How To Choose The Right Foundation For Your Skin Type

Whether you’re dry, oily or sensitive, here’s how to find your perfect match.

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As far as foundation is concerned, the last couple of years may end up going down in history as one of the most transformational times in the beauty industry—period. Since the revolution unofficially kicked off in September 2017 with the launch of Fenty Beauty and the brand’s 40 shades of Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation (the line has since been upped to 50 shades), it seems like most makeup brands have followed suit and either added to their already extensive shade ranges (think brands like NYX Cosmetics and Estée Lauder increasing their offerings to 45 and 56, respectively), or beefed up previously lackluster selections (like Tarte adding 15 shades to the beloved Amazonian Clay Full Coverage Foundation range).

And it’s not just shade ranges that have evolved. In-store shade-matching technologies are available at Sephora and Lancôme counters, online shade-matching quizzes are everywhere and this website recommends dozens of foundation shades based on entering just a single one that you’ve used before. Finally, the beauty industry is making up for its decades of oversights and neglect when it comes to serving people of colour and is giving everyone the chance to find their perfect shade.

Thanks to this newfound sophistication and range of shade-matching methods, shopping for foundation should be easier than ever. But is it? What about all of the other aspects that need to be taken into consideration when selecting a foundation, like finish, coverage, ingredients and texture? Have we been so swept up in the glorious changes that the Fenty Effect has brought on that we’re forgetting about our skin types and concerns?

We reached out to Toronto-based makeup artist Christine Cho for her best advice on the different features, ingredients and formulas to consider when shopping for a foundation.

How to choose the best foundation for dark under-eye circles

“The most important things to keep in mind here are coverage and hydration,” explains Cho. Then consider neutralization: that is, looking to opposite shades on the colour wheel when colour-correcting to figure out which ones cancel each other out. “If you have more blue-tinted, dark under-eye circles, choose complexion products with orange/peach undertones. If you have purple under-eye bags, choose complexion products that are more yellow/golden.” These “opposites” will hide the shades you’re looking to conceal.

Less is more when using foundation to cover under-eye circles, since it’s not an area that can handle heavy amounts of makeup. “Foundations that contain hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid are often better when it comes to delicate, dry areas like the under-eyes,” suggests Cho. Look for a foundation with a satin finish, to maintain the appearance of moisture, while also providing the coverage you’re looking for. Since the under-eye area can get super dry (the skin is extremely thin and can’t maintain moisture like, say, your cheeks can), it’s important to apply a good amount of eye cream to the area before applying makeup.

A picture of a Benefit foundation on white background next to its packaging.

Expert pick: Benefit Hello Happy Flawless Brightening Foundation, $40, sephora.com. Available in 12 shades.

“It has great coverage, but feels light and moisturizing,” explains Cho. “Skin looks healthy, reflective, luminous and flawless.”

How to choose the best foundation for dry skin

“Dry skin is often dull,” says Cho. “Adding radiance, luminosity and brightness with hydration is key.” If your skin is on the dry side, stay away from ultra-matte finishes. Instead, opt for a foundation with a dewy, glowy finish. “Skin should look ‘wetter’ after applying a good foundation to dry skin,” says Cho, “but not shimmery or sparkly.” Lean toward more medium or sheer-coverage foundations (think: lightweight, serum-like formulas, rather than thick creams) to even out skin tone.

When it comes to setting your makeup, less is more if your skin is dry. “Avoid applying too much setting powder on top of foundation. Just a light dusting or pressing to a shiny T-zone [will do],” says Cho. Anything else will simply suck all that much-needed moisture out of your skin. And we probably don’t need to say this but we will anyway—moisturizer is your friend! Apply your favourite serum and cream before you get to the foundation stage—never apply onto a complexion that’s feeling tight, dry or itchy.

A picture of a Dermablend foundation on white background next to its packaging.

Expert pick: Dermablend Smooth Liquid Camo Hydrating Foundation, $45, shoppersdrugmart.ca. Available in 9 shades. 

“This foundation is always in my kit—it’s great for professional or everyday use and it’s one of my favourite high-quality foundations available at the drugstore,” says Cho.

How to choose the best foundation for oily skin

“Oily skin is prone to skin looking shiny very soon after makeup application,” warns Cho. When it comes to coverage, oily skin types have a lot of options, based on preference. But whether you go with a full-coverage or a sheer-coverage foundation, “it’s important to balance the excess oil production at skincare-level first, then choose a mattifying primer followed by an oil-free, mattifying foundation.”

And if curbing oil production is a top concern, makeup brushes or beauty sponges are your best bet for a flawless application. “Avoid using your fingers to apply foundation, as oil from your hands can add oil to your face.”

Expert pick: Smashbox Studio Skin Full Coverage 24 Hour Foundation, $48, sephora.com. Available in 40 shades. 

“This will provide a flawless base that is buildable and customizable—and it lasts,” says Cho.

How to choose the best foundation for textured skin and/or acne scars

If you’ve got textured skin and acne-scarring, finding a product that provides coverage and a smooth canvas is important. “Layering products is key here,” says Cho—no need to use a lot of foundation. “Start with a smoothing primer (this BeautyBlender pick never disappoints), followed by a full-coverage foundation, then a thin layer of setting powder and a light dusting of powder foundation.”

Avoid watery foundations with a lot of illuminating ingredients and instead opt for “straight pigment with thick, creamy textures that can fill in some texture and stay put.” Another important thing to note is your application method: textured skin will benefit from a dense foundation brush, which provides a more even application.

Expert pick: Charlotte Tilbury Airbrush Flawless Foundation, $53, charlottetilbury.com. Available in 44 shades.

“This is one of the best long-wear, full-coverage foundations,” says Cho. “It’ll last all day and night without budging once it’s set.”

How to choose the best foundation for sensitive skin

This is where things get a little more complicated. Finding a foundation for sensitive or reactive skin is a personal journey, says Cho. “Each individual’s allergies, triggers to irritation, ingredient sensitivity history and makeup goals” must be considered, since someone can have reactive skin and have any skin type—oily, normal, dry, combo, etc.

This isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation, but there are a few rules of thumb that can apply to all sensitive or reactive skin, regardless of your individual triggers. For starters, says Cho, less is more. “Try a tinted moisturizer or sheer foundation first, and layer if needed (or add concealer to spot areas) for extra coverage.” Look for gentle formulas that don’t have any active ingredients in them, and take note of how you put it on, too. “It’s important to apply makeup gently, using less friction and pressure,” says Cho. “Being light-handed is helpful in avoiding redness and flare-ups. Use a soft, latex-free sponge or super soft brush to apply foundation.”

Expert pick: Burberry Matte Glow Foundation, $72, nordstrom.com. Available in 20 shades.

“It provides lightweight, reflective coverage that looks and feels like natural skin,” explains the expert.