5 Easy Steps for Choosing the Right Foundation: The Secret Language of Makeup Companies Revealed

makeupBelieve it or not, there really is a way to find a foundation that you like.  How many times have you thought, “This is it,” only to look in the rear view mirror and realize you look as orange as a pumpkin.  Follow this step by step process, and you won’t be frightened to look like you applied pancake batter to cover your blemishes.  Let me demystify the secret code that makeup companies use to label foundations, so you can master this process for yourself.

1. COVERAGE – How much do you want your foundation to cover your skin?

  • Full – Skin will be covered completely.  Freckles, blemishes, acne, rosacea, etc.
  • Medium – You can still see natural skin underneath, but minor blemishes and discolorations will be covered.
  • Light/Sheer – You can see your skin underneath the foundation.  Used to even color of skin only

2. CONSISTENCY – Choose one based on your skin type.  

  • Dry/Normal to Dry 
  • Tinted Moisturizer – This is a big misconception.  THIS IS NOT A MOISTURIZER! The reason that makeup companies label a foundation this way is to inform the consumer that it is the consistency of a moisturizer.
  • Liquid – Most popular consistency on the market, for obvious reasons.  It speaks for itself.
  • Creme – A thick cream
  • Normal to Oily/Oily
  • Mineral Powder – Made of finely crushed minerals in a loose powder.  It cannot be sold in compacts because TALC is the main ingredient used to press the powder in the container.
  • Pressed Powder – Dense powder in a compact, meant to be used wet or dry – BUT – if you wet it, don’t try to use it dry again

3.  FINISH – The way your skin will look once you apply your foundation.  Again this should be based on your skin type, since most people with oily skin don’t want any shine, but people with dryer skin want to glow.

  • Dewy – Your skin will look freshly washed and moist to the touch.  You guessed it – the Tinted Moisturizer was invented for this.
  • Luminous/Glowing – Skin will look healthy and highlighted.  Usually, most Liquid Foundations will give you this finish.
  • Matte – Skin looks powdered and velvety smooth.  A Mineral or Pressed Powder is the obvious choice. WARNING – Mineral Powders are great products for the right person.  Just know that if you have fine lines from aging, try this out before buying.  It can tend to settle into fine lines and give a pearly/gray cast on some people.

makeup 24.  SHADE LEVEL – How light or dark are you?  Each makeup line has their own guide for this, but you will be able to tell which category it’s in based on the name.

  • Fair – Very light or porcelain in color.  Your skin tends to burn easily and it’s hard for you to get to get a tan.
  • Medium – This is the largest shade level available.  Lots of choices for this shade range, because medium is just hard to define.  It’s just there in the middle. So…those women who don’t know what shade level they are?  This is probably you.
  • Dark – Unfortunately, this category is lacking.  “Dark” to makeup companies usually tries to encapsulate every darker shade of skin here – from a terra-cotta to aubergine.

5. UNDERTONE – Are you warm or cool?  Much overused terms in the foundation world, considering 70% of the population is considered to have a warm undertone. Although, if you are using a foundation that makes you look orange or ashy, it is the WRONG undertone. 

  • Warm – Usually a yellow/gold/orange base color to the skin, and can be found in Medium to Dark complexions.
  • Cool – A pink undertone found in most you that are considered Fair, and Eggplant if you are Darker.

6. A BIG TIP FOR THOSE WITH DARK SKIN – you may need to use 2 different foundations to match your skin correctly!  I find that a darker, cooler tone works best closer to the hairline.  Match another one on the inner portion of your face.

Okay, it’s not a simple process, but now you know the secrets to getting the perfect foundation.  Print this out, check off what you know you like or want, and bring the list to your favorite makeup counter.  If you are unsure of any of these, ask questions!  The Beauty Consultants are all supposed to be trained on this.  If you would like me to help, just send me a picture with your questions and I will send you the right direction.  Now that you are armed with all the information, you can hopefully make the right choice for YOU!




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Melissa McNamara
Melissa’s passion for makeup artistry began over 25 years ago when she discovered the art of making women look and feel beautiful. That experience has shaped a long career working behind the scene at magazine shoots, at fashion week and leading seminars teaching artistry techniques. Her 10 years as an artistry educator delivers real-life experience and hands-on expertise. Melissa has her own makeup artistry school and teaches women one-on-one, and group workshops how to discover their beauty from the inside out. Melissa is the co-creator of The Hollywood Beauty Detective’s 10 Legendary Looks, and designed the makeup for each look.
Melissa McNamara

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