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 are required.
What Does a Makeup Foundation Do?
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
- Last a reasonable length of time without creasing, rubbing off, or moving easily
What to Consider When Buying a Foundation
Your Skin Type
The type of skin type you have dictates what types of makeup foundation products will work best for you. For example, dry skin needs moisturising properties and oily skin would work best with an oil-free formula. We go more into skin type further on in this post.
By skin tone, we simply mean your complexion or skin colour.
You may need more than just the one colour of foundation, as skin tone can change throughout the year. Changes can occur for all sorts of reasons, for instance, sun exposure, medication, or skin issues.
Undertone is the colour that sits underneath your skin colour and affects its overall hue. It is not about how light or dark your skin is, but simply the tone that shines from beneath and enhances your skin colour.
Undertone falls into one of three main categories, namely warm, cool or neutral:
- A warm undertone gives a yellow, sallow, peachy, or golden tinge to the skin. Veins will look green or olive.
- Cool undertone gives skin a pink, red, ruddy, or bluish tinge. Veins will have a blue or purple look to them.
- The 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.
- Olive skin has a greenish, almost ashen hue to it. It tends to work better with warm or neutral colours due to the underlying yellow in the skin. This all depends, of course, on the actual tone of olive in someone’s skin.
For everyday makeup, choosing a foundation that matches both your skin tone and undertone is the best way to go. It’s important to get this right, as wearing the wrong shade can result in the skin looking dull and lifeless.
Coverage means how much the foundation will conceal your skin. The different levels of coverage can be described as sheer, light, medium, or full.
- Sheer or lightweight foundations are made to be less covering and, therefore, allow a little of the natural skin to show through. It basically creates 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 the skin. However, a hint of natural skin can still shine through.
- Full foundations are made to cover so that none of the natural skin tones show through. Full coverage is good for people who wish to camouflage skin pigment issues. Additionally, it is good for those who like a totally black canvas on which to apply more dramatic makeup looks.
- Some products can be built up to provide more coverage. Thick or full-coverage products can be mixed with moisturiser or primer to make them more lightweight.
- Pigments create the colour in a foundation and some products have more pigment density than others. For example, a foundation designed for media makeup or camouflage tends to have a high pigment content. It means that less product is needed to create a foundation. Highly pigmented products are good if you want full coverage, but without having to wear a thick layer of foundation.
Foundations come in two main finishes – namely, matte and those with a sheen. A sheen finish varies from a subtle natural glow to one that is fully luminescent.
- Matte has no shine at all. This finish is good for a natural look on film, television and photo shoots, where sheen is emphasised under lights and on camera. It is also good for those wishing to tone down the natural shine on their skin.
- Natural, demi-matte, or a satin finish is 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 that will add that slight glow that normal healthy skin has.
- A dewy finish gives a soft but obvious glow to the skin. It can also be achieved with products like a makeup finishing spritz, as well as the foundation formulation used.
- Radiant, luminous, or ultra-dewy finishes add an even more obvious sheen to the face. It works well on dry skin, young skin, older skin, or normal skin – or anyone looking to add more glow.
Use & Purpose of Wearing Foundation
By this we mean, where are you going in your makeup? Obviously, not all social events require the same foundation product. For example, you may want to choose a matte foundation for a daytime look or work, but something more luminous for an evening function.
- For everyday use, you have lots of choices as most retail brands are made for this. You can choose a long-lasting formula if you want that, or something with an 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-resistant.
- 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. Likewise, if the actor is going to get wet, then this has to be taken into account – and here alcohol- and silicone-based products work well.
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 for you to test how their makeup 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 colours and types of skin.
Normal Skin Type
- Well, you have a lot of choices! 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. Therefore, choose a foundation that has good moisturising properties.
- An oil-based product is also good for dry skins that don’t break out.
- Liquid and cream foundations with moisturising properties work well on dry skin, as do tinted moisturisers.
- 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, as they may emphasise the dryness or flaky skin patches.
- To get more moisture into the skin, or to get rid of that “stretched” feeling after washing and cleansing your face, simply 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. It is designed to last under duress and hot lights, so it can certainly cope with less-demanding everyday wear.
- You may need a lightweight, well-pigmented product that doesn’t sit in lines because a heavy application could draw more attention to lines.
- A highly-pigmented product also helps to cover any skin pigmentation issues, like age spots, without needing heavy coverage. By all means, it can just be used in the areas needed, with a more 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. However, if your skin is dry, try using a foundation with moisturising properties and a little sheen – just the same as for younger people with dry skin.
- Negative reactions to cosmetics are caused by the ingredients, in particular things like fragrance or preservatives. If you’re not sure what triggers a reaction in you, start by trying products that are 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 it has fewer ingredients than most regular liquid products. They also tend to be fragrance and preservative free. However, watch out for the ingredient bismuth oxychloride, which can be irritating to some skins.
- “Hypoallergenic” is a marketing term which doesn’t guarantee that the product will not upset your skin. It simply means that the manufacturer thinks it is less likely to irritate your skin.
- It is the same with similar labels, such as “Dermatologically tested”. In the end, 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 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.
- Dermacolour, Veil and Dermablend specialise in camouflage products and do a wide range of colours with setting powders that keep the foundation in place.
Testing Out Foundation Colours
- Test the foundation in natural daylight. Lights in shops and department stores are not always ideal, so just pop outside and have a look in the daylight. A fluorescent light can make you look washed out.
- Don’t just try one colour option. Go for the one you think matches your skin best, then try the colours on either side too. This is because 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 tone and simply disappear.
- Ask for samples to try at home. All the above principles still apply. Testing at home will also help you determine what products last well on your skin, as well as which textures you prefer. Another thing to consider is some foundations can change colour slightly once on the skin. This is oxidisation due to your skin’s pH and oil content. So give it time to settle to see how it behaves on your skin.