Struggling with cakey foundation? This may be the reason why

By Fiona Embleton

Getty. Photo: Benjamin Vnuk

As temperatures plummet, tailoring your skincare prep and foundation to your skin's new needs is crucial for creating a silky smooth canvas

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The best foundation is the one that is invisible to the naked eye. It meshes imperceptibly to the skin without heavy smearing or leaving behind telltale tidemarks. But the right kind of beauty alchemy takes into account changes in the climate, harsh environmental aggressors and how your makeup formulas can huddle together with richer, more hydrating skincare ingredients in the colder months.

With that in mind, we're going to make it easy to prevent foundation that clings to flaky skin and leaves behind an unwanted cakey finish.

You didn't prep your skin first

Winter skin is braced against two extremes: chilly temperatures outside and blasts of hot air indoors. Both are intensely dehydrating so it's more important than ever to use a hyaluronic acid serum or gel that squeezes into the spaces between cells to plump up the skin's surface.

“With its ability to hold 1,000 times its own weight in water, hyaluronic acid attracts moisture from the surrounding atmosphere and pulls it into the skin’s surface layers,” says Martin Lyne, founder of Woods Copenhagen. Good ones to try include Estelle & Child Super BioActive Age Control Serum, Lumene Nordic Hydra Water Gel and Woods Copenhagen Intense Hyaluronic Mask for when skin needs an overnight boost.

Then think about applying a primer, which is all about creating a smooth surface to work on and keeping your foundation in place all day. Makeup artist Danish-born make-up artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis, who has worked with celebrities including Emma Watson, is a fan of using a few drops of face oil as a primer in the winter months. “A dry oil nourishes the skin and creates a smooth surface for your foundation to glide over,” she says. “It also imparts an authentic glow that beams through the foundation.”

Thinner, hydrating foundation formulas have the added benefit of not sitting in pores or accentuating the look of flakes

Kirsten Kjaer Weis, makeup artist

You need to exfoliate

Flakey skin is the main reason foundation pills and creates a patchy finish. It also creates a roadblock to your skincare products penetrating effectively so they settle on the surface of the skin instead, where they mix with your base. Dermatologists agree that exfoliating twice a week safely removes the layer of dead skin and restores a healthy glow.

Mantle's The Ex marries the best of both worlds; it feels slightly gritty but also harnesses fruit enzymes and AHAs acids for a triple-acting exfoliating action.

You’re wearing the wrong formula for your skin type

While dry skin benefits from oils in winter, resist the temptation if your skin skews oily or acne prone. Oils are too comedogenic for these skin types and can clog pores. The same goes for your choice of foundation. “Steer clear of formulas that are heavy in oils—once they mix with sebum, they can leave skin looking patchy, shiny and uneven,” says Warren Dowdall, Bobbi Brown senior pro artist, who recommends using a water-based foundation such as the brand's Skin Foundation SPF15 year-round.

Your foundation is too thick

Our wardrobe may lean on thicker layers in the winter months but our foundation texture doesn't have to follow suit. “Thinner, hydrating foundation formulas have the added benefit of not sitting in pores or accentuating the look of flakes,” notes Kjaer Weis. Her Invisible Touch Liquid Foundation is enriched with organic chamomile water to soothe irritation, as well as plumping hyaluronic acid, mimosa flower wax.

Similarly, Gucci Westman's new Westman Atelier Vital Skincare Complexion Drops is a serum-like liquid high in vitamins A, C and D to brighten, hydrate and resurface, alongside antioxidant-rich pomegranate extract. Rather than just sit on top of your skin, these daily drops encourage “skin to act younger and look better over time, even when you wash it off,” she says. A light dusting of setting powder on the T-Zone takes down any unwanted shine.

Foundation’s Winter Rescue Team

Super BioActive Age Control Serum

Estelle & Thild

Nordic Hydra Water Gel


Intense Hyaluronic Mask

Woods Copenhagen

Birch Recovery Face Oil

Bjork and Berries

The Face Oil

Augustinus Bader

Oak Root Face Oil

Colekt Reject

The Ex


Skin Foundation SPF15

Bobbi Brown

Invisible Touch Liquid Foundation

Kjaer Weis

Vital Skincare Complexion Drops

Westman Atelier