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Nothing against eye shadow or lipstick, but it’s really foundation that is the backbone of any makeup look—whether you’re going for subtle and natural or for high-impact drama. And finding the right one, both your favorite formula and best shade match, is an invaluable skill to master. The only tricky part is finding said foundation. There are a lot of choices to make. Do you like sticks or powders, liquids or cream? How much coverage do you want? Do you prefer a radiant or matte finish?
No matter how you answered those questions, the best foundations below offer a little something for everyone.
We’ve tried a lot of foundations in our day, yet we somehow always revert back to this cult classic. The iconic formula first launched in 2000 and has remained wildly popular ever since. Credit the lightweight texture and, true to the name, silky finish that delivers just the right amount of coverage while still leaving skin looking like skin. To celebrate the product’s 20th anniversary, the brand also recently came out with 10 new shades, bringing the total up to an impressive 40.
There are plenty of pricey foundations out there, but you don’t have to shell out the big bucks to find a standout option. Case in point: This budget-friendly drugstore staple. The hydrating formula is ideal for normal to dry skin, imparting a subtle luminosity (and delivering SPF 15 to boot). The texture is fairly thin, making it easy to build up from medium to full coverage, and those with oily skin will appreciate that it also comes in a matte variant, too.
When you really need your base to stay in place, try this pick. Unique polymers help keep it in place and keep the formula ultra-smooth. It also uses a unique diamond core powder technology, which essentially translates to a soft-focus finish that blurs away the look of pores, wrinkles, and other imperfections. It also comes in an inclusive range of shades with varying undertones.
Byrdie’s Commerce Editorial Director Jessica Mahgerefteh reaches for this on the regular, a choice for those looking to add a little extra SPF to their routine. To be fair, this isn’t enough SPF to use in place of sunscreen, but used on top of ‘screen it’s great as an extra layer of protection. Not to mention that it’s super breathable and non-cakey, and lasts for a full 24 hours, too.
While technically this falls into the tinted moisturizer category, we think it offers enough coverage to be called a foundation. It’s sheer for sure but is pigmented enough to even out skin tone and conceal imperfections, all while leaving skin look healthy, glowy, and naturally lit-from-within. We also appreciate the SPF 30, higher than you get in many foundation products, and the fact that it’s non-comedogenic and dermatologist-tested.
For those who prefer their foundation have a matte finish, this can’t be beaten. Despite the texture, it never comes across as flat or dry—it just leaves skin shine-free and looking completely smooth and flawless. Not only is it oil-free and long-wearing, but it also boasts a special climate-adaptive technology that’s sweat- and humidity-resistant, making this particularly choice on hot summer days. And we’d be remiss not to mention that it comes in an insane line-up of 50 different shades.
The brand known for an incredible array of lip products also does great things in the complexion category. This liquid formula is great for all skin types, with protective antioxidants and micellar technology that works to mimic the natural texture of your complexion. Translation? A completely natural look, and a nice and clean ingredient list, too.
There’s no denying that this is the reigning champion among all powder foundations out there, hands down. Unlike many other powders, there’s never a risk of it ending up chalky, thanks to the natural luminosity from the minerals. It’s also a top choice for those with sensitive skin; containing only five ingredients, it’s highly unlikely to cause irritation.
This is so featherweight and undetectable, you’ll be hard-pressed to remember that you’re wearing any makeup on your skin at all. It’s only when you realize just how darn good it looks that you’ll recall you used this complexion perfector. Glycerin makes it nice and moisturizing, while diamond powder brightens the skin. It does only come in 12 shades, but they do blend in fairly well, even if it doesn’t seem like you can find an exact match.
We know, we know—full coverage from a CC cream? Believe it. This guy packs enough pigment to rival the fullest of the full coverage foundations out there, but with the added benefit of all the extra goodies you get from a CC. We’re talking hydration, a litany of anti-aging ingredients, plus sun protection. It’s no wonder it’s been the best-selling CC cream in the U.S. for three years running.
There are so many things we adore about stick foundations, it’s hard to keep track. For starters, there’s the ease of application, no tools or mirrors required—all you have to do is swipe it on with your fingertips and go. We’re especially partial to this one, with its waterproof and long-wearing formula. Also noteworthy: The fact that it adjusts to your body temperature for seamless blending, and a unique triangular tip that makes it easy to apply on even those hard-to-reach spots.
This is a go-to for Byrdie’s Senior Social Media Manager Kelly Gallagher and boasts the unique distinction of being one of the only gel formulas out there. Like gel moisturizer, it’s packed with water, 60% to be exact, which makes for a lightweight, refreshing texture we love especially on hot days. Apply it with fingertips or a brush, and layer it for more coverage. The only drawback? It doesn’t come in a particularly wide range of colors, so here’s hoping that changes soon.
We’re all about multi-tasking complexion products, and this one, in particular, is a top pick. Another favorite of Gallagher’s, you can absolutely use it as a foundation, though the buildable formula also works great dabbed onto only strategic spots as a concealer. And/or, try using any of the deeper tones as a contour stick to create the appearance of a more sculpted jawline or slimmer nose.
There’s no denying that airbrush foundations make for a completely flawless complexion, but if you don’t want to go through the hassle of buying and using an airbrush tool, this is equally as good (and much easier). The featherweight formula boasts hydrating hyaluronic acid spheres and creates a second-skin finish that covers everything you want to be covered without looking mask-like. Not to mention that it comes in an impressive range of 50 shades.
It’s not only the quantity of the 40 shades that we appreciate here but the quality of them, too. More specifically, the fact that there’s an excellent amount of options for those with deeper complexions that also have various undertones, no small feat in the beauty world. Hallie Gould, Byrdie’s Senior Editor, is a fan of the stick, which also has the added benefit of coming in a perfectly portable size and works well as a concealer and contour, too.
Those dealing with perpetually slick skin can often have trouble finding a base that will both stay put and tamp down excess sheen, but this one gets the job done. Lightweight and oil-free, it also has the added benefit of containing lentil extract to blur the appearance of prominent pores, plus multi-colored pigments that adjust to match your skin tone perfectly.
You’re right, this isn’t technically a foundation, but hear us out. If you hate the look or feel of a full-on foundation, this primer is a good alternative to use on its own. It hydrates, but also makes skin look smooth and glowy, and somehow hides imperfections—in a word, it just generally makes everything look better. And if you do like foundation, it works equally well layered underneath your fave.