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What's in Your Makeup?

We deconstruct the five essentials you use every day. Plus how to apply it and when to throw it away.

By Shelley Levitt

Reviewed by Karyn Grossman, MD

WebMD Magazine - Feature

Smoky-eyed vixen. Preppy and polished. Classic and understated. Retro goddess. We may change up our makeup styles, but do you know what's in it?

A leading dermatologist, cosmetic chemists, and celebrity makeup artists give us anup-close look at what's in the five most commonly used makeup products and offer expert tips and advice.

1. Foundation

What's in it:

Hundreds of different foundations are on drugstore shelves and behind department store counters, but they all contain three basic groups of ingredients: moisturizers, colorants, and fillers. There are some differences: Pressed powder foundations typically don't contain water, says cosmetic chemist Ni'Kita Wilson, vice president of research and innovation at Englewood Lab, while liquid foundations are closer cousins to lotions and creams.

"Foundations are becoming the last 'treatment' product in your beauty arsenal," Wilson says. Makeup bases formulated for dry skin contain moisturizing ingredients like glycerides, squalane, and oils -- including jojoba, sesame, and avocado oils. Formulas created to control oil sop up shine with absorbent powders such as silica, alumina, cornstarch, and talc. The newest wrinkle: Anti-aging formulas combine hyaluronic acid, which is a powerful hydrator, with peptides and botanicals to plump up skin and hide fine lines. 

Best application technique:

Your fingers may be convenient, but for streak- and blotch-free application of foundation, reach for a makeup sponge, suggests New York makeup artist Kimara Ahnert, whose Manhattan makeup and skin care salon attracts celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow, Brooke Shields, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Cameron Diaz. "You'll be able to blend your foundation much more evenly with a sponge," she says, "and prevent it from caking or settling into fine lines." 

Don't dip the sponge into your foundation. Instead, use a cotton swab to apply a stripe of foundation on both cheeks and across the forehead, and tiny dots on the bridge of the nose and the chin. Then, blend with the sponge. If your skin is dry from retinol skin care products, dampen the sponge to prevent these flakey patches from "grabbing" the foundation, Ahnert says.

When to ditch it:

If you use your liquid or cream foundation sparingly, that 1-ounce jar might last years. But even if it's half full, Wilson suggests tossing it after 12 to 18 months. One telltale sign that your foundation is past its expiration date is an "off" odor. "That's telling you the natural oils in the product are rancid," Wilson says. If the color looks uneven in the bottle, that's evidence the ingredients are separating. Powder foundations should be good for about two years after you open them. 

The doctor says ...

Avoid foundations with diazolidinyl urea or imidazolidinyl urea, both preservatives. "They release formaldehyde, which can be irritating to sensitive skin," says Adam Friedman, MD, director of dermatologic research for New York City's Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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