Choosing the right foundation for dark skin can be a source of immeasurable frustration for people more richly endowed with melanin. Honestly finding makeup for dark skin can always be difficult, but foundations for dark skin are especially problematic.
Most people have at least two different shades of foundation depending on the color of their skin in the summer and in the winter, and many with darker skin tones have to custom-blend their own. Makeup for dark skin doesn’t have to be a hassle to find, once you have the knowledge you need. It gets easier!
The wider range of shades for fairer-complexioned people is staggering, but the minimal shades for anyone darker have been abysmal until recently. Though the few shades most recently added are a step in the right direction, the process is no less frustrating as the actual nuances of shades people come in are not really addressed.
Choosing your foundation is really about making sure all the features of your skin are appropriately addressed. To do this you have to learn about your skin, but once you know how to get the information you need and what to do with it, you’ll have a much easier time choosing a foundation for dark skin in the future, even if your skin changes.
Foundation Makeup Guide for Dark Skin Tones: Contents
• How to Choose the Best Foundation for Dark Skin
• Finding the Perfect Foundation for Dark Skin Based on Skin Types
• How to Apply Foundation for Dark Skin Tones
• Makeup Tips and Tricks for Dark Skin
• Best Foundations for Dark Skin Tones
Choosing the right foundation is a matter of matching your undertone, the shade of your skin, addressing your texture and getting the right amount of coverage for your individual needs.
Foundation should smooth out your skin tone, not change it. Your skin should appear relaxed and refreshed, never cakey, ashy or discolored. Foundations that are built on undertones of warm, neutral and cool are best to shop through, as they will provide a better match. Brands that work with a single beige tone and ‘add pigment’ to make a flat darker color will mask the natural glow in a darker skin tone.
Foundation is as important as the name implies, but the lack of diversity in most mega brands means that many of us with darker-toned skin are left with substandard options when compared to lighter-skinned counterparts.
The wrong undertone can make you look like someone forgot to adjust their television – but only on your face. Too light and you look ashy. Too dark a foundation for your skin is just as obvious. The best way to choose a foundation is to learn about your skin and how to choose the right foundation for your darker skin tone.
So, what do you need to know? Let’s start with your undertone, overtone and skin type.
Determine Your Skin Tones
There are both undertones and overtones in your skin. The undertone of your skin never changes, so it is monumentally important to pay attention to it when choosing your foundation.
Your skin’s overtone is likely the most obvious combination between your face and chest. There are three major undertones, so thankfully the process for finding yours will not be too complicated.
The three different undertones are Cool, Warm and Neutral. There is no hard and fast rule as to which darker skin shades will have what undertone, it is all dependent upon the person.
One of the easiest ways to determine your undertone is to inspect the veins on the underside of your wrists under natural light. You can do the white vs off-white test using clothes from your closet. Just hold up a piece of clothing in white and another in off-white near your (makeup-free) face. Which shade looks better against your skin?
The same can be done with silver and gold jewelry to determine your skin undertone.
• Cool undertones are typically indicated by blue or purple tinted veins. Cool undertones also typically look luminous against silver jewelry. Additionally, white clothes look complimentary next to skin with cool undertones. Cool undertones are considered pink, red and blue.
• Warm undertones are typically indicated by bluish green tinted veins. Warm undertones appear to glow vibrantly when wearing gold jewelry. Warmer undertones look best against off-white rather than white fabric. Warm undertones are yellow or golden.
• Neutral undertones are typically indicated by the presence of both bluish green and purplish tinted veins, though sometimes it is difficult to tell. When it comes to jewelry both gold and silver look similarly good against your skin. Both crisp white and off-white look great against skin with neutral undertones. Neutral undertones are a mixture or blend of each.
With overtones, you can range from lightly browned to warm rich deep brown tones. When you glance through the options in the little bottles, jars and tubes with your eyes, you are generally looking for the obvious match to your overtone.
Testing for the Right Shade of Foundation for Dark Skin
After finding your undertone, choose a few options that could work on your skin. The recommended number of foundation shades to pick is three that are close in color to each other.
The next step is to test the foundation to make certain it matches your dark skin overall. Avoid testing your potential foundations on your hand, as darker skin tends to be a different color on the back of your hand than on your face.
The recommended place to test a foundation by many makeup artists (MUAs) is the jaw line. Just swatch the colors next to each other on the jawline. Others say to test on the upper part of your chest. Choose whichever you feel gives you the most accurate results, as this can vary on an individual basis.
If you have chosen well, you should have one that is slightly darker, one that is slightly lighter and similar to the story of Goldilocks, one that is just right. Choose the one that is the closest match of course, but note the other two shades, as they may be the ones you need in the opposite season (winter or summer), if you find that your standard shade is no longer a match.
If none of the shades are perfect, then there are two options – check out another brand or choose the two closes and blend a custom color. If you choose to check out another brand, just repeat the same steps until your find the perfect shade.
If you are going to create a custom color of foundation for your dark skin, you’re going to have to test at home to find the perfect blend. This is more ideal if you have the time and interest as the changing of the seasons will not catch you unprepared, you can just blend what you need.
Don’t be wary of testing, it’s the best way to find your best match. Try your best to do your testing in, near or under natural light. I know this is difficult in department stores and at most makeup counters, but when and if possible, do. Natural light will give you the best view of your undertone and your overtone together, and allow you to see the coverage and color of the foundation as well.
Longevity of Your Perfect Foundation for Dark Skin
Long-wear is one of the big features people look for in any foundation. Some people have very long workdays and no time to reapply. The best way to gauge the longevity of wear offered by a foundation is reviews – not ads.
Sure, the inclusion of a new feature that claims to create a smooth finish that lasts hours upon hours is intriguing, but real-life application and wear are best. Unsurprisingly, foundations that are mattifying and oil-absorbing tend to last longer.
Oily skin, combination skin, normal skin and dry skin, acne-prone and sensitive skin are all skin types that many cosmetic companies are providing specially formulated foundations for. You can have a combination of more than one skin type, so knowing yours can help you with more than just choosing your foundation for dark skin.
You can choose a facial cleanser, moisturizer and, of course, your foundation better if you’re informed. Since knowing your skin type is essential to choosing the right foundation for your skin type, here is the easiest way to find out your skin type if you don’t know it already or are not sure.
• Wash your face thoroughly, but not excessively. Make certain all makeup, oil and dirt are removed using gentle cleanser in massaging motions. Rinse your face with room temperature water. Over-washing or scrubbing your face too hard can skew your results by drying out your skin. Pat your face lightly to dry it.
• Wait an hour or two, just relax. Do not apply anything to your skin at this point. No moisturizer or prescription treatments, apply nothing to your face.
• Examine your skin to figure out your skin type.
• A tight feeling means you have dry skin.
• When checking your pores, take a few steps away from the mirror. If you cannot still see your pores, you have dry skin.
• Dabbing your face with a tissue will produce nothing on the tissue if you have dry skin.
• Pinching dry skin will make it feel like you have wrinkles.
• Dry skin can look drier with mattifying foundations, so go for those with a creamy consistency designed to give a ‘dewy’ appearance instead.
• Oily skin will just feel cleaner after washing, no tight feeling at all.
• Oily skin typically has visible pores, even after taking a step or two back from the mirror.
• Dabbing your face with a tissue and finding oil on it means that you have oily skin.
• Oily skin will still feel smooth if you pinch it.
• Most darker skin types have a tendency to also be oily, so do not be surprised if you fall into this category.
• Oily skin looks best with mattifying and oil-absorbing foundations.
• Identifiers for combination skin will be a clean-feeling T zone but tight cheeks and possibly chin area.
• Combination skin will show more than one standard pore size on the face.
• Dabbing with tissue, especially across the T zone will likely only show oil on the tissue if you have combination skin.
• When shopping for foundation, decide which finish looks best, satin, dewy or velvety matte, and then choose the correct shade based on your under- and overtones.
Sensitive and Acne-Prone Skin
Sensitive skin and acne-prone skin will be easily apparent, but if you are not sure, the absolute best option you have is to visit a dermatologist. If you are prone to breakouts of acne, then you are likely acne-prone, and if your skin is easily irritated, you likely have sensitive skin.
There are options to deal with these, but it will never be less pertinent that you see a dermatologist in case you need a recommendation for a product that can greatly ease your discomfort. Additionally, certain foundations can contain acne-fighting ingredients that are great for those with acne-prone skin.
Foundation Formula Preferences
Powders, liquids, cream and stick foundations for dark skin all exist so you can choose the option that is best for you. All of these can look cakey if you do not apply them correctly, but there are pros and cons to each.
For people with fine lines, powders can sit in them, making them more obvious if you are not careful with your application. If you are heavy handed, choosing a lightweight liquid foundation that spreads and blends smoothly and easily can be a great option.
Your preferences can also tie into how you choose to apply your foundation, which we will cover later as well. Everything plays a role, but so choose your options for your face and your needs, not based on trends.
Foundation Color Names
If you don’t end up being a ‘brand loyal’ person, there is another obstacle that you’ll face: color names of foundations for dark skin. Colors like Deep Honey, Warm Pecan, Golden Brown, Mocha and Café au Lait will not always match across brands.
It is imperative to test foundations when trying out new brands, do not rely on the names. One of the benefits for companies that use codes, like MAC Cosmetics, is that the names are typically grouped.
The codes break down so NC20, for example, would be NC (Neutral Cool) and shade 20. These color codes use the six-shade color wheel for undertones. The breakdown is below:
• C: Cool
• NC: Neutral Cool
• N: Neutral
• NW: Neutral Warm
• W: Warm
There are a lot of options to apply makeup now from the standard brushes to fingertips, standard sponges, silisponges and, of course, the beauty blender. There is also, of course, the airbrush method for those who really want to use it, but which is the best option for applying foundation for dark skin?
Application methods depend on more than preference; it depends on the type of foundation you are using. You cannot very well use a powder for airbrushing as an example, so what is the best way to get flawless foundation applied?
Applying Foundation for Dark Skin Tones with Traditional Brushes
Traditional makeup brushes come in a wide range of shapes, but the quick and easy way to designate a brush for a purpose is to remember this: the heavier and denser the foundation, the denser the bristles of the brush you use to apply it should be.
For a loose powder foundation, a fluffy brush is best. For liquids, a densely packed brush is best. Creams use a densely packed brush as well, and on it goes!
Don’t forgo the use of blending brushes or specialty brushes in your kit, but remember the type of foundation you primarily wear, and make certain that those are the brushes you keep in good stock and condition. Brushes provide great precision as well.
Applying Foundation for Dark Skin Tones with Makeup Sponges and Beauty Blender
Sponges offer some of the biggest catch-22s of the makeup world. They are great for creating a smooth seamless, flawless look, but they are notorious for soaking up and essentially wasting a lot of product.
When you are using an expensive foundation, that is just not ideal. The use of brushes and a beauty blender for application, precision and a great finish with blurred seamless edges is the best combo for most people.
Applying Foundation for Dark Skin Tones with Silisponge and Other Silicone Sponges
These are great, but take some getting used to. The application can be flawless, but most of us are used to a brush or a sponge.
Practice makes perfect with these and they are great with anything smooth and creamy, liquids, mousse and cream foundations alike. Unlike brushes and sponges, these do not soak up or waste any foundation at all.
Applying Stick Foundation for Dark Skin Tones
Stick foundations can be applied with densely packed paddle-shaped brushes if not put straight onto the skin. It depends on your preference, but as you use it your skill with applying your foundation via stick will grow, and your look will be polished, flattering and natural either way.
Tips and tricks for applying makeup for dark skin tones vary wildly and can be based mostly on preference. Here are a few that will work no matter who you are and won’t affect any personal preferences that you shouldn’t drop like a bad habit anyway. Check them out and if you’d like to share any, just post them in the comments section we would love to read and share them!
• Do your eye makeup first! There are a lot of arguments for doing your foundation first, but for those with darker skin tones, and really anyone if we’re honest, you don’t want to muddy up your foundation especially around your eyes.
So, it is worth considering doing your eye makeup and arching out your brow first. You can easily clear up any excess or spills without worrying about the finish of your foundation being affected.
• Baking and Setting Powders: People with darker skin tones can be worried about baking giving them an ashen appearance. Don’t worry! Just don’t use a setting powder that only comes in white.
Just like your foundation, look for a setting powder that more carefully matches your skin tone to avoid that white mask around your eyes. These are not one-shade-fits-all, so please remember there are other options besides banana powder as well.
• Don’t apply your makeup with your fingers if you have oily skin! Oily skin is more prone to breakouts and our hands are one of the easiest ways to transfer gems to our skin, even when we’re trying to be careful. Use a brush or a sponge and make certain your tools are cleaned regularly and stored well.
• Touchups: Use blotting papers before touching up your makeup. This will refresh your look and keep you from putting too much product on and risking a cakey appearance or breakouts.
• Pampering and Exfoliating: Exfoliating should not be done more than once a week to refresh skin. Deep cleaning with a gentle scrub or exfoliating brush should be done about three times a week.
Moisturizing is essential and should be done regularly, no matter what your skin type is. To get it on smoothly and evenly, use a damp beauty blender to apply your moisturizer, and always use a moisturizer before your foundation. There are even plenty of hydrating makeup primers if you want to combine the two steps.
• SPF! No matter what color your skin is, you need to protect it from the sun. If your makeup doesn’t have an SPF in it, you need to apply it separately. Fortunately, there are plenty of foundation options that include an SPF in it.
• Clean your tools often to prevent breakouts. There are hundreds of videos available to teach you the best, quickest and most hygienic way to clean your makeup brushes, sponges and cases to make certain you are limiting the amount of bacteria transferred to your face.
• Color Correction: Don’t be afraid to use color correctors even though they can be intimidating.
a. Yellow cancels out purple and blue tones and can correct mild redness.
b. Purple neutralizes dull yellow undertones on medium-toned skin.
c. Orange is the best choice to cancel out dark under-eye circles, blue, discoloration and hyperpigmentation on deep and medium-toned skin.
d. Red cancels out green, dark undereye circles and is best for covering up hollow or sunken under-eye skin and even tattoos.
Choosing the best foundations for dark skin tones is difficult as there are so many available to choose from. The best have been chosen based on customer reviews, personal use and range of colors offered, as well as customizability.
If you find your shade to be difficult to match, check the options that have the highest number of shades, or that offer the best blendable customization. Those that are great for customizing are noted so, but choosing a great foundation for dark skin tones is really all about your skin, your comfort level and your preferences.
Assuredly the best foundations for darker skin tones are from the brand designed by a person of color, who will have an intimate first hand knowledge of the gifts of issues with dark skin that darker-toned people deal with. This is not to discourage the use of major name brands that have become more aware and inclusive with the shades they are offering to the public, but sometimes a darker skin tone can be unbelievably difficult to match.
Below find a great group of tried and true foundations for dark skin tones that could work for you – and truth be told, it’s fine to have multiple favorites, but it is always good to know the perfect one.
1. NARS Velvet Matte Skin Tint
If your choice for foundation is just a tint, the Velvet Matte Skin Tint by NARS available through Sephora could be the perfect option for you. NARS created 12 different shades of this tinted moisturizer that feels creamy and refreshing when applied. The tint is perfectly sheer, and the application is always even, never splotchy.
2. Black Up Matifying Fluid Foundation
In 12 shades available at Sephora, this fluid foundation for dark skin tones works beautifully for normal and oily skin thanks to the matte finish it creates. The brand was designed to cater specifically to darker tones, though please be warned there was a shakeup with the brand, and the original owner was forced out.
This could mean a change in formula, name or shades in the future, but for now, Black Up is a beautiful option for darker skin if you are not bothered by the company goings on.
3. MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation
This foundation for dark skin tones comes out of the swinging with a whopping 46 shades of MAC Cosmetics’ two-in-one powder foundations. This particular formula is designed for great coverage with shine control. Though not geared specifically to address issues with darker skin, it is a comprehensive set of colors with good attention paid to the undertones. Find it at Nordstrom!
4. Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Long Wear Foundation
Lancôme’s foundation for dark skin tones is a great full coverage liquid that creates a matte, smooth realistic finish for a ‘no makeup’ look. The formula is oil free and comes in 40 different shades. The smooth matte velvet finish is ideal and long wear assured, so it is great for oily and combination skin types. Pick up yours from Sephora!
5. Covergirl Queen Collection All Day Flawless All Day Foundation
The Covergirl Queen Collection was heralded as a godsend for those with a richer infusion of melanin who are rarely served by the cosmetics industry. Available on Amazon, this foundation for dark skin tones is affordable, great for oily skin because it is mattifying and provides excellent coverage without appearing cakey. The pump bottle is easy to use, and the inclusion of SPF 20 in all 14 shades is fantastic as well.
6. Black Radiance Pressed Powder
Black Radiance is a well-known brand of foundations for darker skin tones. The coverage the pressed powder provides is buildable and works beautifully for contouring as well. This pressed powder minimizes shine because it is oil-absorbing, and it evens out the complexion without building up like some powders tend to do. This pressed powder comes in 13 rich shades at Target.
7. Iman Cosmetics Second to None Stick Foundation
Iman Cosmetics has been an excellent option since the day Iman began, and the Second to None Foundation is no different – it’s flattering and nourishing on darker skin. This distinct stick foundation comes in 14 different colors on Amazon. The formula is designed to hydrate your skin while regulating the oil production of your skin as you are wearing it, thanks to the jojoba esters that the stick is infused with.
8. Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup
Urban Decay is a top-notch brand for a lot of things, and this foundation is another credit to the brand. Though not the best option for oily skin types, or those who need full coverage, it is a great quick option for those who want medium coverage that camouflages light skin issues in 18 different shades available through Sephora.
9. Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation
Bobbi Brown is well known as a mecca of options for richer melanin infused skin tones. With 20 different shades for this particular foundation for dark skin tones, you can rely on this liquid foundation to be beautifully smoothing while maintaining the magical luster that darker skin tones are known to have.
The luminous look is in the foundation’s formula that is specifically designed to work with your skin rather than coating it and covering up your glow. Get your shade from Nordstrom!
10. BECCA Ever-Matte Shine Proof Foundation
BECCA has built a reliable stance providing stellar cosmetic options, and this foundation for dark skin tones is another great product that comes in 20 different shades on Sephora. The formula for the liquid actually contains microfine powder, giving you the best of both a liquid and a powder when you wear it. The longevity of the mattifying effect of this foundation is very good.
11. Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Foundation Stick
Lancôme’s Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Foundation Stick is easy to apply especially on the go. It comes in 20 different shades on Sephora, as well as a great design for use in hand.
The coverage is buildable, going on sheer initially so you can achieve the amount of coverage that you need. The size and application style are very convenient, especially if you choose to forego a brush and apply directly to skin.
12. Make Up for Ever Mat Velvet + Matifying Foundation
This liquid foundation is a custom creation designed to work for darker skinned beauties with oily skin. The mattified look is most complimentary on darker skin. With this formula, the foundation is shockingly lightweight with good coverage. This foundation for dark skin tones comes in 21 different shades on Sephora and is good for those with yellow undertones.
13. Marc Jacobs Beauty Re(marc)able Full Cover Foundation Concentrate
The range of colors for this full coverage foundation is fantastic, with under and overtones addressed in impeccable detail. The concentrated formula means that less is needed to create the perfect look, and 22 shade options make it a great choice. Get it from Sephora!
14. Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
Giorgio Armani has plenty of foundation options, but the Luminous Silk Foundation comes in 24 sheer shades on Nordstrom that conceal imperfection with a light formula. The overall effect is beautiful bright skin thanks to the use of completely inconspicuous makeup.
The special formula uses a silicone-based fluid with contributive oils that are chosen because they evaporate or nourish the skin. There are many more beige shades here, but just under half of them are dedicated to golden and olive tones, and richer skin tones.
15. Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick
Hourglass’s foundation stick comes in 24 amazing rich shades that provide a beautifully natural finish in an easy-to-apply stick form. The color glides on smoothly with excellent coverage in a bevy of shades that will certainly help you find the right one for your skin tone. Pick yours at Sephora!
16. Color FX Custom Cover Drops
The drops create a matte finish that is also radiant and works on all skin types. It is not necessarily a foundation by itself, but is designed to be mixed with your favorite liquid foundation or tinted moisturizer to become the ideal shade for your dark skin.
This is basically a bottle of pigment designed to give you your dream finish, look and match. With a total of 25 different shades available through Sephora, it will certainly help.
17. bareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation with SPF 15
BareMinerals did not always have the range of shades required to work for darker and deeper toned skin, but with the addition of 12 new shades to their loose powder are much better. The skin tones offered are more comprehensive and blend in beautifully with the addition of skin-protecting SPF 15 as well.
The total available shades now equal 30 with ranges that will address olive to coffee-colored skin. You can find all the shades on Sephora.
18. L’Oreal Paris True Match Super Blendable Makeup
This foundation for dark skin tones is well known and very affordable. The coverage of each of the 32 shades is excellent living up to its name of being superbly blendable. The application is smooth and easy, and if you need to mix it with another color, no worries, this formula can handle it beautifully. Get it from Ulta!
19. Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick
Bobbi Brown comes through again with a great foundation stick for dark skin tones that comes in 32 fantastic shades on Sephora. The formula for this foundation stick includes ingredients designed to make the most of each application and nourish your skin as well.
This foundation is buildable going from sheer to full coverage easily, with shea butter and olive extract to lock in moisture for dry skin, and minerals to control oil for those with oily skin. The finish is satin smooth and beautifully natural looking.
20. Kat Von D Lock It Foundation
Kat Von D’s makeup line is beautifully and impeccably pigmented and well known for it. Her foundation for dark skin tones comes in 32 shades on Sephora that in no way lack diversity. Nearly anyone can find their shade here, which is labelled with the codes mentioned earlier. This formula is full coverage and long-lasting with a perfect velvet matte finish.
21. Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation
Make Up For Ever’s Ultra HD Foundation is a great option for flawless looking skin. The range of tones provided comes to an impressive 40, and each is definitely well thought out and easy to blend. The staying power is fantastic and it does not rub off like others do, even without setting powder. Find your shade on Sephora.
22. Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup
Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Foundation is an excellent high coverage foundation for dark skin tones that comes in 38 different shades. This foundation will work well on oily, combination or dry skin, which is fantastic. The coverage really is excellent, thanks to the formula, which also allows the longevity of wear to be fantastic. It’s available through Sephora.
23. MAC Studio Fix Fluid Foundation SPF 15
One of the best foundations for dark skin tones, this one offers good consistent coverage for 42 different shades of skin. The matte finish is great for oily skin, and the coverage is blendable and perfect for those who need a medium to full level of coverage. Get it at Nordstrom!