- February 9, 2018 – We’ve updated this page to focus on inclusive formulas, requiring all contenders to offer wide shade ranges spanning from light to dark skin tones. We reevaluated our original top picks and took a look at some new foundations on the market. Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup remains in a top spot, but now with eight top picks to choose from in both liquids and powders, you’re bound to find the right foundation for your perfect look.
The wrong foundation can make you feel frustrated and self-conscious if it’s too oily, too drying, or fades off your face before lunchtime. And if a brand doesn’t even have your shade, it’s automatically a dud. To find the best foundations for everyone, we talked to dermatologists and makeup artists, and tested foundations on our faces for weekst. Our top picks offer inclusive shade ranges, smooth application, enduring finishes, and comfortable wear.
The Best Foundation
Best Liquid Foundations
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup ($42)
Stellar Limitless Foundation ($38)
Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation ($35)
Best Powder Foundations
Make Up For Ever Pro Finish Multi-Use Powder Foundation ($37)
Kat Von D Lock-It Powder Foundation ($35)
Best Drugstore Foundations
Sheamoisture Weightless Shea Serum Foundation ($16)
Kokie Professional Skin Perfect HD Foundation ($13)
C.Y.O Lifeproof Long Lasting Foundation ($7)
Foundation can feel like all risk and low reward. After all, when your foundation is truly perfect, it goes unnoticed. But if it starts oiling up after a few hours, or flakes up non-existent dry skin on your face, you might wish you’d gone bare-faced that morning instead. In the end, the best foundation is the one that offers a generous shade range, has budge-proof coverage, and gives your skin a flawlessly even finish. We’ve put in months of research and hands-on testing to find the best foundations available on the market today.
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup ($42) is beloved by everyone from makeup amateurs to editors at Allure, and we’re inclined to agree. Once you’ve applied it, this absolutely transfer-proof formula isn’t going anywhere until you decide to remove it. The medium-to-full formula comes in a widely inclusive range of 36 matte shades, and is available at Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Amazon, and the Estee Lauder website.
Stellar Limitless Foundation ($38) is a vegan, cruelty-free foundation that offers 22 shades, with a special focus on medium skin tones. We liked how the medium-to-full formula’s satin finish left our faces looking glowy without being too oily or drying. Just note that this foundation is an online exclusive sold through Sephora, which means you won’t be able to test it out physically before purchasing.
We recommend Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation ($35) for anyone seeking truly full-coverage, matte foundation. This cruelty-free formula comes in 32 shades than span equally across light, medium, and dark skin tones. You can find it as Sephora, Kat Von D’s website, and Amazon.
Make Up For Ever Pro Finish Multi-Use Powder Foundation ($37) is a versatile little tool that offers two products in one, all in a convenient compact that would fit in a small bag. Apply it dry for matte, medium-full coverage, or damp for a sheer, satin finish. It comes in 25 shades with a special emphasis on medium and dark tones, which makes it one of the most inclusive compact powders on the market.
Like its liquid sibling, Kat Von D Lock-It Powder Foundation ($35) offers impressively opaque full coverage while feeling light and comfortable on the skin. It’s not quite as inclusive as the Make Up For Ever foundation, with an 18-shade range that mainly focuses on light and medium skin tones. But if you’re looking for a full-coverage powder, this compact might be the one. It’s available at Sephora, Kat Von D’s website, and Amazon.
Sheamoisture Weightless Shea Serum Foundation ($16) impressed us with its moisturizing, satin-finish, light-to-medium buildable formula. We wouldn’t recommend it for oily skin — it might fade before the day is over — but for dry or sensitive skin, the nourishing serum formula may work well. It comes in 19 shades, with a focus on medium and dark tones. You can find it at Target, Ulta, the SheaMoisture website, and Amazon.
Kokie Professional Skin Perfect HD Foundation ($13) offers an inclusive 20-shade range. It’s a semi-matte, medium-to-full coverage formula worn comfortably all day. Its coverage didn’t last as consistently as C.Y.O’s, but it was more breathable and easier to blend. You can find it at Walmart and the Kokie Cosmetics website.
C.Y.O Lifeproof Long Lasting Foundation ($7) won a place in the top for its enduringly transfer-resistant formula. We liked the satin, medium-to-full coverage, but found that it wasn’t quite as breathable or blendable as the Kokie and SheaMoisture formulas. Its shade range is somewhat more limited, with just 15 shades that focus mainly on light and medium skin tones. You can find it at Walgreens and the C.Y.O. Cosmetics website.
How We Found the Best Foundation
First, we gathered info on every foundation sold in the US.
The foundation market is huge. To gather contenders, we focused on products that specifically market themselves as foundation, and included liquids, powders, creams, and everything in between. We did not include any tinted moisturizers, concealers, BB creams, tinted acne treatments, finishing powders, or discontinued formulas. Even though these are often available alongside foundations, they’re formulated and marketed for different purposes. We also left out any product that didn’t share its ingredient list. We want to know what we’re putting on our face and potentially absorbing into our body; if we couldn’t find ingredient data online, from packaging, or even from direct contact with manufacturers, we kicked them out of the running. In the end, we had a list of 737 foundation formulas.
Next, we cut ingredients proven to harm your skin.
When it comes to beauty products, and the wellness world as a whole, controversy rages around many ingredients and their potential long-term effects on our health. An ingredients list that makes one person shudder may be shrugged off by another. For foundation, nearly every ingredient we looked at had been denounced by at least a few voices, whether as a warning on a special interest website or debate in the blogosphere. To avoid incorporating people’s personal biases and unsubstantiated warnings on ingredients, we required scientific studies proving that ingredients increase the risk of skin irritation, clog pores, or increase the risk of sun damage before making any cut. We made the following cuts for harmful ingredients proven to have a near-immediate negative effect on the skin:
Heavy metals like chromium and lead — heavy metals in cosmetics are allowed in very small amounts under the FDA, but can be toxic or trigger sensitivities if used continuously over time.
Formaldehyde releasers like diazolidinyl urea and quaternium-15 — while they’re often used as antimicrobial ingredients, these ingredients can trigger formaldehyde allergies and irritate normal skin with regular contact.
Retinoids like retinol, retinyl palmitate, and retinyl acetate — Retinoids help your skin shed off its dead top layer, which makes it a popular ingredient in acne and anti-aging treatments. However, common side-effects include dryness and irritation. That might be alright if you’re truly using retinoids to treat a skin problem, but it doesn’t make much sense to apply it to healthy skin daily — which can also cause increased sun sensitivity over time.
Pore-cloggers like paraffin, mineral oil, and phthalates — Dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka told us, “Occlusive agents like mineral oil should be avoided in foundation because they clog the pores and suffocate the skin.”
Simple alcohols — Not all alcohols are created equal, and the presence of alcohol on an ingredient label isn’t necessarily a bad thing — fatty alcohols, for example, moisturize and nourish skin. But with continued use, simple alcohols can dry out and irritate skin.
We also made the decision to cut “fragrance.” The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows cosmetic companies to claim “trade secret” status for any proprietary fragrance blends — this means they can simply list “fragrance” as one ingredient instead of listing out each ingredient included in the fragrance. Dr. Bobby Buka explained that “while fragrances don’t bother everyone, they do have the potential for allergic reactions and skin irritations.”
The appearance of “fragrance” on an ingredient list doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad formula, just that as consumers we’re not getting the full picture. We want to know exactly what we’re putting on our skin every day, and are not impressed by the lack of transparency from manufacturers. Since we can’t confirm what’s in those fragranced formulas, we don’t feel confident recommending them to everyone and we cut anything with “fragrance” as an ingredient.
Then, we cut any formulas with SPF.
Get your SPF another way.To protect your skin from harmful sun exposure, you’re better off applying a good sunscreen first, and once it’s rubbed in and patted dry, following with your foundation. This will prevent flashback and the cakey look of too much makeup.
While wearing SPF daily is recommended for preventing skin cancer, foundations with SPF aren’t really very effective for several reasons. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) advises a minimum of SPF 30 to protect from harmful UVA and UVB rays — anything lower just isn’t enough. Most foundations with SPF offer around SPF 15; a few even advertise a measly SPF 5. But even with the recommended SPF 30+, to get the full, advertised protection of an SPF product you need to apply at least half a teaspoon of the product. Half a teaspoon is too much foundation for most faces — with that much product, it’s difficult to achieve smooth, even coverage without your face looking like a cakey mess. Higher concentrations of SPF in foundation also tend to give skin a white cast (also known as flashback) in photos. If you have darker skin, that white cast can also appear on your face sans photography. So chances are, there won’t be enough in a foundation to offer any real protection for your skin, but even if a foundation is SPF 30+ you’ll have to wear a lot of it, and endure a “sunscreen-y tinge,” to actually receive any benefit from it. So we cut any products with SPF.
We also cut any formulas with just average shade offerings.
Historically, women of color have been systemically underrepresented in the beauty industry. From a lack of spokesmodels of color to limited shade ranges, people of color have been left out or only nominally acknowledged in the beauty space. But the scene is shifting. Newer brands, like Fenty Beauty, Stellar Beauty, NYX, and Huda Beauty, emphasize inclusivity and celebrate diversity in beauty with their wide shade ranges. Older brands, like Estée Lauder and Make Up For Ever, have had prominent campaigns attempting to bridge the inclusivity gap and are expanding their shade ranges. And though brands from NYX to Make Up For Ever are offering widely inclusive shade ranges at all price points, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make the beauty industry a more inclusive place. Given the importance of representation in the beauty industry, there’s no excuse for a lack of diversity in shade offerings, so we wanted to cut those formulas with a limited, non-inclusive shade range.
But shade ranges are complicated. It’s not just a matter of numbers. Makeup Artist and Owner of MG Beauty, Mindy Green pointed out that it’s common for brands to have a lot of shade offerings, but not necessarily a lot of diversity among those shades: “If a brand does offer darker shades, there are often gaps in the darker shade range. You’ll find 20 shades of beige, but only five brown shades. This forces women of color to mix shades in order to achieve their match.” A foundation that has 15 total shades but only offers three shades for dark skin tones is not as inclusive as one that only offers 10 shades, but has offerings spanning from very light to very dark. This wasn’t just a numbers game; our method had to account for the fact that darker shades are nearly always underrepresented in foundation lines.
So we turned to the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale. Created in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, the Chair of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School, the Fitzpatrick Scale is commonly used by dermatologists, aestheticians, and tattoo artists to gauge how susceptible skin is to sun damage or hyperpigmentation.
With six overarching “types” of skin, ranging from very pale skin that always burns and never tans to very dark skin that never burns and tans easily, the Fitzpatrick Scale makes it possible for people to sort themselves into one of six buckets, depending on how their skin reacts to the sun.
To figure out which formulas were above or below the industry standard when it came to representation, we evaluated each formula’s shade offerings. Any formulas with less than six shades were eliminated straight off the bat, as this means at least one overarching group of skin types is not been represented. We wanted to find the average number of shades offered for the remaining formulas, but we couldn’t just find a single average due to the predominance of light shades in the industry. Holding underrepresented dark tones to the same standard as light tones would unfairly disadvantage those product lines, so we decided to split available tones into categories according to the Fitzpatrick Scale. We found the average number of shades for three categories: “light” (Types 1-2), “medium” (Types 3-4), and “dark” (Types 5-6). The average number of shades available from any given foundation was six for light skin tones, five for medium skin tones, and three for darker skin tones. Meaning, on average, there are literally twice as many foundation shade options for light skin tones as there are for dark skin tones.
The best foundation should cater to more than the average range of skin tones. After all, the best should be better than average. So we cut any formulas with average, or below average, shade options in more than one of our three categories. To account for how darker skin tones are underrepresented, we made sure the formulas we passed were above average in at least medium shades or dark shades. This cut out a lot of luxury brands like Tom Ford and Sisley Paris — we found that while these brands have a powerful reputation in the beauty industry, they could be doing a lot better regarding inclusivity.
Before ordering, we knocked out any formulas with unhygienic packaging.
The best foundation should be easy to use, with well-designed packaging that doesn’t encourage bacterial growth or slow down your morning routine. Before ordering cartloads of foundation to arrive at our office, we scrutinized product photos, user reviews, and makeup tutorial videos to see what the packaging for each product was like. We cut anything with packaging that involves contaminating the entirety of the product in the container, forces you to apply a contaminated applicator to your face, or forces you to use a brand-new spatula with each application in order to ensure hygienic application.
Note: Some of the products that made it through this initial cut simply didn’t pass muster when we had them in our hands, so we retroactively cut additional products here after ordering.
Finally, we tested a lot of foundations on a lot of faces.
While talking to makeup artists about what defines an excellent foundation, the same features kept resurfacing: easy to apply, flawless finish, and comfortable wear. To find out which formulas would hold up flawlessly throughout 8-12 hour long days, we tried out all 22 of our finalists with our team of office volunteers. Testers ranged from near-makeup novices to out-and-out beauty aficionados, but the goal for everyone was the same: to find out which products were mess-free, smoothly blendable, transfer- and fade-proof, and breathable. We scored every formula for its packaging, blendability, wear time, and coverage. Testers put the foundations through transfer tests, wore them throughout long work days, nights out, and weekend adventures. At the end of it all, we tallied up the scores and factored in testers’ free-response evaluations. The best held up with flawless, breathable coverage through rainy Seattle days and nights, while the worst dried out skin and became flaky or clumpy. After months of research and weeks of hands-on testing, we’re confident that our top picks will help you look consistently flawless, whether you’re working your 9-to-5 or putting on your best face for a wedding.
Bareminerals Barepro Performance Wear Powder Foundation
Becca Ultimate Coverage Foundation
Black Up Matte Definition Foundation
Black Up Two Way Cake
Clinique Superbalanced Makeup
C.Y.O Lifeproof Long Lasting Foundation
Dermablend Cover Flawless Creator Foundation Drops
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup
Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation
Juice Beauty Phyto-Pigments Flawless Serum Foundation
Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation
Kat Von D Lock-It Powder Foundation
Kevyn Aucoin The Etherealist Foundation
Kokie Professional Foundation Hd Foundation
L.A. Colors Truly Matte Foundation
Make Up For Ever Pro Finish – Pro Version Multi-Use Powder Foundation
Nyx Stay Matte But Not Flat Powder Foundation
Nyx Total Control Drop Foundation
Sephora Collection Matte Perfection Powder Foundation
Sheamoisture Weightless Shea Serum Foundation
Smashbox Studio Skin 15 Hour Hydrating Foundation
Stellar Limitless Foundation
Our Picks for the Best Foundation
Best Liquid Foundation
Best Liquid Foundation
Wide and inclusive shade range, comfortable wear, medium-full matte coverage, absolutely transfer-proof, widely available at main beauty retailers ($42)
Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation ($42) has been around for awhile — it even won the crown for best Medium-to-Full Coverage Foundation in our 2016 review. But even against hundreds of other initial contenders and dozens of new, highly-buzzed formulas, it still earned a place in the top again.
Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-In-Place has 36 shades spanning equally across light, medium, and dark skin tones, which means that you’re likely to find a good match for you regardless of where you fall on the Fitzpatrick scale. And because it’s available at Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, and Macy’s, you’ll be able to color match in person. Of all the foundations we tried, this one was the most consistently transfer-resistant: it didn’t transfer a single smidgen of makeup onto the dark fabric we rubbed against our faces.
Our testers loved it too. Even throughout a long, soggy Seattle weekday, one tester told us, “I forgot I was wearing this makeup — it felt really light, but still had good coverage. It was also easy to blend and didn’t stand out on my face as obviously makeup.” The only qualm we had with it was that the glass bottle packaging doesn’t come with a pump, which means it doesn’t deposit product as neatly as a tube or bottle would: all the same, the hefty frosted glass looks and feels high-quality, and as long as you’re careful while tipping out foundation, it shouldn’t be an issue for daily use.
The all-matte coverage starts out medium, but is buildable up to full coverage if you choose to do so. The Estée Lauder Double Wear formula won’t budge even under the toughest conditions, but it definitely won’t be as light and easy on your face as a sheer liquid or powder formula. All the same, for $42, it’s one of the best liquid foundation formulas available at the moment. You can find it at Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, Macy’s, Amazon, or the Estée Lauder website. If matte finishes aren’t your favorite, we’d recommend looking at the dewier Stellar Limitless Foundation instead.
Best Liquid Foundation
Wide shade range focuses on medium skin tones, breathable medium-full satin finish, comfortable wear, transfer-resistant, cruelty-free brand ($38)
The Stellar Limitless Foundation ($38) is a relatively new addition to the beauty world — Stellar Beauty itself was only established in 2017, founded by Indian-Canadian model Monika Deol. Deol started the company, which is sold exclusively online and through Sephora, to address the dearth of medium foundation shades that Latina, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian, South Asian, and biracial makeup users often search for in vain. The foundation itself comes in 22 different shades, with a special focus on medium tones. And as a plus for animal lovers, the entire brand is vegan and cruelty-free.
Our favorite thing about this satin-finish, medium-full foundation was the texture: it’s easily blendable and looks softly glowy on our faces without being too oily or drying. One tester said, “I love how soft it dries: just a clean, gentle powdery feeling on your face. Though the feel is powder dry, it looks a little dewy and I was able to easily blend it in to a smooth and even look. I’m thinking of switching to it, I like the end effect so much.” Though our tester didn’t report any transfer or fading throughout the day, we did find that some makeup transferred when we wiped firmly with a dark fabric cloth. As with nearly all face makeup, be careful while dressing to avoid transferring makeup onto your collars or sleeves.
We only had two dislikes about this product: the first is that it’s only available online, exclusively through Sephora. This is frustrating if, like us, you want to physically make sure a product matches your skin correctly before purchasing. As of February 2018, Stellar doesn’t offer samples online or in-stores, but that may change as the brand develops. The second problem we had was that while the packaging looks sleek and expensive, the bottle and cap are both entirely plastic; meaning it doesn’t have the high-end feel we were expecting. But neither of these are dealbreakers for us, and we heartily recommend Stellar Limitless to anyone, especially makeup lovers with medium skin tones that are fed up with hunting down their shades.
Best Liquid Foundation
Kat Von D
Wide and inclusive shade range, full matte coverage, comfortable wear, transfer-resistant, cruelty-free brand ($35)
Cool-girl tattoo artist Kat Von D’s all-vegan and cruelty-free brand is known for its intense pigmentation and bulletproof wear — and we weren’t surprised to find this creamy, full-coverage foundation is just as good as expected. With 32 shades spanning equally across light, medium, and dark shades, this formula is a good choice for anyone who wants full, matte coverage that won’t feel heavy on your skin.
The first thing to know is that this foundation is seriously full coverage. Kat Von D and her fans have demonstrated that this foundation, combined with her Lock-It Tattoo Concealer, can cover up tattoos without a trace. Though you can start out with a thin layer and build up, it’s really not meant for sheer- or even medium-coverage looks. But if you have serious blemishes or pigmentation you want hidden from view, this stuff has the heavy-duty power needed to do it. And though full-coverage foundations have the reputation of being cakey or uncomfortable, we found during testing that it felt nice and easy on our faces. One tester noted, “This blended really well, finished matte, and felt great on my skin all day. I may just have to switch to this one, it was so perfect.” Just remember that as with all foundations, but especially with fuller-coverage formulas, you should moisturize before application to make sure the foundation doesn’t cling to any dry spots. As with the Stellar Limitless Foundation, it did transfer a bit when we rubbed with a dark cloth, but we didn’t have any problems with it fading throughout the day.
One strange little thing we noticed about the packaging is that it doesn’t have a standard cap like most foundations do: instead, it has a little plastic “pin” that you plug into the opening to keep product from coming out. It’s hard to wiggle out, which means that the foundation will be super leak-proof while being tossed around in a bag, but it might be irritating if you don’t want to plug and unplug each time, or if you lose the pin. It’s a relatively tiny thing to pick on since the formula itself was solid, but it might be confusing or annoying for a first-time user. You can find the Kat Von D Lock-It Tattoo Foundation at Sephora, Amazon, or Kat Von D’s website.
Best Powder Foundation
Best Powder Foundation
Make Up For Ever
Wide and inclusive shade range, versatile satin-to-full matte coverage ($37)
While we had to cut the cult-favorite Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation for containing fragrance, we were very impressed by Make Up For Ever’s Pro Finish Multi-Use Powder Foundation ($37), which solidly beat out the competition in the powder foundation category. As its wordy name declares, this foundation is multi-use, meaning that you can apply it dry for matte, full coverage, or with a damp sponge for a sheer, satin finish. It also comes with a decent 25-shade range, with special emphasis on offerings for medium and dark tones.
Our testers loved how natural it looked and how easy it was to apply: One tester declared it was her favorite, saying “I loved how natural it looked on my face, and it covered blemishes and red spots with one swipe.” Unfortunately, we found that powder foundations as a whole are a lot less transfer-resistant than their liquid counterparts: every single powder foundation we transfer-tested had quite a bit of product come off onto our swatch cloths. On our faces, it faded somewhat throughout the day, but didn’t budge too much as long as testers didn’t touch it. One tester explained, “You could tell some of it wore off by the end of the day, but my blemishes were still mostly covered, which was amazing”
If you’re looking to invest in a versatile powder foundation you can conveniently pop into your bag for full-coverage or finishing powder touch-ups, we think Make Up For Ever’s Pro Finish Multi-Use Powder is an excellent choice. It’s available at Sephora, Amazon, and Make Up For Ever’s website.
Best Powder Foundation
Kat Von D
Wide shade range, full matte coverage ($35)
Kat Von D’s powder offering, Lock-It Powder Foundation ($35), impressed us as well: like the liquid formula, this powder foundation boasts full matte coverage. While our testers didn’t find it quite as light and comfortable to wear as the Make Up For Ever powder, it stood out as being truly full coverage without clinging to any dry spots or clumping up throughout the day. One tester noted, “The coverage was great, and for anyone who prefers to use JUST powder foundation, this is a great one!”
The shade range isn’t quite as generous as Make Up For Ever’s: Kat Von D offers 18 shades, focusing mainly on light and medium tones with only two dark shades. If you have darker skin, we’d recommend looking at Make Up For Ever instead — but if you’re light- or medium-toned, and don’t want to bother with anything less than full, matte coverage, this formula may be right for you.
As with the Make Up For Ever formula, we found that it transferred somewhat during swatch testing, but it didn’t fade very much at all during face testing. If you’re aiming for a truly bulletproof finish and love your powder foundations, this formula may be just the thing. You can find it at Sephora, Amazon, or the Kat Von D website.
Best Drugstore Foundations
Best Drugstore Foundation
Wide and inclusive shade range, satin light-to-medium finish ($16)
SheaMoisture, the famously all-natural, cruelty-free shampoo, soap, and lotion brand that caters towards natural hair, impressed us with its nourishing Weightless Shea Serum Foundation ($16). Given how moisturizing and comfortable it is, we think it’s a great pick. And with 19 total shades focused on medium and dark skin tones, we certainly think it’s one of the best drugstore offerings currently available for women of color.
This formula’s main selling point is the thin, rather runny serum texture: while it may be a little tricky to apply if you’re used to conventionally thicker foundation formulas, we found it very soft on our faces. One tester wrote, “It feels very moisturizing while it’s on your face, and blends pretty well too.” If you have dry or sensitive skin and don’t have much luck with matte formulas, this satin-finish, light-to-medium buildable formula may work better.
SheaMoisture did pretty well in transfer testing, but as with all of the drugstore picks we tested, there was generally more visible smudgery when compared with the higher-end picks. This wasn’t super surprising given the serum texture of the formula, but just keep in mind that if you have oily skin, this foundation may transfer easily throughout the day. If you have normal or dry skin, the wear may be more consistent: all the same, you may need to dust some finishing powder on top to keep it transfer-proof. As with all the drugstore formulas we tested, we could definitely feel the product on our face and didn’t find it quite as breathable as the higher-end foundations. But we think Shea Moisture offers a nicely moisturizing formula with a generous shade range.
One strange thing we discovered while researching Shea Moisture was that this foundation’s shades are all listed as separate products on their website. Not a dealbreaker for us, but it may be annoying if you plan on shade-matching and buying this foundation online. You can find it at Ulta, Target, Amazon, and the Shea Moisture website.
Best Drugstore Foundation
Wide and inclusive shade range, semi-matte medium-to-full finish ($13)
Professional Skin Perfect HD Foundation ($13) from Kokie Cosmetics, a Walmart-exclusive brand established in 2015, offers a buildable medium-to-full coverage and a semi-matte finish. It comes in 20 shades spanning light, medium, and dark options— though the majority of the offerings focus on light and medium skin tones, with fewer options for dark skin.
Right away, we were impressed with Kokie’s packaging: the foundation comes in a hefty, frosted glass bottle with a shiny black pump, which looks and feels high-end. The impressive quality carried over during testing, as well: testers liked how easily the creamy texture blended into their skin, and found it to be comfortable and breathable even through long days. One tester who prefers to use higher-end products day-to-day reported, “It’s definitely worth the price. The next time I’m in the market for foundation, I might consider this one personally.”
The one aspect it didn’t do so well in was transfer testing: we found that it transferred somewhat more onto dark cloth than Shea Moisture or C.Y.O did, and faded a bit throughout the day during face testing. We didn’t find the fading to be extreme in any degree, but if you’re looking for a more enduring drugstore foundation, consider C.Y.O. But if you’re on the market for a semi-matte drugstore foundation that offers a generous range of shades, we think Kokie is a great choice. You can find it at Walmart or the Kokie Cosmetics website.
Best Drugstore Foundation
Medium-to-full satin finish ($7)
C.Y.O Cosmetics is nearly a brand-new brand: this cruelty-free company launched exclusively at Walgreens in the fall of 2017, but has rapidly succeeded in the budget beauty sphere — so much so that it plans on expanding to the UK in 2018.
With nearly all of their offerings checking in at under $8, C.Y.O focuses on offering affordable, trendy beauty alongside more traditional products like mascara and foundation to its youthfully fashionable clientele. But that’s not to say you have to be a teenager in order to appreciate its foundation — though it’s priced at just $7, the C.Y.O Lifeproof Long-Lasting Foundation held its own among other drugstore competitors during testing.
This foundation’s winning feature is its transfer-resistant coverage: it had some of the least visible transfer among the drugstore formulas during testing, and its satin, medium-to-full coverage held up nearly unchanged all day. That constancy comes at a small price: testers reported that it wasn’t quite as blendable or breathable as Kokie and SheaMoisture, and was also a little harder to remove. And the biggest con, in our eyes, was its shade range: it offers 15 shades that all span inclusively across light and medium skin tones, but the darkest shade available is quite light in comparison to Kokie and Shea Moisture’s ranges. All the same, C.Y.O definitely stood out as the most enduring drugstore finalist. If you’re looking for something that won’t budge under rain, sweat, or tears, we’d bet on C.Y.O. You can find it at Walgreens or the C.Y.O Cosmetics website.
Getting the Most Out of Your Foundation
How to find your color match
Color is everything with foundation: the most skin-nourishing, magical formula in the world won’t do you much good if it’s three shades too light for your skintone. And while some beauty companies have made efforts to pioneer online color-matching (Sephora’s Color IQ system with Pantone being the most prominent), the fact remains that color-matching is best done in person. This isn’t always possible with drugstore or online-exclusive foundations, but we recommend getting color-matched in a store first to figure out your undertone, which will help you figure out what shades you may match if you have to purchase foundation online. If you can’t try out your foundation of choice in-stores, you can try finding color-matching on makeup databases like Sephora’s Color IQ system, Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix, Findation, and Ulta’s Shade Finder.
Undertone is a critical part of accurate color-matching and refers to whether your skin has more reddish-yellow warm tones, bluish-pink cool tones, or falls somewhere in-between as a neutral. Green told us, “If you select a shade with the wrong undertone, the skin will look pasty, grey, ashy, or red.” Fortunately, you only need to figure this out once: while the shade of your skin can change from darker to lighter between summer and winter, undertones don’t typically change.
There are a few different tricks to figuring out your undertone: the easiest one is looking at the veins on the inside of your wrist. If they’re blue, you’re cool-toned. If they’re green, you’re warm-toned. If they’re somewhere in-between, you’re neutral-toned. Another trick: if you look better in gold jewelry, you’re warm-toned; silver jewelry, you’re cool-toned.
Unfortunately, most brands don’t label their shades as “warm”, “cool”, or “neutral,” although some brands, like Stellar Beauty and Kokie Professional, do. All the same, since finding the right match for both your undertone AND shade can be tricky, we recommend getting color-matched in-stores whenever possible.
Makeup artists Mindy Green and Katya Gudaeva both told us that it’s best to try foundations in-stores to figure out the best shade match for you. You can ask to be color-matched by an employee, or you can do it yourself, which may be easier if you already know which foundation you want, and just aren’t sure which shade is the right match.
Choose about three shades that appear close to your skin color, and swipe them on your jawline to test the shades. You may need to test another area of the face as well. Blend the shade in, and if it disappears then it’s your shade. See if you can get a sample to take for a few days, so you can make sure the shade wears well and looks right in natural light.
Gudaeva warns not to try and color-match foundations against your hand, which is a common mistake. “Instead, swatch the foundation on your chest and jaw. If the foundation matches your skin in those spots, your face will match your body when wearing it.” Keep in mind that you if your skin darkens or lightens a lot between seasons, you may need different shades for different times of the year: Green told us, “As you tan in the summer and lose that color in the winter, you should have more than one color to customize your shade all year.”
Maintain your makeup, protect your skin
What tools should I use with my foundation? As long as you find a tool that works for you, brushes, sponges, or fingers are all fair game. For more info, check out our review for makeup brushes.
The right foundation will make your face look flawless, but you also want to make sure you’re protecting the skin underneath. Dermatologist Dr. David Lortscher emphasized that maintenance is a key part of keeping your skin bacteria-free: “Liquid foundations may eventually harbor bacteria, so they should be replaced every 6 months to yearly. Powders should be replaced between every 1-2 years. The applicator should be washed or replaced at least weekly if you’re using the product daily.” Dr. Bobby Buka told us that as a general rule of thumb, no matter what kind of foundation you’re using or for how long, you should “consider replacing your foundation if it gets wet, changes color, or has passed its expiration date.” And of course, no matter how much you love it, never sleep in your foundation: this can cause avoidable skin issues like clogged pores and premature wrinkles. Green advises keeping “makeup remover wipes on your nightstand in case you’re too tired to go to the sink.”
The Best Foundation: Summed Up