We independently research, test, review, and recommend the best products—learn more about our process. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.
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.
Best Overall: Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation
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.
What Our Testers Say
"This foundation is nothing short of amazing. As soon as I started blending it in, its smooth texture and luminescent finish made my skin look flawless and airbrushed immediately." — Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Glow Foundation
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.
Best Long-Wear: Pat McGrath Labs Skin Fetish Sublime Foundation
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.
Best With SPF: MAC Cosmetics Studio Fix Fluid Foundation with SPF 15
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.
What Our Testers Say
“It’s so lightweight that it literally went on like a second skin, and the color matched my skin tone so well that I kept having to do a double take to make sure I had makeup on.” — Donecia Pea, Product Tester
Best Radiant Finish: NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30
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.
Best Matte: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation
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.
Best Natural: Bite Beauty Changemaker Supercharged Micellar Foundation
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.
Best Powder: BareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15
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.
What Our Testers Say
“The price is on par with a ton of other products out there, but what’s cool about the Original Loose Powder Foundation is that you can use it as foundation or as a setting powder.” — Khera Alexander, Product Tester
Best Sheer Coverage: Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint
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.
Best Full Coverage: IT Cosmetics CC+ Cream with SPF 50+
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.
Best Stick: Hourglass Cosmetics Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick
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.
Best Gel: Chantecaille Future Skin
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.
Best Multi-Purpose: Gee Beauty Foundation Multi-Stick
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.
Best Airbrush Dupe: Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation
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.
Best Shade Range: Flesh Firm Flesh Thickstick Foundation
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.
Best for Large Pores: BLK/OPL True Color Pore Perfecting Liquid Foundation
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.
Best for Foundation Haters: Charlotte Tilbury Wonderglow Face Primer
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.
What to Look For in Foundations
The Right Shade
Getting a foundation that matches your skin is perhaps the most imperative part of choosing a foundation. Too dark, and you appear to have a fake tan; too light and you wash out your complexion. Additionally, if the color is off at all, it will be evident when viewed against your neck, arms, or hands. Opt for a brand that makes enough shades to choose from so that you can select the exact right one for you. Note that it isn’t just your skin tone that matters, but also your skin’s undertones, which can be warm, neutral, or cool.
A foundation that contains SPF gives you an extra layer of protection from the photo-damaging effects of the sun. For those with lower SPF needs who are fully protected in the 20 to 30 SPF range because they aren’t outdoors or in the sun much at all, some foundations may be able to step in place for a separate sunscreen product—and for people with especially sensitive skin, a foundation with SPF helps you further protect against sunburn.
Made For Your Skin Type
The beauty products you use should be appropriate for your skin type. Dry skin will benefit from different elements in a foundation than oily skin will, and aging skin has its own set of needs, too. Even for those with “normal” skin, choosing the right products will impact the results. As for what “normal” skin is, Byrdie writer Amanda Montell explains that board-certified dermatologist Heather Woolery-Lloyd, creator of Specific Beauty, says that “normal” tends to mean few to no blemishes, no sensitivity, minimally visible pores, and balanced hydration levels.
No matter what your skin type, properly moisturizing is key to aging well. Using a foundation with moisturizers in it ensures that your skin won’t become dry and cakey from your foundation as the day wears on. You’ll always want to use a moisturizer in addition to any beauty products as a vital part of your skincare routine, but a foundation that is also moisturizing is particularly helpful. This is especially true for anyone with dry skin or oily skin that is actually in need of better moisture.
What are the qualities of a good foundation?
A good foundation will be blendable so that it doesn’t look thicker in one area of your face than in another. It will provide coverage that is smoothing and able to hide small blemishes in your complexion. It should wear well throughout the day and not get cakey or drippy at any point. A good foundation is buildable, meaning that after you have applied some and you need to add more in certain areas (or all over), it won’t have any texture problems. Lastly, it should dry to a nice finish and won’t look uneven.
Is liquid or powder foundation better?
Generally, a powder foundation will provide a lighter amount of overall coverage than a liquid foundation. They’re also more matte than liquids usually are. Makeup artist Hailey Hoff tells Byrdie that “powder foundations are definitely more on the matte side, so it would be for someone with more of an oily skin type." If you have dryer skin, you may prefer a liquid foundation. You also may find that there are more liquid foundations available rather than powders.
What is the best way to apply liquid foundation?
To apply liquid foundation, celebrity makeup artist Matin suggests first running your sponge underwater. She instructs you to “simply run it under the sink for a few seconds until the sponge is saturated and plump. Then, dip it into the liquid foundation you put on the back of your hand and use a dabbing motion to apply it.” She recommends thoroughly moving the foundation into the blender, “so you don't see it on the surface, it's actually gone inside the sponge."