When it comes to finding the perfect makeup — your Holy Grail products — I think it's safe to say that foundation is the hardest. Everybody's skin is different, both in tone and type, so finding the perfect shade of foundation let alone the perfect formula is always a task. It's kind of like the jeans shopping of the makeup world. And because it can be difficult to remember all of the qualities that make up your ideal foundation, it's super helpful to have a checklist of the most important factors.
To narrow down these factors, I emailed with some makeup experts. Vanessa Eckels, Lead Makeup Artist at Hourglass Abbot Kinney; Sonia Kashuk, Makeup Artist and Founder of Sonia Kashuk Beauty; and Jill Freeman, Makeup Artist for Shen Beauty all weighed in on the most important things to look for to determine if a foundation is right for you. Since so much swatching is involved in the process, it's always more helpful to shop for foundation in a store that provides testers for every shade, or allows you to take home samples. If a foundation can check off every single item on this list, it just may be Holy Grail material.
1. Does It Have The Right Coverage?
Kjaer Weis Cream Foundation, $68, shen-beauty.com
Different foundations have different levels of coverage. If you simply want to even your skin tone, or you live in a more humid environment, you may prefer sheerer coverage than someone who wants to conceal redness or hyper-pigmentation, or lives in a drier climate. Some formulas are also buildable, so if you prefer switching up your level of coverage, a foundation that can go from light to full-coverage with an extra layer or two may be more your speed. Kashuk also reminds me that foundation doesn't have to be applied all over the face. Rather, it can be used to spot-treat specific areas, which will also dictate the level of coverage you prefer.
2. Is It A Convenient Formula?
Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick, $46, hourglasscosmetics.com
If a foundation isn't in a formula you like to work with, chances are you won't reach for it, even if it is perfect otherwise. If you're constantly on the go or have limited time to do your makeup, a stick or powder foundation may be easier to work with than a whipped or serum foundation than can get messy if you're in a rush.
3. Does It Have The Right Finish?
Sonia Kashuk Perfecting Luminous Foundation, $12.99, target.com
Those with oily skin might require a different finish from those with dry skin. For oily, blemish-prone skin, Eckels recommends trying a foundation that has mattifying properties that will help control oil. And for dry skin, she recommends trying a foundation with a moisturizing formula. Drier skin-types might also prefer foundations with a luminous finish while oily skin-types might prefer a powdery finish, as these will help balance out the skin type. This way, depending on your skin, you won't have an overly greasy or overly matte appearance.
4. Does It Match Your Jaw, Cheek, And Forehead?
Estee Lauder Double Wear Nude Cushion Stick Radiant Makeup, $39.50, nordstrom.com
In order to find your perfect color match, Eckels recommends swatching "at least two to three shades along your jawline, cheek, and forehead," and selecting whichever shade best matches all three points. As Kashuk explains, a perfect match should disappear into your skin so that you can no longer see it. If nothing is quite right though, Kashuk recommends choosing something slightly warmer, as "anything too light will look artificial and attract more attention to problem areas."
5. Does It Have The Right Undertone?
Too Faced Born This Way Foundation, $39, toofaced.com
A perfect color match will also match your skin's undertones. If you're unsure of your undertone, Eckels suggests checking the veins on the inside of your wrist to determine if you're warm, cool, or neutral. If your veins appear blue, your undertone is probably cool. If they appear green, you're likely warm-toned. And if you can't tell whether your veins are blue or green, you're likely neutral. Luckily, these days, most foundation descriptions will share the undertones of each shade. While "neutral" will typically be listed for neutral undertones, sometimes "pink" may be used in place of "cool," and "yellow" or "golden" may be used in place of "warm."
6. Do You Need More Than One Shade?
Tarte Rainforest of the Sea Water Foundation SPF 15, $39, tartecosmetics.com
If you like to self-tan, can't quite find the right shade of a perfect formula, or like to contour with your foundation, you may need to select more than one shade. If your color changes significantly during the year, test shades while you're at your lightest, and again while you're at your darkest. These two shades can then be used on their own or mixed together to match you at every point during the year.
If you're in between shades, find your closest match according to swatches on your jaw, cheeks, and forehead, and then also select either the next shade up or down depending on if the first shade was slightly too light or too dark. Mixing these two shades should help you achieve the perfect color match.
According to Eckels, "most people are lighter towards the center of the face and darker along the hairline and perimeter of the face." If you want to create this type of natural base, instead of selecting the one shade that best matches your jaw, cheeks, and forehead, select the best matches for each area of your face. Once you blend in your foundation, you won't have as flat of a canvas that needs contouring for depth and dimension, so you could even skip the bronzer and highlighter if you wish.
7. Does It Have Irritating Ingredients?
bareMinerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15, $28.50, bareescentuals.com
Everybody's skin reacts differently to different ingredients, so it's always prudent to check the ingredients label of a foundation before slathering it all over your face. Certain ingredients that could be irritating are things like fragrance and preservatives (such as parabens). If you're unsure if an ingredient could irritate your skin, test it by applying a small amount of product to the inside of your wrist or along your jawline, then wait at least 15 minutes (overnight is even better) to see if any allergic reaction pops up.
8. Does It Last?
MAC Pro Longwear Foundation, $33, maccosmetics.com
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that everybody wants a foundation that can last through the day without obviously breaking down. For those with oily skin, an oil-free formula will probably last longer on the skin, while those with dry skin may find a moisturizing formula wears longer without clinging to dry patches. If you can get your hands on a sample before buying, trying on a full face is a great way to test the longevity of a foundation. If not, try to keep notes of the ingredients that work best with your skin to find a foundation that will stick with you throughout the day.
9. Does It Oxidize?
Laura Geller Double Take Baked Versatile Powder Foundation, $36, laurageller.com
"A lot of foundations will oxidize on your skin and start to look orange," says Freeman. So before you wear a new foundation, leave a swatch on the back of your hand for the day to see if it becomes darker the longer it is exposed to air. Dealing with oxidation can be tricky depending on how close of a color match you can find. If you have your ideal shade but it oxidizes, it won't stay perfect the longer you wear it. But if you've found your ideal formula and the shade isn't quite right, if it oxidizes, it could become your perfect match.
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