I can totally understand how foundation can be a daunting makeup product to explore, especially if you aren’t into experimenting. And today I have good news and bad news for you: the good news is that I’m going to break it all down to help you understand how to best choose a foundation for you, and the bad news is you’ll have to be willing to experiment.
Foundation is one of those make-or-break makeup products that is totally worth doing the leg work for. Mascara can be one of those products as well, but there’s a little bit more forgiveness with mascara than foundation. For example, if someone’s mascara doesn’t look right, it may have just been the end of the tube or a humid day that caused a bit of clumping. But if someone’s foundation is wrong? It just looks wrong. There’s no getting around it.
While there are a lot of factors that play into the right foundation for you, it certainly doesn’t need to be an overwhelming task. I’m here to help! First we’ll talk about primers, then foundations, next up is application methods, and finally finishing powders.
You do not need to use a primer or finishing powder or spray but both of those components will help your foundation look and act the best!
Primer is a product you apply to your skin after any daily/morning skincare products you regularly apply but before foundation. You’ll have the best results if you give a primer at least a few minutes to settle onto the skin, but in a pinch it’s okay to apply primer and then add foundation right on top of it. Primer acts like double stick tape for foundation, helps the foundation apply seamlessly and look smooth on the skin, and can also control other skin issues that your foundation may not be able to control. Smashbox makes a huge range of foundation primers, from hydrating options for dry skin to oil control primers for oily skin. Generally, a primer should feel silky, soft, and be transparent. Primer will help your foundation last longer and generally wear better on the skin.
Primers can also be created with shimmer or a touch of bronze within them if you prefer to add a little bit of glow under your makeup. In this case, applying a full coverage foundation on top of an illuminating primer sort of defeats the purpose, in my mind, so a sheer or lighter coverage foundation would be a better choice to let that primer show throw a bit.
Primer can be applied with a brush or your finger tips, the method is really up to you! I prefer to apply my primer with my fingertips.
When you are choosing your foundation, you need to focus on what formula you prefer to work with and what level of coverage you’re looking for. Foundation ranges from liquid to loose powder, with creams, sticks, and pressed powder in between. To some extent, the coverage you’ll achieve will be affected by the type of formula, but not in every single case. For example, you can find a lot of sheer/light coverage liquid foundations as well as full coverage ones. Tarte makes a great full coverage loose powder foundation, but typically I’ve found loose powder foundations to live in the buildable medium to full coverage range.
If you do not like the feeling of foundation on your face, try a loose or pressed powder applied with a fluffy brush. This will even out your skin but shouldn’t feel heavy or look caked on. If you like medium coverage that will blend away flaws but still allow your freckles, for example, to show through, you’ll find liquid, cream or powder formulas that work great for that level of coverage. For full coverage, you’ll likely have the best results with a liquid foundation but you can achieve full coverage with a loose powder!
In my experience, the hardest foundation to work with was cream or stick. It can feel heavy and took a pretty good amount of effort to blend it all in around my face and neck. The easiest is loose powder as it’s the most forgiving, but my favorite coverage and final look has come with liquid foundation.
One you’ve honed in on which formula you want to try, the next step is getting color matched. Sephora and Ulta have samples available in every shade from their prestige cosmetics line. It’s best to head on into the store and ask for an employee to help color match you. Essentially, that involves applying a bit of the foundation along your jawbone to see how it matches the rest of your skin. If you are in between shades, I’d recommend going a touch lighter and compensating with a bit of bronzer instead of choosing a foundation shade that is too dark. I wish it was easier to test out drugstore foundations but it’s very hard to ever find samples available! You can check into the store’s return policy, of course, and simply do your best from the color you can see from the package.
Some of my favorite full coverage foundations are Tarte’s amazonian Clay 12-Hour Full Coverage Foundation, Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation, and Estee Lauder Double Wear Foundation. For medium coverage, I like Bare Minerals Original Foundation, NARS Sheer Glow, and Naked Skin Ultra Definition Powder Foundation.
The way you apply foundation can drastically affect the coverage and longevity. Best practice, both for the cleanliness of your face and the “purity” of the foundation, is to use a clean tool, like a brush, instead of your fingers. I know a lot of women use their fingers to apply foundation, and honestly I did that for many years as well! But when you use your fingers, you are adding oil from your hands and rubbing it into your face. For some people, this won’t cause any issues at all, but for others you may notice that the foundation doesn’t last as long or look as smooth.
Generally, a foundation brush or beauty blender are the easiest tools to work with when it comes to liquid or cream foundation. Both blend the product in well and shouldn’t absorb too much of it either.
For powder foundation, a short bristled brush, like this, will give you the best results! The longer the bristles on a brush, the more spread out/airy the product will apply.
You should clean your brushes regularly but in a pinch you can try this hack!
Finishing powders are certainly not necessary but they will be a game changer when it comes to how long your foundation will last. If you need seriously long lasting foundation with full coverage I would finish with a powder foundation. Using a fluffy brush will disperse the product nicely and it won’t look TOO heavy on the skin. In general, though, a translucent setting powder (either pressed or loose powder) will do the trick! This won’t add any other color to your face but will simply set the foundation, take away any shine while combating future shine, and make sure nothing smudges or smears on your face as well. Setting powder is also great to use on top of under-eye concealer as well as to prevent mascara from smudging underneath!
My favorite translucent setting powder at the moment is IT Cosmetics Bye Bye Pores. It’s light as a feather and takes away all the shine or tacky feeling from liquid foundation. I love Laura Mercier’s Secret Brightening Powder for setting my concealer.
While there is so much more to talk about when it comes to foundation, I hope these explanations and suggestions at least point you in the right direction! I’d highly recommend popping in to Sephora or a department store and asking for a color match or sample of a foundation you are interested in. It’s worth trying a few different brands before you take the plunge and make a purchase! Also, check the return policy of the store you are purchasing from!