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I haven't worn foundation in months — these are the products that helped clear my skin

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For a pale and easily scarred teen going through their first bout of serious breakouts, foundation was a miracle — like some divine being descended from another realm and gave cavemen a lit torch in the Pleistocene epoch. You mean I can cover this up and it will still look like skin, kind of? Using it in high school helped buoy my confidence, and that alone was worth the time, expense, and (comparatively) minor protests from my skin. It was even worth avoiding hugging people wearing white lest they look like a screen print of Forrest Gump’s smiley face shirt afterward.

In adulthood, though, I got more comfortable with the idea of imperfection. It no longer seemed like something to so actively avoid. But over the course of the last six years, foundation had become both a habit and a safety blanket. I was still almost unconsciously relying on it to cover up the aftermath of past breakouts, and said dependency wasn’t helping other concerns like my skin texture or clogged pores.

In other words, once you start using foundation, it’s hard to stop. But, about six months ago, I did. Rather than the expense or even skin clarity, it was the argument of time that finally got me to give it up. Instead of the 180 hours I would cumulatively spend every year just putting on makeup in the morning, would I perhaps be happier — both in the moment and with my priorities in general — if I could devote that time to enjoying a cup of coffee and reading a newspaper in the morning instead?

I understand that the simple decision of how you get to spend your time in the morning can be an immense luxury — especially for women, on whom the public passes judgment about appearance with all the nuance of an executioner. If someone had told me what I just told you during one of my severe breakouts, I would have felt anger and frustration at the sheer misconception and injustice of it all: you don’t think I want to spend my mornings doing something else, too? Years later, though, I’ve been fortunate enough to age out of those breakouts, and my focus has shifted instead to the aftermath of discoloration and small flare-ups. That’s why I can point to something like “time” and have the considerable privilege of that alone being enough of a reason to stop.

To transition out of wearing foundation, I began actively addressing my underlying skin concerns and building a more sustainable skin-care regime while phasing heavy makeup out. Before, my skin care had been reactionary. Now, it needed to be proactive — and tenable as well. For that, I used my collective experience as a commerce reporter, resources like renowned dermatologists, and plenty of research and self-testing to find the products that worked for me: clinical grade dark spot correctors, gentle but intense cleansers, cult-favorite clay face masks, and a prescription-strength retinoid treatment to name a few.

As of today, I haven’t worn foundation for about five months — and I haven’t needed or wanted to. I use a dab of my Holy Grail concealer and a brush to cover up any surprise blemishes, and I swipe on some mascara and head out the door in as little as ten minutes.

Altogether, my skin is the clearest, smoothest, and most evenly toned it’s been in years. I’ve figured out how to maintain that actively with products, instead of more or less assuming it would always be at the whim of the universe. I’ve also started using skin care as makeup, rather than makeup that mimics skin care — and it looks better overall. I’ve added sunscreen since I used to rely on foundations to supply SPF, and, when I do wear makeup, I have more fun applying it.

Below, I run through the products I used to give up foundation and why each one works for my specific skin concerns. Skin care is notoriously subjective, and what works for me may not work for you, but they may be worth checking out if you’re looking to do the same.

Below are the nine products I used to get my skin to a healthy state:

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