Finding your foundation color match can be tricky. I won’t lie, I get asked how to find a foundation match so frequently I thought I’d help break down how to find a foundation match in an easy-to-understand approach.
People are often surprised to find out that my professional kit doesn’t actually contain THAT many foundation shades. For the most part, I mix custom foundations for my clients. It’s a common misconception that a makeup artist will have a perfect match for you in their kit. Sorry, but your girl isn’t going to carry around that many foundations!
Let’s face it, finding a foundation match is easier said than done. That’s why this is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive. Note! This advice is not intended for pros/aspiring pros building your kit — check out this post for that type of information.)
*If you’re curious/interested in seeing what foundations I carry in my pro kit, I’ve got you covered in this post.*
In this episode on the Be Your Own Makeup Artist Podcast, I share three tips to help you find a foundation match. I know at least one of them goes against the grain/common practice.
I’ve also included a few bonus tips below, just incase you need a little extra help.
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Probably the easiest way to find your match is to go to a store that allows you to sample products right in the store. However, if you’re on a drugstore budget, this isn’t going to be possible. I’m going to give you some tips and tricks to find your foundation color match without falling victim to an expensive trial and error process! Ready? Here we go!
The first step in finding a foundation color match has a lot to do with knowing your undertone.
Do you tend to tan easily and look better in gold jewelry?
You’re probably a warm tone.
Do you have fair skin that burns easily? Does silver jewelry look better on you?
You’re probably a cool tone.
If you’re in the middle, you are probably a neutral (like me). This is both good and bad. You can wear a lot of different bronzers and blushes, but eyeshadows and foundations can be tricky. You have to try different formulas depending on what your skin is doing in the moment and what you’re wearing.
If you really want to dig into color theory, I’d encourage you to check out my interview with Terri Tomlinson, the creator of the above picture flesh toned color wheel. She really helps guide us on understanding color theory when it comes to makeup.
A great rule of thumb when shopping for foundations is learning how to decipher the color name.
R/P ### generally indicates a foundation with a Red or Pink undertone. Generally speaking (but not always), those of you with red undertones fall into the COOL color category.
Y ### indicates a yellow undertone. Again, and generally speaking, if you have yellow undertones you can also assume you have a warmer skin tone.
N ### or foundation names without prefixes generally indicates a Neutral undertone.
Seriously, why salespeople STILL swatch the side of your face right along your jawline beats me. This is a part of your face that is covered in SHADOWS.
Swatch your chin.
Swatch your nose or within your t-zone.
Swatch your cheeks.
But for goodness sake, swatching the part of your face covered in shadows that you don’t see head on makes NO sense.
Make sure it is a close match to your décolletage — you may need a “bridge” color. You’ll look like a clown if your face and décolletage don’t match…
aka Take Your Time
I hate to break it to you, but if you’ve successfully figured out your undertone and also found a great match from tips one and two, then ask for a sample or apply the foundation to your face — and wear it for a day (or two). Not only will this save you future frustration if it doesn’t work, it will save you money and time from either having to toss the foundation OR the time in having to return/exchange it and do it all over again. Plus, it’s more sustainable to make confident purchase. Check out this post here on how to be sustainable… it’s awesome.
The foundation may oxidize on you, which means (in a nutshell) it turns “orange”. Please know that it’s not the foundation’s fault… this is the foundation + your pH’s fault. One of those pet peeves us makeup artists have is when people complain that a foundation oxidizes. No they don’t…. they oxidize on you and anyone who shares your skin pH.
Just because it oxidizes on you doesn’t mean it’ll oxidize on your bestie.
Love the matte look but have dry skin? I hate to break it to you but a matte foundation + dry skin = trouble. Same for dewey look on oily skin.
When you use the wrong formulation, not only will the foundation feel extremely uncomfortable on the skin but the foundation won’t look good. PERIOD.
Does the foundation slip off your skin?
Does it get absorbed into your skin, leaving a dull-finish?
Is it spotty (oily in some areas but dry in others)?
You won’t know the answer to these questions after trying on a foundation for a minute. I find that makeup looks best 10-15 minutes after application. Why? Because the makeup has a chance to settle on the face and “warm-up.”
If it doesn’t feel comfortable after a few hours, it’s probably not the right foundation for your skin type -or- your skincare routine may be lacking.
Of course, you should only be trying on foundations that you know are formulated for your skin type. If you don’t know your skin type, I’ve got you. Head over to my skin type quiz and not only will you test your knowledge you’ll get your results delivered straight to your inbox. And I’ll break down what types of makeup formulations to look out for.
Of course, you can also find all of this information and more in my book, Be Your Own Makeup Artist. Honestly, it’s foundational to your makeup education (hehe).
The first thing to keep in mind is seasonal changes to your skin tone. If you have distinct summer and winter seasons, you probably need two foundations – one for when you have a tan in the summer, and one for when you don’t in the winter. In the spring and fall, you can blend your two foundations to create your own custom shade!
Sephora has an amazing Pantone tool that they can use to color match your skin tone and get your foundation color in the different brands they carry both in store and online. Best part? It’s totally free, and if you stop in once in the summer and once in the winter, you’ll know exactly what shades you need to have on hand to create a perfect match throughout the year. Genius!
If you have an account with Sephora, they will store this information in your account so you can access it anytime. Super convenient!
Whether you are a MAC foundation wearer or not, their representatives are also specially trained to match foundations and they have a great range for nearly all skin tones. If you know your MAC foundation color, it’s easy to use that color to search for matches with that color, if that makes sense. A simple google search “What is MAC NW20 in xyz foundation name?” should do the trick.
Now keep in mind that I’m not being paid or sponsored by MAC to tell you this. If you choose to go this route, keep in mind that they are salespeople so they’re going to try to sell you all the things. MAC has some great products, but just know it could (and probably will) turn into a sales situation.
MAC Foundation Dupes? If you want to read more about finding dupes, check out this blog post. My sister and fellow makeup lover Azadeh even talks specifically about MAC foundation dupes!
I hope you learned a little bit about finding a foundation that matches your skin tone.
Want to see a round up of my favorite foundations for personal use (btw, I have dry skin), click here.
If you don’t have the time or effort or energy to do all of this for yourself and you want me to do it all for you and teach you everything I know about makeup but in a way that works specifically for you and your image goals, check out my program Create Your Signature Look.
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P.S. If you asked me a beauty question, if I don't immediately know the answer, I must thoroughly research every question I receive, and sometimes do not have an immediate answer or I need clarity on unlisted ingredients in certain beauty products, sometimes getting a clear answer takes up to 3 weeks... have patience, it'll be worth it!
Beauty is about perception, not about make-up. I think the beginning of all beauty is knowing and liking oneself. You can't put on make-up, or dress yourself, or do you hair with any sort of fun or joy if you're doing it from a position of correction.