The No. 1 Foundation Mistake Everyone Makes (and How to Fix It)

woman in velvet dress


We've all been there: cruising department store counters for endless hours only to end up somehow buying the wrong foundation shade. (Then, looking in the mirror in horror when we realize the color is completely off.)

We think we're doing the right thing arming ourselves with information on our undertone when we walk into a store. Apparently, that nugget of truth is what can prevent us from making a costly mistake. But is determining our undertone, pink or yellow, really that easy? And how can you know which one you are, for sure, if you've been told (as I have) different things by different experts? 

For me, the fact I'm Asian has added an extra layer of confusion on top. I've been told, pretty convincingly, that I am definitely one or the other, with various sales consultants and online quizzes operating under the assumption that all Asians have the same skin tone. (Not true.) To be on the safe side, I mostly look for yellow-toned formulas. But at times, I do think I can pull off a pink-based foundation. Confusing!

Since life is too short to spend any more time figuring this out (and also because I'm sick of wasting my hard-earned cash) I reached out to makeup artist Jasmin Lo for her expertise.

Keep scrolling to see what she said.

Giorgio Armani Power Fabric Longwear High Cover Foundation SPF 25 $64

Byrdie: Is there actually a foolproof method for determining our skin’s undertone?

Jasmin Lo: It’s not exactly foolproof but an easy tip is to think about what happens when you go in the sun. If you go pink and burn, your skin’s undertone is probably pink. If you tan and go golden brown, your skin’s undertone is likely yellow. However, there is an instance that sometimes occurs that shouldn’t be confused with having a pink undertone. Women with a medium complexion can have both yellow undertones and rosy cheeks, in this instance they should go for a yellow-based foundation.

B: Is it possible for an Asian woman to have a pink undertone?

JL: Yes, fairer skin can often have a tendency to pink undertones. This goes for any ethnicity, not just Asians.

B: Pink-toned foundations brighten the complexion, is this right? Is this why we’re seeing so many of these formulas in K-beauty?

JL: Yes, this is true. Pink and violet-toned foundations do have a brightening effect and look great on fairer girls that have pink undertones naturally. Not so much if you are yellow-toned and trying to do the brightening thing all over—it won’t work. I would suggest, if you are neutral- or golden-toned, to use a foundation that matches your actual skin tone, then apply a pink-based under-eye concealer to brighten that area only.

Another great option is to use a shimmery pink or violet-based highlighter on your cheekbones.

B: What about a bronzed skin look, do you think yellow-toned foundations work better there?

JL: Yellow-toned foundation helps create the base for a golden glow so you can add bronzed makeup on top to enhance it. Again, this only applies if you have naturally yellow-toned skin. If you are pink-toned, I would create glow using peach and copper rather than bronze and gold. 

Nars Sheer Glow Foundation $72

B: Any tips for shopping for a foundation that successfully matches one’s skintone?

JL: Every makeup artist will tell you something different! I personally prefer to match the foundation to the color you see near the center of your face—not the nose crease and not the apples of the cheeks, but rather the bit in between. My reasoning for this is that that is where people look at first, and it’s also the area that usually needs the most coverage, rather than the jaw or the neck.

B: That makes sense! I’ve been told to match foundation to my jawline so many times.

JL: For me, foundation coverage should dissipate to a thin veil by the time it reaches both your jawline and hairline. This helps prevent the foundation mark! I know some people suggest continuing foundation down the neck and blending it in, but who wants to be drenched in product?! Also getting foundation on your collars—yuck! If your neck really needs a hint of color I would suggest mixing a dab of foundation in with moisturizer, but it’s totally natural for your neck to be slightly fairer from being shadowed by your head. Being one blanket color from head to toe is not really very natural looking.

B: Finally, what’s your No. 1 foundation application tip?

JL: You must, must, must, must apply foundation shortly after you moisturize or prime for it to go on nice and smooth. If the skin isn't recently hydrated, no foundation—no matter how expensive—will look good.

Related Stories