Foundation Oxidation, or “How Not To Look Like An Oompa Loompa”

Hello fabulous people 🙂 It has been a month of crazy project after crazy project at work. Today I finally have a chance to stop spinning for a little bit so we’ll see if I can get this typed up!

In my last post I mentioned something called oxidation. Now when you see this word, most people think of the green patina on copper or, less attractively, rust on iron. While these are certainly different materials, the mechanism here between the very green Statue of Liberty and your foundation are similar. What this means, in summary, is that the various metal oxides that make up your makeup (ha!) are reacting to the sebum and natural oils on your skin and shifting color. This behavior isn’t exclusive to foundation but it’s certainly the one that is most obvious. Oxiation is also known to make blush and other colors muddy and grey. I have the particular joy of having found some conclears that turn a muddy grey when applied which does me such a great service when I’m trying to conceal dark spots.

“But Wendy, if it was as simple as that then everyone would have this problem. Why can my friends wear this foundation and look great, but if I wear it I look like a tangerine?”

Well that’s because nothing we do with, to, or on our bodies is ever that simple. We have to take our own personal body chemistry into account. While some foundations are notorious for oxidation (I’m looking at you, M·A·C), for the most part it is more likely an issue between your personal body chemistry + the chemical make up of your makeup + the oxygen in the air around you.

Everyone’s skin forms what is called an acid mantle. This mantle is a protective barrier made up of sebum and sweat.

Quick biology lesson: sebum, from sebaceous glands, are the oils that protect your skin. If you have too much you are battling acne. If you have too little you are battling dry skin. The only place you don’t have these glands are on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.

The next player in this game is pH. You hear this term a lot but it’s not always clear what it even means.

Quick chemistry lesson: pH stands for potential Hydrogen and is scale from 1 to 14 that gauges how acidic a substance is. On that 1-14 scale, the natural pH balance of skin is 5.5. This number is effected by our own natural body chemistry, the time of the month, what we eat, the weather, you name it.

I rather appreciate that they used "wine" as a value...

I rather appreciate that they used “wine” as a value…

So what we get here is a combination of the various metal oxides in your makeup reacting to the acids in your natural sebum and further reacting to the oxygen in the air around you.

Some folks will argue that last part saying that isn’t as big of a factor. In my own personal experience, when I’m seeing a foundation oxidize, it gets significantly worse as soon as I step outside. I’m going to go ahead out on this limb here and suggest that while that is not the primary cause, it certainly doesn’t help.

Now what do we do about it? There are some options. Not all foundations are created equal. Different brands, lines, and formulas are going to have different chemical make up and will react differently to your skin. This leads us to a point I can’t possibly stress strongly enough:


Any cosmetics shop or counter worth their salt will let you try a foundation sample (or three) to see if you like it. USE THIS PRIVILEDGE. Do NOT buy a $30-60 bottle of foundation without test driving that bad boy! You are putting this stuff ALL OVER YOUR FACE. Don’t feel bad about trying it out and not buying it until you know it’s right! A happy client is a return client. It’s better to take a few samples and come back to buy the one that was best rather than buy something that doesn’t work and come back to return it. Anyone in retail knows you are far MORE likely to make additional purchases and return in the future if you are happy with the product. Most people aren’t making additional purchases if they are returning a product they were unhappy with and if they’re really ticked off they aren’t coming back at all. Especially if they are returning a product that they wore out in a social situation and they suddenly realized they looked like Snookie.

Although I think in this case it’s a lot more than just her foundation…

Color matching is of course important. A makeup artist will select 2-3 shades closest to your skin tone and apply streaks, normally near your jawline, to swatch the color on your skin to find the best match. Also, if you are near a Sephora, they have a fancy little machine called the Pantone Color IQ which determines your Pantone color code and is pretty awesome. HOWEVER, once you find the right color and apply the foundation the oxidation begins. Now to be clear, most foundations rely on natural oxidation to achieve a more perfect color match. Many of them are very much geared this way, especially when you are looking at something like a BB or CC cream where there are only a small number of color options (often light, medium, and dark) to choose from. What we are looking to avoid here is when the oxidation goes too far and you suddenly look like an extra for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Why do you keep asking if I used a primer?

Why do you keep asking if I used a primer?

One thing to keep in mind here is that even your favorite foundation can color shift at times due to changes in your body chemistry. So how do we deal with that?

Primer. Specifically a silicone based primer.

“But Wendy, I thought we used primer to keep our makeup in place?”

We do. The function of the primer is to form an even layer on top of your skin that locks your makeup in place. Reread that line… form a layer. That’s right. The primer is forming a protective layer on top of your skin, creating a barrier between your acid mantle and the makeup. This simple step will greatly reduce the oxidation in your foundation.

You can help this along a bit further, as well. While you should always start with clean skin when applying makeup, beginning any makeup routine with an antioxidant moisturizer will further limit oxidation. Antioxidant… oxidize… get it? Got it? Good 😉

Some things to note…

Oxidation is more likely with cream and liquid foundations, however it will occur in any foundation type, including powders.

Oxidation is not usually an immediate reaction. It can take a half an hour or a few hours. This is why it’s important to test drive it home.

The color shifts can be subtle depending on lighting. Give yourself an hour or more after application and then check in fluorescent light, incandescent light, natural light, and my personal fav, the rearview mirror of the car. This may seem like overkill, but you can hit all of these points between the store, walking outside, getting in your car, and getting home. If after a few hours you’re still good to go, awesome!

If you are finding a foundation oxidizes on you, check the ingredients. Write down any of the oxides. If you keep doing this you may be able to pinpoint which oxide doesn’t agree with you and save yourself some time and effort in the future by knowing not to bother with foundations with (insert oxide here) in the ingredients.

If you find yourself between two foundation shades, ALWAYS go with the lighter shade. I realize that the bronzed look is in right now. That is what bronzer is for. A rule of thumb is that you can always go darker from lighter but it is very difficult to go lighter from dark. Wearing a too dark foundation is difficult to correct. Or, in short, you look foolish. Honestly, this one could be its own post.

 And that is my crash course in How Not To Look Like An Oompa Loompa!

I hope to see some of you Sunday at 2pm for Princess Farhana‘s Exciting Stage Makeup workshop!

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