Which Foundation Type is Best for You?


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Without question, the right foundation is essential for a beautiful makeup application. Foundation serves as the canvas for the rest of your makeup and the best ones blend on smoothly and evenly, meshing with your skin. If you've never tried foundation or if you don't think you've found the best one for your skin type yet, prepare to be surprised at the difference the right one makes!
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Recommended Foundations

Besides finding a foundation that matches your skin color exactly, it's also important to choose the type of foundation that is best for your skin type, and also matches your personal preferences.

For example, if your skin is oily, you don't want to use the same type of foundation someone with dry skin prefers. If you have acne or struggle with rosacea, you most likely won't want a sheer coverage foundation. And if you have normal skin with an even skin tone, you may not want the level of coverage some foundations provide.

So what are the different types of foundation and how do you choose? Following is a rundown of the types of foundations you will find anywhere you shop for makeup. Remember, knowing your skin type, level of desired coverage, and your personal preferences are key to finding a foundation you'll love to use!

Visit Beautypedia for complete reviews of the foundations recommended below.

Oil-Free, Matte-Finish Liquid Foundations

The best foundations in this category should have a smooth finish with no shine or dewy appearance. Ideally, the matte finish should last for at least a few hours, but that depends on how oily your skin is. Most oil-free liquid foundations provide sheer to medium coverage, but you can build coverage to the level you desire.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • Lightweight texture and finish (this type of foundation doesn't feel heavy).
  • Easy to apply and blend with a sponge or brush.
  • Buildable coverage.
  • Helps control excess oil to keep your skin shine-free for at least a few hours.
  • Generally a safe choice for breakout-prone skin.
  • Works great with pressed powder, powder blush, and bronzers.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Depending on the formula, this type of foundation may make your skin look or feel dry. It can help to use a primer (such as a mattifying serum loaded with antioxidants) that adds a soft finish to the face.
  • If your skin is very oily, it could help a great deal to use an oil-control "primer"-type product underneath.
  • Foundations with a matte finish can exaggerate wrinkles if the finish is too dry. You can remedy this by applying a light layer of moisturizer or a serum underneath, but be aware this can reduce the matte finish.
  • Not the best if you want to use cream blush or bronzer, as the finish makes it difficult to blend on smoothly.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Long-Wearing, Matte-Finish Liquid Foundations

These liquid foundations are almost always oil-free and the best ones are truly long-wearing and stay put. Most have a thin consistency that sets in place quickly, so blending must be fast and precise. Most blending mistakes can be fixed, but not as easily as with other types of liquid foundations. Those with oily to very oily skin typically do best with this type of foundation.

The best foundations in this category generally have these traits:

  • Excellent if you have very oily skin or if you prefer your foundation to look "just-applied" all day.
  • Thin texture and matte finish make this type of foundation a safer bet for breakout-prone skin.
  • Can be great for those who live in humid climates and cannot get their foundation to last.
  • Perfect for those who prefer a strong matte finish.
  • If the foundation is rated SPF 25 or greater, it is a great way to ensure your oily skin gets the sun protection it needs without adding layers of products.
  • Great for use with sheer matte powder blushes and bronzers.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Because these set quickly, blending must be fast and precise.
  • Will magnify even the slightest hint of dryness (so prepping dry areas with a moisturizer or serum is essential). Tip: Use the lightest moisturizer or serum possible to hydrate without adding a moist, slippery feel.
  • Long-wearing finish can make powder blush and eyeshadow application tricky. Blush and eyeshadows with a soft silky finish are your best bets.
  • This is the most difficult type of foundation to remove. For best results use a makeup remover as well as your regular cleanser with a soft washcloth to be sure you're getting all your makeup off each night.
  • The long-wearing, relatively unmovable finish of a truly long-wearing foundation makes blending a cream blush or bronzer over it extremely difficult.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Moisturizing Liquid Foundations

These liquid foundations usually have a slightly thicker texture than oil-free foundations and typically are easy to blend due to the amount of slip they have. The best in this category also offer helpful skin-repairing ingredients as well. Because this type of foundation offers a satin or satin-matte finish, they're perfect for women with normal to dry skin.

The best foundations in this category generally have these traits:

  • Typically provide light to medium coverage so your great skin shows through.
  • Easy to blend because most have great slip without being greasy.
  • Can be used with cream or cream-to-powder blush and/or bronzer.
  • The soft finish and slight sheen add a healthy glow to your skin.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Generally not the best option for women with combination skin (the finish makes oily areas look worse).
  • A tricky option for those with blemish-prone skin because the moisturizing ingredients can contribute to clogged pores.
  • Satin finish is a beautiful look for women of color (strong matte finishes can make dark skin look ashen).
  • Works with powder blush or bronzer only if you set the foundation with a sheer application of loose or pressed powder so the blush or bronzer doesn't grab and look too heavy.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Pressed Powder Foundations

These foundations come in a compact and work like regular pressed powders, only with a bit more coverage and ability to stay put. The best ones in this category have a wonderfully silky feel, and are easy to blend. Pressed powder foundations provide light to medium coverage and can work for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin types. If you have oily skin, powder foundations can look thick and clumpy; if you have dry skin, the powder will absorb moisture, making your skin drier.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • For those with normal to slightly oily or slightly dry skin, this type of foundation is a fast, easy way to get a smooth finish.
  • Some pressed powder foundations have a slight shine, which can add a soft glow.
  • Portable and extremely easy to apply with a brush (sheer coverage) or sponge (medium to full coverage, but be sure to blend well to avoid a heavy, powdered look).
  • Feels light and makes skin look even but not heavy, if applied carefully.
  • Excellent to use over a daytime moisturizer with sunscreen. These foundations help reduce the shiny finish of some sunscreens.
  • Works beautifully with powder blush or bronzer.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Not a good option if you have any amount of flaky skin because the absorbent finish "grabs" to and exaggerates this issue.
  • Finish can be too absorbent and feel uncomfortable on dry skin.
  • Can look too thick or change color on those with very oily skin. The color change occurs when pigments in the foundation mix with the excess oil and oxidize.
  • Powdery finish doesn't work well with cream blush or bronzer.
  • If you want more coverage, building too much powder on your skin can look thick and overdone.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Cream-to-Powder Compact Foundations

These foundations are a cross between a pressed-powder and a creamy liquid foundation. They have a very creamy, almost greasy, appearance, but if you're using the best ones in this category, the creaminess will disappear after you blend them on, leaving you with a slightly matte, powdery finish. Coverage can go from sheer to full depending on the formula and how much you apply.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • Blends quickly and easily with a sponge or brush, setting to a semi-matte or powdery finish.
  • Great for those with normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin if you don't want a true matte or dewy finish.
  • Typically doesn't need to be set with powder, which saves time.
  • Wide range of coverage, from sheer to full.
  • Portable, so touch-ups on-the-go are easy.
  • Generally works well with powder blush or bronzer.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Depending on the formula, can blend on too thick and look more obvious than other types of foundation.
  • Not for very oily skin because the cream portion exaggerates shine and the powder finish isn't strong enough to keep excess oil in check.
  • Not for dry to very dry skin because the finish exaggerates dry areas, even when they're prepped with moisturizer.
  • Depending on how powdery the finish is, this type of foundation can impede smooth application of cream blush or bronzer.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Stick Foundations

Stick foundations are essentially cream-to-powder foundations in stick form. If you want a cream-to-powder foundation and prefer the convenience of a stick these are an option, but they have drawbacks, which is why there aren't many of these being sold.

Most stick foundations go on thicker than powder or cream-to-powder foundations, which make them more problematic for those with oily or blemish-prone skin. Plus, some stick foundations feel thick and heavy.

Because of their size and the type of packaging, stick foundations do travel well, but overall, even the best ones in this category should be approached cautiously.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • Silky, smooth texture that you can "stripe" on skin and blend with a sponge or brush.
  • Lightweight, soft matte finish that makes skin look refined.
  • Portable and can double as your concealer.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Some stick foundations have a thick, waxy texture that looks heavy and can lead to clogged pores and/or can worsen acne.
  • Blending can be tricky because most stick foundations set quickly, so you don't have as much play time as with liquid foundations.
  • If the finish is too creamy, it can crease into lines around the eye.
  • This type of foundation is not the best for blemish-prone skin.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Sheer Foundations and Tinted Moisturizers

Sheer foundations and tinted moisturizers are basically interchangeable. They are an excellent choice for a touch of color along with moisture and, more often than not, sun protection. For casual weekend makeup, sheer foundations or tinted moisturizers are excellent options for normal to dry or slightly oily skin that does not need significant coverage.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • Sheer foundations and tinted moisturizers are extremely easy to choose and use because they are so sheer you don't have to find an exact match for your skin because they blend on almost invisibly.
  • Great for adding a touch of color to pale or sallow skin.
  • Combines soft color, hydration, and sun protection in one product, although you must apply liberally to get the amount of sun protection stated on the label.
  • Works beautifully with cream or cream-to-powder blush or bronzer.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Coverage can be too sheer for any apparent flaws, including skin discolorations, broken capillaries, or red marks from acne, rosacea, or dark circles.
  • Generally, these are too moist or creamy for oily or breakout-prone skin, putting you at risk for further breakouts.
  • The moist finish makes application of powder blush or bronzer difficult. For best results, set with a dusting of loose or pressed powder or go for a cream blush or bronzer.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Mineral Makeup

Despite widespread marketing to the contrary or what you may have heard, mineral makeup isn't a special type of foundation—it is merely a powder foundation sold in either loose or pressed form.

The same ingredients used in mineral makeup show up in other powder-based foundations, too. Although there is no compelling reason to choose mineral makeup over other types of foundation (it isn't better or safer for your skin, even if it is sensitive), many women like the natural-themed names of these products and are attracted to the branding.

As mentioned above, mineral makeup comes in loose or pressed versions, although the loose-powder version is more common. Both typically provide heavier coverage than what you can achieve from regular pressed-powder foundations.

The best foundations in this category have these traits:

  • Most mineral makeup provides medium to nearly full coverage without looking too powdery or making skin appear dull.
  • Mineral makeup with sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater is an easy way to add to the sun protection from your daily moisturizer and/or liquid foundation.
  • Can add a soft shine finish to skin, but be careful because many mineral makeups impart too much shine.
  • Works beautifully with powder blush or bronzers.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Mineral makeup can be drying and too absorbent for dry skin or dry areas.
  • The color can oxidize, pool in large pores, and change color or look streaky over oily areas.
  • Generally, this type of foundation doesn't work for women of color because the finish and color itself looks ashen or too pasty.
  • Loose mineral foundation is by far the messiest type of foundation. It can be a pain to travel with because the powder tends to "leak" and the component gets messy.
  • This type of foundation is not at all compatible with cream blush or bronzer.

For Recommended Foundations visit Beautypedia!

Self-Adjusting Foundations

These foundations supposedly stop or claim to control oil production and also moisturize skin wherever it's dry. We have yet to see one perform as promised, but it would be great if someone came up with one that did! Ignore the wild claims and focus on the other attributes of these types of foundations—they're almost always lightweight, oil-free liquid foundations best for normal to slightly dry or slightly oily skin.

Be wary of foundations that claim to adjust to your ideal skin tone. They can come close if the shades are neutral and natural-looking, but you almost always will get a better match from a foundation that doesn't make hocus-pocus skin-matching claims.

Last, avoid color-correcting foundations; that is, those with a mauve, mint green, bright peach, or strong yellow tone. For these to mask a skin-tone issue, they must provide enough coverage, and if they provide that much coverage, then the color-correcting product looks obvious and unnatural. For best results, look for neutral to slightly yellow-toned foundations to diffuse a ruddy, dull, or sallow skin tone.

For more foundation tips, see our article How to Shop for Foundation.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See See Paula's Choice Face Makeup.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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