindsey’s praise: “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it a million times over—this is the only foundation that works for me. I’ve tried a million different formulas: BB creams, CC creams, prestige brands, midrange brands, other drugstore brands, mineral foundations—you name it, I’ve probably tried it. But when I apply this foundation with a damp Beautyblender, it stays put all day long, makes my skin look smooth as silk, and covers pretty much everything. I seriously need a lifetime supply.”
My review: I usually balk at drugstore foundations due to traumatizing, orange-tinged memories from high school, but I got over myself and cautiously applied Lindsey’s pick—and was thoroughly blown away. The formula is light and creamy, and it feels akin to its higher-end counterparts. Instead of feeling too matte or slippery with silicones (as is sometimes the case with mattifying drugstore productions), the foundation was silky and left my skin looking pleasantly dewy and even. In fact, when I went to the eye doctor that day, the first thing she said when she walked in the room was, “Wow, your skin looks amazing!” This was the only foundation of the bunch I tried that earned me a compliment, so I’m giving it extra points there. My skin was looking a bit greasy by the end of the day but nothing a blotting sheet couldn’t fix quickly. The ingredients list wasn’t as clean as I would have liked (I avoid using any products with parabens in them), but the texture, application, and price point more than impressed me.
Who: Hallie Gould, senior editor
Hallie’s pick: Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation ($44)
Hallie’s praise: “This has been well documented at this point, but I can't get over my obsession with Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation. I think you should take my word for it, but if you have any doubts that this will change your life, read my love letter to the wonderful formula. My new thing, though, is to mix together the 3.5 and 4 shades for perfect custom coverage.”
My review: This is another Charlotte product that I had received but yet to test out, and I was eager to do so. This foundation is different from the Light Wonder because it’s supposed to be more full-coverage. When I went to the press preview, they showed us before and after photos of women with pigmentation issues and melasma, who used the foundation and were able to create an even, flawless complexion—it was pretty mind-boggling.
The first thing I noticed is that the formula is thicker than the Light Wonder—it definitely feels like a full-coverage foundation. I found it a bit difficult to spread over my face with my fingers, so I started using a damp Beautyblender about halfway through applying. The coverage was good, but the finish was drier and more matte than I prefer—I had to spritz my face a few times with a face mist to get it back to a dewy, luminous state. Hallie said she likes mixing two shades together for the perfect color, but I am a much lazier person and prefer just finding one product—unfortunately, I had to mix two of the Magic Foundation shades together to match my skin tone as well. Overall, I was less in love with this foundation than the Light Wonder, but that’s mainly because I prefer a lighter, more natural-looking finish.
Who: Amanda Montell, associate features editor
Amanda’s pick: Stila Aqua Glow Serum Foundation ($45)
Amanda’s praise: “I'm all about a dewy, youthful finish, but I find that most full-coverage foundations cause my skin to look dry and/or flake off. What makes this pick from Stila my hands-down fave is that it offers a super-hydrating serum formula—we’re talking ingredients like hyaluronic acid and ionized water—plus coverage that is truly buildable. I could wear this on a no-makeup makeup day or to a formal event where I’m going full face beat, and it would look natural and appropriate in either setting. It also feels very comfortable and moisturizing on the skin. It’s worth mentioning that someone with an oily complexion who’s looking for something more mattifying might not be into it, but for my combo skin, it’s perfect.”
My review: To be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this foundation, mostly due to the last part of Amanda’s praise. I have fairly oily skin, so was afraid the formula would just make me look like a greasy mess, but it did the complete opposite of that. I couldn’t stop staring at my skin after I finished applying—it was just the right amount of dewy and fresh and looked like the skin I’ve always wanted to have. Meanwhile, all my dark spots and fine lines seemed to have disappeared. The foundation formula is less viscous than most, and it really does feel like you’re applying a serum. Magically, it also manages to give coverage where I needed it, melting into my skin and blurring every uneven spot and blemish away. This foundation’s effect was the most profound of all the ones I tested—I could barely tear myself away from the mirror to drive to work. I just wanted to stare at the gleaming, plump, and perfectly even skin possessed by my reflection. One note: it's definitely a lighter foundation, so if you want something more full coverage or mattifying, this isn't the one for you.
Have you tried any of these foundations? What’s your favorite? Tell me below!