The ultimate guide to foundation

Foundation is a key part of many of our makeup regimes, but finding the perfect one can be a minefield. Whether it’s trying to find your colour match, or decide on the right type of finish for your skin, I’ve put together some of my key tips in this guide to foundation.

foundation, powders and makeup brushes

When it comes to picking the right shade, you want to look for something that once applied, is virtually invisible on your face. You’re looking for a ‘your skin, but better’ look – you don’t want to get compliments on your foundation after all, just the fact you have radiant looking skin. 

Apply a small amount to your jaw line (not your neck or hand) and blend in with a brush/finger. If you can see where you applied the foundation, it’s the wrong shade – it should look totally natural and blend with your skin. 

If you’re being colour-matched in a store, always go outside and see how it looks in natural light. The bright lights of department stores tend to distort colours slightly and you don’t want to purchase a new bottle of foundation and find out it’s not quite right. 

If possible, ask for a sample of foundation to try out at home. After all, you’ll be the one applying it and you want to ensure you can get a good finish with the tools you have at home, see how it wears on your skin and give it a thorough testing. Most large beauty counters will happily oblige, especially if they have a new foundation range out. 

Foundation types
- Mineral Powder – loose powder foundation made up of mineral pigments that needs to be applied with a buffing brush. Versatile in terms of coverage, they can be layered up depending on how heavy it needs to be. Use a primer underneath these to extend the wear time; some brands can be a little drying so not the best solution for very dry skin. 

- Liquid – the most popular formula, you’ll find thousands of different liquid foundations that promise light, medium or full coverage, in both matte or ‘glowy’ finishes. Can be applied using fingers, sponge or a brush. 

- Cream – generally these come in a compact and tend to be medium/heavy coverage foundations. Can look a bit 'cakey' if applied too heavily.

- Powder – less popular than in previous years, pressed powder foundations tend to come in compacts and offer a buildable coverage. They can be applied with either a brush or a powder puff and leave skin with a very matte finish. 

- BB/CC cream – Blemish Balms (BB) and Colour Correct (CC) creams were originally created in Asia and have a light coverage, but also offer some skincare benefits. CC creams are also designed to offer colour correcting properties, so may be targeted at reducing the appearance of redness in the skin, or covering dark circles/patches. 

- Tinted Moisturiser – very light coverage, usually offers moisturising benefits with a hint of colour. Tends to have a short wear time.

What sort of coverage do I need? 
When it comes to foundation, ‘coverage’ really just means how fully you want your natural skin to be covered by the product. 

Light coverage – These tend to be things such as tinted moisturisers and BB/CC creams which add a hint of colour to the skin, evening out your natural skin tone while still allowing things like freckles to show through. These are great if you just want a little help to balance out your skin, and are often perfect for summer when we tend to wear less makeup. 

Medium coverage – medium coverage products do exactly that – they give a decent amount of coverage but don’t totally cover over all of your skin underneath. Medium coverage products tend to be my go tos – they even out my complexion without making it look like I'm wearing a mask and tend to last well throughout the day. 

Full/heavy coverage – these offer the heaviest coverage of the lot. You won’t see much of your natural skin tone underneath this and they can be good for anyone trying to cover up skin pigment issues, redness etc. They can be a little heavy on the skin, so will need some seriously good cleansing at night to remove them, but do generally tend to wear well throughout the day and into the night. They can look a little mask-like if applied too enthusiastically, so start light and only apply more if you really need to. 

Application tools:
Brushes – for powder products, try a buffing brush, which tend to be circular, slightly dome-shaped. These are best used in small circular motions and will work powder products into skin for an invisible finish. For liquid foundations, a more typical foundation brush works well – these are usually flatter in shape and will allow you to get into smaller areas of the face more easily. Brushes need to be washed regularly (ideally weekly) to stop them from becoming clogged up with product, giving you a poor finish and possibly the chance of spots from bacteria held in the brush. Wash with a specialist brush cleaner, or a gentle soap like Dr. Bronner’s. 

Sponges – for liquid and cream foundations, sponges can work really well at getting a flawless finish. Try something like a Beauty Blender or the Real Techniques Miracle Sponge and apply in dabbing (not rubbing) motions until you’re happy with the coverage. Make sure to dampen the sponge prior to use, as this will help stop the sponge soaking up all of the product. You will end up losing some product to the sponge, so do take into account the fact you’ll probably need to repurchase a little quicker. 

Fingers – our fingers are great tools for blending foundation. Obviously if you use a powder product they won’t work, but for creams and liquids they’re an excellent (and free!) choice. Try not to rub the skin, gently press and pat the foundation into place. 

Application tips and tricks 
- When applying foundation, start at the centre of your face and work out. We tend to need most coverage down the centre panel of our face (forehead, nose, chin etc.) so start there and then work your way out. You’ll need a lot less product at the side of your face (maybe even none!), so blend away until you’re happy with the natural result.

- If you use a sponge to apply your foundation, make sure you use it slightly damp – this will help less product to soak into the sponge when you’re applying your makeup.

- For longer-lasting foundation, use a good primer underneath it. Primers prep the skin’s surface and also extend the wear time of your makeup. My favourite is Dermalogica’s Skin Perfecting Primer as it gives a great finish and helps my makeup stay in place all day. 

- If you tan, you’ll probably need several different shades of foundation for different times of the year in order to get a good match. Get colour-matched as the seasons change (or pre/post holiday) to make sure you’ve always got the perfect shade. 

- For pale skin tones, it can be hard to find a shade light enough. Brands like Illamasqua sell pure white foundations which you can mix up with any liquid foundation to create a perfect custom colour. It can make such a big difference, especially when you’re buying foundation from the high street which often has less shade options than higher end brands. 

What are your top foundation tips/tricks? Are there any questions you’d love to know the answer to? 


  1. This is sooo helpful. I'm 20 years old and still haven't found a foundation that suits my face - when I find The One I'm never going to let it go!


  2. Great post Kat, must have taken ages to write! I must remember to start foundation blending from the centre of my face, I tend to work down from my forehead xx


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