December 14, 2017

5 Things to Know Before Buying Foundation

Finding a good foundation is never an easy task. Over the years I have learned a lot a lot of tips and tricks to finding the perfect foundation. When I was a color consultant for Sephora, one of the most common concerns people had was their foundation choice. There are a lot of factors that can affect your foundation working for you--or against you.

Today, I am going to give 5 things you should know when purchasing a foundation! I will go over how to discover your skin tone, figuring out your skin's undertone, knowing your skin type, different foundation finishes,  and foundation coverage options. I will break everything down for you in a simplified way and hopefully help you when choosing a foundation that is right for your unique, individual skin. There is a lot more that goes into finding a good foundation than you think! Also, I will mention my favorite foundations for different kinds of skin, too! Now, grab some popcorn and a comfy seat because this is going to be a lonnggggg one!


The first step in finding the perfect foundation is knowing what skin tone you truly are. The most commonly seen error with this is having that harsh line of mismatching face and neck colors. If you have never been one of those people, you at least know what I am talking about! Although there are millions of unique, beautiful skin tones in the world, most foundation shades are broken down into 7 main skin tone options. 


This is option isn't always offered by cosmetic brands, but when offered, it is the lightest shade option. When shopping for a fair foundation, not all companies refer to this skin tone as "fair." It can also be referred to as pearl, pale, porcelain, snow, or vanilla. Fair shades usually start with a 0 or 1 for foundation shades that are numbered instead of having shade names. For example, Fenty Beauty's lightest shade is shade #100. 


This option is very commonly offered by cosmetic brands. It can sometimes be the lightest option available when brands don't offer fair shades, but light typically is the second-lightest shade offered. Other names for light can be vanilla, nude, beige, shell, or linen. Typically, light shades are numbered between a 100 through a mid-to-upper 100 number for foundation shades that have numerical names. For example, a light shade from Fenty Beauty is #160.


This option is very commonly offered by cosmetic brands. The light/medium shade typically is the third-lightest shade offered. Other titles used by cosmetic brands for light/medium shades can be medium beige, light-to-medium, natural, sand, or warm ivory. For foundation shades that are numbered rather than having names, light/medium shades typically are range between a 200 through a mid-to-upper 200 number. For example, a light-to-medium shade from Fenty Beauty is named #200.


This option is pretty much always offered by cosmetic brands. When you look at a foundation in stores or online, they are usually in order from lightest to darkest. Medium shades are typically in the middle of all the shades offered. Other names used for medium skin tone colors can be caramel, golden, bisque, medium honey, or almond. Quite often, medium shades range between an upper 200 through a 300 number for foundation shades that are numbered. For reference, a medium shade from Fenty Beauty is #270.


This shade is usually offered by all cosmetic brands. The medium/dark shade typically is the third-from-last darkest shade offered by brands. Other titles for medium/dark shades can be tan, toffee, medium-to-dark, mocha, medium-deep, medium-to-tan, praline, or deep sand. Quite often, medium/dark shades are numbered between a 300 number through a mid-to-upper 300 number for foundation shades that have numerical names. For example, a medium/dark shade from Fenty Beauty is #350.


This shade may be harder to find with some cosmetic brands. Although some brands offer dark shades, there are sometimes a limited amount of options to choose from. However, more brands are beginning to expand their foundation line and give more options for darker-complected skin. The dark shade typically is the darkest shade offered, but within some cosmetic brands, it can be the second-darkest shade offered. When shopping for foundations, other names used for dark colors can be deep, mahogany, maple, hazelnut, or chestnut. Quite often, dark shades can range between an upper 300 number through an upper 400 number for foundation shades that have numerical names. For example, a dark shade from Fenty Beauty is shade #440.


This shade can be very hard to come by with several cosmetic brands and most stores offer a small selection of options for this skin tone. The darkest shade is exactly how it sounds, being the absolute darkest shade offered by brands. Other names for darkest foundation colors can be deepest, cocoa, espresso, deep hazelnut, sycamore, or ebony. Quite often, dark shades are numbered between an upper 400 number through a 500 number for foundation shades that have numerical names. For example, a darkest shade from Fenty Beauty is #490.


So you have figured out your skin tone; easy right? Well, now you need to know your skin's undertone. An undertone is different from a skin tone. This is usually what people struggle with the most when foundation-matching because you can think you have a certain undertone when you really don't. Or maybe you didn't even know there were undertones within foundation shades and this could be why you haven't found a color that matches you perfectly. 

Restating above, a skin tone categorizes you by how dark or light your skin color is. Your undertone is the color underneath the surface of your skin. It is genetic and something you cannot change about your skin no matter how pale or tan you can get throughout the year. There are three main categories that are each made up of different undertones which you may have heard of before: warm, cool, and neutral. 

Warm: Yellow, peach, or gold/golden.

Cool: Pink, red, and blue undertones.

Neutral: A mix between the two. [For reference, I am a neutral undertone]

Common assumptions I have heard past clients mention are that all tan people have a warm undertone. This is not true. Someone can be pale and have warm undertones, while someone else can be tan and have cool or neutral undertones. "Pale" and "tan" are types of skin tones, not undertones. Your skin tone does not define your skin's undertone. For instance, two people can have the same skin tone, but have completely different undertones.

When shopping online, most foundation brands offer a description of the color which includes both the shade and the undertone. Don't be afraid to whip out your phone while you're in stores too! If I am shopping in stores for a foundation, I never know just by looking at the bottle what color I'll need. I always, always, always get online on my phone and check the color's description! Below are views from and so you can see where to find the foundation's color description.


Different skin types can definitely impact what kind of foundation you need [which will be discussed more in-depth in tip #4]. But first, knowing your skin type is the next important step when finding the perfect foundation. There are 4 main skin types:

Dry --> Normal --> Combination --> Oily 


Dry skin does not produce enough oil to balance your skin's natural moisture. Skin may have dry patches in small or large areas and your skin feels desperate for moisture. The cheek and mouth area also feels really tight when you move your face. You may feel like your makeup clings to your skin in a bad way and accentuates patches on your face. 

Normal skin is exactly how it sounds. Your skin is balanced and it feels neither oily nor dry throughout the day. The skin has great elasticity and doesn't require a lot of TLC.

Combination, commonly referred to as "combo" skin, is more complex. Your skin can be normal and/or dry in some areas, while oily in others. You may feel like after washing your face that your skin is normal or dry, but throughout the day  your face becomes oily in certain areas. Essentially, it is a combination of dry/normal and oily skin. The most common areas where skin becomes oily is in your T-zone, the sides of your nose, and your chin. [Your T-zone is shaped just like a capital T on the center of your face: across your forehead and down the bridge of your nose]. You may feel like your makeup breaks up or looks cakey throughout the day around your T-zone area.

Oily skin is also pretty self-explanatory. Your skin produces excess oil throughout the day and you may feel like you look very shiny most of the time. When wearing makeup, you usually find yourself having to make touchups every few hours or whipping out some blotting sheets to soak up the oil on your face. You may feel like your makeup never melts into your skin like it should; it looks and feels like your makeup lays on top of your skin and can easily rub off if you touch your face or hug someone.


Your skin type can vary from season to season or with age. For instance, in the summertime, someone can have normal skin, but in the winter, have more dry skin due to the lack of moisture in the air during colder seasons.


If you have every wondered why one foundation makes you look greasy while another foundation makes your skin look dry and cakey, you may be purchasing the wrong foundation finish. Sometimes it is hard to ask someone what their favorite foundation is because even if that foundation line has a shade that matches you, it may not be a good match for your skin.

A foundation finish is the kind of appearance the foundation gives your skin once the foundation finishes drying. Below, I will discuss the 4 main different foundation finishes, what skin types they flatter the best, and my favorite foundations for each kind of finish.


A radiant foundation gives skin a moisturized appearance. Foundations with this finish typically contain oil(s).

Other nicknames: Dewy, luminous, healthy, glowing

Best for: Dry and normal skin types. [Combination skin types may be able to get away with a radiant finish if they don't get too oily, but this finish may break up in certain areas or require blotting throughout the day].


A natural foundation is exactly what it sounds like. It is a foundation that is going to look the most like "your skin but better." Most often, these foundations are oil-free but it obviously varies by the brand. It is neither radiant nor matte.

Best for: All skin types. If you are extremely dry, you don't want to skip on a moisturizer or complimentary primer before applying the foundation. If you are extremely oily, you may want to use a mattifying primer and/or setting powder before and after applying this foundation.


A satin foundation finish is the perfect balance between radiant and matte. It dries down to give you a natural "sheen," without being a "glow." This foundation can give your face a healthier look, without adding moisture. The sheen-like look is achieved without adding oils and shimmers to the foundation's formula and gives skin dimension.

Best for: Normal, combination, and oily skin types. [I would not recommend for dry skin. Dry skin types may experience accentuated dry patches or may find this type of foundation drying and hard to blend out].


A matte foundation is the most anti-shine foundation you can buy. The foundation itself is usually very thick because there is very little moisture in the formula. Sometimes it is challenging to find a good matte foundation because some are too drying even for the oiliest of skin types. If I had to choose one type of foundation you should NEVER wear just on its own [no bronzer, blush, etc.] it would be a matte foundation. Without more makeup added on top, a matte foundation can make the skin look very flat with no dimension. A lot of matte foundations offer pore-minimizing benefits because oily skin types struggle with pores and are usually very long-wearing.

Best for: Combination-to-oily skin types. [If normal skin types wore a matte foundation, they can experience patchiness and dryness on their skin, resulting in cracking of foundation and settling in fine lines and wrinkles].


If you have made it this far, CONGRATULATIONS! I know this is a lot of information! The last and final step when choosing your perfect foundation is knowing what kind of coverage options are available out there. Foundation coverage is based on how much pigment is used in the foundations formula. The three coverage options are:


A sheer coverage foundation is best for those "no makeup, makeup" days. It is very lightweight and does not offer very much coverage. I personally am not the biggest fan of sheer foundations because I don't see the point paying for something that you cannot tell I even have on. If I wanted the no-makeup look, I would just not wear makeup. But hey, that's just me! I know a lot of people who wear sheer foundations just want a little oomph in their skin. The most common sheer foundations are in the form of serums, BB creams, CC creams, tinted moisturizers, and some anti-aging/skincare benefit foundations.


A medium coverage foundation covers discoloration, some blemishes, and uneven skin tones. Most often, very contrasting dark spots or freckles will shine through a little bit once the foundation settles.

Medium coverage foundations can also be built up. Most cosmetic brands advertise their foundation as a "medium-to-full" coverage because it appeals to a larger target market. This means that you can put one layer on your face to achieve a medium coverage look. In the areas you need more coverage [birth marks, scars, acne, redness, etc.], you can add additional foundation on top of the layer you already put in and it will build the coverage up to a full coverage. You can even build up your entire face if desired.


A full coverage foundation covers EVERYTHING. Freckles, acne, redness, and even some brands claim that their foundation can cover tattoos. This foundation is the most unnatural option [not in an insulting way, just compared to your skin without makeup] but it can give someone a perfect complexion if they desire.


I hope this post was super informative and taught you a thing or two! Once you learn about your skin, what it needs, and what options are available for it, it will be very easy finding a better foundation for you. And I hope my foundation recommendations can become one of your favorites too! Let me know if this was helpful and also let me know what your favorite foundation is! xo


  1. This is so incredible!!!

  2. All I can say is wow. I have never had someone break this down for me so that I can actually understand all of this and what certain things mean! If I didn't read this, idk where I would have learned this either?!