I’ve been using and enjoying The Ordinary’s inexpensive, no frills skincare since last year, so when I saw that they were launching two foundations for practically pennies I found it hard to resist despite the fact that I don’t really need more foundation. They’ve been backlogged with orders for both the Serum Foundation and the Coverage Foundation, but I happened to pop into the Deciem store on Queen Street a few weeks back to find a fully-stocked selection of both. After some excited swatching, I finally settled on a bottle of the Serum Foundation in the shade 1.1N. My friend Katie, who was visiting, picked up a bottle too when I told her that the product cost a mere $6.70 CAD. (For reference, in Canadian drugstores L’Oreal, Maybelline, and Revlon all have foundations which cost $20 and up, so something that’s well under $10 is truly incredible.)
The shade range of the Serum Foundation seems to be pretty extensive. There are 21 shades with multiple undertones represented. From what I can glean from their colour chart, there do seem to be more extensive, nuanced options for light to medium skintones than for dark skintones, but the range does go quite deep.
I really appreciate the naming system for this foundation. Though I can get behind an interesting or clever product name, for foundation I prefer something descriptive and relative. I don’t know if “true beige” is darker or lighter than “shell beige” or “neutral beige”, nor do I know what the undertones of those shades are. However, I know that 1.1N is neutral and lighter than 2.1Y. The foundations are divided into three base numbers, 1 (for light), 2 (medium) and 3 (dark) and contain a letter or letters which indicate undertone. Many brands don’t denote undertone in their shade names, and when they do you’d be lucky to have a neutral option in addition to warm and cool. The Serum Foundation comes with a whopping six undertones: Neutral, Pink, Yellow, Red, Neutral Silver, and Yellow Gold. I’m not sure how this will play out for olive skin.
I chose the shade 1.1N, which is “fair neutral”. I would say that it leans a bit yellow, which I’ve found I like in a foundation. I am honestly amazing at matching myself to foundation based on the back of my hand; this is a great match for me. There are three shades in the 1.0 range for those fairer than me. As someone who is quite fair, I don’t always have the luxury of choice in undertones, so I appreciate that there are quite a few fair shade options with different undertones. I do wish that this luxury was afforded to the deeper tones. There’s quite a subtle gradiation from the lightest to more medium shades, with larger jumps between the darker shades. Dark skin comes in many variations and this should be represented in shade ranges.
Swatches for shade reference! L-R: The Ordinary Serum Foundation in 1.1N, Make Up For Ever Ultra HD in Y215 (my current best shade match), Make Up For Ever Ultra HD in R210 (my old shade), NARS All Day Luminous Weightless Foundation in Siberia, and Maybelline Fit Me Matte and Poreless in 110 (my fairest foundation). The underside of my arm is fairer than my face so these swatches might look a bit dark/orange. I also underexposed the picture so you could see them a bit better.
In terms of packaging, I have no major complaints. It isn’t the most beautiful packaging, but it’s functional and frankly much more attractive than plenty of drugstore offerings. And, really, when you’re paying $6.70 for a foundation, I don’t think you can complain if the packaging isn’t exquisitely beautiful. The foundation comes in a matte plastic bottle, which, while not as luxurious as NARS’ frosted glass, is extremely travel-friendly. The bottle is small and, unlike most foundations on the market, doesn’t try to convince you that it contains more product than it does. Compared to all the other foundations I have, this one is the least bulkily-packaged, though all four bottles in the image above contain 30mL/1 fl oz of product.
It also has a pump, which I think we can all appreciate. Now that we know that a brand can put out a foundation with a pump for $6.70, can we just agree that there is NO EXCUSE for any foundation to NOT have a pump in this day and age? I will say that the pump is pretty crude; it’s hard to press it down only halfway. The best you can do is to press it lightly, at which point a bit splutters out, and just keep doing this until you have the approximate amount you want. It’s that technique or just suck it up and go for a full pump. There’s also no cap, which does cut down on the travel-friendliness of the product. Also, the matte black stains with product a bit; you can wipe it down but there will always be remnants of foundation on the bottle. I don’t really mind this, personally, but some people might be sticklers for having clean products.
As you would expect, the Serum Foundation has a very light, fluid texture. It’s very spreadable, so you don’t much to cover your whole face. One pump is enough to cover my entire face and build up a second layer where I need it, which is generally on my chin and along my jawline. Lately I’ve come to realize that describing coverage is difficult, since we all have different needs. I’ve seen some people referring to this foundation as akin to a tinted moisturizer, but I think you can get low medium coverage out of it. That said, with the exception of a few hormonal zits and the ensuing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, I don’t have much to cover, so I may not be the best judge of coverage level.
Here are some closer before-and-after shots:
You can see an obvious evenness to my skin, but the foundation doesn’t fully cover my freckles/zits/hyperpigmentation.
I have normal to dry skin which right now is more on the dry side due to the change of seasons. I find the Serum Foundation easy to work with, and it clings only minimally to the underside of my nose which is undetectable under regular life conditions. My forehead is another problem zone when it comes to foundations that are too drying, and I didn’t experience any issues blending it across my forehead with a brush, a damp sponge, or my fingers. The finish is natural, but more on the dewy side than matte.
The Serum Foundation is not super long-lasting. I wore this on an uncharacteristically hot day at the end of April, and it did look pretty heavy when mixed with my sweat. But under regular weather conditions I don’t find that it cakes up; it just doesn’t wear for a terribly long time. I’d put this around the 4-hour mark before it starts to wear off my nose (which every foundation does, to be fair) and look shiny. This won’t be one I wear for my long retail workdays!
Here it is after about nine and a half hours of wear, which included a full 8-hour day in retail:
Obviously, ignore the evening lighting – despite this you can see that it’s fairly shiny. I’d probably want to blot this one and powder halfway through my day, which I don’t always have a chance to do when I’m working.
Based on how this performs on my skin, I’d wager that the oily-skinned among us won’t love this. Personally I see this as a casual foundation, one I’d pull out when I don’t want to do a full face of makeup and don’t need it to last a terribly long time. It’s like… a hungover brunch with friends product, I would say.
I’ve very recently gotten into cocktailing my foundations, and the Serum Foundation works great for this purpose. Half a pump of this with one pump of NARS All Day Luminous Weightless is perfection. I love the finish and longevity of ADLW, but it’s finnicky to make work on my dry skin. The Serum Foundation makes it apply much more smoothly but keeps the essential properties of ADLW that I enjoy. It’s also nice enough with MUFE Ultra HD, although I don’t find Ultra HD hard to work with so I don’t really feel the need to mix it, generally.
I think the Serum Foundation is a solid first foundation outing from The Ordinary. Neither packaging nor product are perfect, but I’ve been really enjoying it over the past few weeks and it’s nice to have an easy, lightweight option for everyday wear. I’ll be out of cosmetics retail in a few months and I won’t have such a need for fuller coverage, longer-wearing foundations, and I can see this one having a lot more use in my return to student life. If you’re on the dryer side and prefer a lightweight, lighter coverage foundation, this one might be worth a few bucks.
The Ordinary Serum Foundation can be ordered on the Deciem website (though they do have a backlog of orders!) or picked up at any of the standalone Deciem stores. Maybe. I’ve heard all the Toronto stores are sold out currently, so you might have to be tenacious.
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