The 5 Lightest, Barely-There Foundations You Can Find At Sephora

They hardly feel like they’re on, and some even have the added benefit of caring for skin like serums.
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Mariel Jimenez
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They hardly feel like they’re on, and some even have the added benefit of caring for skin like serums.

True story: Up until recently, I’d only seen Season 1 of "Gossip Girl." So one weekend, over Netflix, I caught up with what was once the most talked-about series on TV. And if there’s one thing I noticed, it’s the inordinate amount of lipgloss on the show. Lip. Gloss. In. Every. Scene. It was quite distracting (this, coming from someone who’s worked in beauty her whole career and who loves a good lip).

It got me thinking: If the ’80s were marked by bright blush, orange lipstick, and bushy brows; the ’90s by grungy brown rouge and super-thin arches (quick! Draw a mental image of Drew Barrymore wearing daisies in her hair!) and the 2000s by heaps of lip gloss as witnessed by our favorite NYC preps, this decade marks the arrival of thin-as-skin, light-as-air foundations that promise to leave skin satiny smooth and selfie-ready without looking as if one were wearing, well, makeup.

It also got me thinking, with HD and Retina screens sharper than ever, shouldn’t face bases actually be…thicker? 

Anyhow, here’s a roundup of five lightweight foundations that aren’t supposed to feel like they’re on, some that even give have added benefit of caring for skin like serums. Let’s call them “The Emperor’s New Foundations,” shall we?

Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation Serum

What’s to love: The name itself is adorable, don’t you think? Everything else in the Perricone MD No Makeup Skincare line is named as such: No Blush Blush, No Mascara Mascara, No Concealer Concealer, etc. The product dispenses with a medicine dropper -- apt, for the Rx feel of the brand -- and the texture is phenomenal. It goes on silky, like a serum, and leaves a soft, matte finish. A coworker said, “It feels like you have nothing on.” It’s also quite foolproof, given its universal, one-size-fits-all shade. 

If you need to go darker, a few drops of No Bronzer Bronzer adjusts the shade instantly, so this combo is perfect for year-round use if you go from being pasty white in the winter to sun-kissed in the summer.

Skip it if: You expect a dewy, oil-like finish. Or try mixing your favorite face oil or apply a liquid highlighter over to achieve this effect.

Day 1 of testing foundations at Sephora, discovering the no-makeup makeup feel of Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation. (Whew -- try saying that in one breath!)

Day 1 of testing foundations at Sephora, discovering the no-makeup makeup feel of Perricone MD No Foundation Foundation. (Whew -- try saying that in one breath!)

Yves Saint Laurent Fusion Ink Foundation SPF 18

What’s to love: I really, really had high expectations of this. Given the price tag and the provenance of the brand (two words: Touche Eclat), Fusion Ink came with a few caveats, but more on those in a few. It did go on weightlessly as promised, and featured a feathery, matte finish. Its buildable formula means you can layer it on to desired coverage, and it’s silky enough to apply and blend easily. And with 21 shades available, it adequately covers the skin tone spectrum.

This spatula applicator is controversial among makeup pros and germaphobes.

This spatula applicator is controversial among makeup pros and germaphobes.

Skip it if: You have extremely dry skin, or are currently on an AHA and retinol-based skincare regimen. On me, the satiny finish proved to be too matte -- it flaked and appeared blotchy on dry areas around my jawline. Another coworker, an established beauty blogger, expressed her disappointment with the applicator. I may have to agree with her.

If you’re a true-blue beauty junkie, makeup pro, or a general germaphobe, the thought of dabbing the spatula-like applicator over your face and placing it back in the bottle can give you the heebie jeebies. YSL could have simply gone with a traditional pump dispenser or a medicine dropper.

That said, if your complexion tends to be oily, this would be a great choice. Just dab a small amount on the back of your hand, and apply as usual using your favorite sponge, brush, or clean fingers.

Lancome Nude Miracle Liquid-to-Powder Makeup

What’s to love: The oil-absorbing, “ultralightweight” formula is opaque enough to provide ample coverage to blur lines and even out skin tone, yet light enough to come in thin, liquid form. For something that supposedly dries to a powder finish, it felt almost dewy and didn’t settle into dry patches. I love how this actually works like a traditional liquid foundation, yet doesn’t feel like I’m walking around fully made up, which is the point of all of this, right?

Skip it if: Sephora isn’t your jam -- this product is exclusive to the store. (The Lancôme website even directs you to Sephora.com.)

Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Flawless Fluide

What’s to love: This bi-phase formula is quite fun to apply. First, you shake the bottle (you’ll hear a ball clacking inside, as you would with nail polish, only bigger) and then you dot and blend. Easy! 

Here’s what the brand says: “Color-true pigments rest at the bottom of the package while reflective waters float to the top. Vigorously shaking the package before each use ensures the pigments blend with the reflective waters to create fresh color every time.” Cool, right?

Day 2 of testing. Can you tell that I have four different foundations on?

Day 2 of testing. Can you tell that I have four different foundations on?

This proved to be the most no-frills product among the lot. First, it comes in a plastic tube, so you can carry it around without worrying it’d break. You can apply it like regular tinted moisturizer (for which Laura Mercier is renowned) and you can use a little or a lot without fumbling with a fancy applicator. Don’t get me wrong, I adore the glass bottles and droppers, but they don’t exactly make for surreptitious makeup application while commuting or at one’s desk.

Skip it if: You’re not due for face-base shopping. Perhaps I’m biased given that this is a makeup artist brand, but this felt makeup-y, in a good way. It even covered my dark undereye circles. I find no reason not to eventually own this -- it’s a crowd-pleaser.

Guerlain Lingerie De Peau Invisible Skin-Fusion Foundation

What’s to love: This was the dewiest of them all and the one that perfectly combined the qualities of skincare AND makeup. This was my favorite. It’s perfect for dry skin and wintry weather, yet didn’t feel heavy. By the time I got to testing this, I’ve already had three other foundations on, so I ended up applying it all over my T-zone, which tends to be oilier. Among all the “skincare foundations” I tested, this is the one that felt like I was applying a lightweight moisturizer as it evened out the surface.

Skip it if: You’re on a strict budget. I’ve always loved and adored this brand, however, scoring a Guerlain KissKiss lipstick or any of their gorgeous Terracotta compacts isn’t exactly a lunchtime decision. But if you’re shopping for the holidays or indulging in a legit beauty splurge, this one is a must-have for your beauty arsenal. 

You may also want to pass up if you’re sensitive to fragrance. Guerlain products tend to leave a faint, floral tinge. For Lingerie de Peau, however, the soft, almost rosy scent is what made the foundation feel so luxe while applying it on my face.

What's your favorite barely-there foundation? What kind of skincare benefits do you look for in a base?