Types of Foundation Makeup

Should you buy whipped, liquid, or powder foundation?

Young woman applying foundation to cheek with make-up brush, close-up
Veronique Beranger / The Image Bank / Getty Images

The very best way to achieve a smooth and even complexion is to apply foundation before you do your eye makeup, cheeks or lips. The right shade will disappear into your face making it appear as if you are wearing no makeup at all. I find a foam sponge like this one is the best way to apply foundation, but you can use your fingers or a foundation brush.

Finding the right foundation can be daunting because there are so many brands and formulations on the market. In this article, I run down the various types of foundations, so you can find your best fit.

Liquid (or Cream) Foundation

Liquid foundation is a basic term for foundations that come in liquid form. There are many specialized versions, including oil-free, oil-based, waterproof and even 24-hour. They can go from medium to full coverage depending on how much you apply. 

Cream foundations provide a bit heavier coverage and are formulated for normal to dry skin. To build a foundation, simply apply a layer and let it dry, then apply another layer on top of it over your problem area.

Tinted Moisturizer
A tinted moisturizer provides light coverage and will cover up some unevenness, but is best for women with pretty good skin. It's truly a moisturizer with a wash of sheer color. It works as a 2-in-1 (sometimes 3-in-1 if it contains SPF) makeup product because it moisturizes while providing an all-over sheer color.

Tinted moisturizer is a great bet in warmer months when little coverage and some moisture are required. Keep in mind tinted moisturizers with SPF don't provide enough sun protection, be sure to supplement with sunscreen of at least SPF 40 to be safe. 

Oil-based Foundation Makeup
Oil-based foundations add moisture and tend to temporarily "plump up" skin, making them a great foundation choice for anyone with dry skin and for older women who want to minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. You'll want to shake up the bottle before use because the oil will separate in the bottle.

Sheer Foundation
If you are seeking a foundation that glides on smoothly, giving skin the appearance of having no foundation on at all, sheer foundation is a great bet. The coverage is light, so it won't give you what I call "cake face" if you apply too liberally. It tends to be buildable if you do want more coverage. 

Sheer foundation is made with silicones and works best for women with normal to dry skin. Many sheer foundations today contain SPF, which gives you the added benefit of sun protection, but I always recommend supplementing with a sunscreen of at least SPF 40.

Matte, or "Oil-Free," Foundation

Created for women with oily skin, matte (also marketed as "oil-free") foundations are formulated with water and not oil. They tend to dry quickly, so you will want to blend it in with a sponge or your fingers as soon as you apply. And always use moisturizer or foundation primer first to add an extra layer of moisturizer.

Mousse or Whipped Foundation
Mousse, also marketed as "whipped foundation," is liquid makeup with air whipped in. This makes the product light and smooth. Mousse foundations tend to have a perfect matte finish and a weightless feel.

Whipped foundation is typically good for all skin types, but I find it's great for those with dry or mature skin because of its tendency to go on smoothly instead of caking up.

Stick Foundation
Stick foundations are portable so you never have to worry about spills in your purse or bag. The coverage tends to be heavier, making them perfect for covering up blemishes, scars, reddened areas, and dark under-eye circles.

Stick foundations are best for normal to oily skin. If you have dry skin, make sure to apply a bit of moisturizer first because stick foundations can cake up on you. This is why I recommend using stick foundations only on your problem areas, leaving the rest of your face to regular liquid or cream foundation.

This is not a great option for mature skin. Stick foundation is simply too heavy for fine lines and wrinkles. 

Powder (or Compact) Foundation
Powder foundation comes in compact form, so it makes a great foundation for women who want on-the-go portability. It's basically a powder and foundation in one and you can get it in several formulations, but it's really best for women with oily skin. Skip this if you have dry or mature skin. 

Mineral Foundation
For women interested in natural, organic makeup, mineral foundation is your absolute best bet. Mineral makeup is made up almost always primarily of minerals, which come from nature. It's a great bet for women with sensitive skin or allergies. And it's a great bet for older women with fine lines and wrinkles. Mineral foundation is best applied with a big, fluffy brush. 

Shimmer Foundation
Shimmer foundations contain ingredients that add a dewiness to the skin. Laura Mercier has a great illuminating tinted moisturizer, but I found it works best as a highlighter instead of for overall coverage. Buy in a shade lighter than your skin tone and apply only to those areas where you want to achieve brightness: above your brows, on the cheeks and the tip of the nose.

Waterproof Foundation

Waterproof foundation is made to stay on for a long time, which makes it perfect for humid areas and hot days. It also means you may not be able to remove it with just cleanser and water, you may need to use makeup remover. These foundations can clog up pores and you may be more susceptible to blackheads, so I wouldn't use this foundation daily.

Foundation Primer

Foundation primer works much in the same way as paint primer does -- it fills in the little cracks and pores in your skin allowing foundation to to to go on smoothly and seamlessly. Creating a barrier between your foundation and your skin may seem like an unnecessary step, but primers work so well, sales have been going up and up in the past several years. You can get a similar effect with a coat of moisturizer before applying foundation, but primer aficionados like myself know it's not exactly the same.