Back to Basics: Choosing Foundation

Foundation is probably the most important product in your makeup bag. (I actually think that concealer is most important, but foundation is the product that women tell me stresses them out most.) When you go to buy a new and unfamiliar one, it's generally because your skin has changed - maybe it's oilier, drier, or a slightly different colour than before, because you think you can do better than your previous foundation, or, goodness forbid, because your favourite foundation has been discontinued. We've all been there - that's such a pain in the hoop. Whatever the reason, you're looking for a new one, and that creates some problems.

Last week, we went through the first challenge of foundation matching - getting the shade perfectly right for your skin. Once you've got over the initial problem of colour matching, there are several other factors to consider before parting with your money.


  • What's Your Skin Type?

Even if you get the shade match spot on, it's very important that you get the right formulation for your skin type. Lots foundations will look great on skin for between ten minutes and half an hour. After that time, your skin starts to fight with the foundation. and skin always wins. For example, I adore the formulation of Mac Studio Sculpt Foundation. and it makes my skin look great for a short time. Since it has a moist formulation, it slides off as the natural oiliness of my skin starts to come through from underneath. By the end of the day, there's nothing but shine on my face, and some blotches of foundation in the drier areas.

Take that same foundation and put it on a dry skin, and you have a match made in heaven - the moistness marries with drier skin to produce a dewy skin effect that holds all day and looks fresh and lovely.

foundation application

  • How is Your Face Today?

To make things more challenging, your skin isn't static. I don't know about you, but my skin is totally different at certain times - like before and during menstruation - than other times. It's more prone to breaking out at that time, and it's definitely oilier.


Rather than throwing the same skincare on your face every morning, have a good check in the mirror. As part of my daily skincare routine, I do a little assessment every morning. Is my skin drier than usual? Is it especially oily? Does it feel tight, or do I feel like a breakout is headed my way? I'll choose which skincare I apply on a given day based on this little assessment.

We can't all have lots of foundations on the go at any one time. I'm lucky to have access to several because of my job, but if a foundation that generally works for you just isn't sitting well on a certain day, you can influence that with skincare.

Doing this little check every morning will give you a better idea of what your skin type is, so that even though it might sometimes be dehydrated/oily/dry, you'll know that it's generally one of those. Combination skin is less common than you might think.

For particular recommendations for your skin type, have a look at our skin section, here.

young brunette woman with three foundation stripes on face

  • What's Your Go-To Skincare for Under Makeup?

If you're particularly attached to a certain moisturiser, or if you like to use oil to moisturise under foundation in the morning, this will effect the foundation that will look best on you. If you like a primer which contains a lots of silicone for example (and they frequently do), try to stick to a moisturiser and foundation that don't contain much silicone, or you'll get that annoying balling effect when you apply your foundation to skin.

If the colour match is right and you don't have extremely dry or extremely oily skin, many foundations can be forced into submission with skincare. Before binning a foundation, try a mattifying primer if the foundation is a bit too slick on your skin. If it sits a little, make sure that your skin isn't just dehydrated (see the link above) and consider applying an oil before foundation if it just sits in the skin a bit.


If you're uncertain as to whether a foundation will work with your skin, ask for a sample. Beauty counters have lots of little empty pots for the sole purpose of decanting product samples. As long as you ask politely and don't want loads of samples, they should absolutely give you one. If you're not comfortable with investing before you've sampled the foundation, then don't. If you feel pressured into buying one you're uncertain about, be firm; you have no obligations to the counter staff. Their job is to help you - they are going to try to sell you things you don't need. The obligation (apart from an obligation to be respectful) goes from brand to customer, and not the other way round. Don't take any crap!

Be sure to let us know what you'd like to see next in the back to basics series in the comments!

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