Foundation 101: How to Find the Perfect Formula

·Editor in Chief

The goal of foundation is to even out skin, minimize imperfections, and make it look beautiful. Knowing what to look for will help you find the perfect product. Choosing the right formula for your skin type is just as important as matching the color to your skin. Find the perfect fit and your foundation will last and be imperceptible. Pick the wrong one and you could highlight imperfections, look like you are wearing a mask, or watch your makeup disappear in an hour.

The place to start is to decide what type of coverage you want. Then move on to what formula works best for your skin type. The last step is finding the exact color match. 

Here’s everything you need to know about foundation before you hit the store:

Coverage Options

Sheer/Light: The perfect choice when you want your skin to really shine through with minimal coverage. A tinted moisturizer offers the lightest sheerest finish.

Medium: Most foundation formulas are medium finish offering enough coverage to hide imperfections, but not too much that your makeup looks heavy. You’ll find medium coverage versions for powder, liquid, and stick foundations. BB cream also offers medium coverage with skin enhancing benefits. 

Full: This formula does what it says, covering your skin in foundation and eliminating any imperfections or redness. For evening makeup or more of a Hollywood retro look, go with full-coverage. You will find versions in powder, liquid, and stick foundations.

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Foundation Types

Tinted Moisturizer: A slight tint paired with moisturizer offers a light amount of coverage. If you are makeup averse or looking for just a little extra something on the weekends, this is the perfect option.

Balm: Balm foundation is harder to find, but the combination of extra hydration, a light tint, and a dewy finish make it ideal for mature or dry skin.

Liquid: Liquid foundation is the classic foundation formula and comes in a range of finishes. It can be applied with fingers, brush, or a sponge.

Stick: Creamy formulas that offer medium to full coverage in a convenient package. If you want your makeup to last longer or stand up to heat and humidity, stick makeup is a smart choice. You can use it as an all-over face foundation or as a touch-up, concealer to use on your face or body.

Mineral: Makeup made primarily of minerals with no fragrance or chemicals is a favorite of natural beauty lovers. Available in compact, loose powder, and liquid formulas—mineral foundation works well with sensitive and acne prone skin.

Powder: A great on-the-go option, powder formulas come in a compact and are applied with a brush. They offer more coverage than our basic finishing powder. 

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The Best Foundation for Your Skin Type

Normal Skin: You can really go with any type of foundation, it just depends on the finish you want. A luminous formula will give you a glowy finish. A matte or full-coverage foundation will help to create a red-carpet Hollywood retro look. And if you just want a little coverage when you are running errands, reach for your tinted moisturizer.

Combination: Women with normal to oily skin need to adjust their skincare and foundation with the seasons. They should go with the lighter oil-free foundation in the summer and a richer, hydrating one in the winter. 

Dry, Mature Skin: Look for foundations marked luminous, hydrating, and moisturizing. Balms and tinted moisturizers make great choices too. These formulas will fill in lines and leave a dewy, glowy finish.  Stay away from oil free or powder options.

Oily Skin: You can find oil-free options for every single type of foundation. If you really want to cut shine, look for a matte finish. Pore-minimizing foundations are available too. Avoid luminous finish and hydrating formulas.

Acne-Prone: If you are battling breakouts, you want to treat your skin with acne-fighting skincare first. Try and stay away from makeup, until your skin clears up. When you are ready for foundation, look for versions that include acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. 

Photo: Henry Leutwyler

Finding the Right Color for You

The truth is you can’t really tell if a color is right for you from just looking at the package or testing out a swipe on your hand or arm. You have to try it out. On a makeup-free face, pick three shades close to your skin tone and apply them in two-inch strips to the side of your face. Check the color in natural light. The color that blends in with your skin, is the one to go with. If you are in between colors, go with the color that is slightly darker.

Here are some other factors to be aware of:

Skin color changes throughout the year: Your skin color changes throughout the year, so the foundation you wear in the summer might be a shade darker than in the winter.

Oily skin can affect your foundation color: If you have oily skin, you may have to choose a lighter shade. The oils in your skin can make your foundation look a shade darker.

Look for a yellow-toned foundation: Everyone has yellow undertones in their skin. Yellow-toned foundation looks the most natural and has the edited benefit of reducing the appearance of redness.

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I like to apply foundation with my fingers. It gives me control of the product and the warmth of my hands makes the product easier to apply. Sponges can work to give you an even, pretty finish. However, sponges absorb a lot of product, so you will go through your foundation much faster. A brush is another way to apply foundation, but you will still need to blend with your fingers to achieve that flawless, invisible look.

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