How the Pick the Right Foundation, According to Experts

right foundation
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Even for a seasoned beauty writer, finding the perfect foundation can be a daunting task. With all of the brands, shades, and personalization available, it can be difficult to nail down a formula that’s perfect for your particular needs. While things like a great eyeliner pencil or mascara can be one-size-fits-all, the opposite is the case for foundation. (Then again, that’s the beauty of it).

That's why we've tapped a dermatologist and some of the best celebrity makeup artists in the business to help you find your perfect foundation fit.

Meet the Expert

  • Jenna Menard is a celebrity makeup artist whose clients include Kate Winslet and Kerry Washington.
  • Victor Henao is a celebrity makeup artist whose clients include Adriana Lima, Misty Copeland, and Kate McKinnon.
  • Hadley King, MD, is a New York-based dermatologist, who specializes in medical and cosmetic dermatology. She is also a Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

Ahead, some pro tips for finding your dream formula, finish, and shade.

01 of 07

Identify Your Skin Type (and Skin Concerns)

“Think about your issue and work with it, not against it,” says Menard. This is where you should start. 

You should try to tailor your foundation search around your specific skin concerns—whether it’s a health issue (like eczema) or simply wanting your skin to look more luminous and glowy. Again, foundation isn’t one-size-fits-all—the influencer you trust with your life might recommend a particular brand, but only you can decide if it’s the right fit for your unique skin

The main skin types are dry, oily, and combination—of course, on top of that, you might be dealing with issues surrounding dullness, dehydration, breakouts, and sensitivity, too. Think about your particular skin issues; one foundation might work like magic to cover up redness but is comedogenic (which can cause acne flare-ups if you're prone to breakouts).

02 of 07

Determine Your Undertones

Yes, this is a difficult task for even the most seasoned beauty vet. What even are undertones? Henao breaks it down in a way that’s easy to digest.

“I recommend looking at the exposed areas of the body first,” he says. “If your chest and shoulders tend to be more red and pink, it’s safe to say you have pink undertones, or if you’re golden, peach, and yellow, you have warmer undertones. Your face needs to match your body.”

Keep in mind it has nothing to do with how light or dark your complexion is. “Any skin color can have cool, warm, or neutral undertones,” says King. “If none of the colors associated with undertones stand out as obvious, you have neutral undertones.”

Be strategic about which issues you want to address the most. For example, if you have redness, foundations with yellow bases can offset that. And if you have, say, blue under-eye bags, use pink or peach shades. 

And, yes, it’s a lot—so many shades, so little time—so you might have to physically test out foundations if you’re stuck. “Shade-matching is intimidating, but you can experiment with different shades along your jawline and see which one disappears,” says Menard. Foundation-newbies also report finding success with a shade matching tool like the Pantone SkinTone Guide, which was measured against thousands of real skin tones.

03 of 07

Go For Liquid, Oil-Free Formulas

Choosing a formula (for instance, liquid, cream, powder, and so on) is dependent on your complexion—but unless you’re gunning for a particularly matte look, liquid or cream is likely your best bet. “I love the finish a liquid foundation gives the skin,” says Henao. “Even if you’re oily, I would choose a liquid—water and oil are basic ingredients your skin naturally produces and has, so when that natural oil comes out, liquid will sit on your skin much better than a powder.”

Powder (or mineral) foundations
can work for oily complexions, but you should avoid them if you suffer from dryness. Pro tip: If you are leaning towards powder, Henao suggests making sure you’re in a specific climate—aka, a dry and cool environment—since powder turns darker when it gets wet.

When it comes to liquid and cream foundations, oil-free formulas are great if you’re dealing with sensitive, breakout-prone skin.

“Look for products that are non-comedogenic,” says King. (Non-comedogenic means a product is specifically formulated to not clog your pores). “You can also find makeup with active, acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid.”

Otherwise, if you have combination or dry skin, oil in your foundation is okay. In fact, many makeup artists argue it’s an essential ingredient to any good skincare routine (primarily for its moisturizing and anti-aging benefits)—and that includes the foundation you use.

04 of 07

Consider Your Coverage Needs

When choosing your coverage level, ask yourself how much you want your natural skin to show.

If the answer is lots, choose a light foundation or even a good tinted moisturizer. “Different formulas can be used to give the skin a dewy look, or a matte look, but you have to know what your end goal is,” says Menard.

If the answer is not a lot, choose a medium-coverage foundation you can “build” to fuller coverage. “There are very few moments where anyone needs a full-coverage foundation,” Henao says. 

You can make any foundation more sheer by mixing the formula with your favorite moisturizer and/or applying it with a damp beauty blender.

05 of 07

Don't Assume Full-Coverage Is the Answer to Uneven Texture

That’s right: Even if you’re dealing with textural issues when it comes to your skin (like acne scars or rosacea), heavier, fuller-coverage formulas usually aren’t the answer. 

“Sometimes people think using a full-coverage foundation will solve the issue, but it’s the opposite—it’ll make your texture appear more raised and uneven,” Henao says. Although silicone-based moisturizers and primers have a bad rap for being pore-clogging, Henao suggests using one if you have textured, non-breakout-prone skin to smooth out the surface of your complexion prior to applying foundation. 

The key is addressing particular skin issues separately for a natural look that allows your skin to breathe throughout the day—rather than looking for a foundation to fix all.

You can also use a trick Menard swears by if you’re breakout-prone and set on a fuller-coverage formula: “I like using a full-coverage foundation or concealer in a sheer way with a damp beauty blender,” she explains. “I’ll use Tarte Shape Tape concealer as an allover foundation, sparingly, to achieve a natural-looking skin.”

06 of 07

Samples Are Your Best Friend

Seriously—you might love the foundation you have now, but there’s always an opportunity to discover something that might suit your skin needs better.

“It’s so important to constantly shop,” says Henao. “Sample different foundations when you run out! The technology in formulas changes every day, so what you may love about your foundation today might be different during a new season.” 

07 of 07

Application Is Key

It’s not just about finding the right formula—the way your foundation looks depends heavily on how you apply it. 

“Application makes all the difference, and you can make one foundation look totally different simply by how you apply it,” Menard says. Use a brush for more coverage and product, your fingers if you want it “worked” in, and a wet sponge to add moisture and sheerness.

So once you find that perfect formula fit, remember to apply it accordingly to make sure the final look is exactly what you want.

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