The Ultimate Guide to Finding the Perfect Foundation

Celebrity makeup artists weigh in.

three swipes of liquid foundation on white background


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

01 of 07

Identify Your Skin Type (and Skin Concerns)

Clinique acne solutions bb cream
Clinique Acne Solutions BB Cream $40

“Think about your issue and work with it, not against it,” says celebrity makeup artist Jenna 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 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

pantone skintone guide
Pantone SkinTone Guide $89

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 Dr. 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.

03 of 07

Go For Liquid, Oil-Free Formulas

giorgio armani luminous silk foundation
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation $64

Choosing a formula (for instance, liquid, cream, powder, and so on) is totally dependent on your individual 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 celebrity makeup artist Victor 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 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. (So if you live in humid, sweaty New York City like myself, you may want to avoid these.) 

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 Dr. Hadley King, New York-based dermatologist. (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

tarte amazonian bb tinted moisturizer in light shade
Tarte Amazonian Clay BB Tinted Moisturizer $36

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 with a damp beauty blender.

05 of 07

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

Benefit Hello Happy soft blur foundation
Benefit Hello Happy Soft Blur Foundation $15

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

it cosmetics cc cream
It Cosmetics Travel Size CC+ Cream $16

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. Check your local beauty store like Sephora or Ulta

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

07 of 07

Application Is Key

Clarisonic sonic foundation brush
Clarisonic Sonic Foundation Brush Head $39

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 (we know you will—check out our list of 2019’s best), remember to apply it accordingly to make sure the final look is exactly what you want.

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