3. Foundation

Foundation is probably the most important piece of the makeup puzzle and for a beginner, the most frustrating. There are many choices and decisions to make and a vast number of products to choose from. Choosing a foundation for the first time is so hard that when you learn about it, you just want to give up. And makeup stores rarely offer any genuine help. (In my experience, they offered no help at all.) Choosing the right foundation is a genuine challenge.

Because choosing a foundation is so difficult, I recommend skipping the foundation step in the beginning. Learn how to do a nice eye makeup and a beautiful lip. Read on to get the basics of foundations in your head and think about it as you do your makeup. Notice your skin type and tone. After you've gained some experience, you'll be much better prepared for it and have an easier time of selecting a foundation than if you did it now.

As we did with eye-shadows, we will start with 'natural' and wearable looks as our base. You can stick with that, or you can move on from there, as I have.

Foundation Basics

The purpose of the foundation is to enhance your skin and to provide a base for further makeup application. The ideal foundation should make your skin look flawless. Properly done, foundation will do more for your look than any other product you can buy.

Here are the main things to think about when choosing a foundation, in the order of their importance:

  1. The color. For a natural, wearable look, you want to match your skin tone and skin depth.
  2. Your skin type. If you have oily skin, the oils from your skin can mix with the foundation and make it look blotchy. If you have dry skin, you want a foundation with oils or moisturizers in it. Wearing the correct foundation for your skin type will help your foundation stay on longer and look better.
  3. How much coverage do you need? If you have skin with lots of flaws (as I do), you will want something that can cover that up. Of course, you can use concealers to do this. For many of you, a lighter foundation with some concealer will be the best choice. Of course, if you want to completely change your skin tone for a specific look, rather than going natural, obviously you will need the fullest coverage foundation you can get. For most men wishing to transform themselves, I would suggest the more coverage you have, the better off you will be.
  4. How do you want your skin to look when you finish? Do you want a flat (matte) finish, with no shine? Do you want a glow?

Foundation Types

There are many types of foundations on the market, with new ones showing up all the time.

  • Liquid Foundation is probably the most popular. You can get it for every skin type. They have oil-free/oil-absorbing formulas for oily skin and moisturizing formulas for dry skin.

    Liquid foundations provide light (what I call "sheer") to medium coverage. If you need more coverage than this, consider a creme or stick foundation. If you need less, you could try a tinted moisturizer.

  • Cream Foundation is smooth and creamy, usable by normal to very dry skin types. It provides the highest coverage and provides a natural finish. Because it has a lot of coverage, you can also use it as a concealer.

    You can increase the versatility of a cream foundation by using a damp makeup sponge, which delivers a more sheer application.

    If you have extremely oily skin, it is probably better to avoid cream foundations. It does work well with dry skin, but if your skin tends to flake, you have to use a lot of care in application, because it can look cakey and heavy.

    You can get cream foundations in stick form, which is incredibly convenient and easy to use. It's my foundation of choice, and I use products from Kryolan exclusively.

  • Mousse Foundation is a cream foundation which has been 'whipped' to make it lighter. Mousse foundation is a good choice if you don't need the strong coverage of the stick, but have medium to dry skin and need medium coverage.

  • Creme to Powder is a cream foundation that dries to a powder finish. These work better on oily skin because of the powder finish. It provides less coverage than a stick or mousse, but more than a liquid foundation (or a tinted moisturizer).
  • Tinted moisturizer is just what it sounds like: a moisturizer with a bit of color added. If you have great skin, this is a great choice for you, because it will even out your skin tone and while remaining very sheer. Most brands also have sunscreen built in.

  • Powder Compact works on normal to oily skin. If you have dry skin, avoid this one. Powder compact is perfect for young skin that doesn't need much coverage and is very easy to apply. You can get more coverage by adding more layers of powder, but you will never get as much coverage with a powder compact as you can with other foundations.

  • Pigmented Mineral Powder is loose or pressed powder that provides sheer to medium coverage. It is for normal to oily skin. Sensitive skin types favor this product. With all powders, if you apply it with a brush, you will get lighter coverage than if you use a sponge. And like all powders, you can add layers if you want more.

Choosing Foundation

Here are the steps to go through when you choose a foundation:

  1. Figure out your undertone (red, yellow, warm brown or something else?).
  2. The depth of your skin tone (pale porcelain or deep ebony? Or something in between?)
  3. What's your skin type? (Oily, dry, or a combination?)
  4. How much coverage to you want?
  5. What kind of finish do you want when you are done? (Matte, satin, dewy or glowing?)

Skin Tone

As I've written elsewhere, I think there are two broad categories of skin tones: ivory-beige and bronze-ebony. There are some differences in choosing your foundation for each tone, but for both tones:

  1. Do a Stripe Test.
  2. Do it in natural light.

Don't be afraid to ask for samples to take home. You might not be able to get this service from a drugstore, but any decent makeup shop will give you a small amount of two or three products that you can try at home. Makeup stores can be dark, and foundation can change as you wear it, so I encourage you to take some home for a serious test.

Matching your color: Ivory-beige

Take some foundation, and draw a stripe on the side of your face from the level of your lip down under your jaw, onto your neck. I think it's a good idea to start with three different shades. Wait a few minutes to see if your skin chemistry changes the color, then select the one that most closely matches your neck.

Matching your color: Bronze-ebony

Make your stripe on the side of your face, from the cheek, just a little above nose-level, down to your jaw, just below lip-level. I recommend this because bronze-ebony skin tends to have much more variation than ivory-beige. There are also a small number of people with bronze-ebony tones that have lighter skin on the inside of their face, and darker skin on the outside. If you are one of these, I suggest choosing two shades of foundation which you can use to even out the skin tone. You would use one shade to brighten the darker areas, and another one to darken the brighter areas.

Wait a few minutes to see if the tone changes because of your skin chemistry before making a decision.

What's your undertone?

Figuring out your undertone is crucial to getting the right foundation. It's also probably the hardest thing to figure out. You apply foundation to your face, so that seems like the natural place to look. But since the skin on your face is constantly exposed to the sun and the weather, it can mislead you. A better place to observe your undertone is the inside of your arm. That will be paler, but you can usually see your undertone there.

Ivory-Beige Undertones

If you're in this category, you will have either olive, yellow or pinkish-red undertones. I see a lot of woman with yellow-undertones who wear foundations with a pink shade. I suspect that is because they mistake the red color on their faces (from weather and other irritants) for their natural color. But this doesn't work because the pink-undertone in the foundation just looks ashy and old on skin with an olive or yellow undertone.

If you are still having trouble telling what your undertone is, try this test:

  1. Do you tan easily? If so, you probably have an olive undertone.
  2. If you can get a tan, but it's a bit hard (like you burn a little at first), then you probably have a yellow undertone.
  3. If you burn incredibly easily, then you have a pinkish or reddish undertone.

If you are still not sure than choose a foundation with a yellow undertone. The yellow in the foundation will help counteract any redness in your face due to damage, rosacea or broken capillaries. And unlike red foundation on yellow undertone skin, yellow foundation on reddish skin can look quite lovely.

If you have been using a pinkish foundation and decide to switch, give yourself a couple of weeks to get used to it before you give up on it. I think you'll be happier.

Bronze-ebony undertones

Because the bronze-ebony undertones are so noticeable you need to match these exactly. They can range from yellow to a golden-orange to a true, warm brown and they there be multiple shades of skin on one face. You may see lighter areas above the eyebrows and on the cheeks, darker areas around the mouth and along the jaw. Don't be afraid to use multiple shades of foundation to even out the skin.

If you have deep bronze or ebony skin, consider brightening it. After you have applied your natural foundation shade, take another one which is one or two shades lighter and blend it into the center of your face. You want to apply it to the center of your forehead, between the bottom of your eyes and the top of your cheekbones, and down the center of your nose and along the tip of your chin. This style of application will give you a nice light glow. Foundations with a really intense golden-orange undertone work well for this technique, or you can just use powder which will be subtler. This technique will work best for people who have a darker shade of bronze-ebony skin with golden orange undertones.

Your Skin Depth

The depth of your skin is just how dark it is. It's obviously important to match this as well as matching your undertone. Here's a chart to give you an idea of the range of depth we are talking about:

Skin depth chart

There are more depths in all tones available in foundations every day, but you might not be able to match your skin exactly. It's not unusual to find that your color is between two avail shades of foundation, one of which is too light, the other too dark. In a situation like this, you can mix the two shades to get a better match, or you can just go slightly darker. I think darker looks more natural than lighter and is especially important for bronze-ebony skin tones since lighter foundations will make you look ashy.

Your Skin Type

It's important to match your foundation to your skin type. If your skin is dry and you don't use a foundation with moisturizers, it can accentuate fine lines and wrinkles. If you have oily skin and don't use a formula with absorbers in it, it can draw attention to texture flaws such as large pores.

If you have combination skin, where it is both oily and dry, that can be tough. Probably your best chance of success would come from using a foundation with oil absorbers in it. The oil absorbers will keep your "t-zone" (center of forehead, nose, cheeks and chin), which is where most people look) from getting too shiny and textured.

Normal skin is easy. Get a foundation with a bit of moisturizer to keep your skin moist and supple.

Here's a table that summarizes what foundation will work with what type of skin:

skin type


needs best foundation
dry lacks emollients;
less elastic;
rarely breaks out;
feels light after cleansing;
usually small pores;
mature skin (very often)
moisturizing foundations;
formulas with emollients and antioxidants
liquid (moisturizing);
creme (if skin not too dry);
tinted moisturizer;
normal not too dry or oily;
smooth and even texture;
medium to small pores;
few to no breakouts;
healthy color
pH-balanced products liquid (all types);
cream (all types);
tinted moisturizer;
oily gets shiny fast;
usually very elastic;
large pores;
can break out often;
prone to blackouts;
wrinkles less
oil-free products;
liquid (oil-free);
mineral powder
sensitive sensitive to many products;
sun burns easily;
flushes easily;
blotchy (may have dry patches);
susceptible to rosacea;
thin and delicate
fragrance free moisturizing formulas;
formulas without chemical sunscreens
liquid (water-based);
mineral powder


How do you feel about your skin? Choosing a coverage level is all about what you want to see when you look in a mirror. Do you want more or less coverage? Which one would make you feel more comfortable? If you are truly committed to a natural look, the sheerer the foundation can be, the more natural it will appear. If you want a more artificial look (such as I usually prefer), or have a marked five o'clock shadow to cover up, then you need heavier coverage. You need enough coverage to hide the stuff you don't want to see.


There are basically four types of finish:

Matte works on every type of skin from dry to oily. One exception: If your skin is extremely dry, avoid a matte finish. If you have skin imperfections like breakouts, scars or discoloration a matte finish. A foundation with any shimmer will tend to highlight flaws in your texture. Since a matte finish has no shine, it is perfect for these textured skin. A matte finish also gives you the best coverage and is perfect for oily skin because it will not increase the shine. Matte is my favorite finish for myself, but not necessarily for others.

Dewey works on dry skin, since it adds moisture. Use on all skin types except oily, where it can increase shine and make your flaws more visible. If you live in a high-humidity area, avoid dewy finishes because they can look too shiny or even greasy.

Satin works on everything but extremely oily skin. It falls somewhere between matte (which has no sheen at all) and dewy. Satin is probably the most common and most popular foundation finish, as it is pretty and very kind to skin texturing.

Luminous works well on all skin types. It has light reflecting properties that can hide tiny flaws and lines. It also gives a youthful, healthy glow. Avoid if you have oily skin, because it is too easy to make your face look greasy.

How to Apply Foundation

People use fingers, brushes and sponges to apply foundation. For me, the only tool that really works is the sponge, in particular, the Beauty Blender. Those things are somewhat pricey, but they really do the job. The Beauty Blender is a pleasure to use, as it blends the foundation and any other creams so beautifully. Other sponges can work, but I find they work less well. As amazing as it seems, all sponges are not created equal.

To apply your foundation with a sponge, it must be clean, so make sure you wash it out after you use it. You can adjust the amount of coverage by using a damp sponge (sheerer) or a dry one (more coverage).

How you get the foundation onto your skin depends on the type of foundation you are using. Liquids can be dotted on your face and spread evenly with a wiping motion of the sponge to cover your face evenly. If you are using a stick, I find it easiest to apply the stick directly to the face. You don't need to cover the entire face with foundation from the stick, as the blending of the sponge will spread it.

Once the foundation has been spread evenly over your skin, I recommend tapping/pressing the sponge all over your face to blend it into the skin. Use circular patterns, not straight lines to keep the foundation from having "tracks." It's almost impossible to over-do this step. The more coverage your foundation provides, the more time you should spend at this - I typically spend around 15 minutes just blending in the foundation. It really does make a difference.

Once the foundation is blended in, wait a couple of minutes then blot the foundation lightly with a tissue. Most tissues are 2-ply, and I like to separate them and use just the thinnest tissue to blot. Blotting will improve the longevity of your foundation and improve the finish.

You can layer other creams on top of the foundation for contour or color, blending each into the foundation with the sponge. One issue that here is that you need make sure your products are compatible. If you use an oil-based foundation, don't use water based contour, highlight, concealer or blush, and vice versa. Oil and water aren't going to mix any better on your face then they do anywhere else. After applying your foundation, finish with a light coat of translucent powder.

That's it for foundation. I know there was a lot of information in this article, but I hope it helped you out. It's a really important step, since the success of any makeup depends on the quality of the canvas, which is what you create with your foundation! Do let me know if there's anything that's not clear or missing, so I can fix it. To do that, just