Dr. Becky Maes - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Becky Maes

Is Foundation Bad For You?



Short answer

Some foundation is bad for you. Although this product is designed to help give you the appearance of flawless skin, certain types can cause breakouts, dryness, and irritation. Others contain parabens which threaten more serious long-term effects.



Long answer

For centuries, foundation makeup has been applied to the face and body to even the skin tone, smooth out the texture and cover flaws. It was worn by both men and women throughout Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Then during the Elizabethan era, the English began applying ceruse to their faces, which was a mixture of vinegar and lead. Needless to say, many men and women later died from wearing lead-based foundation.

We’d like to think we’ve come a long way from lead in our foundation—but have we really? Or is foundation still bad for you?

First, let’s start with the ingredients you need to look out for. While nothing is as toxic as lead, there are some modern additives that raise red flags. Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl, and ethyl, specifically) are often added to cosmetics to prevent product spoilage and help extend the shelf life. However, there are concerns that parabens may be carcinogenic—preliminary research has shown that they can be absorbed by the human body and have even been found in breast cancer tumors.

Other harmful ingredients won’t increase your risk of cancer, but they can cause serious aggravation for your skin. That’s because everyone is different, and your foundation needs to align with your unique skin type.

If you have oily skin, you should avoid oil-based cream and liquid foundations. These will clog your pores and cause acne breakouts. For those with dry skin, it’s critical to moisturize your face thoroughly before applying makeup. Steer clear of any foundations that are too powdery or alcohol-based, as they can cause redness, irritation, and flaking. 

How you apply the foundation matters, too! Always wash your hands before you begin working with the products. But don’t use your fingers to apply foundation. Instead, opt for disposable cosmetic sponges or brushes that you can clean regularly and reuse later—this will help minimize the transfer of dirt and bacteria from your tools to your face.

Finally, foundation needs to be thoroughly removed at the end of every single day. If it sits on your skin for too long, it can clog your pores and cause breakouts. Also, free radicals from environmental pollution and other sources can cling to your skin via your makeup. Over time, those free radicals will break down your skin’s collagen which results in fine lines and premature aging.

For more information on what’s in your foundation, go to safecosmetics.org or ewg.com/skindeep to find chemical-free products. You can also talk to a dermatologist or licensed aesthetician to learn more about your skin type and what specific products are the best fit for you.

Possible short-term side effects

  • irritation and redness
  • acne
  • dry, flaking skin

Possible long-term side effects

  • premature aging
  • cancer (inconclusive)

Ingredients to be aware of


  • improves skin texture
  • evens skin tone
  • covers flaws and blemishes

Thank you for your feedback!

View Sources | Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 11-14-2023

Thank you for your feedback!

View Sources
Written by Rachel Adams
Published on: 11-14-2023

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