I Found the Best Foundation (After Trying a Bajillion)

I’m an old-fashioned girl. I believe we should all be drinking egg creams while exchanging enamel pins with our beaus, leave our work at the office and wear foundation on our skin if we so choose. Like lipstick with lead in it and Sun-In products, foundation has developed a reputation as a beauty vestige. As millennial beauty brands emphasize a dewy, no-makeup look (I like to call it That Wet Look TM), consumers are steered further and further away from full-coverage makeup.

I don’t think that’s right.

Sometimes, my skin isn’t good enough for just a sheer tint (always in a limited range of shades that do not cater to women with a skin tone other than the made-up “shell” or “porcelain” varieties) and lip gloss on my eyelids, or whatever it takes to be sexy and modern now. This is how the hegemonic beauty industry traps: I need a full face of makeup to act as a base coat for my proceeding, fussy, no-makeup look. “Good” here, of course, is entirely subjective but enforceable by beauty-industry sales teams. Does “good” mean “free of acne?” Does “good” mean “free of discoloration or blotchiness?”


In putting together this piece, I tried about fifteen different foundations including drugstore brands, high-end brands, K beauty brands, designer brands, Russell Brands and more. I tried Estée Lauder, Hourglass, Armani, Laura Mercier, Almay, Urban Decay, Benefit, Bobbi Brown, Missha, AmorePacific, this ancient brand called Joe Blasco that I learned Kim Kardashian sometimes uses because her dad took her to a makeup lesson there for a Christmas present, and probably so many more hiding behind the unused facial brushes and clay masks in my product-spattered medicine cabinet. I did not try Bare Minerals because once, in 2008, it broke me out.

The process of wearing many different types of makeup at a single time was often a slimey one and, sometimes, a crusty one. I have dry skin that I literally won’t ever stop talking or writing about, it was March and I was cleansing and changing up my foundation a couple times a day. This also coincided with a time in my life wherein I started a retinol and the fellow who operates the old-timey elevator in my building (it sounds fancier than it is) handed me a bar of laundry soap one night, claiming that it was a miracle cure for acne and wrinkles.

Foundation-Story-Man-Repeller-general foundation

I tried it all. The products I tested had to be proper foundations — none of that BB creme or skin tint or tinted moisturizer bullshit. I tried only full-coverage products, and I Honestly Think I Found the Best Foundation ®, one I’d never heard of before this challenge began. I was tipped off by a friend of mine with beautiful skin and an understanding of beauty products more extensive than my intensive working knowledge of the faces and corresponding emotions of our family weimaraner, Huckleberry. So, very in-depth.

It’s called Koh Gen Do Moisture Foundation by Maifanshi, which is a mouthful. More like a faceful! The Moisture Foundation comes in a red tube, leading its consumer to believe she’s using a BB creme, but don’t be fooled. With just two to three “pearl sized” drops, your whole face will be covered. It’s buildable without being thick or pasty, and I have a lovely moistness about me when I wear it, like I awoke refreshed in a patch of dewy flowers, or like a golden retriever puppy just sneezed on me. If I’m in public and don’t have a cheap-o fake Beauty Blender with me or a makeup brush, this puppy goes on smooth with just dirty, grubby little fingers. I honestly don’t mean to sound like a Proactiv commercial, but this might be my new “holy grail.”

Foundation-Story-Man-Repeller-koh gen do moving 2

There are downsides, though. I’m a white woman with peachy undertones, and while Koh Gen Do accommodated my skin tone, women who are darker or more olive than me will have a more difficult time finding a match in its eleven tones. The most elegant foundation I’ve ever used, and the second favorite foundation I tried for this piece, Giorgio Armani Power Fabric Natural Finish Foundation, comes in 20 shades with supreme, velvety covering abilities. Black Up’s Matifying Fluid Foundation is also phenomenal, and comes in 18 shades specifically created to suit the dire lack of coverage options for women of color in need of foundation.


Foundation isn’t evil like we’ve been told, but the beauty industry is! Writing it off entirely, or dissembling the master’s house with the master makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic’s tools, is a different column for a different day. Or maybe it’s not so tough — it’s just “don’t wear it,” like Leandra. But I’m not there yet. I’m not a fashion plate or an industry person (I’ve just recently discovered “wearing pants”). And so I wear foundation, even though it keeps me from being a thoroughly modern woman who takes control of her own life and only partially conceals her skin with an oily tint.

Claire Carusillo is a freelance and fiction writer in New York. She writes a weekly beauty newsletter offering off-label product usage advice. Photos via Claire Carusillo. 

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  • Alice

    I think “the best” articles are also outdated, especially in the beauty realm. We are all different and even our tastes change. I used to think my favourite base product was the missha bb cream in the pink flowery packaging but now I prefer the Bobbi Brown skin foundation. For me the best flavour at my favourite ice cream place is hazelnut but that is irrelevant if you are allergic, don’t like it or prefer fruit flavours.

    • Jennifer

      It changes with the weather too, unless you have perfect skin.

      • Alice

        Very true!

    • jess

      I loooove hazelnut ice cream! And BB cream!

      • Alice

        Good hazelnut ice cream is heaven! I have only found matching colours in the missha bb creams but I quite enjoy them.

  • chouette

    Gurl you got some piercing baby blues! My skin has gotten a lot better since I stopped wearing face makeup day-to-day but I’m in the same boat when I do decide I want to wear anything – gotta have real foundation, otherwise I wind up absolutely caking on a sheer one or using way too much concealer, which then probably shows through the tint anyway! Makeup is the pits! Thanks for the tips!


      makeup: it IS the pits!!

  • joan

    I also have really dry and retinol-using, acne-ridden skin…just wondering if you tried the It Cosmetics CC cream and if so, whether you know how it compares to the Koh Gen Do? I keep looking flaky within four hours of using that CC cream or my Armani LSF…

    • melody

      my skin sounds similar to yours, and i really love nars’ sheer glow foundation. have you tried that before? i want to try this koh gen do now tho!

      • joan

        i haven’t but i’ve never been able to find a good shade match in nars concealer :/


      hello! i’ve never been wild about It Cosmetics because their shades have never quite worked on my skin color. i’m a pink girl!!

      • joan

        thanks! i’m pretty olive…also i love your newsletter!

      • Katie Lucchesi

        Same. It doesn’t work for pink tones, says the tomato

  • disqus_VufbhiISRJ

    I don’t wear foundation (due to having given up on figuring it out if i’m being honest with myself) but i really enjoyed reading this anyways! a savvy and fresh-feeling take on beauty standards/pressures is always a welcome surprise, i think my version of not there yet is skincare- i know i’d be fine without a bunch of essences but i don’t think I can accept my face (or other people seeing it) with its natural texture and splotches yet/maybe ever.

  • Raisa Bruner



      raisa, i’m still team baby glow, but i haven’t worn it in A MONTH because of the koh gen do!!!!!!!

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    I too am a firm believer and wearer of full coverage makeup. But my skin is as oily as a grease slick, so I need the one-two punch of full coverage and mattifying. I currently switch between two foundations: KatVonD Lock It and Tarte Amazonian Clay Liquid Foundation. I use Kat when I am going for the “Yes, I’m wearing a shit ton of makeup but don’t I look fab”, look. The finish is so matte velvet-y. If I spend $35 on a foundation I want to look better than I did before I put it on. For everyday wear I use Tarte. Which if I’m being honest isn’t my fave. It doesn’t keep me as matte as I would like and the finish isn’t as full coverage as Tarte claims it to be. But it gets the job done for the most part. I too have steered clear of BareMinerals when it broke me out – in 2008! Weird!


      2008 was a bad year for Looks

  • Mariana

    People, you have to try Lingerie de Peau from Guerlain. Do you know the “make up exists to enhance your skin, not covering it” quote? It was made for this foundation. Tint or even BB cream doesn’t work for my oily-blemish skin so, when I am in the mood for makeup, I need stuff that works and that is my holy grail because it is not heavy and still show my little cute flaws 🙂


      tried it! it’s great, as is babyglow, my old go-to before i started using koh gen do!!!

    • lydia

      Question for both of you, because y skin is blemishy oily some days and dry on others. Do you gals put a powder on top of your foundation to set it? I always do because i feel like it will wipe off on my clothes if i don’t, but maybe i am doing something wrong??

      • Mariana

        I use a bronzer as a powder, like 2 in 1. I’m lazy and don’t know enough makeup technics but a bronzer or a powder foundation after liquid foundation usually make my skin more mate (which is my goal) and seems to set everything better.

      • Meg S

        Powder doesn’t work for my combo oily/dry skin + visible pore combination. I use either Benefit Ultra Radiance Facial Re-Hydrating Mist (but I don’t see it on their web site any more so???) or Nyx matte setting spray (also comes in dewy but that’s not my thing). If you have pore issues, I recommend Benefit’s the porefessional line.

  • Kayla Sweeney

    I am a die-hard cushion compactor. If I’m going to wear a face full of make-up I’m going to hear that squishy stirring-mac-n-cheese noise when I put it on.


      are you an amore pacific type of woman?

      • Meg S

        I swear by Iope. It’s my current holy grail foundation.

  • jess

    I’m afraid I’m in the skin tint camp, specifically La Roche Posay’s BB cream in Medium. It gives me that glossy glowy skin I so crave but also looks natural. My experiences with foundation is like I’ve had a string of bad boyfriends and now I’m off men. I’ve had too many bad experiences with cakey/drying/patchy/discoloured foundations to spend my limited budget on something that might not work for my skin type or tone. Yes, Giorgio Armani foundation is really popular and must be so for a reason – but that’s what I thought about Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse. Which was a massive mistake in so many ways…

  • Do you get hazard pay for this? Seriously, Mx I Just Started A Retinol, as a mom of acne people, a former Acne Person herself.
    Just sayin’
    And I guess thanks for taking one/two/three/more for the team.

  • sfbecca

    THANK YOU! I use this exact foundation and it is bar none the best out there. Yes I said the best, and i might even hazard to say that is an “objective best”. It’s called “Moisture Foundation” but don’t be fooled, this is the least greasy, most natural looking foundation i have ever used. Every time I’m in a bind and use something else that’s *supposed* to be good while I wait for my KGD to arrive in the mail, i basically berate myself for being foolish enough to think anything else could substitute. It seems a little expensive but the tube lasts me a super long time, and i am an everyday foundation wearer, so thats saying something! Editorial note though: it is _by_ the brand Koh Gen Do; Maifanshi refers to the mineral blend in the makeup…

  • Katie Lucchesi

    I have pink toned, acne prone, highly sensitive oily/dry skin. I’m basically as bad as it gets for foundation needs. I’ve found that Josie Maran argon oil on my face is the perfect primer for Make Up forever powder foundation. The oil beforehand turns it into almost a cream without being, in and of itself, greasy. Doesn’t sweat off either!

  • bicoast

    The Koh Gen Do Moisture foundation looks lovely on you. I am glad you’ve done the extensive research so that I don’t have to! I have tan skin, so my concern is putting on foundation that makes me look orange ;-/

  • Bain

    My current best foundation–it’s changed every five years or so–is La Niege cushion. Yes, I’m sure it’s the applicator velvety thingy and the sponge is nothing special (I tried the applicator with my old best foundation, Juice Beauty, which is really a BB or CC or DD or something, and it went on smoothly), but it looks nice on me. That’s the best I can hope for these days.

  • T-Fierce

    omg yes why do we have to put lip gloss on our eyelids what is wrong with eyeshadow!!!!



  • Kateland Kes

    Thank you!!! I’m not on the Kardashian spectrum of face-making, but I need full coverage foundation. My skin is “not ready” for the whole sheer tint glossier look with pores on parade after having hormonal and allergy-driven acne for years. It literally took me years to figure out which moisturizers, washes, and treatments that were ‘supposed to be good for acne’ but actually destroying my sensitive skin.
    Also, I feel like my friends brag about how they don’t know how to do make-up and take way less time to get ready then me, which is playful, but honestly they’re just bragging about not having skin issues (and never knowing the drudgery, pain, and expense of having to deal with your skin as soon as you wake up, multiple times through the day, and before you go to bed EVERY SINGLE DAY. And you never talk about it because you don’t want to draw attention or encourage people to give their drive-by opinion of what you should be doing with your skin… I could write for days about this and with much more clarity but not in the comment section.

    But anyway, I appreciate this discussion of current make-up practice that is sensitive to people not privileged with perfect skin. We must remember that skin is the largest organ and skin issues are health issues, and SO MUCH MORE complex then laziness or make-up choices. I know foundation seems like a choice, but to get along in every day life, unfortunately, it does not feel like a choice for people with problematic skin.

    Btw: I use L’oreal 24 hr infallible matte foundation and you can buy it as CVS. It is not oily at all but doesn’t dry out my already dry skin. I have SUPER sensitive skin and this does not break me out at all. It’s actually amazing.. (but may not work for everyone) It took me a while to find the right shade though, I have olive skin and nearly every shade of foundation for white skin has peach undertones.. If you know of any brand that is similar to this foundation but with more olive shades please chime in!

    • alexis

      I have felt your pain before! Latina that never had acne until I turned 30 then it was like I couldn’t stop.getting.zits. Big fat cystic ones too *gags*. After trying everything to treat and prevent it and nothing was making a difference a family friend/esthetician told me not to use any makeup/products that had dimethicone in them. Turns out it’s a silicone-type chemical that causes that ‘slip’ feeling when you put makeup on. So imagine what having something like that over your pores/sweat must do to your precious lil face! 2 weeks later my acne did a complete 180. Not saying this will work for you but if you’ve tried changing your diet to regulate hormones, wash your makeup brushes like gangbusters and still have issues it’s worth a shot.

      Since it’s nearly impossible to find products without this nasty ingredient I will help a girl out and recommend Gabriel cosmetics (he makes a line called ZuZu as well but the Gabriel line is better for olive tones). He is also Latino and local to me (Seattle hayyy). I think they might have other choices for you at whole foods/natural stores too. I was worried at first it wouldn’t cover enough but its the best stuff I’ve found and a ton of my friends use it now too and are obsessed. Also try his yellow-tinted primer if you have red blemishes – I just mix a dab of it with the foundation and it lasts longer and goes on easier. It is natural so you’ll probably want a powder to touch up during the day (I’m also greazzy lol). I’ll use the power shelac-type foundation if I’m going dancing want something heavy duty but I almost always break out a day later and regret it.

      Good luck!

  • Jess Greenspan

    @disqus_SHY5OeRiB1:disqus what retinol did you start, and is it working so far? This is my next step in fighting acne

  • Shannon

    Best foundation by far that I have ever tried is by La Mer “The Soft Fluid Foundation SPF 20” Have not had one pimple since I invested in it two months ago!!!! <3

  • I’m a huge fan of Tarte’s Amazonian Clay foundation! It’s full coverage and long lasting (and I’m someone with a lot of acne issues)!