Why your foundation looks shit… and how to fix it with science!

Cake Face Foundation

Why does my foundation look cakey? It’s the most Googled foundation phrase out there because so many of us are fundamentally fucking up our foundation. I’d like to start with a massive disclaimer: I’m by no means any kind of scientist and pretty much flunked chemistry at school, but I’m pretty good with makeup, and will YouTube the life out of a beauty problem until I find a solution, so here-in lies my own foundation-findings, from pure science (kind of) to totally tried and tested. If it worked for me, it might work for you, too!

Cakey, or cake-face foundation is the (non-scientific) term given to foundation that splits, crumbs, pills, or slips throughout the day (or sometimes instantly) after applying. Anyone who has experienced this will know how annoying it can be, especially when you’ve spent a lot of time on your face and leave the house knowing you’ve done a good job, only to be confronted with some kind of icky horror in the rear view mirror before you’ve even reached your destination. This can happen for a number of reasons – which I’ll explore within this post – but the main crime does come down to science.

Foundations are either water, silicone or oil-based. Think back to basic science experiments as a kid, or washing up after an oily supper and you’ll know that oil and water do not mix. It’s pretty obvious when you think about it, but what you might not know so much about it that silicone, which as it turns out, also doesn’t mesh well with water. Why is this important? Well, most beauty buffs will tell you to use a primer with your foundation; they blur imperfections, fill up your crater-like pores and even make your foundation look better and stay on longer. Winner, winner, silicone-filler – right? Absolutely, as long as you’re not smothering your face with two opposing liquids that is.

Unfortunately, although brands have to make their ingredients public, they don’t always tell you in layman’s terms what ‘base’ your foundation or primer is made from so it can be super confusing to know if they will be a good match. If a quick Google doesn’t throw the answer up, here’s how to find out for yourself. On the list of ingredients your base will be listed within the first few things. If it’s oil – which is pretty rare these days – you’ll see that on the list, and if it’s silicone, like the majority of foundations you’ll see words ending in “cone” and “ane“. If it’s water-based, you won’t see any silicone or oil words at all (or if they contain a marginal amount, it will be further down the list). Don’t get confused by seeing water or aqua in the top few ingredients, this doesn’t mean your product is necessarily water-based. Water is used to make your product liquid enough to apply to your face.

Foundation and primer

So, you know what to look for, but what next? The trick is simple, use silicone-based primers with silicone-based foundations, and water with water. I switch between KVD Beauty Lock it, Urban Decay All Nighter, and Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24H, check out the list below and see the base words in bold and underlined.

KVD Beauty Lock it Foundation: Water, Dimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone, Trimethylsiloxysilicate, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Polysilicone-11, Butylene Glycol, Isononyl Isononanoate, Silica Dimethicone Silylate, Dimer Dilinoleyl Dimer Dilinoleate, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Glycerin, Isododecane, Sodium Chloride, Methicone, Glyceryl Caprylate, Calcium Carbonate, Sorbitan Sesquioleate, Trihydroxystearin, Potassium Sorbate, Methylpropanediol, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Disodium EDTA, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone. May Contain: Titanium Dioxide, Iron Oxides.

Urban Decay All Nighter Foundation: Cyclopentasiloxane, Aqua (Water/Eau), Methyl Methacrylate Crosspolymer, Dimethicone, Isododecane, Butylene Glycol, Acrylates/Dimethicone Copolymer, PEG/PPG-18/18 Dimethicone, Phenyl Trimethicone, Magnesium Sulfate, Lauryl Polyglyceryl-3 Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Phenoxyethanol, Dimethicone Crosspolymer, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Triethoxysilylethyl Polydimethylsiloxyethyl Dimethicone, Isopropyl Titanium Triisostearate, Dimethicone Crosspolymer-3, Propylene Carbonate, Tocopherol.

Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24H: Active: Octinoxate 3% Inactive: Aqua / Water / Eau, Cyclopentasiloxane, Polypropylsilsesquioxane, Isododecane, Dimethicone, C30-45 Alkyldimethylsilyl Polypropylsilsesquioxane Silica, Glycerin, PEG-10 Dimethicone, Dimethicone/Polyglycerin-3 Crosspolymer, Sodium Chloride, Nylon-12, Paraffin, Cyclomethicone, Aluminum Hydroxide, Disodium EDTA, Disodium Stearoyl Glutamate, Dipropylene Glycol, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Acrylates Copolymer, Phenoxyethanol Chlorphenesin, Ethylparaben, [+/- May Contain / Peut Contenir/ Ultramarines, Iron Oxides / Titanium Dioxide]

All of these foundations are silicone-based, which means you want to use an equally silicone-based primer, first.

In comparison, check out the Bare Minerals Pure Brightening Serum Foundation ingredients:
Titanium dioxide 11.0%, caprylic/capric triglyceride, coconut alkanes, silica, stearalkonium, hectorite, lecithin, glycerin, maltodextrin, coco-caprylate/caprate, jojoba esters, propylene carbonate, tocopheryl acetate, soil minerals/syringa vulgaris (lilac) leaf cell culture extract, magnesium ascorbyl phosphate, sodium hyaluronate, phenoxyethanol, mica, iron oxides.

No silicone, so this guy is water-based. Now, check out my Too Faced Primed and Peachy primer below here:
Aqua/Water/Eau, Glycerin, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Propanediol, PVP, Sodium Polyacrylate Starch, Talc, HDI/Trimethylol Hexyllactone Crosspolymer, Polymethyl Methacrylate, Lauroyl Lysine, Nylon 6/12, Vinyl Dimethicone/Methicone Silsesquioxane Crosspolymer, Magnesium Stearate, Ethylhexylglycerin, Aluminum Hydroxide, Mica, Stearic Acid, Fragrance/Parfum, Silica, Flavor/Aroma, Prunus Persica (Peach) Fruit Extract/ Prunus Persica Fruit Extract, Tocopherol, Propylene Glycol Dicaprylate/Dicaprate, Ficus Carica (Fig) Fruit Extract/Ficus Carica Fruit Extract, Xanthan Gum, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Benzyl Benzoate, Titanium Dioxide (CI 77891), Iron Oxides (CI 77492, CI 77491).

Silicone! Hurrah, this means my foundation looks great over the top of my primer. Now interestingly, see the ingredients for the Too Faced Hangover Primer, below here:
Water/Aqua/Eau, Lactobacillus/Salix Alba Bark Ferment Filtrate, Propanediol Dicaprylate, Propanediol, Ceteareth-6 Olivate, Olive Glycerides, Lactobacillus Ferment, Aluminum Starch Octenylsuccinate, Microcrystalline Cellulose, Hydrogenated Olive Oil, Polyacrylate Crosspolymer-6, Cellulose Gum, Olea Europaea (Olive) Fruit Oil/Olea Europaea Fruit Oil, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Olea Europaea (Olive) Oil Unsaponifiables/Olea Europaea Oil Unsaponifiables, Pectin, Xanthan Gum, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Water/Cocos Nucifera Water, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Lauryl Alcohol Diphosphonic Acid, Lecithin, Fragrance/Parfum, Magnesium Aluminum Silicate, Lauric Acid, Tocopherol, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Fruit Juice/Cocos Nucifera Fruit Juice, Citric Acid.

That’s right, this bad boy is water-based! If I use this (and I have) under one of my favourite foundations, it will look shit. What happens is the foundation will likely “pill”, as it reacts with the primer, and their opposite qualities. Likewise, if you apply a water-based foundation over a silicone-based primer, the silky silicone will create a barrier which resits the foundation. Have you ever found product ball up into tiny little bits on your skin? This is “pilling”, and it’s kind of gross.

If you’re still not sure, the easiest way to test compatibility is testing each product on your arm. Apply the primer, wait a few minutes for it to settle and absorb, then apply the foundation and see what happens. If you’re still not convinced, throw all your money at the primer and foundation set the brand will be pushing you to buy; make their day! And if you’re STILL not keen, sack the primer off completely and just go straight in with foundation, after all, ‘aint nobody got time for that! (Except we do, because my goodness, that Too Faced peach primer doesn’t half make your makeup stick, and smells amazing – plus has a cooling effect which is just lush for tired skin!)

If you’re interested in knowing even more about the ingredients in your favourite products, INCI decoder is an amazing site to get lost down a rabbit hole in, here.

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