Finding the One: How to Choose the Right Foundation

by Ivy Boyd

Finding the One: How to Choose the Right Foundation

One of the greatest quandaries of makeup, and perhaps of life itself, is how to choose the right foundation color. When it’s right, it’s right, but when it’s wrong . . . oh, honey!


There are several factors that play a crucial role when determining how to choose the right foundation shade. Get these down, and you’ll have no trouble at all. Once you understand the basics, you’ll be able to spot your perfect match from a mile away, whether at the drugstore or the makeup counter.


Undertone is your skin’s natural inclination toward pink or yellow. This is a tone you were born with, and it never changes. Even if you tan, your undertone will remain. A few people are described as neutral, meaning they have both pink and yellow, but most of us lean one way or the other.


Don’t know which you are? Here’s the easiest way to tell. Look at the veins on your wrist. If they are more greenish in appearance, you have yellow undertones. If your veins appear closer to blue/purple, you have more pink. Still having trouble? Hold a white sheet of paper up to your face, and use it to better assess whether you see more yellow or pink.


Surface Tone
Unlike undertone, surface tone can change. Depending on the state of your skin, you might have more pink in your surface tone than normal. For example, if you’ve recently exfoliated, used retinol products, or are just feeling flushed, your color may be different. That’s why you don’t want to match surface tone. Match undertone instead.


Shade Depth
It’s possible for a Caucasian woman to have the same undertones as an African American woman, because the shade depth differs. For example, my darker-skinned friend and I may both have yellow undertones, but my shade depth would be a 3 on a scale of 1 to 10, while hers would be an 8.


Once you have a good understanding of your undertone, you’re ready to shade-match by swatching. Contrary to popular belief, the best place to test foundation is not on your wrist or the back of your hand. If possible, test right on your face, on the jawline, sweeping down toward the neck. If you are African American, you will likely want to swatch from the center of your cheek all the way to your jawline. This is because many dark skin tones can be lighter in the center of the face and darker at the perimeter.


Is it a perfect match?
You’ll know when you’ve found your match when it all but disappears on your skin. Some foundations with high pigment percentages may need to be blended out a bit for you to really assess them. If you can, wait 15 minutes after swatching to see if the foundation oxidizes. After 15 minutes or so, some foundation colors will appear more orange or more peachy; this is due to your skin’s pH level. A quality foundation should not oxidize much, if at all, but using a primer first will help to prevent this. I am loving Murad’s new Invisiblur Perfecting Shield with SPF 30.


Still need help?
If you’re curious about specific brands for different skin types, you might like this post, where I condensed some of my favorites. If you just really want someone else to do the matching for you, visit your local Sephora and ask for a Color IQ match. It will give you shade options in every brand they carry! Pretty amazing, really. Another option would be Prescriptives, who can custom-match you based on a Skype call and digital photo that you upload. It’s pricey, but they’ll mix until it matches. If you’re curious, I reviewed it for you.


I hope you’re feeling more than equipped now to nail your perfect match and find your new second skin!