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How to Buy Foundation — Online and in Real Life

Know Your Undertones

Identify if you have warm, cool or neutral undertones. If you’re not sure which category you fall into, try the vein test. Look at the inside of your wrist and the palms of your hands. If your veins are green, it’s likely your skin has warm undertones. If they’re blue, you’re probably cool-toned. Have both? You have neutral undertones. Many foundations, like the IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare, offer shade ranges that are designed to work with your skin’s undertone. 

Figure Out Your Foundation’s Purpose

Some formulas deliver a long-lasting, full-coverage finish, while others are designed to give skin a lightweight tint, so it’s important to identify what you’re looking for. It comes down to preference and need — something that’s often completely unique to you. If you need help figuring it out, use an online tool like the Maybelline Foundation Finder. The guided quiz asks you a series of questions, like preferred coverage, color and texture, and recommends the best foundation for your beauty routine. 

Read Some Reviews

While reviews alone won’t necessarily help you find your perfect shade, they can provide insight into the way a product wears throughout the day, like if it oxidizes and how to best apply the formula. You can check out reviews on Amazon, Sephora, Ulta or the brand’s website. 

Swatch it Out

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to swatch different foundations in-store, but if you ask a sales representative they might be able to give you a small sample of different shades to try at home before making a full-size purchase. When testing a foundation, we recommend swatching on your face (preferably next to your neck) rather than a wrist or hand and waiting a few minutes for it to settle. If it blends in with your skin when you step into the sun, it’s probably the right shade for you. 

Buying Online? Grab Two

If you think you’re in between shades, don’t hesitate to buy two — you can always return the color that doesn’t work. Stores like Sephora, Amazon and Ulta have easy and free return policies. When trying to buy foundation online, we also recommend using a foundation matching tool like the Giorgio Armani Foundation Finder. 

Consider a Custom Foundation

If you’ve struggled to find a foundation match despite following our tips, consider using a custom foundation creator, like this option from Lancôme. The process, which is available at select retailers, scans your skin and designs a foundation specific to your tone and type. 

So say you’re fairly new to makeup and would like to buy foundation, but need guidance because 1. you live very far away from many makeup counters and would have to buy it online or 2. don’t really feel like the people at your nearest counter have your best beauty interests in mind, what do you do? It’s time to learn some foundation basics!

I actually had a post up (called Foundation 101) from my early days of blogging, but since the post is like six years old, I figured I could update it so that those of you who just started following along could use it. So here goes…(let me know if you guys have questions by leaving them in the comments section and we can pow wow there—your questions could actually help other readers so I encourage you to ask in the comments ;)

1. Determine your undertone

Most undertones fall into these categories:


Many cosmetic companies make it easy for consumers by labeling their foundations according to undertone. They may also use Warm/Cool/Neutral as labels as well. Here’s how that would look:

Yellow/Golden (Warm)
Olive (Neutral)
Pink/Red (Cool)
Blue (Cool)

The quickest way for you to figure out your undertone at home would be to (in natural light) :

a.) Take a good look at your skin to see if one of the colors listed above seems to shine through the most. If you have different undertones in your face than on your neck, for the most natural look sometimes it’s best to use two different shades—one closest to your jawline that matches your neck and one for the center of your face.

b.) Take a look at the veins in your arms–do they look green or do they look blue? If they look green, your undertones are more than likely yellow or golden. If they look blue, your undertones are more than likely pink/red or blue. If you can’t tell, keep reading.

c.) Grab a pair of silver and gold earrings. Do the gold ones flatter you more? If so, you’re warm. If the silver pair flatters you more, you’re cool. If you look good in either one, you’re neutral.

d.) Don’t get wrapped up in the misconception that a single racial or ethnic group is always a certain undertone (no, all Black people do NOT have warm undertones).

2. Determine your skin tone

Once you’ve found your undertone, next determine your skin tone. You want to try two or three shades in your undertone. In three separate spots on your jawline (as close to your neck as possible), blend the shades and whichever one disappears into your skin (when in natural light) is the winner. If you tend to tan in the warmer months, you may want to get a sample or smaller size of the darker shade to mix in with your normal color to make sure your foundation matches your skin year round. PLEASE do NOT make the mistake of wearing a foundation that is either too light or too dark.

Also note that some women—especially women of color—can tend to be one color in the center of the face and another color around the perimeter. To get the most natural look, it pays to get two shades—one for the center and one for the perimeter.

3. Determine your skin type

Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and let it air dry for 15-20 minutes. How does your face feel? If it feels okay, you more than likely have normal skin. If it feels very taut and dry, you have dry skin. If it feels very moist or oily, you have oily skin. If you’re only oily in the T-zone (forehead and nose) you have combination skin. If you need more help, check out this post.

Based on your skin type, you need to pick the right foundation formula. Even if you have the right undertone and shade, if you have the wrong formula, your foundation can really tell on you…lol. Cosmetic companies make it easy for you by labeling things by skin type, but here’s a rule of thumb:

Normal Skin:

Liquids work well, but this type can also wear powder, creme, or mineral formulas.

Dry Skin:

Liquids designed specifically for dry skin or creme foundations work well. As do some mineral formulas.

Oily/Combination Skin:

Powder and mineral foundations work well. So do some liquid formulas designed specifically for this skin type.

BUT–you really have to read the labels and check out reviews because many brands these days are all about the science and formulations you think might not work for your skin type actually do. For instance, I have oily skin and used to think a creme foundation (that wasn’t from a professional artist brand) wouldn’t work on me but Cover FX Total Cream Cover Foundation sure showed me otherwise.

4. Determine your coverage amount

If you already have an even complexion with very few blemishes, a lightweight foundation (or even a tinted moisturizer/BB/CC cream) will work to enhance your beautiful skin.

Medium coverage works for anyone with skin that needs a little extra help. A good foundation will provide medium coverage, but still look natural. Medium coverage works well for going out or being photographed.

Full coverage (which I don’t recommend for daily usage–can be too heavy on the skin) helps problem skin appear more flawless. The best full coverage foundations provide excellent coverage for troublesome areas, but still look natural. A light hand is necessary for this type. I recommend only using full coverage in areas where you need it, as it can have the tendency to look like a mask.

When buying online

Sometimes those computer generated graphics tell us nothing about what a shade is going to look like when you get it. So you have to get creative to figure out which shade(s) to get. Good thing the internet is filled with beauty enthusiasts just like us who post swatches and pictures of foundation shades. Google Images is a life-saver when it comes to buying makeup online. If you think you might be a certain shade but are unsure, just Google Image search it and more likely than not TONS of pictures of beauty girls who wear that shade will come up—if they look close to your skin tone, you’re on the money. If not, keep searching.

Many beauty girls online also share which shades they are in other foundations—so if you know you’re MAC NW45, just search for that online—you might find someone that shade who also wears Revlon, Armani, and Maybelline (just like I’m sure many of you found me and I’m NW45/47—I have my foundation equivalent post here).

It also helps to buy more than one shade–but make sure you buy from a retailer who has a lenient return policy when it comes to beauty products. Two of my faves are Sephora and Nordstrom who will likely take back a product that didn’t work out for you.

If you’re overseas, it’s worth looking up beauty sites or shipping services where you can buy brands not available in your country. I personally only know that this sort of thing exists but have never had to use any of them so I can’t give any firsthand experience but if you search you’ll find it :)

And like I said in the beginning of this post, let me know if you guys have questions by leaving them in the comments section and we can pow wow there—your questions could actually help other readers so I encourage you to ask in the comments :)

How to Buy Foundation — Online and in Real Life

Here’s How to Buy the Right Foundation Shade Both In-Store and Online


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