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How to shop for foundation: Five tips for success and the best-sellers to try

By Megan Bedford

How to shop for foundation: Five tips for success and the best-sellers to try

Foundation is one of those hard-working staples that for many people, forms the basis of their makeup kit.

It means you really want the one you have to be a winner. In general that means a good colour match, flattering your complexion without looking dry or flakey, lasting well throughout the days activities and in a finish that you prefer.

Achieving all those things can be a frustrating and expensive trial and error process. Foundation mistakes are tough to avoid, and many of us have experienced ending up with a nearly-full product languishing in the bathroom drawer.

To find something new, consider the type of product that would best suit your needs. Once you have that in mind, what’s the best way to find your perfect foundation match?

Before you shop:

  1. Consider your skin type
    Is it dry, oily or combination? Different foundation formulations cater to different skin types. If it’s dry: Look for one that offers extra hydration and glow-inducing properties. If it’s oily: Avoid any overly dewy finishes, the new long-wear offerings are your best bet. If it’s a combination: Go for lightweight formulas that adjust to your needs, controlling midday shine without looking flaky and dry by 3pm. If it’s fairly balanced, choose based on the finish you like instead.
  2.  Consider the finish you prefer and how you apply
    Are you looking for a sheer, lightweight product that you can apply just where you feel you need a bit to even out your skin tone or do you like full-coverage colour that instantly conceals redness and imperfections?  Are you wearing makeup to work in an office where you want skin to look fresh but perfected or do you only wear it with a full face when you head out at night? Do you wear it on casual weekends or exercising outdoors? All of the answers can help guide you – or the expert helping your choose – to a product that will suit. For example a breathable matte finish might work in an office while a lightweight, glowy tinted moisturiser with SPF is likely to work well for the weekends or outdoors.
  3. Consider how, when and where you apply your makeup
    Are you comfortable applying liquid with a foundation brush or would a stick foundation you can blend with your fingers suit you better? Are you happy to spend a bit of time applying to get a perfect finish, or do you get frustrated with a product that needs more than a couple of minutes to put on? Do you tend to apply and touch up on the go? Then perhaps a cream product in a mirrored compact you can apply with a sponge might work well for you. Consider yourself a novice? A mineral powder is easy to quickly buff all over skin and is easy to build up coverage.
  4. Use a matching tool
    Take a look at a recent product you’ve used that matches your skin and use a shade matcher to narrow down shades to try in other products. Sites like, Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix and the shade matchers on the websites of beauty retailers like Mecca and Sephora are helpful, so long as you know a product you’ve previously used – or the sample you’ve been given – and it’s shade name that’s proven to be a good match for your skin. Just select that product and the shade you used and the system will throw up all your potential matches for that shade in other brands’ ranges.
  5. Try before you buy
    The upside of buying a higher-end brand is that generally cosmetics counter staff will offer to colour match your skin tone, as well as sending you home with one or two samples, so you can try the foundation at home on your own time to consider how they work with your lifestyle. If you are doing an in-store swatch,
    choose two or three shades from the same brand that you think look closest to your complexion. On clean skin, apply a swatch of each next to each other from your cheekbone down to your jawline. The best match will be the one that blends or ‘disappears’ into your own skin tone. If you can, walk to a place where there is a natural light source to check the colours. 

High-performing  foundations to try

These best-sellers consistently gain rave reviews:

Full coverage: NARS Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation

Best for: All skin types
Smooth and blendable with excellent coverage, this lightweight yet pigmented option is formulated without oil so it works for all skin types and won’t dry out skin and never feels cakey. 

Medium coverage: Dior Forever Natural Nude Lightweight Foundation

Best for: All skin types
When you want skin to look great but not like you’re wearing a mask, this is an exceptional performer that’s luminous and natural looking. With a high concentration of water leaves skin looking fresh and plump but still lasts well throughout the day. 

Light coverage: MAC Studio Radiance Face and Body Radiant Sheer Foundation

Best For: All skin types

Long a favourite of makeup artists for it’s multitasking, suits-everyone real-skin finish, MAC’s original lightweight Face & Body Foundation has recently been renamed and extended in shade range. Easy to work with, sheer, buildable and with a naturally radiant (not shimmery) finish that complements, rather than completely covers skin.

On-the-go: L’Oréal Paris Infallible 24H Fresh Wear Foundation in a Powder

Best for: All skin types including oily skin
Convenient full-coverage cream to powder compact that’s easy to use, gives skin a satiny soft-filter effect and comes with a sponge and a decent mirror so you can apply or touch up anywhere. It’ll ensure sweat and light rain showers too. 

Foolproof Loose colour: BareMinerals Original SPF 15 Foundation

Best for: All skin types including acne-prone skin
Swirl over skin with a dense, fluffy brush for weightless, uniform coverage that slowly builds and doesn’t look as dry and cakey as other powder finishes. Made of skin-loving minerals it’s fine to use when you have spots but BareMinerals also makes a version that actively targets and helps clear acne. 

Shine Control: Elizabeth Arden Flawless Finish Skincaring Foundation

Best for: Oily to combination skin
A clever formula with a host of skincare ingredients that suits most skin-types but is adept at balancing oil while delivering a smooth, even finish that lasts well all-day. With Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin C and Vitamin E it leaves skin in better condition over time too.

Parched complexions: Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Foundation SPF25

Best for: All skin types, but particularly dry or mature skin
Powerful hydration and a seriously dewy, youthful glow is yours thanks to an advanced formula that contains moisture-miracle worker Hyaluronic acid, Argireline Peptide and botanical extracts. There’s also an energizing complex to keep skin looking bright, even and healthy long term.

Glow giverYves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat Le Teint

Best for: Dry, dull skin
Healthy, hydrated skin that looks glowy, not greasy is yours with this excellent all-rounder that’s easy to vary from spot coverage to a full face.  It contains marigold bloom and mallow extracts to soothe and even skin tone and offer long-lasting moisture. 

Modern matte: Clarins Everlasting Foundation

Best for: All skin types including mature skin
If you love a matte finish but don’t want to look overly made up nor dry and powdery, this is an exceptional new full-coverage matte foundation that keeps shine at bay without the need for extra powder, while delivering a real-skin finish that skims over creases without settling in them. 

Active wear: Maybelline Superstay Activewear 30 Hour Foundation

Best for: Oily and combination skin
Far be it for us to suggest wearing makeup for 30 hours in a row so don’t take the claim on the bottle literally! It’s merely to suggest the transfer-resistant staying power of this highly pigmented option. It’s designed to stick around thorough hot and humid conditions, including exercise should you wish to wear it, without clogging pores.

Finger favourite: Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick

Best for: All skin types
No need for a concealer, this is an easy, long-wearing cream stick with dense pigment so a little goes a long way. The triangle tip makes it easy to apply just where you need it, just swipe on and blend with fingers or a brush to achieve full coverage that stays in place well.

For more foundation tips see: How to match your perfect foundation shade and shop more new foundations



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