Foundations, sheer to full coverage



sheer/light: one, two*, three*, four  medium: five, six*, seven*, eight, nine*  full: ten*, eleven

Now that I’ve been using a brush daily for foundation, my eyes have been opened! Brushes make foundation so much more effective! And while I used to be a full coverage type of gal, I’m now jonesin’ for a medium/natural coverage that is a little more “casual and everyday”.

I still use, and love the look of, full coverage especially during shooting days, but I’m looking for a lighter coverage that makes my skin a little luminous and more natural.

So here’s the deal, what you put on your skin before applying foundation and how you apply foundation makes an enormous difference in 1. the final look and 2. the longevity of the product. So, if you’ve tried a few foundations and continue to have the same issues (for example, your face always looks oily), you need to back up a step and look at your moisturizer or primer. Once you’ve found the right products to prep your skin for foundation, it’s time to pick your foundation.

When looking for sheer foundations, I kept coming across tinted moisturizers. Those will give you the lightest, sheerest coverage before you are bumped into the medium coverage category. Along with tinted moisturizers, other sheer coverage foundations would be BB cream or CC cream. Lastly, you can just add a pump of any foundation to your daily moisturizer or primer to thin it out and make it more sheer.

As far as medium coverage goes, you are more likely to find foundations that are described as natural or dewy than matte. Matte coverage often is found in the full coverage range, but you may come across a matte medium coverage too! And oftentimes medium coverage is quite buildable, meaning you can make it fuller or lighter depending on how much you use and how you apply it.

Full coverage will give you a flawless look. It can sort of flatten out your face though, so using a contour and highlight, along with blush, will add nice dimension.

It may seem a bit overwhelming if you are new to foundation. And I only covered liquids here, so I must mention there are also cream and powder versions as well. It’s worth talking to a pro at a makeup counter to get color matched as well!

*Any product with an asterisk is a product I’ve tried.

I did a tutorial on how to use a wet/dry foundation here, and I also wrote about a full coverage powder foundation here.

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Comments (58)

  1. Ali vizzo says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Do you have a post with primer recommendations? The one I’ve been using is so heavy I can’t wait to get my makeup off at the end of the day.

    • Melissa says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I have always used Smashbox, but recently had a sample of Benefit Porefessional. Oh my! I went out and bought it. Reduces my fine lines on my forehead and my makeup just looks so smooth! Now, I am forty something…so if you are a spring chicken, you may not see the effects as much as me;)

      • Karen says
        Posted January 26, 2016

        Are you talking about the primer Melissa?

        • Melissa says
          Posted January 26, 2016

          Yes, sorry. I know I’m not Kate and don’t know much, but thought if
          D give my 2 cents to her question about primer!

      • Ali vizzo says
        Posted January 26, 2016

        Thanks! That’s good to know. Wrinkles aren’t as much my issue (yet) it’s pores!

      • Marna says
        Posted January 28, 2016

        I second the Smashbox primer! I didn’t discover primer until I turned 60 and oh, my, what a difference it has made!

        • Stephanie says
          Posted February 22, 2016

          I didn’t like the smashbox primer – found it got grainy on my skin once I put foundation on. I love Maybelline Age Rewind Primer. Less expensive and really excellent in my opinion. I also loved Laura Mercier primer but much more pricey for the same quality.

    • Christa says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I have been using Hourglass Mineral Veil for a couple of years and has been a game changer for me! Living in Memohis, TN, I combat humidity almost all year long and fight a shiny T zone. I always felt I was needing to powder my nose constantly. Not any more! My foundation is Laura merceir’s tinted moisturizer and my concealer is NARS creamy radiant (it is almost waterproof it’s so good)!

      • Melissa says
        Posted January 26, 2016

        Christa…I’m over south of Nashville! Been here a year. Moved from WI. And wow are you right in the humidity!

        • Melissa says
          Posted January 26, 2016

          *on the humidity!

  2. Melissa says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I have heard so much about the Estée Lauder Double Wear. I really want to try it. However, over the holidays, I bought a couple Tarte sets on QVC. Both contained foundations. One was Maracuja Foundcealor…it’s fantastic. But I love even better the Tatre Amazonian Clay full coverage. I also want to try Urban Decay Naked Skin. I’ve heard that us awesome…and more medium coverage!

    My Dtr is 11. She is dark complected and has absolutely beautiful, flawless skin. I don’t really think she needs anything on her face. However, she does competitive cheer and has to wear makeup. I want something light for her and easy to apply. I never ever wear light coverage, so I’m not sure. We went to Ulta, but they seriously only had 1 person working and she didn’t have time to help us. Any thoughts? High end or drug store is fine.

    • Melissa says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I was just looking closer at the chubby stick…that would be easy to apply for her!! May have to make a trip to the Clinique.

      • Melissa says
        Posted January 26, 2016


    • denise says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      Try Glossier’s skin tint. It is so light and really just evens out your color. It isn’t heavy enough to mask any imperfections so I always need concealer too but it sounds like your daughter wouldn’t need that. The skin tint is so lightweight that I really can’t even feel it on my face. Love it.

  3. luce says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Lovely post! I’ve recently switched from a beauty blender to a real techniques face brush and it has changed everything!

    It also sounds quite odd but I’ve noticed sheer glow to have just as heavy coverage as double wear, but much more hydrating! xxx

    • Kate says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I agree, it’s not totally full coverage but it’s pretty good at covering almost everything

  4. Posted January 26, 2016

    Love this post! I have tried numbers 6,8,9 and always had problems with foundation sinking into fine lines (I’m only 32!), or the foundation having to be reapplied because it faded, or my nose getting flakey, until I tried 7 which is now my holy grail. I literally buy it in bulk. lol. I recommend it to most of my friends shopping around for foundations. I apply with my fingers for light natural coverage and I don’t even need concealer. I just go back after the first layer dries and dab a bit more on areas of concern. So perfect, and it lasts ALL DAY. Love!

  5. Haley McCall says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Thanks for the post! I have found that Clinique Stay Matte Oil-Free makeup is a nice medium coverage product, that is also buildable. It gives a nice finish with or without powder on top and i don’t have to use an additional concealer with it!

  6. Tammy says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Has anyone ever tried Younique foundation? My daughter started selling it and is really amazing. Look it up!

  7. Posted January 26, 2016

    I love Laura Mercier & BareMinerals the best. I really want to try Too Faced Born this Way, I’ve heard incredible things! I just recently started using Loreal’s Infallible Pro-Matte Foundation and it is my new drugstore favorite- medium buildable coverage, it’s great!

  8. Susan says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Kate can you do a segment on powders ……

  9. Gwen Filardi says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I’m old enough to be your mother, Kate, so for us “over-the-hill” ladies, I’ve found that your #10 pick (Estee Lauder Double Wear) gives great coverage. I have melasma spots, under eye circles, and uneven pigmentation, and this foundation does a great job of covering my imperfections. It doesn’t feel heavy on my face either. On days when I’m just staying at home, I sometimes use a tinted moisturizer just to save on the use of my more expensive Estee Lauder foundation.

  10. Krysten says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Hi Kate!

    I have been a loyal Small Things Follower for years! I love your open and honest posts about motherhood as well as your product reviews. As a product junkie, I was looking for safe alternatives to my personal care products and stumbled across Beautycounter and quickly joined as a Consultant. Have you tried any of our products? If not and you are interested in doing so, let me know as I would be happy to send you a few samples!

    • Kate says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I haven’t tried any yet!

  11. susan says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I haven’t tried any of these!
    Currently loving Chanel Aqua. Have you tried it?

    • Jan says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I LOVE Chanel foundation! It goes on so lightly, yet covers so well! It works well with AND without primer, and can be applied by brush or fingers (I use primer and brush for more a more polished look; finger blending for everyday, running around). I really recommend it!

  12. Tiffany says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I have been using Bare Minerals for 10 years. I have tried to go back to liquid foundation, but I now find I don’t like the feel and the mess. I also love you can build the coverage depending on what brush you use and how many layers you put on, but I never feel like I have on foundation. It also lasts longer than anything I have ever tried. Makeup on my nose tends to disappear and this doesn’t.

  13. Priscilla says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Have you tried IT Cosmetics CC cream? I LOVE that stuff!! I work from home, but don’t want to look dead & homeless- or way too made up. It has a nice, medium coverage, that still lets your skin show through- and somehow covers any discoloration. I love it, I’m on my 2nd tube/bottle of it and I never do that!

    • Mary says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I love IT Cosmetics CC Cream and Celebration Foundation! 🙂

    • Kate says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      I love that your range is dead to overly made up haha!

    • Jill says
      Posted January 27, 2016

      Priscilla-I love the IT cosmetics concealer but have not yet tried the CC cream. I also love that IT cosmetics is cruelty free and does not test on animals. I like many of the foundations highlighted in this post; however, I will no longer be purchasing those brands because they either test on animals or are owned by companies who test on animals. In this day and age, there are many other ways to test products so it is unacceptable in my book. The cruelfreekitty website lists cruelty free brands in case anyone is interested. Best- Jill

  14. Dana Lewis says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Kate, Have you tried Younique’s Liquid Mineral Foundation? It has amazing full coverage with a light feel! I would love to send you a sample!

  15. Posted January 26, 2016

    all in one place! –really liking this post, and all the reader’s comments as well. most of the hunt work had been done right here! (i am shopping for a new foundation for an upcoming wedding event.) thanks all!

  16. Dana Michael says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Kate, what kind of a foundation do you recommend for older gals. I’m 52, if there is such a foundation that helps with crows feet and all I’d appreciate the tip.

  17. Kristy says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I use a Clinique moisturizer and foundation. I have dry skin year round, but in the winter it is worse. I moisturize at night and the am, but I walk around looking like a 2-3 day old sunburn peeling/dry patches. Ugh, drives me nuts. Please help! What can I do to fix it?

    • Lana says
      Posted January 26, 2016

      – wash with creamy cleanser and remove with a cotton wash cloth.. The wash cloth will exfoliate
      – try an oil under you moisturizer.. I live rosehip and argan

      My skin was unbearable until I started doing those things..

      • Kristy says
        Posted January 27, 2016

        I’ll definitely give it a try. thank you!

  18. Hannah says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    Smashbox is hands down my favorite foundation! I’ve been using it for a couple years now and I don’t see myself ever changing. You are so right about going back a few steps to adjust your “pre-foundation” products. A few months ago I noticed I was getting greasy towards the end of the day and figured I’d change up my moisturizer to see if that would fix it. I guess my skin wasn’t getting enough hydration, because the new moisturizer changed everything. I’m back to loving smashbox just as much as I did when I first started using it.

  19. Sarah B says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I’ve never tried any of these, but you’ve given me some new ideas, thanks! My current favorite is Clinique’s perfectly real pressed powder. Have you ever tried that? If so, where would you say it falls on the coverage scale, for comparison? Wondering if that Bare Minerals powder would be similar.

  20. Lizzy says
    Posted January 26, 2016

    I haven’t tried these. Having sensitive skin I’m prone to break outs or irritation so I have found Neutrogena Healthy Skin and it has a great light coverage. Doesn’t melt off in the humidity of Houston either. Might try the Estee Lauder though! Love your posts Kate I stop by every day!

  21. Sara says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    Kate- are you over the Arbonne foundation you have been using in some of your tutorials? I just got some and I like it but I can’t tell if its making me break out or if its normal hormonal stuff that is causing that. Just wanted to know why you omitted that one from this list! Thanks!

  22. Angie says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    I have shiny t-zone issues and am prone to breakouts too. What primers and moisturizers do you recommend for that?

  23. Katie says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    I’m definitely a full-coverage kind of girl! My skin isn’t very problematic but my cheeks are very ruddy. MAC’s Studio Sculpt is my current favorite!

  24. kellec says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    You mention that what you put on before foundation is key, but what should I put on? I use Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer. What goes on before that?

  25. Jamie says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    Bare Minerals all the way. I recently switched back to the original mineral foundation and it just made my skin so happy.

    Jamie of Hello There, Lady!

  26. Heidi says
    Posted January 27, 2016

    Love following your blog! I’ve tried so many foundations, but to-date, my most favorite, and recent find, is Mac Lightful C- it’s a tinted cream with SPF and isn’t as heavy as Prolongwear, but has really nice coverage! I’m a SBO and SAHM & I wear this everyday! Love applying it with a MAC brush! Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing all your tips and pics of your beautiful family 🙂

  27. Posted January 27, 2016

    I’m obsessed with the Laura Mercier tinted foundation. Great blog post girlie!

    XO, Jessi

  28. Priscila says
    Posted January 28, 2016

    Several months ago I bought The Estée Lauder Double wear foundation in the shade Tawny. At first the shade seemed fine for my 3Y08 skin tone. But recently I’ve noticed this foundation leaves my face kinda grey. Looks horrible! I tried mixing with a lighter shade I have from a Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer sample I have and sometimes it works but most of the time I get that grayish finish! I don’t know what to do! I still have more than half of the bottle and I don’t want to throw my money into the trash. Someone has any experience or knowledge about this?

  29. Marcy says
    Posted January 30, 2016

    Kate, I have always loved Arbonne’s liquid foundation in Soft Blush (based on your original recommendation). I’d stick with it if it was a little more accessible. Recently tried Estee Lauder Double Wear in Desert Beige but it was a little too yellow for me. Can you recommend the shade of Estee Lauder that’s closest to Arbonne’s Soft Blush in your experience?

  30. Johanna says
    Posted February 1, 2016

    Hey Kate
    i’m newish around here and really enjoy reading your blog and watching your videos but when you started talking about putting your foundation on with a brush I wrinkled my nose and thought ‘oh stink she’s no longer on the same page as me’. I then continued on my merry way all the while applying my foundation with my fingers. I then got married and moved in with my now husband. On that first couple of days when the house was all a bit of a mess, I found a foundation brush that I had been gifted. I decided to give it a whirl and boy oh boy do I stand corrected. My sincere apologies for wrinkling my nose at you ha. Love your blog, love your sense of humour and love your honesty. Have a happy day! If you need me i’ll be over in that corner applying my foundation with a brush like a boss.

  31. Posted February 4, 2016

    Nice! Can anybody please recommend me a foundation for oily skin? I also live in a tropical country so ones that are sweat and humidity proof are better 🙂 Thank you!

    • Posted February 4, 2016

      Younique’s liquid foundation dries to a powder finish so it helps with that oily skin and it lasts all day. Its truly amazing stuff! It’s currently all back ordered because it’s so popular!! Shoot me an email if you want more info. [email protected]

  32. Lauren says
    Posted March 16, 2016

    I would love to see a review on the newest Tarte foundations and gel moisturizer. I’m really in need of a better foundation and moisturizer and I like the thought of the water on my face!

  33. Christy m says
    Posted March 26, 2016


    Help. I live in Missouri and every summer I can’t keep foundation or makeup on very well because with the humidity it’s a battle I’m constantly having to blot my face. Does anyone have any ideas for a drugstore brand that can stand up to the humidity? I also have oily skin.