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How to Pick the Right Foundation Shade

woman putting foundation makeup on a sponge
Denis Val/Shutterstock

You thought your makeup looked great, but then you saw the pictures: your face is one color, and your neck is a different shade altogether.

Need to find the right foundation color for your skin?

Choosing a foundation is easier said than done. In addition to selecting the best formula according to your preference and skin type, you need to find a color that blends in seamlessly. Luckily, there are some ways to make the process easier.

Whether your foundation is too light, too dark, too orange, or a bad match in some other way, put it down and start reading. With these tips, you’ll be able to find a foundation that matches so well, no one can tell it’s not your natural skin.

Consider Your Brand

While the right foundation shade for you might come in any brand, it’s a good idea to start targeting certain brands before you start shopping. Otherwise, the makeup aisle can become overwhelming, especially if you don’t shop for makeup often.

Your best bet is to find a brand that offers lots of different shades and has good reviews. That way, you know it’s a high-quality product that’s likely to have your match. The smaller the shade range, the harder it is to find your color.

Know Your Undertone

Next, narrow down your selection by understanding your skin’s undertone. Undertones fall into three categories: warm, cool, and neutral.

If you have a warm undertone, your skin has a touch of red or gold to it. You probably tan easily, and rarely sunburn.

Cool undertones have a pinkish or bluish tint instead. Those with cool-toned skin are more likely to burn in the sun.

Finally, neutral undertones are neither warm nor cool but fall somewhere in the middle.

While it’s easy to tell how light or dark your skin tone is, it can be harder to pinpoint an undertone. If you’re in doubt, you can visit a makeup counter and ask for a consultation.

Try Sheer Formulas

If you don’t need a full-coverage foundation, look for a sheer formula instead. These give you more wiggle room by making it harder to tell if the shade doesn’t quite match perfectly.

Also, you can get more seamless results by applying a well-matched foundation only where you need it, rather than all over your face in the same amount. Keep the layer light on most of your face, and build it up where you need more coverage.

Pick Up Samples

woman trying out a foundation sample on the back of her hand

Now that you’ve targeted a few shades that might work, the next step is to sample them.

You can try them in the store, but you’ll get better results if you can take a sample home. Most makeup companies are glad to let you try before you buy, so don’t be afraid to ask.

The age-old method of testing foundation on your hand won’t work, because your hand probably isn’t quite the same shade as your face. Instead, try each foundation on your cheek and jawline. This will let you see if the color matches your face, while also seamlessly blending into your neck.

Avoid blending the shades when you test them, though. The one that best disappears into your skin without blending is the right one for you.

But don’t stop there: wear your test shades in a few different types of lighting to make sure they really work. Go from indoor to natural light. The brighter and more natural the light, the more it will show if the shade really matches.

If you absolutely can’t take a sample home, you can also test the color by holding the bottle up to your face where there’s natural light.

When you find the right product to buy, try to make sure you can return it, just in case. Stepping into a new kind of lighting later might show you that your foundation doesn’t match after all.

Be Aware of Complications

Sometimes, the foundation that matched when you put it on will be a different color a few hours later. That’s because of oxidization: the reaction the makeup has when exposed to the air.

This is another reason it’s so important to test products before you commit. Some brands oxidize more than others, and it’s hard to tell what you’ll get unless you can wear the foundation for a whole day.

Make Sure Your Skin’s Ready

Sometimes, the foundation might not be the culprit: it could be your skin. If the color seems patchy or flaky, reconsider how you’re prepping before foundation.

Makeup of all types works best on skin that’s been thoroughly exfoliated and moisturized. Depending on your skin type, you might also want a primer product to help your foundation stay in place. Pay as much attention to your skincare products as to your foundation choice, and you’ll get the best results.

Consider Two Shades

Throughout the year, your skin may go from lighter to darker with the weather. This means the same shade probably won’t work for you all year. Pick up a “summer” and “winter” foundation color, and blend them as needed when the seasons are in flux.

You can also make a too-light foundation a little bit darker by adding a touch of shimmer-free bronzer to the formula.

Know Your Formulas

Different foundation formulas wear differently on the skin. For example, powders often look darker once applied than they did in the package. Even if it looks like the same shade, make sure to test products every time you switch to a new one.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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