The year is 2020, and we’ve reached the golden age of foundation. A product category that once referred only to thick, cakey face makeup now encompasses an entire range of complexion-perfecting products. And with the mass of options, finding the right one to meet your specific needs is easier than ever.
“A foundation is a product that you apply to your entire face as a way to even skin tone and provide a clean, consistent canvas for your other products—like blush, bronzer, and highlighter,” says Leilah Mundt, founder and CEO of Crème Collective. “This can take the shape of a thin, light formula that will allow some natural skin to show to a more ‘full coverage’ product that creates an opaque finish.”
But the expansiveness of the offerings on the market has created a problem: There are so many different options—Sephora currently has 260 foundations on their website and Target’s got 293—that sussing out what to use for your particular skin concerns can feel like a daunting task. To help you select the right one, we broke down the benefits of every type of foundation there is, and which you should be adding to your collection to celebrate the golden age of even-complected glory.
Best for combination skin: water-based liquid
Water-based foundations are like the little black dress of the beauty world: they’re great for everyone. Formulas have hydrating ingredients that make dry skin happy, and the fact that they’re oil-free means they’re breathable and won’t clog pores, making them safe for oily and acne-prone skin. These formulas generally offer a wide variety of coverage levels and finishes, so you can pick and choose what works best with your skin’s needs.
Best for longwear: silicone-based liquid
Longwear makeup prevails from first thing in the morning to well past your second happy hour martini. Silicones help to lock the product into place so that you don’t even need to use a primer. These formulas tend to be oil free so they don’t slip and slide or melt off, no matter how sweaty or greasy you get. These options give you opaque, matte and can help to hide any shine that happens throughout the day.
Best for acne: salicylic-acid infused formulas
Salicylic acid has long been a staple in anti-acne skin care, and its pimple-fighting power extends to makeup, too. In addition to providing coverage for zits, foundations that are infused with this beta-hydroxy acid dislodge gunk from your pores and clear away dead skin cells. When shopping for an acne-friendly foundation, it’s also important to look for something water-based (AKA oil-free) that won’t clog pores even further.
Best for discoloration: CC cream
The “CC” in “CC Cream” stands for “color correcting,” making it the obvious best choice for evening out pigmentation issues like redness and dark spots. These products tend to function as skin-care-makeup hybrids that brighten and hydrate skin while also evening skin tone. Look for an option with SPF, which will help protect from sun damage-induced dark spots in your future.
Best for oily skin: pressed powder
By nature, powder foundations are more drying than liquids, which means they’re going to be your best bet for mattifying oily skin. But just because pressed powders are effective at doing away with shine, doesn’t mean they’ll leave you looking caked and creased. Their pigments sit on top of skin, which means that as long as you apply a good moisturizer underneath, your complexion will continue to look hydrated throughout the day. Pressed powder formulas also offer flexible, buildable coverage, which means you can decide on a daily basis if you’re in the mood for a heavier look or want to stick with something more sheer.
Best for sensitive skin: loose powder
Mineral foundations use actual minerals like iron, titanium, and zinc to make up their pigments, and are free of allergy-inducing filler ingredients like fragrance and preservatives. Any skin that’s easily irritated, then, can benefit from these formulas. “Dry mineral formulas are my favorite, as the minerals lay flat on the skin but still allow the skin to ‘breathe’ through them,” says Mundt. These formulas are also non-comedogenic, which means all pores will be happy and healthy with them.
Best for dry skin: tinted moisturizer
Tinted moisturizer offers the best of both skin-care and makeup. It’s got nourishing ingredients that dry skin will drink right up, plus just enough pigment to even out skin tone and provide sheer coverage. It’s ultra light and won’t cake onto your face, and will leave your complexion dewy and hydrated.
Best for sheer coverage: Tinted facial oil
Kosas Tinted Facial Oil is the first and only of its kind, and is the farthest from feeling like an actual foundation of anything on this list. If you’re more of a “barely there” makeup person, this formula will give your complexion a sheer swathe of color while nourishing it with botanical ingredients. You can put it on with your fingers, and it melts into your skin to give it a natural-looking dewiness that will make it seem like you’re wearing nothing at all.
Best for full coverage: Foundation stick
Foundation sticks have more heavily concentrated pigments than their powder and liquid cousins. These foundations tend to go on ultra-thick, but warm to skin to become ultra-blendable so that you can build them to the level of coverage you want. The stick form allows you to create more targeted application—almost like coloring with a crayon—which is helpful when it comes to concealing individual spots or pimples because you can apply more product only to the places you need it.
Turns out, we’ve all been living a lie, because foundation isn’t actually bad for skin. Plus, how to tell if you need light, medium, or heavy coverage.
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