You've probably been told at one point or another that it's good to take a break from wearing foundation to "let your skin breathe." Fundamentally, this seems like sound reasoning—after all, foundation covers up the skin and potentially clogs pores (if you aren't using a non-comedogenic formula), so taking time off from it would likely allow the skin to be in its natural state, which can only be beneficial, right? Not quite.
Quick story: When celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau moved to Texas from her previous posts in the Midwest and up north, she noticed that the quality of skin in Southern women was much better (read: smoother, firmer, more even) than women farther up the Mason-Dixon line. She was surprised by this, considering the sun is stronger as you get closer to the equator, but she eventually figured out the cause: "Many Southern women wear makeup every single day and have been for years," she explains on her blog. "It's called 'putting your face on.' In doing so, these makeup wearers had an unknown advantage dating back to the 1950s when they first started using Max Factor's pancake makeup.
"The ingredient in pancake makeup, and most makeup even used today, is titanium dioxide, which is used in sunscreen. How lucky to have been essentially wearing sunscreen long before there was even knowledge about daily UV exposure being the number one cause of premature wrinkling of the skin?" Soon after realizing this, she vowed to wear some sort of liquid foundation or mineral powder every day "no matter what." Are you surprised by this? We were too, so we tapped Rouleau for more info.
So you're saying your skin doesn't need to breathe?
"The skin doesn't have a respiratory system, so thinking that the skin breathes is a total myth," explains Rouleau, which makes complete sense. She suggests thinking of your makeup more as a skincare product that helps protect your skin from environmental factors, especially damaging rays. By letting it "breathe" and not putting anything on it, your skin isn't being protected.
The fact of the matter is, many women forget to put on daily SPF when they go foundation-free, so even if you are toning and moisturizing and doing your due diligence to care for your skin, by skipping sunscreen, you're essentially still damaging the skin you're working hard to care for. Says Rouleau, "Keep in mind that the number one cause of premature wrinkles is not from age, genetics, or even smoking; it's from incidental UV exposure that you get at home, at work, or riding in the car."
So which type of foundation should I use?
Not every complexion is created equally, so there's no one-size-fits-all foundation recommendation. As far as SPF, though, Rouleau says practically every foundation, whether mineral powder or liquid, has titanium dioxide in it, so even if it doesn't say specifically that there's SPF on the label, there's a good chance you're covered (but check the ingredient list just to be sure). The main thing to remember is to reapply because just like sunscreen, applying once and wiping your hands clean won't protect you for the rest of the day. Says Rouleau, "You've always heard that you should reapply sunscreen every two hours, right? Well, that holds true more so if you're actually outside in direct contact with the sun. If it's a normal weekday, and you're mostly inside, then the two-hour rule is not necessary. Instead, use a mineral-based SPF-infused powder and lightly dust your skin at least once during daylight hours. Oilier skin likes skin types #1, #2, #3, and #4 should probably repeat this one extra time during the day since oil degrades sunscreen activity. Look for a powder that uses the ingredients titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. [These] will provide protection from the harmful daylight rays given off by the sun." For more insight as to which foundation is best for your skin, take a look at this post from Rouleau.
Lastly, don't forget your neck and décolleté! These areas are often neglected, so try dusting on some titanium dioxide powder onto these areas or loading up on sunscreen.
The bottom line: If you don't want to wear foundation every day, sunscreen is a must. But going completely SPF-free is a nonnegotiable, and if you already wear foundation, you're most of the way there. Just remember to dust on some SPF powder as the day wears on.