How to find the perfect foundation for your skin tone and skin type

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Eve Wagstaff
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A flawless face is definitely a beauty goal but while perfecting your skin may take some time, faking a great complexion with make-up is something we can all do with the right foundation…

When it comes to foundation, think of it as an extension of your moisturiser – it needs to work in harmony with your skin so as not to block pores, aggravate dryness or cause irritation.

Advanced technology has allowed brands to create some incredible formulas that give skin enough coverage without hiding the natural beauty of your complexion. Whether you opt for a liquid, powder, mousse or stick, though, really comes down to personal preference and whether or not that particular foundation is suited to your skin.

Liquid foundations still tend to be the most popular as they are the easiest to apply, mix, blend and normally come in the biggest range of shades, but editors and make-up artists alike swear by powder and mousse foundations as they can also give beautiful coverage and are great for all skin types.

How to find the best foundation for your skin type

The best foundations for oily and acne prone skin

No one wants to feel like an oily mess come lunchtime so you need to pick a foundation that locks in shine but also doesn’t clog pores. Choose formulas that are non-comedogenic (won’t clog your pores), oil-free and semi-matte. 

Fenty Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation

Oil-free and packed with pigment, this clings onto skin for hours on end. The 40-strong shade spectrum is impressive, too. Rihanna, we salute you.


NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation

If you like NARS’s Sheer Glow Foundation, you’ll love this. It’s non-comedogenic, so perfect for those prone to breakouts, and lends skin a healthy, dewy glow.


Lancome Teint Miracle Bare Skin Foundation

An oldie, but a goodie. This blends like a dream, doesn’t clog pores and lends skin radiance like no other.


The best foundations for dry skin

“If dry skin is an issue choose something moisturising and avoid anything matte,” advises make-up artist Mary Greenwell. 

And if your make-up cracks or goes patchy throughout the day you’ll need a foundation formulated to provide extra hydration. Look out for products with hyaluronic acid and properties that promise dewy, luminous skin. 

“Where I can I try to only put foundation on the areas that need it, like the T-zone, and blend the rest out,” adds Greenwell.

Chanel Vitalumiere Satin Fluid Makeup

This beauty editor-approved foundation might be lightweight, but it’s incredibly hydrating and doesn’t collect in parched patches.


Too Faced Born This Way Foundation

This blogger-favourite substitutes oils for coconut water, providing dry skin with a surge of hydration instantly and cumulatively throughout the day.


Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation

A firm favourite on the Stylist beauty desk, this is hydrating but definitely not greasy thanks to the added hyaluronic acid. It more or less airbrushes away blemishes, stays in place for hours and makes dry skin feel comfortable, not tight.


The best foundations for combination skin

Finding the right balance between keeping skin shine-free but still glowing and moisturised but not greasy can seem like a constant battle. Opt for formulas that have natural ingredients like rice bran and rice powder. Working in a similar way to dimethicone (its synthetic, sillicone sister) it will refine pores, absorb oil build-up and slow down oil production.

Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation Stick

This is light-enough for all-over coverage but pigmented enough to blanket blemishes - we love. 


Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation

There’s a reason why make-up artists all over the globe rate Laura Mercier’s Candleglow Foundation. It lends skin subtle luminosity and blurs imperfections into oblivion.


Guerlain Lingerie De Peau Natural Perfection Foundation SPF20

Oily T-zone and dry cheeks? Choose this. It combats shine and doesn’t migrate into fine lines or dry areas.


How to find the right shade of foundation for your skin tone

The only way to get a true match is to try a shade on or near your face – it’s a rookie error to test it on the back of your hand. Why? Well, it may sound basic but your face and hands are different shades.

“Always test a colour on the side of your neck, near the ear,” says Greenwell. “Go to a department store and try as many you want. Never feel pressurised into buying the first one you try. When you have applied the product, leave to dry and then take a look at it again in good lighting. Either outside or by a window.”

Her top tip? Never try and create a tan by going for a shade that’s darker than your natural colour. “It’s far better to add colour using a bronzer,” warns Greenwell. “Similarly, if you have redness in your skin don’t go overly light to knock it out. It’s far easier to correct using bronzer than looking deathly pale.”

Although, matching your skin colour is crucial it’s also important to make sure your chosen foundation suits your skin’s undertones, which will either be cool, warm or neutral. Think of it as back-lighting for your skin - in the same way, we can use colour to correct. Picking a foundation with the right undertone for your skin will enhance its natural glow.

You can usually tell by your hair and eye colour what your undertone is – blonde hair, blue eyes tend to be cool, dark hair and dark eyes are normally warm. If you’re wondering what this all means then don’t worry, Stylist is here to help.

If you have warm undertones

Your skin tans easily, rarely burns and can sometimes look a little sallow and drawn out in colour. Try looking at the colour of the veins in your wrist - if they’re a greenish yellow then you have warm undertones.

Try: Huda Beauty #FauxFilter Foundation, £32

From Panacotta to Amaretti (yes, shades are named after desserts) the colour spectrum is brilliantly diverse for those with warmer undertones. 

If you have cool undertones

Skin that burns easily tends to have cool undertones with a reddish, pinkish tinge. The veins in your wrist will most probably look blue or purple.

Try: Make Up For Ever Ultra-HD Liquid Foundation, £31

With over 40 shades to choose from, those with cool undertones are catered for. Pink Alabaster and Pink Porcelain are popular shades.

If you have neutral undertones

Rather than cool or warm your skin colour rarely changes. You’re lucky as you can play around with lots of colours and most things will suit you. Check out the veins in your wrist. Can you tell what colour they are? No? Then you’re you more than likely have neutral undertones. 

Try: Maybelline Fit Me Matte & Poreless Foundation, £6.99

If you find it difficult to hunt down a foundation that doesn’t leave your skin with an orange tinge come 3pm, look to Maybelline’s Fit Me Matte & Poreless Range. 35 shades make it a surefire winner. 

If you have olive skin

Olive skin’s combination of neutral, slightly yellow and greenish tones can be hard to match. The veins in your wrist will probably be quite dark and you might be unable to discern if they are blue or green. 

Try: Mac Studio Fix SPF 15, £24.50

With 46 shades available there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one that suits. Add to that eight-hours of anti-shine, sweat-proof wear and the fact it contains UVA and UVB protection - there’s a lot to love about this foundation.

If you have dark/deep skin

Regardless of skin colour you’ll still have a cool, warm or neutral undertone but finding a range of foundations that caters to women of colour with enough shades and undertones can be tricky. Thankfully, the cosmetic industry has started to realise this and more and more brands are extending their range.  

Try: Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation, £31

Bobbi’s 30-shade strong formula offers 16-hours of wear and has been created with skin-true pigments to blend seamlessly. The finish is a beautifully enhanced skin with a multidimensional matte finish. 

Things to remember

Watch out for a colour change

Yep, that’s right even if a shade looks great at first it can actually change colour due to oxidation as it dries and sets. “Foundation tends to oxidise with the natural heat from your face after a few minutes and can end up looking slightly orangey,” says Greenwell. “This is why it’s really important to wait and see what the colour looks like once it’s dried and set.”

Mix it up

The colour of your skin is going to change throughout the year so don’t be afraid to mix your foundation with a darker one to make it the right colour for your skin. “If you are going to mix,” says Greenwell, “it’s best to use two products from the same range as they will mix well together. Same with going slightly lighter – you can mix a foundation with a moisturiser to create a slightly watered down version. Just be careful to blend properly as the consistency won’t be the same as before.”

If you don’t fancy doing it yourself then as of 24 June you’ll be able to buy your very own unique shade exclusively from Lancôme in Harrods. Using exclusive technology to scan your skin one of their beauty consultants will be able to then have a foundation mixed up that is completely unique to you.  

What is the best way to apply foundation?

When it comes to which tool is the best to use to apply your foundation the jury is still out. “I personally always use my fingers to apply liquid foundation,” says Greenwell. “It’s the easiest way to blend and get the product into all the contours of the face. Plus it’s the best economic use of foundation. You don’t lose any on the material of the blender or brush.”

If you don’t fancy using your fingers then there are lots of alternatives all designed to give you a flawless finish. For liquid foundations a natural bristled brush like the Tom Ford Cream Foundation Brush, £59, or, IT Cosmetics Heavenly Luxe Buffing Foundation Brush, £35, will help guide your product seamlessly onto skin.

Of all the beauty innovations to come out over last few decades, the Beauty Blender, £17, by Hollywood make-up artist Rea Ann Silva has to be one of the best. Essentially a sponge its unique texture deposits foundation effortlessly while also allowing you to blend to perfection.

The finish you can achieve from mineral foundation depends hugely on the type of brush you use. A kabuki brush – short, chunky with dense bristles - like the Antipodes Natural Hair Kabuki Brush, £16.95, will give you full coverage, while a lightweight stippling brush like the Zoeva Stippling Brush, £12.99, allows the foundation to be built up to achieve the level of coverage you need.

“Starting in the centre of the forehead pat the product onto skin and blend out towards the hairline,” says Greenwell. “Make sure to blend right up into the hairline, down the neck and under the chin. You can always apply more to layer the product for more coverage if needs be.”


“Primers are also a great base for foundation,” says Greenwell. “But a moisturiser is often just as good. The only thing is never to apply foundation to un-moisturised skin. Likewise, if your foundation or moisturiser doesn’t have an SPF in it. You’ll need to apply that first, underneath your moisturiser and foundation.”

Match your primer to your skin for its specific needs, so if by lunchtime you’re reaching for the powder then consider a mattifying primer or something that is oil-free. Nars Pore & Shine Control Primer, £27, is ideal as it not only prepares skin for make-up but mattifies and reduces the appearance of pores.

If your skin is lacking moisture, try Smashbox Photo Finish Radiance Primer, £30, which is packed with hydrating hyaluronic acid to keep your face hydrated. For combination skin you need something that’s going to moisturise without leaving skin looking and feeling greasy. We love Clinique Super Primer, £23, because it’s oil-free, lightweight and comes in four different shades – universal, colour correcting for redness, dullness and discolouration caused by acne marks.

Images: Getty/Instagram