How To Pick the Perfect Foundation Makeup

When my skin looks great I feel amazing
GlobalStock / Getty Images

With so many brands and options even within those brands, picking the perfect foundation makeup can be daunting. Should you buy sheer, oil-free, mattifying or full-coverage? And what's all the fuss over tinted moisturizers? Are drugstore versions decent buys, or should you splurge on a fancy, pricey brand?

I'm here to help you figure out what foundation is best for you, your skin and your wallet.

The Best Foundation Will Disappear on Your Face

If you take anything at all away from this article, remember this: the right foundation shade will disappear into your skin.

It won't settle into fine lines or wrinkles or highlight large pores. It will lightly cover up any redness or unevenness but it will do so without being obvious.

The right foundation or tinted moisturizer (tinted moisturizer is simply a lighter version of foundation) will look as if you aren't wearing any at all.

Try Before You Buy

Not all makeup should be tried before you buy, but foundation is definitely one of them that you should ALWAYS be tried first. You can't always judge a foundation color by its bottle and there's nothing more annoying than driving to the drugstore, buying a bottle, getting it home and then finding out it's a shade off.

For this reason, I tend to direct women to Sephora where a salesperson can help direct you to the perfect foundation. Sephora salespeople don't work on commission, so there's no pressure to buy what you try. 

How to Buy From a Department Store

Foundation is one of those beauty items you should splurge on if you can afford to (check out, Should You Splurge or Save on Foundation & Concealer?).

The best foundations can be found at department stores where makeup artists can help you pick out that perfect shade. Again, I highly recommend Sephora, where there's no pressure to buy (unlike the counters at Nordstrom's, Macy's, etc). Plus, at Sephora, you have the option to try many brands, unlike at a department store where you have to hit up an individual brand.

 

Do your research first on the best foundations before hitting the counters. I include many department store brands in my list of the best foundations for every skin type. Laura Mercier, Chanel, Bobbi Brown, BareMinerals and MAC all make popular foundations.

Once you find your perfect foundation, you can switch to buying online, which is a very convenient -- and sometimes more affordable -- option.

How to Buy Foundation from a Drugstore

If you're buying from a drugstore, do your research first. I include many drugstore brands in the best foundations for every skin type, but L'Oreal, Revlon, and CoverGirl all make popular foundations.

Choose a drugstore with a liberal return policy like Rite Aid or CVS Pharmacy. Hopefully, they have tester bottles that you can use to try out in the drugstore. If not, purchase a few bottles to try out. If you hit the jackpot on your first try, you can return the unopened items. If you don't, you can still return the others. But buying a few at once will save you from several trips to the store. 

Testing Out the Shades: A How-To

When testing out shades, it's best to show up at the makeup counter with a clean, fresh face. It's OK to wear eye makeup or lipstick, even moisturizer on your face, but you don't want to show up already wearing foundation.

The best shade for you is one that disappears on your face. To test, apply a stroke of up to three colors on a cheek or even better, the jawline (the inner wrist or hand aren't the best spots, contrary to popular belief). 

Once you find that perfect fit, check it out in natural light. Ask to borrow a hand mirror and stand near a doorway, or step outside, to see which foundation looks best in the natural light.

If you are purchasing from a drugstore that doesn't have testers, take a couple bottles to a doorway, hold them up to your neck and see which one matches the best or if you have a favorite shade you want to match, match the colors of the bottles, never the swatch on the display.

Keep in mind that you may need different shades for winter, when your skin may be naturally lighter, and summer, when it's naturally darker.

 

What's the Right Formula for Your Skin?

When choosing a foundation it's best to know your skin type. Foundations are formulated for oily, dry, mature, normal, sensitive skin. Keep in mind that most women's skin type changes with the weather. In winter, you might be dry, while in summer you might be oily. Also, lots of women actually have combination skin, which means they are oily in the T-zone and dry everywhere else.

If your skin is oily, look for words like "oil-free," "oil-control" or "mattifying" on the bottle.

Women with dry skin should look for moisturizing foundations with "hydrating" or "moisture-rich" wording on the bottle. Foundations containing glycerin glide on easily.

For combination skin, determine if you're more oily or dry and go from there. Cream-to-powder bases work great for combination skin. Mineral foundations work well on all skin types, especially sensitive skin.

Mature, aging skin can benefit from foundations formulated for that skin type. See my curated list of foundations in The Best Foundation for Mature Skin.

Coverage: Do You Want Light, Medium or Heavy?

Step 2 in choosing a foundation is to figure out the coverage you want. This may also be seasonal. You may choose lighter coverage in summer and a heavier, creamier coverage in colder months.

If you have good skin but want to even out a few ruddy areas, consider a light coverage (tinted moisturizers are awesome). If your skin tone is uneven and you have blemishes, consider a medium-coverage foundation. Most medium-coverage foundations can be built upon to create a heavier coverage.

For a more detailed explanation of the various types of foundations, check out Should You Buy Whipped, Liquid or Powder Foundation?

What's the Big Deal About Yellow vs. Pink Shades?

If you read about foundations in any beauty book or magazine, you will likely read about yellow- and pink-based shades. Makeup expert Bobbi Brown recommends most women use yellow-based foundations, which look most natural on all skin tones. Pink shades can be better for women with very fair skin.

I personally think you don't need to worry about yellow and pinks when buying a foundation because just looking at the bottle and trying to determine its base may only lead to confusion. You absolutely can find a good foundation for you without ever knowing whether it's yellow or pink.

SPF or No SPF?

Many foundations these days come with SPF, but the amount (usually about 15 SPF) is not enough to properly protect you. I recommend supplementing with an SPF of at least 40 worn under the foundation.