How-to Choose Your Foundation

How-to Choose Your Foundation

One recurring theme in this month’s Ask Temptalia Session was all about foundation — what’s best for what skin, how to choose the right shade, how to know what kind of undertones you have, and so on and so forth. This is pretty much everything I know about foundation, and hopefully, you’ll add your own tips and tricks in the comments to make this a great resource for the future! 🙂 (You know, I fully intended for this to be a short and sweet post, but you know what they say about plans!)

Choosing foundation can be a difficult, trying, and frustrating process because everyone’s skin varies just a little bit from person to person so what works for one might not work for another–and for a whole variety of reasons–from undertones to skin types to skin concerns to personal preferences.

Undertones, shopping for foundation, tips & tricks ahead!

How to Determine Your Undertones / Skin Tone

I’ve found one of the most straight-forward ways to determine your undertones is to look at the underside of your forearm: if your veins are greener, you have warmer undertones; if your veins are bluer, you have cooler undertones. What if they’re neither? or both? Never fear, it means you have more neutral undertones and kind of get the best of both worlds. Another way to tell is if you feel like you look better in warmer colors (e.g. gold) or cooler colors (e.g. silver) — some think about what kind of jewelry (either gold or silver) they prefer on themselves.

How to Shop for Foundation

When it comes to foundation, window-shopping is important. You want to try everything before you buy when possible–and if it’s not possible, look for retailers with generous return policies. It’s difficult to match yourself, and just because it looks good in the store doesn’t mean it’s going to look good outside the mall or at the office.

It’s a good idea to get samples of two to three shades of the foundation(s) you’re interested in. This way it’ll save you some time if you find the right foundation formula but need to get the shade down. I love department stores like Nordstrom, because they are always ready to provide samples and never pressure me once I make it clear I really need to make sure it’s the right shade for me. Not only is shade-matching made easier by getting samples, but it’s also a good way to see if it’s the right formula, if it oxidizes on you (turns orange), or if it breaks you out. You never have to shell out the price of a full-sized bottle until you’re really ready to.

How to Pick the Right Kind of Foundation

When it comes to choosing a formula, a lot of it can be based on personal preference, but it also has to do with your skin type and what your concerns are about it.

Foundation Finishes

  • Matte means exactly that, the formula is going to look flat – there’s no shimmer, shine, dewiness, etc.
  • Semi-matte is similar to matte, but there might be just a smidgen of soft dewiness but not too much.
  • Satin finish foundations have a definite dewy look, which is kind of like a “glow” but may translate to “oily” for some.
  • Sheer and tinted products are just that – sheer or lightly tinted; they’re not heavy coverage, opaque coverage, or full coverage. They are designed to be lightweight and tend to just even out minor imperfections or give a good base for other makeup.

Foundation for Your Skin Type

  • If you have dry skin, look for semi-matte, dewy, or satin finish foundations. Liquid and cream foundations tend to be better for drier skin than powder foundations as powder can often enhance dryness. If you want a compact, opt for cream or look for a cream-to-powder foundation. Some foundations that I like for drier skin are: Dior DiorSkin Nude, MAC Face & Body, Make Up For Ever HD, and Make Up For Ever Face & Body.
  • If you have normal skin, look for matte, semi-matte, or slightly dewy foundations (but totally satin may be too much–depends on your skin and the formulation). Normal skin can really wear a whole range of foundation types, from loose to pressed powder to cream to liquid. The world is your foundation bottle… My recommendations for both dry and oily skin are all potential candidates for normal skin types.
  • If you have oilier skin, look for matte or semi-matte finish foundations. Anything that is dewy, luminizing, or satin-y may or may not work — it’s something that definitely needs some trial before determining, but often, these types of finishes only accentuate skin oiliness rather than help to minimize it. Some foundations that have worked for me when I’m oilier have been: Lancome Color Ideal, MAC Studio Fix Fluid, and Make Up For Ever Mat+ Velvet.

Foundation for Your Skin Concerns

  • If you have near perfect skin or don’t want to (or need to) cover anything, look for sheer or light coverage foundations. This would also include tinted moisturizer, often the sheerest of foundation options (since it’s almost like half-foundation).
  • If you have some imperfections or unevenness, look for light to medium coverage foundations, depending on your needs. There are also foundations that are buildable coverage, too — which means they can start off as lighter and be built up for fuller coverage as you need it.
  • If you have more imperfections (e.g. scarring), look for medium to full coverage foundations. Full coverage will be, naturally, a bit heavier in feel, but these days, even full coverage foundation doesn’t have to feel like a mask with the right formula.

How to Pick the Right Shade of Foundation

First, I always recommend the interweb as your guide. Seriously, there is so much information available at your fingertips, it’s not even fathomable! You might try looking online at all of the different “swatches” of a certain foundation line. Try to eye-ball where you might lie — are you ultra light (so in the beginning), maybe a little more on the medium side (so in the middle), darker skinned (towards the end of the spectrum)? I always find this helped me get a good start on where I might be. I might also look at celebrities that I feel are similar to my skin tone and see if they say they’re light, medium, olive toned, etc.

Second, get yourself down to a department store counter. Now, the majority of beauty addicts make at least a few high-end purchases at some point during the year, even if you may be more of a bargain beauty babe. But one thing department stores have that many drugstores don’t (hey, Beauty 360 @ CVS, not looking at you!) is the ability to have an artist or salesperson help you find your shade. This plays into the whole “try before you buy” mantra of mine when it comes to foundation, but it’s a good way of narrowing the playing field a bit. Even if you may not be convinced about high-end foundation, it still will help guide you to the right shade at the drugstore (since it’s much harder, if not impossible, to test).

Third, if you have a MAC counter or store in your area, get a MAC match. I don’t care if you don’t like MAC foundation, but knowing (or roughly knowing) your MAC shade allows you to search the internet with lightning speed… say, “NC30 in DiorSkin Nude” and you’ll probably turn up a few possible matches to help narrow down what kind of shade you’re looking at for your skin tone. (It’s also useful for getting recommendations for eyeshadows, blushes, and lipsticks while you’re at it!)

I find it best to apply foundation to the whole face, but at the very least, the jawline is the best part of your face. (Of course, when you’re just testing out foundation, you may want to do a spot test before you go for a full face, in case you are prone to breaking out or have any cosmetic allergies!) Blended lightly onto the jawline, the foundation shouldn’t stick out to you — like you shouldn’t notice a difference in color from where you applied it to where you didn’t (even if you can tell you have foundation on one part of your face, since you do!).

More Tips & Tricks

  • Don’t be disappointed if you don’t find your perfect match the first time out. Sometimes it can be a very grueling and demoralizing process. Stick with it!
  • Women of color should be prepared to, unfortunately, have to do a little more experimentation, because many brands do not yet carry a great shade range for women of color. Brands that readers have suggested as having made their quest easier are: Bobbi Brown, Giorgio Armani, Iman, MAC, and Make Up For Ever. (Though in the past few years, brands have really stepped up their shade offerings in their mainstay formulations.) Avoid foundations with ingredients like titanium dioxide, which really can contribute to looking ashy or gray. Ideally, any formula you pick should have a very wide range of shades–if there is just one or two darker shades, it’s going to be harder to find the right shade and undertone for you.
  • Avoid foundation transfer by setting your foundation with loose or pressed powder. It helps kind of lock everything together to stay on better and last longer.
  • Liquid and cream foundations can be stretched or thinned with water or lotion/moisturizer to sheer out coverage if you so desire.
  • Make your own tinted moisturizer by adding a few drops of your favorite liquid foundation with your moisturizer. Experiment to find the right coverage and shade depth for you.
  • The tool you use to apply your foundation can make a huge difference, but there’s no right or wrong tool to use. Some use their fingers, others use sponges, and some use brushes. Sponge application tends to eat up your foundation and ends up giving you a sheerer look (with more left in your sponge). I find using a brush to give a very even coverage, soft look that’s not too heavy or too sheer.