The Best Drugstore Foundations

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Almay Smart Shade & Smart Shade Anti-Aging
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Covergirl truBLEND Liquid Makeup
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Revlon Nearly Naked Makeup

I once read that one should always invest in good foundations. Thinking more carefully on this, it was an interview with a French woman, and it was about clothing, not makeup. Foundation pieces. Coats and boots and wool dresses and let's throw bras in there, too. Nevertheless, the misremembered advice stuck with me as one of those understood, ‘just because’ types of wisdom bits.

I began researching fuller-coverage foundations, after my $62 bottle of slap-on sheer Armani Luminous Silk Foundation ceased to be able to perfect the ever-evolving Martian landscape on my face. (My sensitive skin isn’t vibing with NYC tap water—nor the NYC takeout, the NYC subway bacteria, the NYC roommates who’ll forcefully drain your cortisol reserves…) Which, by the way, isn’t hard at ITG, where you have dozens of foundation options in your immediate vicinity at any given moment. That’s when I started to consider the drugstore foundations—a subset that I’d ignored due to advice I’d never actually received.

I began to play around, testing thickness, coverage, shades, tones, undertones, and blendability. Over the course of a month I had amassed a sampling of almost every single drugstore foundation available at any given CVS across the country. I dabbled in stick and powder foundations, but figured I’d focus on liquids for the sake of time, internet-article length restrictions (some of you guys have already stopped reading this), and my pores. After finding the best matches for my manila-folder skin tone—no small task, as most drugstore foundations are far too pink, orange, or dark—I road-tested the 12 that went on the nicest, each for a full workday. The ones that lasted the best, I tested again. Yep, I run a watertight operation over here. I remember the Scientific Method, as taught to seventh graders. Question: Make me look pretty…? Hypothesis: At least one of these will work. Testing: Refer to the beginning of this paragraph. Trifold Foam Board: The lime green one. Conclusion:

Almay Smart Shade & Smart Shade Anti-Aging
So these are fun because they have the novelty color-changing action going on straight out of the tube, which I’m always a bit suspicious of. But they sponge on easily with a rosewater-dampened Beauty Blender, impressive compared to many of the drugstore options I tried, which took way too much blending to smooth over the skin. And the coverage was light to medium, but buildable. They evened out all the spots leftover from NYC-style zits on the sides of my face, so no need for concealer.

I’m reviewing these in unison because I found that mixing them together worked best. The Anti-Aging formula has tiny specs of mica that reflect for a brightening look, which I liked, but liked better when diluted with the other, non-reflective formula. They have SPF 15 and SPF 20, respectively.

Covergirl truBLEND Liquid Makeup
Shout out to Covergirl for their color range; the revamped selection of truBLEND comes in 21 shades, mine being Creamy Natural. This gives solid medium coverage with one layer, which I again applied with a damp sponge because any other way would pill over the layers of serums and embalming fluids I smear onto my face every morning.

Revlon Nearly Naked Makeup
This made the list because it’s creamy, but quite thin for a drugstore formula. (A big differentiating factor between drugstore and prestige liquid foundations is viscosity.) It gives light, buildable coverage, living up to its name, and is also SPF 20. I was Vanilla, the more yellow-toned of the fairest shades.

—Annie Kreighbaum

Photos by Elizabeth Brockway.

Let’s Talk About It! JOIN IN
  • Soph – www.thelondonturtle.com

    I've been looking for a good drugstore foundation with light coverage for everyday use, may try out the Revlon one now! Thanks for the post! :)

    • Nadeen

      I've been applying it and it's very good. I've dry skin si if you're oily u should use some powder ..it lasts for 5-6 hours

  • Hayley Mohan

    Did you try L'oreal True Match? I decided to try it after scraping the last molecule of foundation out of my Makeup Forever HD bottle. I am impressed.

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      I did! I found it too thick for me, but I also layer a ton of serum and moisturizer on in the morning. It caused everything to pill as I blended.

      • lisa_carbone

        Agreed, I also found the True Match much to thick!

      • Hayley Mohan

        Ahhhhhh. I love thick, full coverage. Weirdly.

        I'd love a follow up piece on BB or CC creams from drugstores!

        • Claire

          Pond's Luminous Finish BB Cream works great for me! I can only compare it to the Garnier BB Cream, which had very light coverage in comparison. The Pond's actually tones down the redness in my skin quite a bit, and believe me, my skin is FAR from perfect.

      • Sarah

        You should try the new True Match Lumi. I think that's what it's called in the US, anyway - it's called Lumi Magique over here in Germany. Regardless, it's very light and thin and goes on absolutely stunningly with a dampened beauty blender. It's the best drugstore foundation I've ever bought. I used to swear by MUFE HD, but haven't been able to afford it in ages.

  • Laura

    Bourjois healthy mix foundation and the Bourjois 123 perfect CC cream. Enjoying more than Armani and Chanel foundations truth be told. Just as good.

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      Ooh I've heard good stuff about Bourjois foundations. Too bad we don't have them in US drugstores :/

      • pkb

        ASOS carries Bourjois products and ships stateside.

        • Zoe

          Walgreens carries it online.everything is in sets of 2. Nothing is over $25

    • lisa_carbone

      I want to give the Bourjois a go but just couldn't find a good colour match...not much choice there.

    • Krista

      I believe Bourjois and Chanel cosmetics are made by the same company.

      I was reading through a Chanel lipstick box and a bottle of Healthy Mix (an excellent foundation if you're on Isotretinoin btw!), and they're both made in France and feature the same address.

      A friend also told me about it, can someone verify this? Both brands are amazing though!

      • Angie

        Hi Krista, I'm french, I actually studied cosmetics and perfums, and yes you are right, Bourjois is owned by Chanel !!! I wear Bourjois healthy mix since many years now. i started to use it after i used a Chanel foundation and i was so impressed, i thought it was exactly the same so i sticked to the Bourjois foundation!!!

  • Emily Kane

    That was the review? Not even a hint of excitement for any of the foundations you tested?

  • Ria B

    I'm so thrilled Revlon Nearly Naked got a mention, that's my baaaaby! Perfect for long nights out (when heavy dancing & lethal flash photography may be included) as well as daily wear, as it's not too thick so it doesn't make me break out or sweat off.

    Would love to hear more about the others though- I find I always have to team Nearly Naked with concealer and powder if I'm really going for full coverage, which isn't always as time or travel effective.

  • kt mo

    A shame that all of these companies test on animals. i want good foundation under $10!

    • Foundationlove

      Elf is not animal tested and starts at $3

  • Mandy

    How do you figure out what your shade is for drugstore foundations? Might be missing something obvious, but that's the reason I've avoided drugstore foundations!

    • lisa_carbone

      Do a Google search for "foundation match matrix" or go to Temptalia.com....it's a spreadsheet which has been populated by 1,000 of folks and matches shades across various cosmetics brands and formuations. For eg. if you're a MAC NC20-25, you plug that in and it will match you with dozens of beauty brands in their corresponding shade.

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      I found that you can't choose by the bottle shade. And you can't choose by a quick swatch on your arm either—many of the foundations changed color up to 10 minutes after applying. I would buy at least three different shades at a time, take home, try out, and return whatever doesn't work. Inform the clerk that you used the products so that they won't resell, but they will accept a return as long as it's within the date range.

      Sounds like a lot of work, but CVS is a more convenient trip for me—even in two trips—than a trip to Saks.

      • Ona_in_Barcelona

        It never fails to blow my mind that you can return used beauty products in the States. What do the stores do with it?!

        • http://instagram.com/funshine_sky bunnygrrrl3000

          trash it. i think they figure most people won't bother returning the products, or something.

  • s

    I would actually like to hear about the pitfalls of the ones that you didn't like/didn't make the cut. Or at least a full list of what was tested, so we could see what the range was?

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      The biggest issues were the colors available and texture. The ones listed, except the Almay which only comes in 3 shades, have great options for people with yellow undertones. Most drugstore foundations are way, way too pink or too orange. I got lucky with the Almay that it happened to be a great match, but it does not have an option for people with darker skin tones. Another problem was that many change into a completely different shade after application.

      For texture, many "sat" on my face rather than blending into my skin. The smallest brush of my hand or with the zipper of my jacket would displace the foundation, leaving weird nick marks on my face that were a dead giveaway that I was wearing foundation.

      These also wore the best throughout the day. Many (and this is a problem with prestige brands as well), would separate on the skin, leaving a dry, cakey, patchy finish by the end of the day.

      Lastly, these did not break me out. I have very specific zits that my skin reserves only for makeup reactions—small, delicate whiteheads—and I experienced these from a handful of foundations that made it to the final testing round. But not the ones that made the final cut.

  • lisa_carbone

    Cool, I have and wear the Revlon Nearly Nude (very similar wear and coverage to the MAC Mineralize Moisture foundation btw) and the Almay Smart Shade...both given to me to try by a friend who's with Revlon Canada...I love both and would def. repurchase for myself. I've also heard great review of the new Revlon Age-Defy liquid which I'm hoping to try real soon.

  • Colette Leboffe-Dorn

    Drew Barrymore has an incredible line FLOWER that has a stick foundation. It is NOT tested on animals and has wide color selection. Blends well and can be used as a concealer. I also love her cream eyeshadows. The only downside is only sold at Walmart and on-line.....

  • FThompson

    What's that purple polka dotted one toward the bottom left of the first photo? Was it any good?

  • Isabel

    I recommend Revlon Photo Ready. Good coverage + looks natural

  • i2uthanne

    What did you think of the L'Oreal Magic Nude?

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      I did try Magic Nude, it was one of the ones that made it to the final rounds of consideration, even though all of the shades were too pink for me. I thought the finish was too powdery, it didn't look natural on me.

  • AJM

    Rimmel Wake Me Up foundation is also unreal! I almost like it better than the $70 Yves St. Laurent foundation I was previously addicted to.

  • syllogism

    Can we get an Annie Top Shelf?! Also, what did you think of the color of the Almay foundations? I'm also super suspicious of a foundation that only comes in three shades. Do you think it will work for someone who isn't quite their shade of 'light'?

    • http://intothegloss.com/ ITG Annie

      I got lucky with the shade, it's a good neutral for those who have both pink and yellow tones. Hopefully Almay will make some darker shades in this in the future. The formula reminded me of tinted sunscreens—you know the kind that are beige that just kind of melt in to any skin tone? But the coverage was there, and buildable, so I do really love it as a foundation.

  • http://www.kpfusion.com/ Kimmie

    I've tried so many of the foundations in your picture it's hilarious (life of a blogger!)

    So:..

    The Revlon Nearly Naked is a fantastic go to, especially in the warmer months. If you apply it with a good primer, it will last longer but won't look flat.

    The Revlon Age-Defying liquid is a good full coverage foundation. It's designed for more mature skin, and make sure you moisturize before applying!

    If the True Match is too heavy, try the Lumi Touch version-it leaves a slightly dewy finish + it's thinner.

    Their Magic Nude is a great dupe for one of Armani's foundations, but bc the range isn't as extensive as the other collections, you will have to mix 2 for the perfect match. Even though it says apply with your hand, it will go on great with a kabuki brush, and it's virtually weightless.

    I tried to like Maybelline's Fit Me but it changed colors on me as the day wore on :( Their gel foundation stick is good to contour with though.

  • http://www.vibrantbeautyblog.com/ Jennifer Monforton

    Nice selection! Revlon ColourStay is my all-time favourite drugstore foundation (all-time fave foundation overall, actually)- gives amazing coverage and wears super long without looking cakey. It's a gem!

    http://www.vibrantbeautyblog.com

  • Elise

    Hi Annie, just curious, what didn't you like about the Maybelline FIT Me foundation?

  • DLamp

    Physician's Formula Youthful Wear "Spotless" Foundation. That bottle is adorable!

  • Elise

    Kira, thanks for your feedback! I haven't been photographed in the shade of fit me that I am experimenting with but I'll watch for that. So far what I don't particularly like about it is that I'm comparing it to Revlon Photo-ready that I was in love with and should have just repurchased. The Revlon Photoready one stayed matte all day long even when applied over my favorite day cream and was heavy enough to cover post-acne pigmentation but at the same time light enough to look like great skin.

  • http://b-tg.tumblr.com/ Colleen Garrity

    I mix my fancy foundation with the Covergirl foundation, to make it spread a little easier and also to save a bit of money. It's great because I can adjust the shade, too! Highly recommend.

  • Chloe

    Wow thank you for this post! :) x

  • juliek

    covergirl aquasmooth!!!!!!!

  • cat butt

    Lol @ embalming fluid.

  • Medina

    I use the Rimmel Stay Matte mousse foudation. Pretty good, considering i apply and blend w my hands. But it is thick and you must apply a primer beforehand. But a little bit of th foundation goes along way, so fr my student budget, its great. Gives enough coverage to even out the complexion, though I use concealer after.

    http://www.theglamorouspixie.wordpress.com

  • Wonderlusting

    Love Maybelline Fit Me.....most of the drugstore foundations in darker colours don't make it across the pond which sucks.

  • guru chatter

    I love Revlon Colorstay, it's the best! :)

    http://www.guruchatter.blogspot.com

  • http://www.brownbelle.com Mariama Bramble

    i love revlon colorstay. light formula and i always get compliments on my skin when i wear it.

  • hbrooksh

    Unfortunately we don't have Bourjois in U.S. drugstores. Sure wish we did!

  • MaggieHolls

    Love this. Annie could write about watching paint dry and I would find it highly entertaining.

  • Sabinchen

    Loved the review! Thanks for doing all the footwork and experimenting :)

  • http://www.thelipstickchannel.com/ Esther & Grace

    Thanks for the post!

  • Claire

    L'oreal Infallible gives great coverage & looks pretty natural when blended in properly. I either use my fingers to apply it or the e.l.f. flat-top powder brush.

  • http://www.clevergirlreviews.com/ Clever Girl Reviews

    I rarely find anything light enough in the drugstore! I'm a casper!

  • Jenny_del_Castillo

    Hi Annie! May I ask you what type of skin you have? Dry, combo, oily? Because I have dry skin and it´s a nightmare to find a good foundation (drugstore or high end) for my skin, lots of them make my skin look cakey!

  • Janine

    I've always liked Revlon's Age Defying DNA Advantage. Nice clean coverage, and it makes your skin glow. I like it a lot.

  • Leah Cheryl

    So did you trade Armani for one of the 3 drugstore brands? And, if so, is it comparable?

  • ModernGrace

    I use the Bourjois Healthy Mix, Cover Girl 3 in 1 Outlast, and Avon Ideal Flawless. All recommended by makeup artists, and so far they never fail.

  • Rachel

    Just wanted to say thanks - this post saved me today as I forgot my makeup bag at home and only realized it after my workout...I normally use NARS and Lancome, but no options were available that early...ended up buying the Revlon Nearly Naked and am really impressed. Thanks again!!

  • megooooo

    I DISPISE FIT ME!!!! MADE ME OILY IN ABOUT TWENTY MINTUES OF WEARING IT! MADE ME BREAKOUT SO MUCH AND I RARELY DO! IT IS TOO THICK! DON'T GET IT!!

  • http://hapiland.net/c/free-career-test-online/999-hair-theory-and-practice-question-tests/cosmetology-practice-test-questions/ Karen Brown

    What did you think of Covergirl truBLEND Liquid Makeup

PRODUCTS MENTIONED

Armani
Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
Almay Smart Shade
Almay Smart Shade Makeup
Almay
Almay Smart Shade Anti-Aging Makeup SPF 20
CoverGirl
CoverGirl truBLEND Liquid Makeup
Revlon PhotoReady
Revlon Nearly Naked Liquid Makeup
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