Foundations are the base for any full makeup look, so you cannot call yourself a makeup lover without at least having one or two holy-grail foundations. There are so many different ways to rock foundation, so it’s important to stay up to date with all of the techniques. Whether you’re all about that powdery matte finish, the ethereal dewy look, or a satin finish that’s somewhere in between, I’ve got you covered with a ton of suggestions.
This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know about foundations, including all the different shapes and forms foundations take, how to choose the perfect foundation for your skin type and tone, how to apply foundations for that perfect base (and keep it perfect all day long), along with some additional tips and tricks (and my favorite foundation makeup hacks!), not to mention a list of the best foundations for every skin type and skin tone.
So what are you waiting for? Read on to get that flawless coverage!
Foundation Makeup Guide: Contents
• Types of Makeup Foundation
• How to Choose the Best Foundation for Your Skin Tone
• How to Choose the Best Foundation for Your Skin Type
• Choosing the Right Foundations for Every Season
• How To Apply Foundations: The Best Methods
• Makeup Tips For Keeping Your Foundation On All Day Long
• Foundation Makeup Hacks
• Best Foundations for Pale Skin
• Best Foundations for Medium Skin
• Best Foundations for Dark Skin
There are different types of foundations, depending on their texture. While liquid foundation may work best for all skin types, certain types target certain skin types.
This is the most common texture for foundations, which is unsurprising because it is very versatile and quite easy to work with. The liquid texture works for all skin types, and it can give anything from ultra-light sheer coverage to perfectly matte high coverage.
There are two main types of liquid foundations: water-based, which tend to give a more matte finish and usually work better for those with oily skin (sometimes they’re advertised as cream-to-powder, liquid-to-powder, self-setting, or mattifying), and silicone-based, which tend to feel creamier and can work for both dry skin and oily skin (depending on the kind of silicone used).
Water-based foundations are self-setting, which means they don’t necessarily require powder, although you do have to blend them into the skin quickly before they set. Silicone-based foundations usually require powder to be set.
There are also some oil-based foundations, especially in the natural skin care world, and those are usually better for those with dry skin.
Cream-based foundations are the thicker cousins of liquid foundation, with a heavy texture. They usually provide higher coverage, and are great for anyone who likes a heavier makeup look.
Cream-based foundations are often longer lasting than their liquid counterparts, and they usually give a satin-finish to the skin. They tend to have no water content, and are mostly made of oils and waxes, along with pigment (and occasionally some silicone).
Cream foundations are best for those who like a lot of coverage, and who have a combination skin type that doesn’t veer too strongly either to the dry or to the oily direction. Cream foundations can come in a pressed pan form or a stick form.
With a fairly light coverage, and a mattifying effect, powder foundations have become the favorite choice for natural beauty aficionados and those who like easy, low-maintenance routines. Those who need a lot of coverage or who have skin that leans towards dry should stay away from powder foundations.
There are two types of powder foundations – pressed-powder foundations that are great for normal, dry and oily skin types, and loose powder foundations, which are meant to set the makeup, especially being an excellent choice for those with oily skin.
If you like a ton of coverage, you can even use a powder foundation to set a cream or liquid foundation. While I prefer loose powder foundations, since they tend to include more product with better coverage, a pressed powder foundation is undeniably neater and easier to use.
Those who are looking for a liquid texture of foundation, but need a product that is easier to apply on the go can consider getting a cushion-compact foundation. The outcome is a light or medium coverage, hence the product is excellent for those with a flawless skin.
The good thing is that cushion foundations come with an applicator that you can use to apply and blend the product easily.
Mousse foundations are mostly a variation on liquid foundations. A liquid foundation becomes creamier when it is whipped with air, turning into a mousse, which offers a less messy application.
Different mousse foundations will work for different skin types, depending on whether they are water- or silicone-based. Throughout the article, whenever I use the term “liquid foundation”, know that the same directions apply for a mousse one.
Compact or Stick Foundations
Compact or stick foundations have become popular just recently, and they are just perfect for oily and thicker skin types. The best thing about this type of foundation is that you easily direct the right amount of product to the areas you desire. They are also ideal for carrying around with you while traveling.
Stick foundations are also amazing when it comes to using your advanced application skills to contour. You just need to press it on your skin, depositing the amount of product needed, and start blending it with a foundation brush, a wet makeup sponge or just your clean fingers.
Use the darker shades along the hairline, on the sides of the nose and under the cheekbones, while keeping the lighter tones for the higher points on the face – the center of the nose, the chin, cheekbones and the center of the forehead, as well as under the eyes.
Those with dry and mature skin should stay away from stick foundations, as they might end up making your skin appear blotchy and even drier, emphasizing the wrinkles of the mature skin.
These liquid foundations have a very thin consistency, which means they can be dispensed through a spray applicator. As such their coverage tends to be lighter (but still buildable!), and almost anyone who has tried one will tell you that they are best sprayed on a brush or sponge and then applied to the face, which means all the airbrush comparisons you hear about are just a marketing gimmick.
Depending on the formula, spray foundations can work for just about any skin type, and should be treated like any other liquid foundation.
Usually showing up as BB creams or CC creams, these are two-in-one foundation and skincare items that look very similar to liquid foundations. They have different kinds of properties and finishes, and they normally (though not always) provide lighter coverage than a foundation would.
You can apply your BB or CC creams with your fingers, a makeup brush or a wet sponge.
Tinted moisturizer is one of the lightest forms of foundations, perfect for those, who have a flawless skin and just need that touch of color, sun protection and a bit of moisture. Never expect a great coverage from this type of foundation, as it’s a two-in-one product, acting both as makeup and skin care.
Tinted moisturizers are ideal for dry skin, although those with normal skin types might also love to get it especially for summer. Those with extra dry skin are advised to layer it with a regular moisturizer.
Finding the right foundation for your skin tone can be tough, because you have to think about two things: your skin’s undertone, and its level of paleness/ darkness. I used to get really confused, not understanding why foundations looked dark and wrong on my pale skin even though they seemed fairly light in the bottle. I had to understand my undertone before I could find a foundation that matched me perfectly.
Follow these tips to figure out your skin undertone:
• Think of your skin as if it were a shade of brown that is made up of three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow, along with white or black (depending on how dark or light you are). A perfect balance of the three colors would make your skin neutral.
• On the warm side you have skin that has extra yellow, while a mixture of yellow and blue would make one’s skin olive-toned.
• Cool skin will have slightly higher quantities of red or blue pigment.
• Neutral skin will usually look either perfectly beige, or perhaps a touch orange.
This kind of classification can be confusing, because it does not directly correspond to the way artists classify cool and warm skin tones.
It can be quite difficult to figure out the undertones in one’s skin. The key is not to look at the face – our faces are exposed to the harsh elements more so than other parts of our body, and things like sun damage tend to make us lean towards red. Instead, look at your neck and chest, or at your forearm.
If you hold a sheet of white paper next to your skin, it will actually help balance your vision and allow you to better determine your skin undertone. You can also look at the veins on your forearm for clues. If they seem more green, your skin leans towards warm, whereas if they seem a touch purple you have a cool undertone. If they are mostly blue then you have neutral skin.
An old trick suggests checking whether gold jewelry or blue shirts look good on you… which is pretty silly, if you ask me, since contrasting colors can look just as good as complementary ones.
If you really can’t figure out your skin tone, go to a few different beauty consultants and ask them what they think!
Once you can see undertones, you’ll have an easier time picking them out in different foundations (especially now when brands tend to make it quite clear what the undertones of their foundation are).
• Foundations with a red, rose or blue base are perfect for those with cool undertones. As for the shades of foundation for cool skin tones, go for porcelain, sable, cocoa and rose colors, testing to see which one looks more natural on your skin.
• Gold or yellow-based foundations are recommended for warm skin undertones. Beige, caramel, chestnut, golden and tan shades will be your best friends.
• Ivory, nude, praline and buff foundation shades are meant for neutral skin tones.
To actually test foundations to see if they’re a fit, take your foundation of choice and swipe it along your jawline. Blend it out a little bit, but not quite as much as you would if you were to apply it to your whole face. You can even do this with a few different foundations.
Look at the foundation (or foundations) in a large mirror – don’t stand too closely to it. Whichever foundation seems to disappear best into your neck is likely your best match.
This method is my favorite, although often our chests are a touch darker than our necks, since they get more sun. If your neck is considerably darker than your neck, you might want to choose a foundation that is somewhere between the two colors, or you might choose a foundation that matches your chest, and just blend it all the way down your neck.
Besides your skin tone and undertone, you should also consifer your skin type while choosing the best foundation for you in order to get that flawless, long-lasting look after the application.
Best Foundations for Dry or Mature Skin
Your best bet is using a liquid foundation that is either oil- or silicone-based. Look specifically for foundations that are marketed as creamy, hydrating, or luminizing. These foundations will help perfect your skin without emphasizing wrinkles or dry patches, and they might even moisturize a little!
Stay away from mattifying foundations, cream-to-powder foundations, or powder foundations, as these can all emphasize dryness and have your skin looking parched.
Best Foundations for Oily or Combination-Oily Skin
Water- and silicone-based foundations are perfect for oily skin types. Water-based foundations will resist your skin’s oils and keep you looking matte, while silicone-based foundations will hide large pores and have a blurring effect on your skin.
If you prefer lighter coverage, you can even opt for a powder foundation. Additionally, if you occasionally suffer from breakouts, you can find medicated foundations that will simultaneously treat and hide your acne.
Best Foundations for Normal Skin
Lucky you! It is really up to your preferences: whether you want a high-coverage or low-coverage foundation, whether you like a dewy or matte finish, and whether you find it easier to apply a cream, powder, or liquid foundation, chances are almost any foundation will work well for you.
Different foundations work better with different climates. Both temperature and humidity level will have an impact on which types of foundations you should choose.
Remember that about half way through every season you should double check your foundation color match, because your skin tone will be changing!
Best Foundations for Summer
It seems that much harder to keep foundation on the skin during the summer, not to mention that the feeling of heavy foundations mixed with sweat is kind of disgusting. Unless your skin is chronically dry, you will probably prefer a lighter yet more mattifying foundations during summer.
Powder foundations are a great way to go in the summer, for staying matte and feeling light. If you prefer something creamy or hydrating, opt for a mattifying tinted moisturizer or a BB/CC cream – the more SPF, the better.
In the summer, it is better to stay away from heavy cream foundations. If you need coverage, target specific areas with a concealer, instead.
Best Foundations for Fall
Fall is a great season for the skin, because the air is usually more saturated with moisture without any of that terrible sun. The autumn season often calls for a cozy matte finish, but that’s just style – if you like a dewy finish, do you!
In the autumn, look at your skin type for foundation choice, because almost anything could work. This transitional season is also the time to double-check your color match, since you will be losing that summer tan.
Best Foundations for Winter
Our skin tends to get dry in winter, so it is the perfect time to switch to a creamier formula. Stay away from anything overly mattifying, and instead opt for luxurious liquid or cream foundations with lots of hydrating properties (I have a lot of options coming up below!).
Best Foundations for Spring
Spring is so fresh and lovely, so it is the perfect time to embrace a dewy, creamy finish. Much like autumn, it is best to go off of your skin type when choosing a perfect foundation, because this season is not fussy!
You could be using the best, most expensive foundation, but if your application technique isn’t on point, you might find yourself struggling to get that even, smooth, natural-looking coverage.
Depending on the kind of foundation I’m using and my mood, I’ll find myself alternating between different types of applicators, and I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite. You can play around by applying foundations with sponges, brushes, and even your fingers, until you find the method that works best for you!
No matter how you choose to apply foundations, always make sure to prep well.
• Start with cleansed, moisturized, and sun-protected skin. Foundations simply do not look good on skin that isn’t well-hydrated.
• An optional step, especially if you have uneven skin texture or problems keeping your foundations lasting long, is to smooth a drop of primer all over the face. Wait at least 5 minutes between applying makeup primer and moisturizer, and another 5 minutes between applying primer and foundation.
• Some guides will suggest you begin by applying concealer. Unless you’re using a color-correcting concealer or powder foundation, I think it’s much better to apply foundation first, and then follow it up with concealer.
You’ll often find foundation covers more than enough, and that you will use less concealer. I’m at a point where I hardly ever use concealer, because I am so happy with the coverage my foundation provides.
• For all the different cream or liquid foundation applications, especially if you have oily or combination skin, once you are happy with how your foundation looks, make sure to set it with a powder, to keep it lasting longer and looking less shiny.
How to Apply Liquid or Cream Foundations with a Sponge or Beauty Blender
Beauty blenders and similar drop-shaped sponges give what is probably the most beautiful finish to almost any liquid or cream foundation, and are perfect for anyone looking for fuller coverage. Rectangular makeup sponges can be used in the same way, but there is something about the structure of drop-shaped sponges that gives a really even, smooth coverage.
• To begin, get your sponge damp with water. Squeeze it to remove the excess. This will prevent your sponge from absorbing foundation, while alse keeping your skin looking dewy and hydrated.
• Dip your sponge into a bit of foundation, and with a dabbing motion tap it unto the face. This will give you a really comprehensive coverage with very little need for blending.
You’ll be surprising how easy it is to apply foundations with beauty blenders and the like!
How to Apply Liquid or Cream Foundations with a Flat Brush
This method of applying foundation can give all types of coverage, and will make you feel like a true artist. It is my go-to when using all types of foundations, from the more fluid foundations to even the creamiest ones.
• Dip your brush into your foundation of choice, making sure it is covered lightly.
• In downward motions, going specifically along the direction of hair growth on your face, brush the foundation onto the skin until your whole face is covered.
• On the forehead, it is best to apply sideways, starting from the center.
• Once your whole face is covered lightly, blend any visible streaks with your (clean!) fingers or a sponge.
• If any areas of the face require additional coverage, go back in with the same brush, but instead of brushing extra foundation on, tap it into the skin instead.
How to Apply Liquid Foundations with a Duo Fiber Stippling Brush
Stippling brushes are a super popular way of applying liquid foundation – they give thin, natural coverage, and cause very little streaking. They have flat, circular ends and are often made of a blend of two different kinds of fibers.
MAC’s #187 Duo Fiber Face Brush is a classic stippling brush choice (you can find it at Nordstrom). For the most natural coverage, this is the technique I prefer:
• Dip the brush into the liquid foundation, being careful to get very little product on the brush.
• Dot the brush over your face, getting product on the cheeks, chin, nose, and along the forehead.
• Then, with downward, circular motions, blend the foundation outwards so you get your whole face covered with a streak-free, dreamy layer of product.
If you are working with a self-setting, water-based foundation, it is better to work on the face in sections – apply it to one cheek and blend, then the chin, then the nose, then the forehead. Once your whole face is covered in a thin layer of product, you can load up your brush with more product and go back to the areas that need extra coverage.
To deposit the product, tap it into the skin in a stippling motion – this will give you more coverage that will still look natural.
How to Apply Liquid or Cream Foundations with Fingers
I find my favorite way to apply cream and cream-to-powder foundations is with my fingers. This method is the fastest and least streaky one whenever my foundation is not too runny.
• Make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before starting!
• If you are using your hands, take a pea-sized amount of foundation, and rub it between the pads of your fingers.
• In downward motions, smooth the product onto your face, beginning from the center of your face and working your way outwards. I find this is the fastest method – you quickly cover the whole face with a thin layer of product, which the heat of your fingers helps keep fluid.
If more coverage is necessary, either repeat the process, or concentrate only on the areas that need more coverage. Apply a bit more foundation to one finger, and with a tapping motion, apply that foundation to the areas that need better coverage.
How to Apply Powder Foundations with Brush for Lighter Coverage
With powder-based foundations you can have a lot of control over how light or how heavy your foundation looks, although remember you will never have as full a coverage as you will achieve with liquid foundation + powder.
• Start by tapping a bit of powder foundation out into the jar’s cap, or on top of a tissue.
• Dip a flat topped brush into the powder, swirl it around to fully cover the brush, and then tap off the excess product.
• With small, circular, downward motions, begin brushing the powder onto your face.
• Once your whole face is covered, buff away any excess powder with a clean brush.
• Using a smaller brush and a tapping motion, stipple additional powder foundation to the areas of your face that need more coverage.
• As mentioned previously, make sure to set your foundations (especially liquid and cream-based foundations) with a face powder. My personal favorite is the Laura Mercier Invisible Loose Setting Powder, which is available at Neiman Marcus.
The key is not to brush the product unto the skin, but instead to apply the powder with a flat-topped kabuki style brush, and a tapping motion. By pressing the powder into the skin you make sure that everything really stays put.
• While powder will be enough for most, an extra setting step is to use a finishing spray, like Urban Decay’s All Nighter Setting Spray, which can be purchased at Sephora. A few spritzes is all it takes to give your makeup maximum hold.
• If you want to sheer out and lighten the coverage of your foundation, blend it with a colorless base. Use a water-based moisturizer to sheer out a water-based foundation, or a silicone-primer for a silicone-based foundation.
• Foundation can act like a magic makeup eraser! A bit of foundation on a Q-tip can help you fix anything from wonky lip line edges to a not adequately sharp eyeliner wing.
• If you bought a foundation only to discover that it doesn’t seem to match your skin tone… well, return it! But if that’s not an option, adjust its color instead! This technique also works if your skin tone changes throughout the seasons.
You can adjust for lightness or darkness with a product like the NXY Pro Foundation Mixer from Ulta, while a color-correcting concealer, like one of the Lancome Teint Idole Color Correctors available through Sephora, will do the trick for adjusting a mismatched undertone. Simply blend the two products right before applying to the skin!
• Moisturizer, primer, a lighter color of foundation or concealer can also be used to lighten your foundation color, while bronzer, blush, concealer, a darker color of foundation or tinted moisturizer can help you darken the wrongly chosen foundation.
• You can use foundations to achieve a Kardashian-esque highlight and contour look. Use a foundation 3-4 shades darker than your skin tone to contour, a shade 3-4 shades lighter to highlight, and the foundation that matches your skin can help you blend!
• If you happen to run out of eye primer, don’t worry! Your liquid or cream foundation can help extend the wear of your shadow almost as well! A thin swipe of foundation across the eyelid before you apply eyeshadow is all it’ll take.
For normal and combination skin:
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation
This silicone foundation has a cult following because it looks incredible on camera, with its buildable medium coverage, ability to suit almost all skin types (except for the very dry), and impressively wide range of colors. Even if you veer towards extremely pale, rest assured there is something here to fit you. You can purchase this foundation through Sephora.
For oily skin:
BareMinerals Original Foundation with SPF 15
This one is the gold standard for powder foundations, with a lightweight, natural finish that doesn’t feel heavy on the skin, and a formula that even your crunchy granola friends would love. It is super easy to apply with just a bit powder brush, for an even and smooth complexion. It can be purchased at Ulta.
For mature and dry skin:
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer (For Mature and Dry Skin)
This luminous two-in-one from Laura Mercier gives the skin light, sheer coverage that won’t settle into fine lines or highlight dry spots. It is creamy, hydrating, and nourishing, with a wide range of colors to suit anyone. You can pick it up at Nordstrom.
For normal and combination skin:
Milk Blur Liquid Matte Foundation
If you find it difficult to keep your foundation on for a while, this water-based foundation from Milk is a great choice. This silicone-free formula gives incredible coverage that does not budge, and yet it does not look cakey, nor does it feel heavy on the skin. I also love the color selection, and that they list the undertones. You can pick it up at Sephora.
For oily skin:
Tarte Amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation
My intense loyalty to this foundation knows no bounds. It is blendable and easy to apply, matte-but-not-overly-so, and the long lasting coverage is incredible. The color range is decent, with a ton of options for those with medium skin no matter the undertone. Try it for yourself at Sephora.
For mature and dry skin:
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
This luxurious foundation gives lovely medium coverage, but is magically able to hydrate your skin and not catch on any dry patches. It leaves you looking dewy while covering all of the imperfections.
While its color range is not very wide, the selection for medium skin tones is more than adequate. You can find this foundation at Neiman Marcus.
For normal and combination skin:
CoverFX Pressed Mineral Foundation
What I love about CoverFX is the massive amount of color options they have, with a classification system of warm, cool, and neutral. No matter your skin’s undertone, you’ll likely find a color match. For darker skin tones, this kind of variety is shamefully rare.
This is a thicker cream foundation with a satin finish, but you can sheer it out by blending it with a bit of primer. It is available for sale at Sephora.
For oily skin:
Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay in Place Makeup
This matte coverage foundation is perfect for oily skin. Many people even find they can skip the powder with it, because it manages to stay put no matter how oily or sweaty you get.
The coverage is on the higher side of things, so those also dealing with acne might even be able to use it without any concealer! Their color selection is beyond comprehensive, so you will definitely find your match. You can pick it up at Nordstrom.
For mature and dry skin:
Black UP Full Coverage Cream Foundation
You can trust a POC-owned brand to created excellent foundations for darker skin. This brand stands out for its wonderful understanding of undertones, and expert formulas.
This is one of those rare full-coverage foundations that manages to make dry skin look healthy and dewy, rather than dreadfully dry. You choose your color match at Sephora.
What are your foundation secrets? Which is your favorite foundation? Share your thoughts with us!