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How to Choose Makeup Foundation

choose makeup foundation

Getting the right shade and type of foundation is important if you want your makeup to look its best. Here’s our guide on how to choose a makeup foundation based on various factors like skin tone, and what coverage and finish is required.

A good makeup foundation product that has been properly selected for your skin type and tone should create a lovely, flawless base for the rest of your makeup application. In a nutshell, a good foundation should:

  • Help to even out the skin tone and cover inconsistencies in the skin’s pigment;
  • Blend seamlessly down the face and neck;
  • Create a decent base on which you use all other makeup products, including eyeshadow and blusher;
  • Last a reasonable length of time without creasing, rubbing off or moving easily.

What to Consider When Buying a Foundation

Your Skin Type

Skin type dictates what types of makeup foundation products will work best on that skin. For example, a dry skin needs moisturising properties and an oily or blemished skin would work best with an oil-free formula. We go into skin type a bit more further on.

Skin Tone & Undertone

By skin tone we simply means your complexion or skin colour. Undertone is the colour that sits underneath your skin colour and affects its overall hue. It is this that is described as being warm, cool or neutral. Undertone is not about how dark or light you are, as people of all skin colours can have any one of these undertones.

For everyday makeup, choosing a foundation that matches your skin tone and undertone is the best way to go. It’s important to get this right – putting the wrong foundation shade on can result in the skin looking dull and lifeless.

  • Cool undertones give skin a pink, red, ruddy or bluish tinge. Veins in your arm will have a blue or purple look to them.
  • A neutral undertone has no obvious red, blue, yellow, olive or pink tones. Veins will have a blue-green tinge. If you can’t tell if your veins are more blue or green, it may be likely that you have a neutral undertone.
  • Warm undertones give a more yellow, sallow, peachy or golden tinge to skin. Veins will look green or olive.
  • Olive skin has a greenish, almost ashen hue to it. It tends to work better with warm colours (due to the underlying yellow in the skin), but may also work with more neutral colours.
  • Throughout the year, you may actually need more than just the one colour foundation, as skin tone can change from summer to winter.

Coverage Required

The coverage refers to how opaque the foundation is and, therefore, how much it will cover over your skin. Coverage can be described as sheer, light, medium or full.

  • Sheer or lightweight foundations are made to be less covering and, therefore, they allow a little of the natural skin to come through. For example, sheer products will blur skin pigmentation like freckles, but they will still be seen. Basically, they create a more natural-looking skin than heavier foundations. Examples of sheer foundation types include tinted moisturisers, airbrush foundations and mineral makeup.
  • Medium foundations give a decent covering and smooth out most pigmentation variations naturally found in skin. A hint of the natural skin can still shine through.
  • Full foundations are made to be fully covering and none or very little of the natural skin tone will come through. Full coverage is good for people who wish to camouflage things like skin pigment issues. A full coverage is also good for those who want to create a total black canvas on which to apply more dramatic makeup looks, like a smoky eye or an intense red lip. 
  • Some products can be built up to provide more coverage. Conversely, thicker or heavy coverage products can be mixed with moisturiser or primer to make them more sheer.
  • Pigments create the colour in a foundation. Therefore, the amount of pigment in a product determines how much product is actually needed. For example, a foundation that has a high pigment content in its formulation will not need to be applied as heavily as a foundation that has less pigment content in order to create the same level of coverage. Makeup designed for film/TV or camouflage tends to have a good pigment content.

Finish Required

Foundations come in two main finishes – namely, matte and those with a sheen. A sheen varies from a natural glow to fully luminescent.

  • Matte has no shine at all. This finish is good for a natural look on film, television and photoshoots, where sheen is emphasised under lights and on camera. It is also good for those who wish to tone down shine on oilier skins.
  • Natural, demi-matte or a satin finish is a good for most skins. It works well on older or drier skin that may need a bit of “life” putting into the skin’s appearance without looking too shiny. It is basically a natural-looking finish will add that slight glow that normal healthy skin has. 
  • A dewy finish gives a soft but obvious glow to the skin. It can be achieved with products like a makeup setting finishing spritz, as well as the foundation formulation used. 
  • Radiant, luminous or ultra-dewy finishes add even more obvious sheen to the face. It works well on dry skin, older skin or normal skin – and anyone looking to add more glow.
choose makeup foundation
(L to R): Finishes from matte, dewy to more luminous.

Use & Purpose of Wearing Foundation

By this we mean, where are you going in your makeup? Not all social events require the same foundation product. For example, you may want to choose a different type of makeup foundation for a daytime look or for work, but something else for an evening function.

  • For everyday use, you have a lot of choice as most retail brands are made for this! You can choose a long-lasting formula if you want that, or something with a SPF if you’re in a sunny climate.
  • For the bride who wants to look great all day with minimum top-up fiddling, choose a product that is long-lasting, not too shiny and tear-proof.
  • To cover skin pigmentation issues, use a highly-pigmented product designed for camouflage.
  • For film and television, other aspects come into play like location and environment. Certain products perform better in the heat, others work better in colder conditions and if the actor is getting wet, then this has to be taken into account (alcohol- and silicone-based products work well in water).
 

What Foundations Best Suit My Skin Type?

A lot of what works for you can be down to trial and error. Luckily, many brands have free makeovers and samples in store, so test the product to see how it feels and lasts on your skin. A makeup professional should have a range of products in their kit to be able to deal with all variables.

Normal Skin Type

  • Well you have a lot of choice! You can use any type of formulation – just avoid the ones designed for a particular skin type like oily or dry.
  • A tinted moisturiser may be all you need to even out your skin, or use a light dusting of loose minerals. We like Aveda Inner Light Tinted Moisturiser or Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturiser.

Dry Skin Type

  • Dry skin needs more moisture as well as oil to keep the moisture in, so choose a foundation that has good moisturising properties. An oil-based product is good for dry skins that don’t break out.
  • Liquid and cream foundations with moisturising formulations and tinted moisturisers work well on dryer skin. Choose a product that will help moisturise your skin – it depends on how much coverage you want.
  • Avoid flat matte products – use something that adds a satin finish or soft sheen, putting a bit of “life” into your skin. A dewy finish would also work well.
  • Avoid powder foundation formulations that may emphasise any dryness or flaky skin patches.
  • To get more moisture into skin, or to get rid of that “stretched” feeling after washing and cleansing your face, apply a good dab of moisturiser. Allow it too fully soak in before you start the makeup.

Oily Skin Type

  • Choose an oil-free or water-based product. Oily skin still needs hydration, it just doesn’t need more oil adding to it.
  • Products designed for oily skins tend to have a matte finish to help counteract and control shine.
  • Dry formulations like loose mineral makeup and powders can work well on oily skins, as they help soak up the oils.
  • A mattifying primer product can also help with excessive shine and prep the skin before applying any foundation.
  • A great anti-shine product often used in film and television that can be worn alone or under makeup is Make-Up International’s SuperMatte AntiShine. Designed to last for a while under duress and under hot lights, so it can certainly cope with less-demanding everyday wear.

Older Skin

  • You may need a lightweight, well-pigmented product that doesn’t sit in lines. A heavy application could draw more attention to lines. 
  • A good level of pigment in a product helps to cover over pigmentation like age spots without needing a heavy coverage. It can be used in those areas needed, and a lightweight foundation used over the rest of the face.
  • Older skin can be drier and look flat, though this is absolutely not a given – plenty of older people have oily skin and so on! If your skin is dry, a foundation with moisturising properties and a natural sheen may work better for you – just the same as for younger people.

Sensitive Skin

  • Negative reactions to cosmetics are caused by the ingredients. Fragrance or preservatives in particular can trigger a reaction, so if you’re not sure what triggers a reaction in you, first try a product free from these ingredients. The word “parfum” on a label indicates the presence of perfume.
  • Loose mineral makeup is less likely to cause allergic reactions, simply because they have fewer ingredients than a regular liquid product. They also tend to be fragrance and preservative free. Watch out for the ingredient bismuth oxychloride which can be irritating to some skins.
  • “Hypoallergenic” is a marketing term and it doesn’t mean that the product will not upset your skin. It simply means that the manufacturer thinks it is less likely to irritate your skin, based on their own opinion. Same with similar labels, such as “Dermatologically tested”. They tell you nothing about who, what and how the product was tested. 

Skin Pigmentation & Tattoo Coverage

  • To conceal and cover vitiligo, birthmarks, rosacea or tattoos, there are good high-pigment products on the market. The high pigment means that they will cover more readily without the need for a heavy coverage.
  • Supercover Professional Makeup makes an excellent range of foundations for all skin tones from light to dark in both warm and cool undertones.
  • DermacolourVeil and Dermablend specialise in camouflage products and do a wide range of colours with setting powders that keep the foundation in place.
Camouflage makeup products include Kryolan's Dermacolor, Supercover, Dermablend and Veil.

Testing Out Foundation Colours

  • Firstly, always test colour options in natural daylight. A fluorescent light will make you look washed out. Lights in shops and department stores are not always ideal, so when testing in-store, go outside and have a look in the daylight.
  • Don’t just try one colour option. Go for the one you think matches your skin best, then try the colours either side too. Comparisons often help in making the right decision, as you can clearly see which ones do not work as well.
  • Test colours on your jawline, going down onto your neck a little. The right colour should blend seamlessly into your skin, and simply disappear.
  • Ask for samples to try at home. All the above principles still apply. It will also help you see what lasts best on your skin and which textures and so on you prefer. Also, some foundations can slightly change colour once on the skin, as it can oxidise due to your skin’s pH and oil content. So give it time to settle to see how it works on your skin.

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choose makeup foundation