There was a time when choosing your foundation without testing a blob or two of it on the back of your hand/side of your face/jawline pre-purchase would have been considered a cardinal sin. Fast-forward and apps, online questionnaires, and a newfound confidence with products that allow us to create our own bespoke formulas mean that dodging the makeup counters and going straight to checkout isn’t as bonkers as it sounds. All you need to do is follow the below guidelines and you’re good to go.
Scroll down to discover how to buy foundation online.
Fine-tune your formula
Whether you start with your skin tone or your formula is a bit chicken and egg. The last thing you want to do is spend hours nitpicking over a matte or dewy finish and then discover the foundation you think is your perfect match only has six shades, none of which are yours.
What to consider? Your skin type—does your forehead look oilier than an anchovy by noon, or are you more concerned about those dry flaky patches around your nose and cheeks? If it’s the latter, go for a hydrating foundation, and eye up the ingredient list to see if it has potential skincare benefits squeezed into its formula too (things like vitamin E and hyaluronic acid). If it’s the other, your buzzwords should be mattifying and correcting.
Next, ask yourself if you want a lightweight coverage that just evens things out a bit or a full-on foundation that will hide dark circles and spots on Insta without even going near a filter. Also, consider the time of year and what you’ll be using your foundation for. If you’re off on your holidays, nab one with SPF and keep it light. If you’re on the invite list for a winter wedding, choose a long-wear formula.
Decide on a finish
Sheer, dewy, satin, or matte—you'll need to nail down the finish you want before you decide on a foundation. The finish will not only change the way the product looks on your skin but also how it feels on your skin. Sheer finish foundation is ultra-lightweight and evens out only minor imperfections. Matte foundation, on the other hand, doesn't have shine and creates a more flat appearance.
Skin type can guide you to the best foundation finish option for your skin. For example, those with oily skin will likely find matte finish foundations to be better options as they reduce the appearance of pores and keep the skin from appearing as oily.
Determine the coverage you want
You should determine from the start if you want a light, medium, or full coverage foundation. Your decision will dictate the makeup lines you should consider.
Light coverage foundation is all about minimalism. This foundation will feel weightless on your skin and is perfect for those who don't enjoy the feeling of foundation. If you're looking for a natural look and you don't want to hide your freckles, this is the way to go.
Medium coverage foundation is a buildable option. This means you can use one layer and aim for a sheer appearance or add additional layers to achieve a full coverage look. This is an incredibly versatile option that is a staple in many makeup bags.
Full coverage foundation is the way to go if you want complete coverage with a flawless look. If you want to cover uneven skin tones or blemishes, a full coverage foundation is the best option.
Pick a texture you love
Just like the formula, you need to be happy with how you work with your foundation. A happy makeup marriage between you and your products is how it makes you feel, so if you love the silkiness of a fluid, stick with that. If you find you can get a more even finish by buffing in a mineral powder, don’t stray from your first love. Cushion compacts are the latest coup, creating a buildable and easily blendable coating; they’re lighter than a compact formula but not as thick as a long-wear.
Identify your skin’s undertones
There are three options here—warm, cool, and neutral. “Golden or warm tones have more of a yellow/olive tone, cool means more of a pink undertone, and if you are neutral, you are somewhere in between,” explains Sarah-Jane Froom, a former BareMinerals international makeup artist.
You might already know which you are, but if you don’t, this is the only way you’re going to nail that natural look so get it right. Grab a hot pink and satsuma orange scarf/top/sock/lipstick, and hold them next to your face. If orange makes your skin look glowy, you’re warm. If pink makes your skin look luminous, you’re cool. If they both look fine, you’re neutral. The same test can be tried with silver and gold jewelry. The latter suits warm undertones best; if you’re cool, you’ll be all over the pewter palette.
Other earmarks? If you tan easily and your veins look green, you’re warm. If you go rosy in the sun and have blueish veins, you’re cool. All you neutrals will have a mix.
Research the results
The Internet is a wondrous thing where you can find reams of information on your subject of choice. If you’ve managed to hone down your potential foundations to two or three, get Googling.
You’ll be able to see what people are saying about their longevity, coverage, texture, and value for money. Ulta, Nordstrom, MakeupAlley, and Sephora are all good sites to log on to. It’s worth watching a few YouTube videos on the products if you can too, just so you can visibly see how well the foundation applies and spreads across skin. Apps are another nifty tool you can use.
A word of warning: Shade names differ depending on the brand. “Never assume the name for one foundation will be the same match for another,” advises Ariane Jaksch, a former education manager at Smashbox. Helpful much? Although using them as a reference is still a good trick to employ, continues Froom.
“I look at the existing foundations I own that I know match my skin, and then I use them as a reference point. They often have shade names that refer to light or medium tones, so help to give a steer when brands start labeling their foundations light beige, medium beige, warm beige, porcelain ivory, and natural ivory.”
It’s also where you need to get back on Google so you can take a look at the shades snapped on people’s skin: There’s only so much a smear on a white background can do. If you’re still in doubt, choose the shade that’s slightly lighter; you can always add a liquid bronzer or build up color elsewhere with your makeup. It’s much easier to do it that way than tone down a foundation that’s too dark.
Select a brand and use their tools
Most brands now offer tailored questionnaires and surveys online so they can direct you to their foundation best suited to you—Estée Lauder, BareMinerals, Cover FX, for example. If you know you like a specific brand or have used a formula from them in the past that suits your skin, it’s the best place to start. There are a zillion foundations out there, but there’s a lot to be said for staying brand loyal, too.
Use the reviews for guidance
Just like with clothing, reviews can help you determine if the foundations are as described. Leaning on others' personal experiences is a great way to spot products that are better avoided and those that will earn a spot on your auto-buy list.
Foundations can be riddled with marketing lingo, which leaves you confused about whether a product is actually right for your skin. Looks for reviews where the reviewer has self-identified their skin undertones, skin tone, or skin type and read about their experience with the product.