Shopping for foundation is definitely in the top 10 “most difficult makeup products to buy.” Everyone has a unique combination of undertones, skin tones and needs (and that’s before you decide how much coverage you want), so what works for your favorite YouTuber might turn you into an ashy mess and vice versa. Thankfully, it’s easier than ever to get your perfect match, you just need to keep a few things in mind.
Know Your Undertones
First things first, learn your undertones! There are lots of ways to do this but our favorite is the vein test. This is easy to do and doesn’t require much guesswork on your part. To start, look at the inside of your wrist and the palms of your hands. If your veins are green, it’s likely your skin has warm undertones. If it’s blue, you’re probably cool toned. Have both? Your best bet is a foundation with neutral undertones. Still can’t tell? Feel free to visit your local beauty counter and ask a makeup artist. They’re trained to answer these very questions and shade match you, too.
Figure Out Your Foundation’s Purpose
It’s important to figure out exactly what you want your foundation to do before you start a deep dive into the wonderful world of face makeup. Some formulas deliver high performance full coverage while others are designed to give skin a slight wash of color. It comes down to preference and need — something that’s often completely unique to you. This is where the internet comes in handy. Finding a favorite YouTube tutorial can help you figure out the look and coverage you’re going for before you start looking for your perfect match. Another great resource is reddit’s beloved MakeupAddiction where real-life beauty junkies wax poetic about their holy grails and share in depth formula reviews. They’ll even shade match you — just keep in mind there’s no guarantee it’ll be perfect for you, especially through a computer screen.
Read Some Reviews
While reviews alone won’t necessarily help you find your perfect shade, they provide insight into the way a product wears throughout the day. This is particularly helpful for oxidation, which is when a product dries darker or lighter than it first appears. This can be particularly tricky when shopping for foundation as a woman of color, oxidation often resulting in a muddy or ashy finish. You can also use tools like Findation and Temptalia which have foundation matrixes (fancy, I know), that virtually match you based on formulas you already know and love.
Swatch it Out
This can get tricky when it comes to drugstore makeup and shopping online, but higher end foundations are often on display for you to play with to your heart's content. Stores like Ulta often have drugstore testers so you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to try it out. When testing a foundation we recommend swatching on your face (preferably next to your neck) rather than a wrist or hand and waiting a few minutes for it to settle. Certain formulas oxidize once dry while others betray another undertone altogether. To avoid this, test a few glosses while you wait and step into direct sunlight if you can. A good rule of thumb: If it disappears when you step into the sun, you did good!
Ask a Professional
If you can, venture to your nearest beauty store and ask a makeup artist to shade match you. They’re good at their jobs and will be able to walk you through your undertones, skin concerns and needs so you find a formula you’ll love.
When in Doubt, Ask for a Sample
Sampling is a beauty junkie’s best friend, and most makeup counters will allow you to sample a few colors free of charge. Don’t be afraid to ask for a take home container or two and try it out at home. This helps you to figure it out before committing to the real thing and gives you an opportunity to see how your foundation wears in different lighting and situations.
Buying Online? Grab Two
If you think you’re in between shades, guesstimate and buy both. Stores like Sephora, Ulta and Nordstrom have great return policies if you’re not 100% satisfied that allow you to shop confidently without the stress of buying something non-returnable. When trying to buy foundation online we also recommend doing your due diligence by reading reviews, asking friends and using a foundation matching tool like the Giorgio Armani foundation finder. While it might not be perfect the first time around (or even the second!), you’re bound to get it right — eventually.
About the Author:Tembe Denton-Hurst hails from Brooklyn, NY, but if you ask her, the answer will be much more complicated. She's passionate about YouTube, storytelling and swatching everything she can get her hands on. When the assistant beauty editor isn't brainstorming crazy ideas for makeup.com, she's lurking on Reddit, spending time with her cats Stella and Dakota or asking obvious questions.