Foundation is probably the most important piece of the makeup puzzle and, for a beginner, the most frustrating. Many people find that choosing a foundation for the first time is so hard that they give up or live with a color that isn't right for them. Makeup stores rarely offer any genuine help. Sometimes they get it completely wrong. Choosing the right foundation is a genuine challenge. Hopefully, after you finish this article, you will know enough to be able to pick the right one for yourself!
Foundation's purpose is to enhance your skin and 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:
- The color. You want to match your skin tone, undertone, shade, and depth for a natural, wearable look.
- Your skin type. If you have oily skin, the oils from your skin can mix with the foundation and make it look blotchy. You want a foundation with oils or moisturizers if you have dry skin. Wearing the right foundation for your skin type will help your foundation stay on longer and look better.
- How much coverage do you need? If you have skin with many flaws, you want something that will make them disappear. Those with flawless skin will want something sheerer.
- 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?
There are many types of foundations on the market, with new ones always showing up.
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. Consider a creme or stick foundation if you need more coverage than this. 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. It is a fine choice if you have great skin because it evens out your skin tone 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.
Here are the steps to go through when you choose a foundation:
- Figure out your undertone (red, yellow, warm brown, or something else?).
- The depth of your skin tone (pale porcelain or deep ebony? Or something in between?)
- What's your skin type? (Oily, dry, or a combination?)
- How much coverage do you want?
- What kind of finish do you want? (Matte, satin, dewy or glowing?)
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:
- Do a Stripe Test.
- 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 foundations can change as you wear them, so I encourage you to take some home for a serious test.
Matching your color: Ivory-beige
With foundation, begin at your lip line on the side of your face. Draw a stripe downwards 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
Bronze-ebony skin is more complex, with much greater variation than ivory-beige. So if you have bronze-ebony skin, 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.
Some bronze-ebony skin tones have lighter skin on the inside of their face and darker on the outside (facial masking). I suggest picking two shades of foundation: one to brighten the dark areas and another to darken the brighter ones.
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. Most people have weather and sun damage to the skin on their face, which can mislead them about their undertone. Instead of looking at the face, observe the inside of your arm. That will be paler, but you can usually see the true undertone better there.
If you're in this category, you will have either olive, yellow or pinkish-red undertones. I see a lot of women with yellow undertones wearing foundations with a pink undertone. I believe that's because they mistake the red on their faces for their natural undertone. But the pink undertone from the foundation makes their skin look 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:
- Do you tan easily? If so, you probably have an olive undertone.
- 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.
- If you burn incredibly easily, then you have a pinkish or reddish undertone.
Another way to tell is to look at the veins in your arm. Red undertones will combine with the blue of the vein to form a purplish color, while yellow undertones combine with the blue vein to make them look green.
If you are still unsure, 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 a red foundation on yellow undertone skin, a yellow foundation on reddish skin can look good.
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 know you will be happier if you have olive or yellow 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, with 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. There are wonderful colors now for people with bronze-ebony skin; it's not like it used to be.
If you have deep bronze or ebony skin, consider brightening it. After you have applied your natural foundation shade, take another one that 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, 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 an intense golden-orange undertone work well for this technique, or you can use powder which will be subtler. This technique will work best for people with darker bronze-ebony skin with golden orange undertones.
Your Skin Depth
The depth of your skin is how dark it is. It's just as important to match this as it is to match your undertone. Here's a chart to give you an idea of the range of depth we are talking about:
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 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. It can accentuate fine lines and wrinkles if your skin is dry and you don't use a foundation with moisturizers. It can draw attention to texture flaws such as large pores if you have oily skin and don't use a formula with absorbers.
If you have combination skin that is both oily and dry, that can be tough. Your best chance of success would probably come from using a foundation with oil absorbers. 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:
rarely breaks out;
feels light after cleansing;
usually small pores;
mature skin (very often)
formulas with emollients and antioxidants
creme (if the skin is not too dry);
|normal||not too dry or oily;
smooth and even texture;
medium to small pores;
few to no breakouts;
|pH-balanced products||liquid (all types);
cream (all types);
|oily||gets shiny fast;
usually very elastic;
can break out often;
prone to blackouts;
|sensitive||sensitive to many products;
blotchy (may have dry patches);
susceptible to rosacea;
thin and delicate
fragrance-free moisturizing formulas;
formulas without chemical sunscreens
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 have texture issues or a marked five o'clock shadow to cover up, you need more coverage. Coverage is one of the easiest things to get right. Start light, then keep going to heavier and heavier coverage until you like what you 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. Use a matte finish if you have skin imperfections like breakouts, scars, or discoloration. A foundation with any shimmer will tend to highlight flaws in your texture. Since a matte finish has no shine, it is perfect for textured skin. A matte finish 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 between matte (which has no sheen) and dewy. Satin is probably the most common foundation finish, as it is pretty and kind to skin texture.
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 works is the sponge, particularly the Beauty Blender. Those things are somewhat pricey, but they do the job. The Beauty Blender is a pleasure to use and blends the foundation and other creams beautifully. Other sponges can work, but I find they work less well.
To apply your foundation with a sponge, it must be clean, so ensure you wash it out after using 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 foundation you use. Liquids can be dotted on your face and spread evenly with a wiping motion of the sponge to cover your face. If you use a stick, I find it easiest to apply it directly to the face. You don't need to cover the entire face with the foundation from the stick, as the sponge blending will spread it.
Once the foundation has been spread evenly over your skin, I recommend tapping/pressing the sponge 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 overdo this step. The more coverage your foundation provides, the more time you should spend on this - I typically spend around 15 minutes just blending in the foundation. It 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; 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 is that you need to ensure 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 better on your face than 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. It's a significant step since any makeup's success depends on the canvas's quality, which is what you create with your foundation! Do let me know if there's anything that's not clear or missing so that I can fix it. I always love to hear from you!