Foundation Types: How to Choose What’s Best for You

The right foundation can make your skin look healthier, fresher, and more vibrant. Choose wrong and you’ll get the opposite effect – chalky, dull, and tired. But today there are just so many options available! And that makes it one of the toughest makeup products to buy whether you’re in-store or buying online. (That’s probably why most women have FIVE different foundations in their makeup bag collecting dust. I have EIGHT!) You need to consider your skin color, type, tone, texture, and preferences in order to choose the formula, texture, shade, and coverage that’s right for you.

How to find the best foundation Foundation test and swatch for matched undertone skin

Skin Tone & Shade

Today, most makeup lines have a broad selection of shades available. For example, brands like Fenty Beauty and Maybelline New York offer up to 42 different hues matching a broad range of skin tones. So, how can you choose the right shade for you?  First, consider your starting point – your skin intensity – which is how light or deep it is.  I’m almost never in the sun and since I’ve been using Retin-A for years, my foundation shade generally skews light-medium light. Erin on the other hand, would probably be “very-light.”

Finding the best foundation for you Doubtful Woman holding Question Mark


Undertones are the natural colors underneath the surface of your skin which are either warm, cool, or neutral. Warm undertones range from peach to yellow to golden. (Some people with warm undertones also have sallow skin.) Cool undertones include pink and bluish hues.  Not sure where you land?  Look on the underside of your forearm.  If your veins look more blueish, and you look better in silver jewelry, you’re probably on the cool side.  If your veins have a greenish tone, and you look better in gold jewelry then it’s safe to say you’re on the warm end of the spectrum.

Still not sure? Grab a white sheet of paper and hold it against your skin. If your skin looks pink or rosy by comparison, you’re cool-toned. If your skin looks more yellow, your undertone is warm. It may be that you are a combination of the two and have a neutral undertone (that’s me!).

Finding the best foundation for you dry skin and eye wrinkles

Skin Type

Foundation formulas are plentiful so knowing your skin type (oily, dry, normal, combination) is a must. But as we get a little older, our skin needs can shift. Things like hormonal changes and reduced natural oil production can dry out our skin and make laugh lines and wrinkles more prominent.

Finding the best foundation for you Young woman applying liquid foundation with brush on white background

Coverage Needs

Unless you have significant discoloration or scarring, it’s best to stick with a lighter touch and opt for a sheer light to medium coverage because it’s buildable, which means you can add more as needed without creasing or smearing. With more mature skin, less is definitely more since too much foundation can settle in all wrong places (and age you in the process).

Finding the best foundation for you Close-up of flat makeup brush with liquid foundation tube isolated on white


Compact foundations and those labeled “long-wearing” can be a little too drying. They also tend to settle in pores and wrinkles. Sticks, creams or liquids – often referred to as serums, hydrating tints, or luminizing foundations – feature dewy or satin finishes and are much more flattering on mature skin. A few of my faves:

Sticks: The Bobbi Brown Foundation Stick and HUDA Beauty are bestsellers for a reason.  They are both creamy, easy to apply and wear beautifully.
Creams: This foundation and this one are luxurious and nourishing.
Liquids: Perfection in a bottle here and here with a broad range of shades.
Tints/Serums: The Perfecting Tint by Glossier is so pretty.  I get compliments on my skin every time I wear this one which boasts an SPF 40.  (Just try and ignore the weird scent.)

Finding the right foundation for you squeezing liquid foundation from the pump to the finger

BB, CC and Tinted Moisturizers

BB creams offer lightweight coverage with added skin benefits that can include protectants (vitamins, antioxidants), moisturizers (hyaluronic acid, glycerin, panthenol, ceramides), mineral SPF (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide), brighteners (niacinamide, licorice root) or skin firming agents (peptides, hydrolyzed collagen).  A few to try here, here and here.

CC creams are very similar but offer a measure of “color correction” to reduce the look of redness or discoloration. Their texture is typically lighter than BB creams because their main job is to act as a color corrector and not a foundation. More of my favorites here and here.  I have this one in my cart right now!

Tinted moisturizer simply refers to a moisturizing cream with a slight tint to it.  It provides little coverage in terms of blemishes or imperfections but definitely delivers on the promise of sheer, your-skin-but-better coverage. This one boasts illuminating properties and this one has oodles of sunscreen too!

Reach for a tinted moisturizer or CC cream if you need to even out your skin tone and get a hydration boost. If you’re looking for something a little extra (anti-aging, a primer, better coverage of imperfections, SPF) — go for the BB cream instead.


No matter if you use a stick, cream or liquid foundation, proper application is key. Using your fingers gives you a more concentrated application, while using a sponge (you can’t beat the Beauty Blender) gives an extremely blended, flawless finish (don’t rub – dab, dab, dab). A brush (this one from MAC is the best) allows for really concentrated placement.  (Occasionally, I’ll mix a little foundation with a drop of face oil for the most luminous, velvety results).
BB, CC, and tinted moisturizers are pretty goof-proof and can be applied straight out of the tube with your fingers. Since they are lightweight, you can start with a little and add more where you need it. *Note: Even if the product contains SPF, it never hurts to put on sunscreen first.

As always, I love hearing from you so let me know if you have questions or product recommendations in the comments section below!

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Francine Harris
Meet Francine, our self-described skin care and beauty junkie. As a 40-something Southern California native, Francine is a firm believer in the power of sunscreen and a gorgeous nude lip. She’s an AKT Fitness owner and hi-tech marketing communications consultant by day and mom to three high-energy, testosterone-driven boys by night (hence her preference for red wine with an ice cream chaser).
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6 thoughts on “Foundation Types: How to Choose What’s Best for You

  1. This is a really informative article. Would you consider doing another one about best foundation type for mature skin with acne scars? That would be very helpful for me. Thank you

    1. Hi Eileen – So glad you found it helpful. My first thought is to try the Bobbi Brown foundation stick which is really hydrating but still offers solid coverage. (I’ve found other sticks to be a little drying though.) Another great option is IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation. But either way, look for a formula with hyaluronic acid for moisture/hydration. I’ve heard great things about The Hourglass Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint (though admittedly, I haven’t tried it.)
      Let me know what you try!


  2. Thank you for this excellent comprehensive article. It’s the best I’ve read on how to decide which type of foundation I should choose.

    1. Hi Mary! So happy that you found it helpful! You’ll have to let me know what foundation is your favorite 🙂


  3. This is so timely for me as I was about to refresh my make up essentials for the new year. Have you tested the Charlotte Tilburry Airbrush Flawless Foundation? If so can you tell me if you think it’s lightweight for late 40’s skin? I love the flawless filter from her line! Also, I have trouble finding the perfect under eye concealer. I have fine skin and dark blue veins. I’ve been using Tarte Facetape but it’s starting to have a creased look. Any suggestions or perhaps a whole post on concealers?

    1. Hi Lilian! Great idea on a concealer post! I’ll plan on it 🙂
      YES, I have tried the Airbrush Flawless. It’s definitely lightweight, water-based with a lovely finish. I tend towards the drier side (since I use Retin-A and AHAs), so I didn’t necessarily like how it looked later in the day. I have friends who swear by it, so if you’re normal/oily/combo, give it a try. (Try to get a sample from Nordstrom or Sephora!) Concealers…I really love Glossier’s stretch concealer ( it’s so moisturizing! I use it everywhere, even under eyes. Our Busbee team member, Amit swears by Trinny London BFF Eye Serum Concealer, saying “It doesn’t settle into my fine lines and is not at all cakey!”

      Hope this is helpful!


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