A new generation of foundations aims to do just that, promising more than an even skin tone and a dewy finish. Fortified with ingredients usually reserved for skin care products, these foundations say they can diminish fine lines and wrinkles, treat acne, firm the skin - even help reverse aging.
Others, such as Estee Lauder's Resilience Lift Extreme Ultra Firming makeup, tout their collagen-boosting capabilities via peptides and the moisturizing properties of hyaluronic acid -- two substances touted to have skin rejuvenating properties.
Naturally, the trend is driven by the growing anti-aging skin care market. According to the market research company Mintel, from 2004 to 2006, makeup brands with anti-aging benefits sparked a $39-million growth in the $6-billion cosmetics category - and that's just for brands sold in drug and food outlets.
"There is sort of this race to be the one product that is all things to all women," says Kat Fay, a senior health and beauty analyst at Mintel. "It's anti-aging, it gives you a tan, firms your skin, evens out your skin tone and does your taxes too!"
But the products are also selling to younger women, who are looking for prophylactic beauty strategies. "New science, technology and ingredients are at the core of this," Fay says. "The idea is we can build a better you."
But some dermatologists question using makeup as an approach to anti-aging or skin treatment. "When you put these cosmeceutical ingredients in makeup, theoretically they should have some effect, but if someone has a skin condition they want to treat, something like acne or rosacea or even fine lines or wrinkles, they'll probably see better results from a physician-prescribed therapy," says Jenny Kim, associate professor of medicine and dermatology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Since these aren't approved by the FDA, which requires a certain amount of testing, it's hard to judge the efficacy."
It's also impossible to know exactly how much of these ingredients are in the product. "Ingredient lists are tough," says cosmetic chemist Joe DiNardo, vice president of Pharma Cosmetix Research. Ingredients are listed in order of quantity, the most being at the top of the list and the least at the bottom. "But when you get to ingredients that are 1% or less of the formulation - where some of those actives may be - they can be placed in any order," he says. "That's usually where you get all those buzz ingredients that may not even be at a functional level."
Still, many of these ingredients do have legitimate research backing up their claims, says Suzanne Bruce, a Houston dermatologist who has written in medical journals about the effectiveness of cosmeceuticals. So, she says, using a so-called functional foundation can't hurt, and "it might even help."
But how much? And when will it not make a difference at all? Here's a look at the major ingredients on the expanding list of makeup with benefits. Now, if only there were a lipstick that lowers cholesterol.
What are they: Vitamin A compounds or derivatives that increase skin turnover, thereby exfoliating and helping to rebuild collagen. They are often called retinyl palmitate in ingredient lists, and they have been shown to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, even out skin tone and improve skin texture.
Where to find them: Retinols are extremely common, but L'Oreal is emphasizing them in its new Visible Lift Line Minimizing & Tone Enhancing Makeup ($14), which also has SPF 17 to prevent skin damage and a film-forming ingredient that tightens the skin similar to the way a clay mask does - think Spanx for the face.
Will they work: "Retinols, especially retinoic acid found in prescriptions like Tazarac and Retin-A, are where you get the most bang for your buck," says Kim, the UCLA dermatologist. "They have been shown to help reverse photo damage and help with fine lines and wrinkles."
Research suggests they may be the best over-the-counter option to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. "Vitamin A-derived ingredients are the only ones that have truly been tested to show they reduce wrinkles," says Nick Morante, a cosmetic chemist.
What are they: Found in ingredients such as vitamins A, C, E, B complex, green tea, selenium and coenzyme Q10, they help stimulate healthy cell growth and protect skin against UV exposure and free radicals.
Where to find them: Prescriptives' new All Skins Mineral makeup foundation ($32.50, plus a $30 brush) combines vitamins C and E with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection. Clinique's Repairwear Anti-Aging Makeup ($28.50) boasts the antioxidants mimosa bark extract and vitamin C.