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Panstick foundations - are they really back in vogue?

panstick foundation shades

“What’s that on your face?”

I was 15, at school and looking decidedly orange. I’d Tango-ed myself with a thick, greasy-looking layer of panstick foundation - a makeup freebie my mother had received while working on a beauty counter.

It was probably the first time I’d ever used a foundation. And, for a long while after, it was the last.

The person who spotted my ‘orangeness’ had to be a boy, of course. One of the most popular in my year group, as it happens. His reaction was crushing. What? So, I don't look like a bronzed beach babe? It dented my confidence. On reflection, all these decades later, I think I should have taken the comment as a hint that the shade and amount of product I’d used simply wasn’t flattering. Not on my normally very fair skin.

Fast forward 42 years and I’ve given the same product a second chance, albeit in a much lighter shade.

We are not talking about any old panstick foundation here. We are talking about the original - Max Factor’s time-honoured Pan Stik.

I’m, frankly, flabbergasted that it’s still around and, apparently, back in vogue.

It is a product with a long and illustrious history. Revered by drag queens and those in show business, it is still considered one of the few foundations to truly deliver full coverage. Hence, it has oodles of devotees, all over the world.

There’s panstick and Pan Stik

Max Factor Pan Stik foundation

Panstick foundations have been wheeled out by numerous brands over the past few years. They include Clinique, among others.

An attempt to capitalise on the former success of stick concealers, perhaps? Or, maybe, an effort to make applying a foundation that little bit less messy?

I think the real reason stick foundations have made a comeback is down to the success of twist-up bronzers and highlighters. Used correctly with a foundation, all three can be applied and then blended - without the need for layering. This one-step approach to concealing and contouring the face has many fans. They believe, and part of me agrees, that less layers of make-up deliver a more natural finish.

I decided to give Pan Stik a second try in a bid to avoid the faff of applying a liquid foundation at the crack of dawn. Having a product that delivers good coverage and is designed to be applied with the fingers suddenly appealed.

I was looking for full coverage and a product that requires no tools (brush or blender) to apply.

So, how did I get on?

Revisiting Max Factor Pan Stik

This product is not expensive. Part of the lure, for me, was the low price. I bought my Pan Stik for £5.28 from Amazon in the shade 25 (Fair). I’m a Prime member, so it arrived the next day.

My first impression was that it is incredibly small - much smaller than the 1980’s version I remember using as a teenager. It took a while to work out how to activate the twist-up mechanism. It is controlled by an initially stiff, dial-type wheel, which must be unique to this product. I’ve not come across anything like it in cosmetics before.

Once out of the tube, the panstick foundation is a flat-edged oval shape. I am disappointed that this has not been modernised to be more rounded, so the product can be more easily applied around the nose and eyes, etc.

Sadly, my disappointment didn’t end there…

I don’t know about you but I always prep my skin before applying foundation. In my case, I cleanse, tone and prime. Because of my ‘advanced’ age, the primer I swear by leaves my face looking fresh and dewy. I also use a serum and apply that after toning but before the primer. It turned out not to be the best canvas for this foundation.

The Pan Stik seemed to glide over the skin without depositing much product. I had to move from room to room, looking in different mirrors, to check that I had anything on my face to blend in.

One of the positives of Pan Stik is that it is said to favour the warmth of fingers for a flawless finish. I gave this a go after, finally, getting enough product on my skin.

The result was medium coverage - not the full coverage I had been expecting. I could still see a patch of redness around my nostrils and even a second application didn’t fully conceal it.

My skin did still look dewy but it required quite a bit of face powder to improve the coverage and, in turn, several sprays of setting mist to rid my face of the powdery finish.

It could be that I used too many products with moisturising properties on my face before applying the Pan Stik. It could also be that my shade choice was so spot on, I couldn't actually see it on my skin. Hence, I will give the product another ‘go’ this weekend after only cleansing and toning. If there is any improvement in the coverage, I will let you know! I’m not overly optimistic.

light shade of panstick foundation for fair skin

Panstick and Pan Stik criticisms

While Max Factor still promotes Pan Stik on its website, many complain that either the product or particular shades have been discontinued.

I feel that the formula has changed over the decades - and that is not a bad thing, if it delivers better results with more skin-loving ingredients. Sadly, I can’t see any improvement. If anything, the foundation offers less coverage and seems to have trouble ‘sticking’ to the skin. Of course, this is only my personal experience. As with any review, it is subjective and based on one person’s observations. You could buy the same product and have a totally different experience.

I am wondering if the ‘discontinued’ remarks refer to the original formula.

Here’s the thing… There is a market for stick foundations, and that is why they truly are back in vogue. They are convenient, can be used anywhere and require less faff than their liquid counterparts. They can also be used with stick bronzers, blushers and highlighters - the ultimate in convenience.

But delivering great coverage in this format is something that clearly needs to be worked on.

I won’t be throwing my Pan Stik in the bin just yet. On a different day, in different light and with less prep products on the skin, it just may deliver the finish I’m looking for.

* Belinda Bennett is a former journalist and newspaper editor. She is a make-up and skincare addict with a passion for eyeshadows. Her palette collection is approaching the 100 mark and includes everything from Jeffree Star’s Gothic Beach shadow collection to The Beauty’s Crop’s Stargazing.


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