Foundation Week, Day 3: Skype Your Way To The Perfect Shade


The dramatic conclusion to Molly Young’s foundation exploration! To get up to speed, see previous installments Your Epidermis is Showing (Day 1) and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (Day 2).

In September 2009, Estée Lauder announced that it would be shutting down its Prescriptives brand, and by January, the deal was sealed: the brand’s retail counters vanished (though products remained available online), global distribution ceased, and a small but ardent population of fans took to the message boards. Many of them mourned the loss of the company’s Custom Blend program, which had been mixing individualized foundation recipes for more than twenty-five years. “I am gutted,” wrote one woman; another posted about having a “mental breakdown” upon hearing the news. More than one commenter suggested boycotting all other Estée Lauder products out of revenge.

In a welcome (but belated) response, Lauder refreshed the brand's website in 2011, and rebooted Custom Blend in November 2012, but in its current online-only format. It works like this: you sign in on the Prescriptives website and video-chat with a beauty expert (or "PX Beauty Genius"), who then emails you your custom recipe a few hours later. You can buy a powder ($48) or a liquid foundation ($65) if you want, but you’re not obligated to purchase anything. It’s exactly like wandering up to a beauty counter in real life, except that you don’t have to deal with Bruno Mars remixes and clouds of competing perfume. I booked an appointment.

Fast-forward a few days. Upon signing into the company's website, I’m hooked into a chat with my appointed beauty expert, Nikki Galante [photo 2]. Nikki, who has been with Estée Lauder/Prescriptives for eight years, looks like a beautiful ski instructor and immediately cops to buying fifty or sixty foundations per year, just to see what’s out there. “I’m always looking for the perfect foundation,” she says. “It’s like the way some people are with diets.”

I am in good hands.

First, she asks me to upload a photo of my face into the chat window. It pops onscreen in seconds, gigantic and sideways. Nikki scrutinizes the photograph. "You have fair skin but you're not completely pink,” she decides. Questions follow: Do I have dry skin? What foundations do I like? What sort of finish am I looking for—luminous or natural? Nikki takes notes. The process takes 20 minutes, and by the time we finish, she has my formula ready to go. With clients, Nikki says she nails the color on the first try about 85% of the time. How, I ask, is this possible?

Well. Custom formulas, Nikki explains, are based on a dizzying number of variables: base shade, coverage level, finish options, skincare options (moisturize, oil-control, firm and lift), plus the color itself, which is created by adding up to 99 pumps of foundation substance in any color in the spectrum. When I ask her to calculate how many different formulas are possible, she laughs in an oh, child way. “I’m good at math, but I’m not that good.”

My personal recipe is 7 scoops white, 2 scoops green, 2 scoops blue, 3 scoops pink, and 2 scoops yellow.


A week later, I receive a package at my office, containing my Custom Blend. Despite a vague taboo against applying makeup in the workplace bathroom, I make a beeline and start rubbing the stuff all over my face. My coworker Colleen enters mid-rub and I excitedly explain what I’m doing. As soon as the words “custom foundation” exit my mouth, two other women who’ve entered the bathroom perk up like prairie dogs and start ooh-ing. This is fun! I feel like I’m showing off a new birthday toy. Is this how new moms feel when strangers coo over their babies?

The color, if you’re curious, is perfect.

Molly Young

Check out the Custom Blend program here

Molly Young and her Custom Blend photographed by Emily Weiss. If you want more Molly, read her Top Shelf and follow her on Twitter @magicmolly

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Nomadic D.

    Wow. That actually sounds SO fun. I am amazed that she could get the color right over skype though, I mean, what about all the variables in the lighting you may have in front of the computer? But I guess if yours turned out perfect, they must know what they're doing. Thanks for sharing this with us, I actually had no idea this was even possible!

  • Misses Robinson

    That's it? Come on ITG we need a little a more. How about application tips? Texture tips, etc. for example both Nars formulas look fake on me no matter how they are applied, and I get color matched at Barney's, so that isn't the issue. Please, keep this going!

    • mickharper

      Enthusiasm noted! Consider this the foundation of our foundation coverage ;-)

      • elizanna

        Yes, tips would be great!

  • Mandy

    This is so neat. Wish they had concealer as well!

  • fairytalesandcoffee

    I don't think Nars foundations are very good either. I can't use them. Im not being hard on them either - i have almost a dozen foundations in circulation - all better. switch to another brand. and see if they can color match you - Dior Nude Glowing and Koh give an amazing bare skin like finish. YSL radiance gives skin a plushy radiance, while Urban Decay Naked gives full, demi matte coverage for wider array of skintones.

    I am, also left wanting more. I think the writing style of Molly Young and the foundation knowledge and skill of a pro makeup artist combined would have been amazing. This was kind of thin ITG. I will just re-read MY's part 1 which makes me laugh.

    • Misses Robinson

      Which KGD formula?

  • Pixel_Queen

    I would love to know more about how this works. Do I need special lighting? How do we account for color variations given the vast differences between monitors? If I thought they could get the color right, I'd be willing to give this a try. My mother used to use a custom Prescriptives foundation and she loved it.

    • Molly Young

      It seems like the lighting would have to be accounted for (and the differences between monitors), but...somehow, they weren't! Nikki didn't ask any questions about my monitor or ask me to adjust the lighting at all, and I was sitting in a dimly flourescent-lit office. Spooky.

  • Beatriz

    A photo of the final result, even before/after, would have been good...

  • Cay

    This is great, but I am super-curious about their range. It consistently irritates me that when I walk into Sephora, there is nothing for women who have anything darker than medium skin. I'm half-South Asian, half-white, and it surprises me that my Laura Mercier foundation is the second-to-darkest option--I am on the lighter end of medium, so what do all of the millions of other women who are darker than me do? With the exception of MAC, Lauder's brands aren't great at having a wide range. I wonder if Prescriptives can cover (sorry, unintentional pun) more people than prestige cosmetics brands typically do.

    • Nina R.

      Bobbi Brown is an Estee Lauder company and has a really wide range of colors. Michelle Obama uses Bobbi Brown!

  • Melissa, BikePretty

    Um, I'm pretty much sold.

  • Manja

    Custom Blend is the first (and the best!) foundation I have ever bought... I got it when I was 14 in the UK, over the counter cuz I was plain curious about foundation... Since then I have tried so many brands... Not even MAC (a very close second best) matched my skin better in terms of color... Can't understand how it's possible for someone to determine the exact shade over Skype but if you say it works... I highly recommend it :)

  • chantelle

    Eeek! This is so exciting! I was hoping to see Molly try it on, ie/ half her face with it the other half without. This product sounds promising, and this is coming from someone who detests foundation & moisturizer. [I KNOW... I know...]

  • Abi

    I know this isn't exactly related but I just wondered if anyone knew of a foundation similar to Chanel's teint innocence in the cream texture which was discontinued? I've tried so many foundations since including Dior skin nude in the cream texture which is probably the most similar but can't find anything that works as well for me, thanks :)

    • pkb

      Chanel replaced the Teint Innocence compact with the cream compact version of Vitalumiere Aqua a year ago

  • TheVanityTheory

    I can never make foudation owrk for me, it always gets my skin to dry or greasy and it never looks natural!

    Meganne | The Vanity Theory

  • Elenita

    Shame that Prescriptives does not ship internationally. I can't understand why so many US cosmetics companies fail to realise there is a HUGE world out there and quite a few women who would be happy to increase the profits of USPS just to get their mittens on hard-to-find products. By the way, Paula Dorf, if you are reading this please find a way to sell your fabulous brushes in Europe.....


    That was so much fun. More Molly, please!

  • Louise Lam

    Your foundation week posts have been informative, I particularly liked the second post. It would have been great if you provided us some tips and all, like another poster wrote. But this post really makes me want to try out the custom blend to see if it'll match me. Sounds really fun!

  • D.A.

    I did custom blend with prescriptives when I was 21. That was so much fun to watch them mix it up at the counter. My sisters and I wore only prescriptives makeup back then. And perfume - Calyx! So many great memories!

  • Anna

    That seems utopique - using the foundation which gonna really really suits . Wish you ve found one . Im still on " no foundation more sleep " solution.

  • jay

    Are you covering any more foundations after day 3?


Prescriptives SB Custom Blend Foundation
Prescriptives SB Custom Blend Powder