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Tracking The Fall and Recent Rise of Full-Coverage Foundation

It all has to do with YouTubers, the Kardashians and (of course) Rihanna's Fenty Beauty.
Photo: Courtesy of Fenty Beauty

Photo: Courtesy of Fenty Beauty

Remember when, like copious TV consumption, donning a full face of foundation was a thing people would barely admit to, whether they actually did it or not? But then came Netflix binging, Amazon Prime, the golden age of television and we all gradually, hesitatingly admitted we watch. Constantly. Ten years ago, people never would have bragged about staying in. Similarly, Instagram and YouTube ushered in a whole new makeup culture, one where we strive to be photo-ready for all group dinners and even low-key hang-outs. Being selfie-ready is a must, but it's also because we have access to all kinds of tutorials with the click of a button that we've gotten better at applying even the thickest makeup so that it looks more natural. And so the full-coverage foundation that was once anathema to younger women became the standard. (In addition to the YouTubers, we no doubt have the Kardashians to thank for that, too.) In 2017, we essentially have no off-duty look, though we aspire to. How did we get here?

A little history: Foundation as we know it first became popular in the 1930s, when famed Hollywood makeup artist Max Factor's Pan-Cake foundation was introduced. It launched with the advent of Technicolor film, as its existing makeup designed for Panchromatic film left a slight sheen on the skin, reflecting surrounding colors. Actors and actresses actually refused to be in color films because of how bad this reflection made them look on camera. To combat this, Max Factor's son created a formula called Pan-Cake, which came in a solid cake form that you would then apply with a damp sponge. It concealed any imperfections on the skin and left a completely matte finish.

Pan-cake makeup in a shade darker than your natural hue was also popular in the 1940s, as were powder compacts, which had replaced the messy loose powders of the 1920s and '30s. The '50s ushered in an even heavier makeup look, complete with liquid foundation set by loose powder, which made an appearance once again. In the 1960s, women turned to foundation compacts mostly, as opposed to liquid or cream versions. 

The '70s was a more natural time for foundation; softer looks were in order. These were created with sheer foundations that provided light coverage. The rise of feminism had an effect on the makeup aesthetic, which skewed minimal. Eighties foundation was heavy and two shades lighter than the natural skin tone, on which was piled eye makeup, "Dynasty"-style blush and uber-bright lipstick. The '90s were again more minimal, but was all about perfect, full-coverage matte foundation paired with brown and wine-toned lip stains, also in matte textures for most of the decade. The two decades following were mostly about natural looking, fresh, dewy skin created with tinted moisturizer and concealer

And then the Instagram/YouTube craze hit about five years ago. Since then, super pigmented, full-coverage foundation has experienced a boom.

Full-coverage foundations can be tough to get right — they can veer chalky and unblendable, so matte that they settle into fine lines, or simply not available in an array of hues for every consumer. Fenty Beauty Global Beauty Makeup Artist Priscilla Ono agrees that the popularity of full-coverage foundation has a lot to do with the exposure makeup has right now within social media and YouTube. "People have always wanted to look flawless but never really knew how to achieve it from a pro standpoint," she says. "But now they are exposed to pro tips by one click! So now that so many people know how to use full-coverage foundations, it makes it so much more popular."

In July, Milk Makeup launched a line of matte, full-coverage foundations in response to consumer demand for something a bit more substantial than a tinted moisturizer. It was the anti-Glossier Skin Tint, designed to let makeup wearers take ownership of the fact that they might not have naturally flawless skin, and that's what makeup is for.

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Rihanna herself was behind the decision to create Fenty's matte, full coverage foundation and is known for hating unwanted T-zone shine. And we all know how the story of Fenty Beauty went (the launch was a monumental success, in case you weren't paying attention).

Full-coverage foundation can be intimidating at first, and the right technique is key. Ono recommends Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation, a buildable coverage foundation that won't cake and feels comfortable on the skin. "It gives you full coverage and a huge plus is that it's available in an amazing shade range," she explains. And because with full-coverage foundation it's even more crucial to find a spot-on shade match, all of the 40 options of the Pro Filt'r Foundation are numbered for clarity: 100s are light, 200s are medium, 300s are tan and 400s are deep to make choosing your own hue easy. To determine your undertone, Ono says to ask yourself if your skin burns easily — if so, then you're likely a cool undertone. If you tan easily, then you're likely a warm one. If you burn first, then tan, she says you're probably a neutral undertone. "Once you answer those questions, you'll be able to narrow down your potential matches to a few shades. You can test out the results from there to find your perfect match."

Ono likes to buff foundation into the skin using the Fenty Beauty Full Bodied Foundation Brush to get the most even application. "The density of the brush allows you to buff and blend simultaneously to quickly give that flawless look," she says. For longevity, an application of Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Primer goes a long way, literally. "It provides essential moisture and helps to smooth out the skin before applying makeup so nothing catches on dry patches," she says. "If you have normal-to-dry skin, setting powder usually isn't necessary but for people with more oily skin, I like to use Invisimatte Blotting Powder to help absorb oil. It comes in a universal shade, so it's very easy to apply."

Because Fenty's foundation has such durability, and doesn't crease or crack, Ono has been known to use it as a concealer, as well. "I always go two shades lighter than my client's skin tone when using it as concealer, though, to help brighten," she says. "Lately I've been using Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation in shade 340 as foundation and 300 as concealer on Rihanna and it looks so flawless and stays in place so well."

Some other options to ace your not-so-sheer base? The full-coverage pot of Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer will last pretty much the rest of your life. Sheer it out with a bit of primer and brush it onto skin for a flawless finish that lasts all day, or dab it on as a concealer with your fingers and blend. We also love the flaw- and shine-busting genius of the aforementioned Milk Blur Liquid Matte Foundation, which feels weightless yet covers discoloration like redness and hyperpigmentation like a dream. Estée Lauder Double Wear is an iconic standby that yields perfect coverage in a longwearing formula that will keep your face in place a smooth 24 hours, plus comes in a wide range of hues. Drugstore formulas for full-coverage makeup vary, but Rimmel Lasting Finish Foundation's formula is infused with serum for comfort and smooth application.

Now, you've got the perfect canvas for sculpted cheeks and strobed cheekbones. Time to queue up some NikkieTutorials videos and get on with it.

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