As with so many beauty trends, this one started in Korea. A decade ago, skin perfecting ‘miracle creams’, named after seemingly every letter of the alphabet, exploded onto that market, promising to be the ultimate fusion of skincare and makeup. The idea eventually filtered to the west, where we took it and ran it, well, into the ground. First we had BBs (blemish balm), then CCs (colour correcting)… we made it all the way to Estée Lauder’s EEs (enlighten and even) before we ran out of steam and got completely over these alphabet creams. They were too gimmicky and too confusing – how were they different enough to foundation to be worthwhile, and what was so wrong with tinted moisturiser, anyway?

In the ten years that have passed since these creams first became mainstays, two key elements have fundamentally shifted the types of face base products we have available. Firstly, technology has improved immensely, and secondly, our skincare obsession has reached dizzying new heights – meaning we want to keep adding ingredients that benefit the skin in the makeup stage, and often prefer to show off the results of all that hard work rather than covering it up. With more ‘non-foundation foundation’ options available than ever before, we present our guide to some of the very best.

When you’re having a smug good skin day

Chanel Les Beiges Eau de Teint

This tint incorporates technology that is downright fun to use. When you pump the fluid out onto your hand, you’ll see tiny spheres of pigment suspended in a serum-like base. You then run the (included) brush through it and blend it out onto the skin, where the spheres burst. It feels cool and refreshing on, thanks to its incredibly high water content, and perfects things very subtly. Even with acne, which I always want to keep covered, I still get joy out of using this. I don’t reach for it when my skin is really playing up, but if my active spots are calm, this works a treat, with the addition of a concealer to cover old red scars. Ideal Saturday-at-the-farmers-market skin.

When you need proper coverage (or don’t really want to let go of foundation)

Hourglass Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint and IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream

On the other end of the spectrum, we have these two products in a tie. If you prefer a full coverage, or want to dip your toe into the non-foundation waters but still really want to feel you have makeup on, these are for you. The key differences? The Hourglass version has a slightly more refined, grown up feel and finish, very much like you’ve applied a fancy foundation, while the IT CC cream really can’t be beat when it comes to creating properly juicy-looking, radiant skin. Both are so heavily pigmented you only need a very small amount and won’t require any additional concealer for dark circles under the eyes or redness around the nose, with the possible exception of a tiny dab over only the most violent of spots.

It’s worth bearing in mind that the IT Cosmetics CC cream has become such a cult product that they have expanded the family. There is now an oil-free version, which, while labelled matte, still gives a pleasingly healthy-looking gleam, and an illuminating version, which is much more about the obvious sparkle (owing to the inclusion of mica, those tiny glittery particles), so might be best used either at night or by the young magpies among us.

When you want a ‘don’t have to think about it’ everyday option

NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer

Much as every one of these products falls into the ‘easy’ category, some are more work than others. This one strikes a particularly happy balance – it contains enough pigment to even out skin on a bad day, but also blends like a dream (you’d never guess from the texture that it is oil-free), not requiring any special care to get the finish just right. It’s the only colour product I’ve ever used that you can rub in as carelessly as you do skincare and not look like a maniac at the end. Also, scent shouldn’t really matter in a makeup product, except to those with allergies, of course, but this has a lovely, fresh, lemony fragrance which adds to how enjoyable it is to use. This is the one I can’t see myself ever being without.

When you have a (faux) tan, or a naturally deeper skin tone

Clinique iD Dramatically Different Moisturizing BB-gel + Active Cartridge Concentration Kit

Ah, that old chestnut: colour-adjusting products. Almost always too orange, too dark, too fake-looking. With its new BB gel, a slightly unsettling shade of grey in the bottle, Clinique has got the closest I’ve seen to one that works even on my fair skin tone. For reference, I am usually the second-to-palest colour in a foundation range, and Clinique says it works best on “moderately fair​ to medium deep skin tones”. In the interest of full disclosure, this was a smidge too dark for me naturally, but when I applied something like Tan Luxe’s tanning serum the night before and had a very slight shade shift, it was the perfect colour, and gave a nice sheen. This one feels like the closest to true skincare, helped along by the inclusion of a cartridge of the serum of your choice which, thanks to clever product design, is pumped out along with the makeup, so you apply the two together in your own custom blend. Despite the presence of a serum, I still completed my entire normal skincare routine before putting this on, but those who are oilier may be able to do away with their post-cleanser steps and just go in with this. Whatever you use beforehand, do take care with this one around the jawline, as it can gather and look muddy, but take that extra few seconds and this one is a great choice for all but the absolute fairest of skins.

When you want major glow

Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Flawless Filter

I have been using this on and off for nearly two years, an aeon for a beauty writer, so it’s only right to admit I’m in love. It makes skin look truly luminous without being glittery, and when applied all over (with touches of concealer where needed), it gives me my ideal skin. My only complaint about it is its giant doe-foot applicator, which seems inherently unhygienic and silly – if using this product as a base on its own, or underneath foundation as a light-giving primer, I’d much prefer a pump bottle, and if you want to use it as a highlighter, for which it is absolutely beautiful, the applicator is too big to apply with needed accuracy. That’s definitely not enough of a gripe to prevent my repurchasing this, though. For once, a shooting-for-the-stars product name lives up to expectations.

Story by Zoe Briggs. Hero image via Instagram @maralafontan.

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