Cushion compacts are as light as air and dreamy to use. This innovative makeup delivery system hails from South Korea, where it has become the go-to way of packaging all kinds of cream makeup products.
Iope, one of the first brands to introduce cushion compact foundations onto the market, claims to sell a cushion foundation every 6 seconds! Nowadays cushion foundations are easy to find, from both Asian and Western brands. This is no surprise, since cushion compacts give unparalleled natural coverage and are super convenient to carry.
If you think you might be into this new take on foundations and BB creams, then I can help you figure out how to make the best of them! I explain exactly what cushion compacts are and why they are so great. I’ll help you figure out which cushion compacts will be best for you based on your skin and preferences, and I’ll make sure you apply it correctly. I cap everything off with some cushion compact makeup tips and tricks, and a definitive list of the best cushion foundations and non-foundation makeup products you can easily purchase.
Cushion Compact Makeup Guide: Contents
• What Is a Cushion Compact?
• Why Are Cushion Foundations So Amazing?
• How Are Cushion Compacts Different from Foundations and BB creams?
• How to Choose the Right Cushion Compact for You
• How to Use Cushion Compacts
• Cushion Compact Makeup Tips & Tricks
• Best Cushion Foundations and Non-Foundation Cushion Compacts
A cushion compact is a compact makeup container that holds liquid makeup products. In this makeup delivery system, you basically have a makeup compact with two levels.
The bottom level is a sterile sponge or mesh fibers (the cushion) that is saturated with a liquid makeup formula (most frequently a BB or CC cream with light coverage). Because the makeup sits in the sponge, it is lighter and airier than it would be if it was compressed at the bottom of a bottle.
Over the cushion there is a plastic separator that prevents contaminants from getting into the makeup. On top of that sits an anti-microbial applicator sponge – so you really don’t have to worry about your sponge getting gunky and cross-contaminating your makeup. The whole compact is airtight, so you really don’t have to worry about bacteria getting it, even if you have the cushion foundation compact sitting in your purse or car.
There are a few reasons why cushion foundations are the best for any makeup lover, and that you are going to fall in love with them once you try one.
Cushion Foundations Have Unparalleled Airiness
Because the makeup inside the cushion foundations sits inside the sponge, it remains liquidy, airy, and light. Once the sponge is pressed into the cushion, the amount of makeup deposited in minimal.
This means that you never end up with too much makeup on your sponge, and the texture of the makeup itself is totally dreamy. This is perfect for anyone who wants natural-looking makeup that will never look cakey.
Cushion Foundations Are Convenient for Carrying
Liquid foundations and BB creams are my favorites because it’s so easy to make them look good, especially if you get dry patches when you wear cream or powder-based foundations. However, they are a pain to carry and apply throughout the day.
Cushion compacts solve the problem. They are super convenient to pop open on the go, and quickly re-apply a bit of makeup.
The other beautiful thing about cushion compact foundations is that the cushion itself is refillable! You don’t have to buy a brand new compact each time you run out, which is good for your pocket and for the environment. You simply buy a cushion refill, pop it into your compact, and you’re good to go.
Skin Care and Makeup All in One
Since cushion compacts hail from South Korea, where makeup is nice but skin care is everything, it is no surprise that these formulas almost always have some serious benefits to the skin. Frequently cushion compacts are BB or CC cream formulas with skin-nourishing, moisturizing, protecting, and anti-aging ingredients. You can think of them as skin care with a tint.
Cushion Foundations Almost Always Have a Serious SPF
The other thing that makes these cushion foundations stand out is the consistently high SPF. You will frequently see formulas with 30 or 50 SPF, as well as broad spectrum protection.
If you apply liberally, the cushion foundation will be all the face sunscreen you’ll need, but usually it is better to apply a ¼ teaspoon of sunscreen first, and then use the cushion for SPF touch-ups throughout the day.
Here is the way to keep things straight: cushion compacts are the delivery method, while foundations and BB or CC creams are what’s inside. Most frequently cushion compacts hold an alphabet cream, but they can also hold foundations, liquid highlighters, and liquid blushes.
Alphabet creams, i.e. BB or CC creams, are products that sit somewhere between skin care and makeup. They provide coverage to the skin (normally light-to-medium coverage) in a variety of finishes, and they tend to include many skincare benefits (especially skin-brightening and anti-aging, but there are also anti-acne BB creams and more). BB and CC creams often have high sun protection factors, especially when compared to Western foundations.
I think it makes the most sense to think of BB and CC creams as a type of foundation. The big difference is that the word “foundation” makes us think of a makeup product first, and it can take the form of a liquid, balm, cream, or powder. Foundations can provide coverage anywhere between ultra-light to very full, so they really are a very broad product type!
With more cushion foundations now available on the market, finding one that will suit your needs is becoming easier! While cushion foundations normally provide a sheer, moist coverage, there are variations out there that buck the trend with more coverage or with matte finishes.
In order to find the right one for you, first take stock of the things that matter, like skin type, skin tone, favorite finish, and the level of coverage you want.
Choosing the Best Cushion Foundations by Skin Type
To start off, make sure you can correctly assess what your skin type is. Most of us sit somewhere in between the two extremes, so you can try and figure out which one you are closest to.
Those with oily skin tend to have larger pores (especially in the T-zone), and their skin becomes shiny and oily throughout the day. Those with dry skin will normally (though not always) have smaller, nearly invisible pores, and their skin will never get shiny of its own accord. Those in the middle can have combination skin leaning either in one direction or the other.
Most cushion compact foundations are made for skin that leans towards dry, with a lot of emollient ingredients. You will see lots of creamy ingredients in their formulas, and they’ll be advertised as having moisturizing, conditioning, or hydrating properties. Some will give your skin a dewy finish that looks very healthy and bright, although options with normal finishes exist as well.
For those with skin that leans towards oily, we are starting to see more matte and semi-matte options. Usually you can figure this out from the name (names like pore-blurring, mattifying, or oil-control, for example), although reading reviews (or my list of the best cushion foundations) will also give you a lot of information!
If you end up opting for just a regular cushion foundation, you can make it look more matte (and get it to last longer) by powdering it.
Choosing the Best Cushion Foundations by Skin Tone
Cushion foundations, especially from Korea, usually only come in 4-6 shades, and unfortunately they often leave out those who have darker skin. Western brands tend to have a better shade selection, so bare this in mind if you have darker skin.
In general, the smaller shade range is not the end of the world, since the coverage is light and one shade will fit a wide range of skin tones. Even so, the lack of cushion foundations for darker skin tones is certainly shameful in this day and age.
Start off by determining your undertones – does your skin lean towards cool (i.e. pinkish or blue-ish), neutral (beige or olive), or warm (yellow or golden)? You can figure it out by the color of your veins (purple means cool, blue means neutral, and green means warm).
Buying in store is always the easiest way to find the best cushion compact foundation for your skin tone, because you can test the color on your skin. Swipe a few colors along your jawline – the color that blends best into both your neck and face (to the point that it seems invisible) is your perfect match!
If you are buying online, look up shade descriptions and swatches! Buying cushion foundations online is more forgiving, because their light coverage means a small color mismatch will not be noticeable. Most brands will describe the shade’s undertone on their website – especially in the case of Sephora or Ulta.
Choosing the Best Cushion Foundations by Finish Preference
Cushion compacts come in three types of finishes, and it’s simply a question of taste when deciding which one you want to try. Your options are dewy, natural, and matte.
A dewy skin finish is super popular in K-beauty these days. The skin looks moist, hydrated, and youthful. For those with larger pores, unfortunately, it can also look greasy, so those with oily skin are usually not fans. For dry skin this looks healthy and radiant.
A natural or semi-matte finish will work for almost anyone. The skin simply looks smooth and only slightly illuminated. This is a great choice for those with normal and combination skin.
Lastly, matte finish cushion compacts are the perfect choice for anyone who likes to avoid a shiny or greasy look. They tend to last longer, and give the skin a velvety look. These are best for those with oily skin, whereas for dry skin they might emphasize patches of flakey skin.
Choosing the Best Cushion Foundations by Level of Coverage
If you are looking for a foundation that will hide all kinds of discolorations of blemishes, and give you that perfect, porcelain skin, must-have-been-photoshopped effect… then cushion compact foundations are probably not for you.
Cushion foundations usually come in two levels of coverage: light and medium-light yet buildable. If you normally hate foundations, and you want something that will look as natural as possible, and will just slightly even out your skin tone, then cushion compacts with light coverage will suit you just fine.
If you are looking for something that will cover some slight discolorations, and give you a more “made-up” look that is not too heavy or obvious, or if you usually wear a medium or full coverage foundation and want a slightly light option for good skin days, then chances are a cushion foundation with buildable coverage will be the best choice for you.
You can go over my list of the best cushion foundations to see which gives what kind of coverage, and find the perfect option for you.
If you want to give the cushion foundations a try, make the most of them by using them correctly!
1. Since coverage for cushion foundations tends to be quite light, it is important that your skin is in the best condition possible. Make sure you start off with a clean canvas, so at the very least use a gentle facial cleanser and a nourishing moisturizer before you start. You can also apply a primer if you like.
2. Unlike Western brands that often sell their products with subpar applicators, the brands making cushion compacts actually craft their applicators to go perfectly with the product. You can use your own brush or sponge if you want, but many caution that the best results will come from using the special anti-microbial rubycell sponge.
3. Press your applicator lightly into the cushion, making sure not to pick up too much foundation or BB/ CC cream.
4. Begin applying the foundation to your face in downward motions, to avoid disturbing any peach fuzz and to keep the foundation looking natural. For a higher coverage, use a stippling application motion.
5. To apply cushion foundations to trickier areas like below the eyes or along the side of the nose, either fold the sponge or wrap it around your finger, and apply as you did before.
6. Once you’ve covered your whole face, see if there are any areas that require more coverage. You can either apply more foundation from your cushion to those areas, especially if all you need is medium coverage, or you can apply a concealer if you need high coverage.
7. If you are going for a very dewy, K-pop style finish, then you’re done! You can finish your look off with just a bit of makeup. However, for a longer-lasting look and a somewhat more matte finish make sure to set your makeup with a translucent powder.
• Cushion compact technology is very clean and sterile, and the formulas themselves are well preserved. Even so, this assumes that they are used correctly. Never forget to properly close your cushion compact after using it, as leaving it open will seriously compromise its sterility.
• Replace your cushions regularly. If you don’t use it up by the end of 6 months, toss the cushion as it is very likely to have hit its expiry date.
• If you are relying on your cushion compacts to also double as your sunscreen, make sure to pack it on! To get the full SPF of a product you need to use at least a ¼ teaspoon.
• If you have oily skin, a cushion compact can also double as your moisturizer! Many cushion compacts (especially Korean ones) are loaded with hydrating ingredients to keep your skin soft and supple.
So if you have made up your mind to give this magical product a try, make sure to pick the best cushion compacts for your skin type, as recommended below!
Best Cushion Foundations for Dry Skin with Dewy Finish
1. Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat Cushion Compact Foundation
This Western take on cushion foundations gives as dewy and glowy a coverage as any Korean cushion, but with a buildable coverage that would be more popular with most in the West. This formula doesn’t boast an SPF, unfortunately, but it does possess many skincare properties. If you want to try one of these 8 shades, you can find them at Nordstrom.
2. Laneige BB Cushion Hydra Radiance
The name of this cushion BB compact makes it clear: this is a hydrating, skin-brightening formula that gives a luminous finish to the skin. It’s got some serious skincare ingredients in it to improve the look of all skin types, and a 50 SPF. It’s a perfect choice for dry and normal skin types, so pick up one of the 6 available shades at Sephora.
3. Sulwhasoo Perfecting Cushion Foundation Compact
This cushion foundation does exactly what it needs to: it nourishes the skin with botanicals, and provides a buildable dewy coverage that is perfect for dry and normal skin. It is more foundation-y than other cushion compact on this list, that’s for sure. There are six shades to choose from, which tend to run light. You can purchase this cushion foundation from Nordstrom.
Best Cushion Foundations For Normal Skin Types with Natural Finish
1. Physicians Formula Mineral Wear All-in-One ABC Cushion Foundation
This mineral makeup cushion foundation has a gentle formula and lots of skin benefits. It provides a light coverage that is as natural as any Korean cushion offering. Its velvety finish would work for all skin types, and a 50 SPF is commendable. You can buy one of the 6 shades at Ulta.
2. Amore Pacific Age Correcting Foundation Cushion
This is the brand that started the cushion craze (and is also the parent brand of other contenders like Laneige and Sulwhasoo), and this is one of the best cushion compacts, especially if you like a slightly fuller coverage. It has a 25 SPF, and a coverage that hides wrinkles and blemishes alike.
This nourishing formula is ideal for mature skin, but it can work for those with younger, normal skin as well. You can find this cushion, with 5 color options, at Nordstrom.
3. Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Cushion Compact
This is a perfect middle of the road cushion compact with lots of skin benefits. It brightens the skin and staves away premature aging. It has a natural skin, but it is quite moisturizing. If you have skin that leans towards oily, you can wear it without moisturizer, although it’ll generally work best for normal skin.
As with many other Western cushion compacts, you can build up the coverage to about medium. You can purchase it at Nordstrom.
4. Dior Capture Totale Dreamskin Perfect Skin Cushion
This take on cushion foundations from Dior perfectly captures the essence of what cushion compacts should be, with a ton of skin-loving botanicals, a high SPF, and a luminiscent coverage that isn’t too shiny. The coverage this cushion gives is somewhere between light and medium, and there are 4 colors to choose from. It is available for sale at Sephora.
Best Cushion Foundations for Oily Skin with Matte/ Semi-Matte Finish
1. Lancome Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Cushion Foundation
After years of cushion compacts being available outside Korea, color selection still leaves something to be desired. That’s why Lancome deserves its place on this list of the best cushion foundations – their 17 shades mean almost anyone can find a match.
This is essentially a lighter reformulation of the Teint Idole foundation, and it is certainly one of the best cushions available, especially for those with oily/ combination skin. While the finish on this cushion is natural, it is still able to keep oils in check. It provides light to medium coverage, and is available at Sephora.
2. Clinique Super City Block BB Cushion Compact
As always, Clinique delivers a wonderful take on a makeup product that is simple, elegant, and effective. This cushion compact provides a matte coverage that never feels heavy or cakey – just smooth and light, yet matte.
It is perfect for oily and combination skin, and it provides a 50 SPF that is rare to find in products for these skin types. The only drawback is a 4-shade color selection. If you would like to give it a try, you can find it at Ulta.
Best Non-Foundation Cushion Compacts
1. Lancome Cushion Blush Subtil
Cushion compacts are a great way of getting a sheer look, and in this case, this is the dewy-est, subtlest, and most natural blush possible. Tap a little bit on with the included sponge, perhaps after you’ve applied your cushion compact foundation, for a really lovely natural flush. This formula comes in three colors that are available at Lancome.
2. Philosophy Take a Deep Breath Cushion Color for Cheeks
While Philosophy’s cushion foundation didn’t merit a place as one of the best cushion compacts, its blush certainly did. There are 4 shades to choose from, that are all beautifully blendable and lightweight. They give a delicate wash of color across the cheeks, and are simply lovely. They are available for sale at Ulta.
3. First Aid Beauty 3-in-1 Superfruit Color Correcting Cushion
Think of this as a primer that both color corrects and brightens, as opposed to a color correcting concealer. This cushion compact boasts beautiful skin-nourishing and smoothing ingredients like niacinamide and superfruit extracts, so you’ll have no qualms applying it to your skin before your cushion foundation.
It’ll give your skin added coverage and a natural glow. Pick one of these cushion compacts up for yourself at Sephora.
Have you tried cushion compacts? What did you think? Let us know!