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Deciphering foundation-speak

Labels can be so confusing that you can end up buying the wrong product for your skin – or not buying anything at all. Here’s the lowdown.

BB Creams:  A ‘buzzy’ new category of lightweight foundation, more akin to a tinted moisturiser.  In fact, some BB creams are nothing more than that, while others offer greater coverage.  All tend to deliver radiance.

Cream-to-powder (All-in-one or Powder/gel): Formulations that go on like a cream but rapidly dry, eliminating need to set with a separate powder.

Demi-matte (Semi-matte, Satin): Offers the most natural look. The most wearable of all the finishes, demi-matte has the flawless coverage of matte (no imperfections show through) without its powdery texture, and allows the skin to have a healthy sheen.

Dewy: Almost a wet-look, shiny, glistening finish. Anyone can wear this, but it’s sheer and won’t mask imperfections. Women with oily skin (who have spent their life fighting this look) generally won’t like the finish this delivers.

Foundation stick: Looks like a giant concealer stick, but softer to the touch; a great timesaver as it can be applied quickly, then blended with fingers or a foundation brush.

Light-diffusing: Featuring special pigments that reflect light, this gives the optical illusion of a younger skin. Available in different strengths of cover – from medium to heavy – and in both pressed and loose powder.

Line-minimising: See light-diffusing.

Matte: Flat, powdery, won’t reflect light, but can sap tone from skin if you don’t use blusher. Good for oily skins. At its best, gives a shine-free appearance, but it can look overdone if applied heavy-handedly – so experiment.

Maximum cover (Total cover): Opaque coverage, best for less-than-perfect complexions, disguising minor imperfections and even some birthmarks and moles.

Microsphere: Another term for tiny, microscopic particles of ingredient (which seems specially designed to blind the consumer with science).

Nanosphere: See microsphere.  (NB  There are some health question marks over nanospheres.)

Non-comedogenic: Won’t clog pores. (Clogged pores lead to blackheads and whiteheads.) Good for oily/blemish-prone skin.

Oil-free: Special water-based formulation for oily skins, often using easy-glide silicone particles in place of moisturising elements.

Pore-minimising: A liquid foundation (shake well to mix) which deflects light from imperfections and controls oil production. Great for acne sufferers and oily skin types with large pores.

Sheer: The minimal coverage available, more a moisturiser than foundation, but just enough to even out skin tone. Best for clear skin; it won’t cover freckles, blemishes or dark skin around the eyes.

Two-in-one: Versatile formulations which can be used dry – as a lightly-covering powder – or with a wetted sponge, for greater cover. (See Wet/Dry.)

UV filters: Will protect against the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. However, assume that unless it states the SPF number, only minimal protection is offered. Dermatologists consider that anything under SPF15 isn’t really enough, so if you’re concerned about sun damage, try switching from a regular under-foundation moisturiser to one with a SPF15 or a lightweight SPF15 sun product instead.

Velvet: A rich, not-too-matte texture, giving good cover. Perfect for evenings, make-up pros agree.

Wet/Dry: Allows you to experiment because you get two looks out of one palette. Apply dry for a lighter, silky finish, wet for additional coverage.

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