Foundation is a flesh-toned cosmetic applied to the face to create an even, uniform colour to the complexion, and, sometimes, to change the natural skintone. Foundation applied to the body is generally referred to as body paint.

The first commercially available foundation was Max Factor’s Pan-Cake. Originally developed for use in film, actresses were so taken with the results that Max Factor was overwhelmed with demand for the product for their personal use.

The breakthrough in his formula was the first “foundation and powder in one”; traditionally, an actor was made up with an oil/emollient based make-up, which was then set with powder to reduce the reflection and ensure it would not fade or smudge.

Pan-Cake used talc — rather than oil or wax — as the base, and, applied directly to the skin with a wet sponge, it offered enough coverage (it could be layered without caking on the skin) to eliminate the need for a foundation underneath. This was considered significantly more lightweight and natural-looking on the skin than the standard method, hence the keenness of people to wear the item in public.

Although foundation make-up was widely available and used within the film industry, the use of cosmetics in general was still somewhat disreputable, and no one had tried to market foundation (although lipstick, blush and nail polish were popular for daily use) as an everyday item.

Factor had the product patented in 1937, and, in spite of the economic turmoil of the era, Pan-Cake became one of the most successful cosmetic launches of all time. By 1940, it was estimated than 1 in 3 North American women owned and wore Pan-Cake. As of February 2009, Procter and Gamble, the brand’s current owner, confirmed the original formula Factor developed and used himself is still sold today.

Color may be identified by a name, number, letter or any combination of the three. However, unlike artist Pantone or the Munsell system used in the fashion industry, cosmetic colours have no standardization.

Thus, when an artist requests Raw Umber or Burnt Sienna paint, he or she can expect that color to be consistent, regardless of the brand of paint purchased. In contrast, if a make-up artist requests a Medium Beige foundation, the result can vary drastically from brand to brand, and sometimes, within one brand across different formulas.

Lastly, cosmetic companies can edit and adjust their formulations and shades at any time with no notice, so the Medium Beige foundation a consumer has been wearing for years can, without warning, be made darker, lighter, and more or less yellow than it had been before.

Many companies classify their shades as Warm, Neutral, or Cool. Adding to the confusion is the different color wheels used between the art and beauty industry. The traditional artist's palette places the line dividing Cool and Warm across Primary Blue, whereas the cosmetic palette places the line across Primary Red.

Thus, on the artists’ color wheel, Yellow is always Cool, Red is always Warm, and Blue can be Neutral (Tan), Warm (Red), or Cool (Blue). In contrast, the cosmetic palette classifies Yellow as always Warm, Blue as always Cool, and Red as either Neutral (Tan), Warm (Orange) or Cool (Blue).

The cosmetic palette is never used outside of make-up, and is very common in the industry — though a handful of professional lines, such as Maybelline, Covergirl, and even M.A.C. all use the conventional artist's palette.

Thus, a Warm Beige foundation may either have a yellow tint or a pink tint, depending on the palette the company's creative director uses. Note that the artist's palette is designed to be used on canvas (which is white) compared to the make-up palette — which is used on flesh (an ivory to brown tone).

Although most artists squabble over the significance of selecting an exact match to the wearer's skin tone, intentionally using a mismatch can achieve a desired result. An excessively red complexion can be minimized by using a clear (meaning neither yellow nor pink) beige toned foundation.

A sallow or dull complexion can be brightened with a rose to red to tint mature skin that has lost its color and appears pale and dull can be brightened with a tint of clear pink; and olive or ashy skin can be brightened with a shot of peach.

A crucial point in selecting a foundation shade is to recognize that the appearance of the shade in the container may not accurately gauge the colour impact on the skin — a foundation that appears very yellow in the bottle may go on much less yellow, or not appear yellow at all.

Coverage refers to the opacity of the makeup, or how much it will conceal on the skin.

* Sheer is the most transparent and contains the least amount of pigment. It will not hide discolorations on the skin; however, it can minimize the contrast between the discoloration and the rest of the skin tone. Although pigment technology has evolved dramatically since 2004, the traditional protocol for sheer foundations called for pigment to compromise 8–13% of the finished formula.

* Light can cover unevenness and slight blotchiness, but is not opaque enough to cover freckles. It contains 13–18% pigment.

* Medium coverage can, when set with a tinted (instead of translucent) powder, cover freckles, discolorations, blotchiness, and red marks left by pimples. It will contain 18-23% pigment.

* Full coverage is very opaque, and used to cover birthmarks, vitiligo, hyperpigmentation and scars. It is sometimes referred to as “corrective” or “camouflage” make-up. In general it will contain up to 35% pigment, though professional brands, designed for use on stage, can contain up to 50% pigment.

The formula refers to the ingredients blended together, and how the makeup is formulated.

* Oil and emollient based are the oldest type of make-up. An oil (usually mineral oil) or emollient (such as petrolatum, beeswax, or lanolin) is used as the main ingredient, with pigment added to it. The texture and application is extremely thick and dense, most closely resembling modern lip balms or lipsticks. The extremely emollient nature stays moist and will not cake, is moderately waterproof, and provides the most opaque coverage; but it can smudge, fade, and change colour (darkening or oxidizing) during wear. Since the 1970’s, synthetic wax has also been used, which is less greasy and more reliable than other emollients. Used professionally, it is sometimes referred to as Greasepaint. Examples: Pan-Stik (Max Factor’s follow-up to his Pan-Cake make-up), Elizabeth Arden Sponge-On Cream, Mehron, Dermablend.

* Oil-based shakers are different from traditional oil-and-emollient based makeup in that they were liquid foundations developed before emulsifiers and binding agent were available, and thus separate in the bottle, like the alcohol-based formulas mentioned below. Once shaken, this is akin to applying coloured oil to the skin, with a smooth texture than can provide medium coverage with a moist finish. It was a marked improvement in application, stability and finish over the tradition oil bases, but improvements since then have rendered these nearly extinct. Examples: Alexandra de Markoff Countess Isserlyn, Frances Denney Incandescent.

* Alcohol based uses a blend of water and denatured alcohol as the base, with pigment added to it. Developed by Erno Laszlo for problematic skin, it eliminated emollient and binding agent that could clog pores, and needs to be shaken before use. Alcohol-based foundations have the most lightweight, “nothing on my face” feel, and nearly impossible to clog pores, but provide only the sheerest coverage and can be tricky to apply and blend. They work better with cotton balls or pads, instead of latex or sea sponges. Examples: Erno Lazslo Normalizer Shake-It, Clinique Pore Minimizer.

* Powder-based began with Max Factors’ Pan Cake, using powder — usually talc — as the main ingredient. Pigment is added, along emollients, skin adhesion agents and binding agents to the formula before it is pressed into pans. The difference between this type of foundation and pressed powder is that this provides more coverage (due to more pigment), and contains more skin adhesion agents (to help it stick to the skin – because pressed powder is lighter weight, it requires less). Some formulas — such as Pan Cake — also contain wax, and can only be applied with a wet sponge; others, such as M.A.C. StudioFix contain no emollient, and can only be used dry; the last group, such as Lançome Dual Finish, contain a smaller amount of oil and can be used either way. This provide a “finished” look and can blend from sheer to nearly full coverage, but can look too floury and dry, especially around the eyes, or on drier/mature skin. They can also flake and trickle down as they are applied and blended.

* Mineral makeup most commonly refers to a foundation in loose powder format. The most common minerals used as the base are bismuth oxychloride, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. However, talc is also a mineral, so a talc-based powder could be considered a “mineral makeup” — although most mineral make-up sold makes a point of being talc-free. Although the market has recently been flooded with this type of foundation, it is important for the consumer to be aware that there are no standards or guidelines for labeling this product. A “mineral make-up” may be all mineral, part mineral — or contain less than 1% mineral as part of the finished formula. Using this logic, practically all make-up could be considered mineral. Additionally, mineral make-up may or may not be USDA organic; the label must specifically mention this, as it is possible to make a mineral product that does not meet USDA guidelines. It is for this reason that the market saw a significant shift in consumer behaviour from 2006 onwards.

* Water-based make-up appeared after the end of World War 2, with emulsifiers that could successfully keep a water-and-oil blended emulsion stable being the key to their development. This creamy liquid provided medium coverage with a far more natural feel and appearance than oil, powder or emollient bases of the time, and became popular with women since then. Examples include: Cover Girl Clean Makeup, Estee Lauder Country Mist. Since then, variations on the formula have expanded the category significantly:

* 0 Water-based cream make-up has a rich, creamy texture that can be sheer to full coverage with a moist, satiny finish. It usually comes in a jar or tube, and is much more comfortable and realistic looking on the skin than the oil or emollient-based predecessors. Examples: Elizabeth Arden Hydro-Light, Guerlain Issima. By Jove Cosmetics, TRU2U Foundation.

* Water-based oil-free eliminates oil altogether, but substitutes an emollient ester or fatty alcohol in the base, and adds a mattifying agent — usually clay — to dry to a flat, non-reflective (“matte”) finish. Oil-free liquids are quite thick and heavy, and the earliest versions took time to pour out of the bottle. They provide solid medium coverage but dry quickly, and can thus set before blended is complete. The result is streaking, which is then difficult to smooth out without starting over from scratch. The usual recommendation is to divide the face into quarter sections, and to apply and blend the makeup over one section (rather than the entire face) at a time. Blending over moisturized skin with a wet sponge can also help compensate for the lack of slip. However, they will last a long time and resist smudging, even on very oily skin. Examples: Clinique Stay-True Oil-Free.

* Water-based transfer-resistant follows the same formulation as oil-free, but uses a film former or polymer instead of (or in addition to) the clay to achieve a matte finish that resists being rubbed off. Transfer-resistant make-up was launched in 1993 by Revlon-owned Ultima II with Lipsexxxy, the first lip-colour that included film former to prevent rubbing off. By 1996, WonderWear foundation and Revlon Colorstay had been launched, using the same technology as the lipsticks. Transfer-resistant (sometimes called transfer-proof) makeup will last on very oily skin, skin that perspires heavily, or in humid climates longer than any other type of foundation, though it is even more difficult to apply than oil-free makeup. The thick texture dries almost instantly, and requires a fair amount of experimentation to master. The most modern versions (such as Revlon Colorstay SoftFlex) have made marked improvements over predecessors in that regard.

* Silicone-based make-up uses a silicone — or a blend of water and silicone — as the main ingredient. The most typical silicones used are dimethicone, polysiloxane and volatile silicones such as cyclomethicone and phenyl trimethicone. The silicone provides lubrication and viscosity (what some artists refer to as “slip”) at a level equal to, or often, even better than oil allowing a product to apply and blend over the skin smoothly and evenly. Silicones have a lighter weight and are thus more comfortable on the skin, as well as resisting filling in lines or large pores on the face. Conventional silicones stay supple and smooth, even in dry climates, whereas volatile silicones last long enough to blend over the face, then evaporate (like alcohol), leaving little to no feel behind. Silicone-based makeups are less likely to oxidize or change colour during wear. One of the biggest challenges facing silicone bases is the tendency for the product to break and/or ball up on the skin, something unique to silicones and out of control of the user. Ionizing the silicones (electrically charging the silicone positive) helps it adhere to (negatively charged) skin, although this technology is in its infancy and thus rather expensive.

Examples: Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse.