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A list of foundations for pale skin, five years in the making

Image via instagram.com/katvondbeauty
Words by Jonti Ridley

Ranked on oxidisation, shade range, price and finish.

I’m the kind of pale the moon reflects off. You need sunglasses to look at my legs in summer and even the thought of being in the sun for 10 minutes has me reaching for the aloe.  

Obviously, my problems aren’t comparable to the beauty industry’s neglect towards people of colour when it comes to shade ranges. The beauty community is not one built on inclusivity, but it’s hopeful to see brands becoming more aware of consumers in all shades. 

But, as someone with a skin tone similar to whiteout, a majority of foundations and concealers inevitably turn me a shade of orange. Brands with five shades of sand, unfortunately, leave those on the pale scale out of consideration, especially if they’re cool-toned (like I am). Pale foundations also have a terrible habit of oxidising, so even if a product swatches cute, it’s unlikely to stay that way. 

Ever on the hunt for the perfect finish, I’ve rated the best foundations for fellow pasty people. This isn’t sponsored, I’m just trying to prevent that dreaded tangerine neckline. 

Each of the below has been ranked on oxidisation, shade range, price and finish.

And before I start, know that I’ve swatched Estée Lauder Double Wear, Fenty’s Matte Longwear and NARS Sheer Glow (often recommended to me when I complain about my problem). None of these were even close to the cool-toned, pasty haven I was promised.

Brand: Make Up For Ever
Name: UltraHD Invisible Cover Foundation
Shade: Y205
From: adorebeauty.com.au
Price: $67

I just want to look cute on camera, is that too much to ask? Despite what it says online, Make Up For Ever’s UltraHD Invisible Cover Foundation is thick and matte. Neither of those qualities are something I tend to look for and the promised ‘true-to-skin’ finish here is doubtful. No matter what prep I do, or what primer I use, I still come out with a matte finish. This includes skipping setting powder and using a dewy finishing spray. It does last, however, taking hours before it starts to crease. If you need a foundation for your nine to five, consider this one. 

Oxidisation: 5/5
Shade Range: 4/5
Price: 2/5
Finish: 3.5/5 

Brand: IT Cosmetics
Name: Your Skin But Better™ CC+™ Cream SPF 50
Shade: Fair
From: sephora.com.au
Price: $61

After its initial launch, Your Skin But Better was re-released in a wider shade range, which is good because the brand’s Bye Bye Under Eye Anti-Aging Concealer in Light wasn’t close to the Light shade in the CC+ cream. After waiting so long to try this out, I really wanted to love it. But the SPF 50 and “flawless-looking coverage that won’t crease or crack” was, sadly, too good to be true. Not only is the scent overwhelming, but I broke out like nothing else after using it. This could, of course, just be my skin, but the heavy oils seem to flare up both acne and rosacea, according to online reviews. After clinging to dry patches I didn’t know I even had, and slowly darkening after a few hours’ wear, this went into the no-no drawer and hasn’t reappeared since. 

Oxidisation: 2/5
Shade range: 3/5
Price: 4/5
Finish: 2/5

Brand: Kat Von D Beauty
Name: Lock-It Liquid Foundation
Shade: 41
From: sephora.com.au
Price: $52

What did I do to deserve this? Never has my skin looked drier, bumpier or more creased. I could drink two litres of water and triple my hydrating skincare regime, and I would still look like a dehydrated raisin in Kat Von D’s Lock-It Liquid Foundation. It’s vegan, long-wearing (with the right primer) and apparently waterproof (I didn’t test this out, but it didn’t shift under my sweat), which are all good elements to have. But, although the pale beauty community I follow online adored this range, I can only assume they took it off straight after filming. 

Oxidisation: 4/5
Shade range: 4/5
Price: 4/5
Finish: 1/5

Brand: Tarte
Name: Rainforest of the Sea Water Foundation
Shade: 8S
From: sephora.com.au
Price: $57

Tarte is not without its own shade range scandal. This is one of many examples where the white privilege kicks in because they have, not one, but three pale shades. I really like this foundation. It’s light and breathable while leaving a glowy, skin-like texture and also doesn’t oxidise. Personally, I don’t like a heavy finish but with this, I only need a touch of concealer if I’m having a dodgy skin day, and it still avoids a cakey finish.  

Oxidisation: 5/5
Shade range: 2/5
Price: 3/5
Finish: 5/5

Brand: Cover FX
Name: Natural Finish Oil Free Foundation
Shade: N0
From: sephora.com.au
Price: $65

Who gets to say things are ‘natural finish’? Because I want to talk. At first application, I was surprised at how oily this ‘oil-free’ foundation felt, but it went on like a creamy dream. After the first hour, however, it practically slid off my face. Suddenly, I was patchy and the product lifted off at the lightest touch. Being able to choose your shade with specific undertones in mind is a massive bonus, but it broke me out if I tried to wear it all day. 

Oxidisation: 4/5
Shade range: 5/5
Price: 3/5
Finish: 1/5

Brand: Hourglass
Name: Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint
Shade: Vanilla
From: mecca.com.au
Price: $86

I once tried to shift from foundations to tinted moisturisers and Hourglass’ Illusion® Hyaluronic Skin Tint came highly recommended. However, I found it streaky to apply and it dried out very quickly. Combine that with an oxidising formula (hello orange), limited shade range and a steep price. Simply put: best not. 

Oxidisation: 1/5
Shade range: 2/5
Price: 1/5
Finish: 2/5

Brand: Laura Mercier
Name: Flawless Lumière Radiance-Perfecting Foundation
Shade: 1CO
From: mecca.com.au
Price: $73

Whoever is in charge of ‘natural finishes’ must also cover ‘dewy finishes’. Laura Mercier’s Flawless Lumière Radiance-Perfecting Foundation definitely has a skin-like finish, but the glow is yet to materialise. Thankfully, this one is made without fragrance, so no need to worry about heavy drying chemicals. I wouldn’t recommend it for dry skin but for those coming in with some natural oils, this could definitely work if you’re willing to put in the effort.  

Oxidisation: 3/5
Shade range: 3/5
Price: 2/5
Finish: 3/5

Brand: Bare Minerals
Name: Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream
Shade: Opal 1
From: mecca.com.au
Price: $49

This is what I’m currently using. A month in and there’s been no noticeable increase in breakouts. I assume the reason is the brand’s commitment to steering away from heavier chemicals and fragrance. SPF is also a massive bonus, reducing the number of layers I have to wear on a hot day. Being a tinted moisturiser, the coverage isn’t as heavy. It’s also not as dewy as I’d like but it is true to colour, with low to no oxidisation. I’ve been mixing it with MAC’s Strobe Cream to make it even sheerer.

Oxidisation: 5/5
Shade range: 4/5
Price: 3/5
Finish: 3/5

I also have to give an honourable mention to Stila Aqua Glow in Light. It was discontinued some time ago, but its lightweight formula combined with ‘multi-reflective pigments’ left me glowy while avoiding creasing in my laugh lines. 

Now, makeup is subjective. This list was five years (!!) in the making, so formulas and shades may have changed since purchase. Unfortunately, all the online reviews in the world don’t substitute going into store to swatch a product for yourself.

Please please please swatch the shade on a makeup-free patch on your face, not your arm. Go out into the sun and give it a few hours, then have a look at how it’s aged. What looks good under the store lights in five seconds may not be applicable in the long term. Have a chat with the makeup artist, too. Colour matching may not give you the perfect product but it might steer you in the right direction, telling you what your undertone is.

So go forth, my fellow bicycle reflectors. Slap on that sunscreen and do your best in that beige coloured world. 

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