Fashion & Beauty

Perfection in a Bottle? Facing Up to Foundation

September 24, 2019

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Charlotte Tilbury

I’M WATCHING a breathless video presentation by multi-award-winning British makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury, who is talking about her new Airbrush Flawless Foundation.

Sprinkling “my darlings” like fairy dust, ending sentences, punctuating pauses. “My darlings! You will be flawless! Poreless!”

I’m ready for this.

Tilbury’s long red-gold hair is a flowing tangle, curling down toward her pillowy bosom. Heaving with emotion, those breasts are distraction enough from any facial flaws—certainly for the cameraman, who keeps the focus on her chest. Perhaps I should get a push-up bra, not more makeup. That’s an aside.

Part treatment, part foundation, this thick and creamy, full-coverage makeup base contains 2% Replexium. “A miracle serum,” my darlings. With regular use, she croons, it reduces the appearance of wrinkles and lines by 22% in eight weeks. You also get 216% hydration in one hour, my darlings. There’s also moss and other “magical, exclusive ingredients.”

With all of the products I’ve tested over the decades that have promised to reduce wrinkles and shore up my chins, my face should be as smooth and plump as a baby’s rump, I’m thinking. It is not.

Ah, but maybe this time.

Tilbury, who has painted the faces of celebrity clients and models, such as Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne, Naomi Campbell, Penelope Cruz, Amal Clooney and Natalie Portman, tested 650 women of all races, skin tones and ages in her laboratory (she pronounces it laBORatory). There are 44 shades, from vanilla to 99% cacao.

“Celebrities snatch it off me,” she insists. It does not budge in the heat. “It’s magical and fantastic, darlings.”

You can buy it at Sephora and Nordstrom ($44 per ounce).

In the video’s background is a Peggy Lipton clone (remember her?) having layer upon layer of foundation slathered on with a brush for what seems to be the entire 16-minute video. It’s hypnotic. The beautiful blond teenager doesn’t appear to need anything at all.

The older I get, the less foundation I use, finding most of them too heavy and aging. Amazing what I used to pile on—and why, I ask you. Last year I discovered Chanel’s tinted moisturizer, from the Les Beiges line. That and a dab of concealer or six is as good as I get. At $45 an ounce, it sounds pricey, but it goes on so smoothly, it appears the precious bottle will get me through this winter as well.

I try a bit of Tilbury magic on lightly moisturized skin. It sits there, mask-like. I don’t like this. I wash it off.

She suggests a lighter alternative—mixing a bit with your face cream, telling us that this is what she does on her frolicsome vacation trips to the island of Formentera…darlings.

In my very, very distant memory, Formentera, the smallest of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain, is where wandering youth went to get stoned, sleep in caves and have lots of sex. This was entirely too experiential for me, who prefers beds for sleeping and so forth, so I hopped a ferry to Ibiza, where I was on hand for the construction of the first disco in San Antonio Abad. Well. That’s another story.

Returning to the subject at hand.

Mixing the foundation with moisturizer did the trick. It was light as air and, even with my tan, a medium beige shade blended invisibly. An extra daub here and there covered the bits I wanted to hide. It also stayed on all day in 90-degree heat and didn’t fall into my, shall we say, creases. And while it’s said to be matte, my skin had a lovely glow. Impressive.

As the fine folks at Tilbury sent me three shades of beige to play with, I tote them over to my friend Kathleen to test. Amazingly, they all work. These shades do have a magical ability to blend with a variety of skin tones.

We hit the bathroom. Ensconced on the throne, I am horrified to see her slathering it on straight from the bottle, but she likes her coverage full. “I’m in and out of meetings all day,” she says. “I have to look presentable.”

Unlike me.

We go out for coffee. Sitting in an outdoor café, I’m looking at her in the sun—a brutal test—but her cheeks look flawless,  although I thought the base a little heavy around her chin. Fixable with a little moisturizer, I think.

Kathleen’s go-to has been Chanel’s Vitalumiere Aqua Ultra-Light Skin Perfecting Sunscreen, which is $50 an ounce.

“My Chanel is creamier when I put it on, but the coverage doesn’t appear to be as long lasting,” she says after a two-day trial.  “Over moisturizer it felt almost dry going on my face—but the result was wonderful, full coverage. It also provides a nice canvas for eye makeup.”

As impressed as I am—this is glam stuff, suitable if I ever go to the Emmys—I’m really a tinted moisturizer sort. This makes me curious about Tilbury’s Unisex Healthy Glow Hydrating Tint ($40 an ounce), which is highly touted on Make-Up Alley, the totally addictive website where followers test every beauty product under the sun. One reviewer called it, “Witchcraft in a bottle.”

And who couldn’t use a little of that?

Tootles, darlings!


—Stephanie Cavanaugh

When not messing about with plants, Stephanie Cavanaugh (aka Stephanie Gardens) likes to test new beauty products and makeup.


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7 thoughts on “Perfection in a Bottle? Facing Up to Foundation

  1. Jean B.Gordon says:

    Uh huh…I read it. I have been using Clinique products that you recommended earlier on
    and have been satisfied with the moisturizer I use after I clean my skin at the end of the day. How do these products compare?

  2. Linda Kastan says:

    I use Serge Lutens cake foundation because it’s the only one I found that covers rosacea. It’s very expensive but it works for me. You can spend a lot of money trying out things, so I find it’s better to settle on one good one.

  3. Alyse Kelly says:

    I’ve only used Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer. I mix with a dab of Kiehl’s moisturizer.

  4. Kathy Legg says:

    I can’t remember the last time I used foundation. But I know it was decades ago. I’ve never liked the way it felt or looked on me. Always felt like it was just clogging up pores. I do use a moisturizer (not faithful to any particular one, although I do like the one offered by SkinMedica) and I use a concealer for dark circles around my eyes. Pat on some loose powder, blush and that’s it.

    Nancy, I want to know more about those IPL treatments.

  5. Jacqui Michel says:

    Agree, Judith. The Make Up Forever Ultra HD is the bomb! My fav!!!!

  6. Judy Robinson says:

    Finding the perfect foundation is like finding the perfect anything—-impossible. That said, Make Up For Ever, from Sephora, mixed in equal part with Coppertone #8 is the best I can do.

  7. Nancy Gold says:

    Hey guys, I’m definitely still a “less is more” kinda gal. I’ve been using a tinted moisturizer for decades, since I really started to need something to even out my skin. For a long time it was the Laura Mercier which has SPF, but believe it or not it wasn’t moisturizing enough. For several years now I’ve been using BareMinerals Complexion Rescue tinted gel moisturizer, which has SPF 30. Enough cover, which can be layered if necessary, and enough moisture, at least in the summer. I layer it over another moisturizer during the winter when needed. Gonna go back and try the new Laura Mercier again when I need a new one. I will advise though, the best thing I ever did for my face was invest in some IPL treatments, which got rid of more sun damage than I want to admit, and have been fanatical about sunscreen ever since.

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