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Ask Belle: A Strong Foundation

Hi Belle,

I was wondering if you had any tips on the best type of all day foundation?  I’m looking for something that is light-weight, but stays on most of the day and can withstand the swampy weather.  My skin is a little combination-like.  I have light freckles which fade away with make up, not to mention that I feel more pulled together with foundation on.  But, I can’t seem to find the right brand.  Most all-day foundations are sticky, oily, heavy and just overall gross.

Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!


When I was in college, I wore liquid foundation under powder foundation.  (Talk about overkill.)  When I moved to D.C., the humidity and the fast pace made that impossible so I switched to a quality primer and a tinted moisturizer.

Tinted Moisturizer is much lighter and more comfortable than most foundations.  It will lesson most imperfections and allows me to wear concealer without feeling like I’m applying makeup with a trowel.  Plus, unlike foundation, which must be perfectly matched to your skin in order to look natural, tinted moisturizer’s sheer coverage is much more forgiving. 

In my opnion, Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer ($42) is the best choice on the market.  It comes in oil-free and fill power, depending on your skin type.  I use the oil free most of the time, but I keep a tube of the regular formula for the dry winter months.  

For me, the trick to making this tinted moisturizer last all day and cover like a real foundation is a good primer.  And, after much trial and error, I’ve determined that the primer with the most staying power is NARS Pro-Prime Oil-Free Primer with SPF 20 ($32).  

Occasionally, on the weekends, I will switch back to the Laura Mercier primer to conserve my supply of NARS.  And when I do, I notice a BIG difference.  I don’t know what they are putting in this stuff, bit it is miraculous.  It hides small imperfections, holds like a magnet and smooths like you wouldn’t believe.

Finding a foundation that provides quality coverage without feeling like you’re wearing a mask can be tough.  But pairing a tinted moisturizer with a strong primer will give you the same effect with far less weight.



  1. Sarah T says:

    LS – as a former LM makeup artist, I would recommend the oil-free LM tinted moisturizer if you think the regular leaves you a little too shiny. The regular formula makes me shiny in the summer but is perfect in the dry winter months and the oil-free is a little too matte in the winter but perfect in the humid months. If you're nervous about committing to a full 1.7 oz tube, I suggest going to either Blue Mercury or Sephora in Georgetown and asking for a sample. The good thing about making the trek to the Nordstrom at Pentagon City is that you can always return the makeup if you're not totally happy with it. Of note – the oil-free version tends to be just a tiny bit darker than the regular (for example – I wear regular Sand, but oil-free Fawn). Personally, I use my LM t.m. as a base and mix in a tiny bit of LaMer foundation. It matches my color perfecting and has the perfect amount of staying power ­čÖé

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Dr. Jean Grey says:

    LM oil-free is my HG foundation. I'll have to give the NARS primer a look.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  3. cassbakes says:

    I use Mary Kay's medium-coverage foundation with a light dusting of translucent powder to set. It feels great and lasts well into the day. During summer, I just carry blotting papers and a powder compact for touch-ups.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  4. b says:

    Stila foundation is oil free and has really good coverage. I've been wearing it for years.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  5. CS says:

    Where in DC can you buy the NARS primer? Hoping to avoid a Pentagon City trip…

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  6. Megan says:

    Definitely check out the new beauty balms by Clinique. I didn't think I'd ever switch from Laura Mercier's tinted moisturizer, but I have been singing the balm's praises since last week — I barely need concealer or to blot shine (which is what really blew me away). The only downside is that there were only two shades on Sephora.com when I ordered (checked stores this weekend and nada); hopefully more to come.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  7. Belle says:

    CS-Bluemercury sells NARS

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  8. Megan says:

    Oh – as a follow-up, I haven't even needed my LM primer with the Clinique beauty balm. Cutting down on the extra steps and product = awesome.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  9. HB says:

    I got the Laura Mercier tinted moisterizer at Belle's repeated suggestion (via this blog) and I love it. I got the starter kit which includes the primer, concealer, setting powder, basic brushes, a powder puff and foundation spunge for $62 (or so). The sizes are a bit smaller but if you're at all skeptical it's the best dea.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  10. betsy says:

    OK, I'm confused. When you say ” I don't know what they are putting in this stuff, bit it is miraculous. It hides small imperfections, holds like a magnet and smooths like you wouldn't believe.”, do you mean the NARS primer or the LM primer?

    Just want to be sure before I run out and buy it.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  11. Belle says:

    The NARS primer.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  12. LS says:

    Thanks Megan for the beauty balms review. I'll definitely be checking that out soon. Does anyone else have any foundation suggestions for oily skin? I tried the LM tinted moisturizer earlier this summer and it looked and felt great on but made me look extremely greasy by the afternoon (even with mineral veil powder and blotting sheets).

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  13. mamabear239 says:

    Maybe it IS important to know what they do put in your make up. ? Try Jane Iredale and you won't go back to anything else! (I am in no way affiliated with Jane Iredale.) I've had lifelong acne issues and I'm a cancer survivor so my standards are VERY high. Jane Iredale Amazing Base® SPF 20, PurePressed® Base SPF 20, and Dream Tint® SPF 15 Moisture Tint are a great start. =)

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  14. IMM says:

    I have tried lots of different liquid foundations over the years: Bobbi Brown, Chanel, Clinique, Trish McEvoy, MAC, etc… For special occasions, I really like Chanel (which I wear over primer and set with powder). For every day, I always end up coming back to Bobbi Brown; however, I now too am an LM tinted moisturizer convert (oil-free formula). This is mostly because it saves me SO much time getting ready in the morning. I seriously do a whole face in maybe 6 or 7 minutes. I think the secret is to apply it with a damp sponge. Lastly, I have heard wonderful things about Giorgio Armani foundation and think I may try that next.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  15. H says:

    I can recommend mixing a tinted moisturizer with foundation. Initially this was something I started at the end of winter, when my foundation did not match my slightly more tanned skin anymore, but I came to love the texture and coverage of the mix enough to stick with this combination. Tinted moisturizers don't cover enough for my taste and foundations cover a bit too thoroughly. Also by mixing, one can slightly tweak the color every morning to best match one's complexion and moisture level on that day. Keep in mind that not all products are meant for mixing – I recommend a patch test somewhere away from the face to avoid any unwanted reactions.

    I would also like to offer an additional recommendation that I find particularly important when one has combination skin and is wearing makeup everyday: First Aid Beauty Daily Radiance Pads (exfoliating pads). They not only help to reduce breakouts, but also avoid that cakey look that comes about when non-exfoliated skin meets makeup meets humidity/sweat.

    For background information: I use Radiance Pads first. Then a mixture of Freshface Foundation & Oil of Olay Tinted Moisturizer without additional moisturizer underneath. I top it off with a very, very light Freshface Powder on forehead and chin. My skin condition is similar to the questioner: a combination of an oily T-Zone and dry skin on cheeks and nose; also prone to breakouts.

    October 17, 2011/Reply
  16. Dakota says:

    Can we backtrack for a sec and talk about when one wears 'face makeup' generally? I am re-entering work after grad school and trying to up my makeup game. I don't usually wear foundation/concealer/powder unless there's something going on because my face turns into an oil slick after about 5 hours. Do women past a certain age (say, 25?) need to wear a 'face'? Can I get away with powder/blush for every day and still be taken seriously?

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  17. ProfessionGal says:

    I'm in the same boat. I've been feeling lately like my powder hasn't been doing its job, but I'm trying to avoid going back to foundation. I just don't think my skin can breathe with it on. lol This combo seems like a good alternative. Will def look into it!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  18. HB says:

    Does anyone have a recommendation for finishing/setting powder? I currently have LM (it came with my sample kit) and need to get more, if there is something better I'd like to try it!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  19. LS says:

    SarahT – My oily issues were actually with the oil-free version, unfortunately. I don't bother with makeup that's not oil-free. I keep searching for the 'perfect' foundation, but I'm pretty sure there isn't one for me!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  20. Montana says:

    Urban Decay All-Nighter Spray Mist (around $28.00, but worth it) will keep anything on your face for pretty much 16 hours, it is unbelievable……….

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  21. Belle says:

    LS-Have you tried Dior Airflash? It's a spray. You spritz it on a sponge and stipple it on. Very, very light.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  22. SarahT says:

    LS – I've heard this concern many times actually. Going forward, I would suggest looking into a mattifying primer or mattifying daily moistuizer (with SPF of course). If you're using a daily moisturizer that's too greasy to begin with, it doesn't matter what type of foundation you choose because they'll all slip right off. I'd recommend one of the following: DDF Mattifying Oil-Control UV Moisturizer with SPF 15, Murad Oil-Control Mattifier SPF 15, and the Laura Mercier Secret Finish – Mattifying (not a moisturizer, but a great “finishing” product). Best of luck!

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  23. Kaylee says:

    My favorite foundation (by far) is Make Up For Ever HD Foundation. LS, I had the same problem (and, no, it wasn't that I was using the wrong moisturizer. I, too used to work in the beauty industry and I tried them all). The MUFE foundation looks/feels amazing on my skin. Of course, make-up is such a personal thing, so what works for one person may not work for another, but just throwing it out there as a suggestion.

    During the summer, I often mix in a little bit of Make Up For Ever Mat Velvet just to stay a little more matte and also because I get about a half shade darker, so I need to mix in something a little darker anyway!

    For what it's worth, HB, I also love the Make Up For Ever HD Setting Powder. It is amazing!

    As to the question of whether one needs to wear a complexion product every day, I'm glad you asked it, Dakota (and I'm curious to see what others say). I personally wear foundation most days (every day I work), but I think in some ways it does depend on one's skin type. There was a recent study done in which women with makeup were viewed as more trustworthy, but it was sponsored by a cosmetics company, so obviously needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

    October 18, 2011/Reply
  24. LS says:

    Thank you everyone for your suggestions! I will definitely check out those brands.

    October 19, 2011/Reply
  25. Alison says:

    I recently discovered Bobbi Brown's oil-free liquid foundation. Doesn't feel heavy or greasy at all and stays on for a long time!

    October 20, 2011/Reply
  26. Ava says:

    Hi Belle (and others) — wondering if you have tried the MAC prep and prime primer with SPF 50? I tried the NARS primer on your recc and I hate to say it…but I think the MAC is ten times better!! I am going to go back to the MAC again before I make my final decision. No resentment at all of course; I love trying new products — I just wanted to pass on the recc in case you haven't tried or see if others have tried it as well, and what the thoughts were…

    November 27, 2011/Reply