Five fool-proof tips to get your perfect foundation match

Header image by Samantha Gonzales

There's nothing more singularly disappointing than buying the wrong foundation shade. Sometimes, we get too excited and/or pressured at the counter that we don't hear the alarm bells ring; we just want our shiny new product sitting pretty at home! This is why it pays to have your wits about you when you're shopping for foundation, especially when you're about to drop the big bucks on a good brand. Here are five ways to get your perfect match!

1. Don't be shy or a know-it-all - ask the sales assistant for help! Yes, I know it sucks to be at the mercy of someone who may not be as nerdy about makeup as you are, but SAs will always trump your general makeup knowledge with specific product information. I always ask them for the three shades closest to my skin tone. If I don't have a product in mind, I ask what their best-selling formula is and what suits my concerns best.

It's important to have this discussion before moving forward to swatching shades. Take this time to establish rapport with the SA, study your options, and compare prices. I'll discuss why later on!

2. The best place to swatch foundation is along your jawline. Not your arm, wrist, or back of the hand! The jawline area is the mid-point between your face and neck color. If those two parts are too dissimilar, choose one side that you prefer and match that area. Just make sure to always blend the foundation on both your face and neck each time. No need to do this though if the color gap is not too wide; you can just apply the foundation on your face.

3. The foundation's undertone can make or break it. Ever notice how, even though the shade is correct, the color still looks off? That's where the undertone comes into play. Generally, foundations have two undertones: red and yellow. Forget about warm or cool; different brands have such different interpretations of the term!

Some brands like Make Up For Ever take the trouble to label their foundation shades Y for yellow and R for red so that you know what you're getting. Some brands like Bobbi Brown and NARS only offer yellow-toned foundation since it's their belief that yellowish colors work best to brighten any skin tone. MAC, in my experience, is a bit trickier. We made a guide on how to choose you MAC shade if you're interested.

These are Revlon Colorstay swatches. The shades look convincingly yellow in the swatch, but all of them sans Sand Beige (ironically) have a red undertone when blended. Still a great formula though.  Full review here .

These are Revlon Colorstay swatches. The shades look convincingly yellow in the swatch, but all of them sans Sand Beige (ironically) have a red undertone when blended. Still a great formula though. Full review here.

Here are a few *general* things to consider before choosing a red or yellow-toned foundation:

  • Do you flush easily? Then a reddish foundation might work for you.
  • Do you tan without burning as much or as quickly? If so, go for a yellowish foundation.
  • This is an age-old trick but I find it's still relevant: if silver jewelry looks best against your skin, you might want to consider a reddish foundation. If gold jewelry is more flattering, choose a yellow-toned foundation.

Of course, none of this will beat the next tip, which is...

4. Go foundation shopping with a bare face, and actually wear the foundation ALL day before deciding on a purchase. Walk around the mall, check the color in natural lighting (as opposed to makeup counter lighting, which may be falsely flattering or bafflingly ugly-fying!), and check how it's changing throughout the day. You can read the online reviews, quiz the SA all you want, but there is no better test than seeing how a foundation performs than wearing it on your own skin. 

This is worth the hassle if you want to avoid an expensive mistake.

5. If you're still not 100% sure, bring a small plastic jar and ask for a sample. This is what I mean about the importance of building rapport with the sales assistant. If you are genuinely interested in buying their product, then it will show through and you can get the help you need. I used to be hiya about asking for things from the SA, especially when I go to high-end makeup counters, but I learned that it's their job to help me make a decision I won't regret!

So yes, bring a jar, and ask for a few pumps of the liquid or loose powder foundation you want to test. Don't fill the whole jar naman, just get enough for maybe one or two uses. This is especially useful if you have sensitive skin and want to know if you'll react to the foundation after an extended use. 

And that is that. ^_^ Have you got any more tips to add when it comes to foundation matching? Would love to hear them!