Editor's Note
  • 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.

Our Picks for the Best Foundation

Best Liquid Foundation

Best Liquid Foundation
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Makeup
Estée Lauder
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.


Available shades. Source: Estée Lauder

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.

Estee Lauder test for Foundation

Estée Lauder Double Wear was the only foundation to have absolutely no transfer during our tests.

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
Stellar Limitless 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.


Available shades. Source: Stellar

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.

Stellar Test for Foundation

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 Lock-It 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.

Kat-Von-D-Lock-It-range for Foundation

Available shades. Source: Kat Von D

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.

Kat Von D Test for Foundation

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 Pro Finish Multi-Use 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.


Available shades. Source: Make Up For Ever

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”

Make Up For Ever Test for Foundation

Make Up For Ever’s Pro Finish Multi-Use Powder Foundation transferred about average as far as powder foundations go.

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 Lock-It 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!”


Available shades. Source: Kat Von D

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.

Kat Von D Powder Test for Foundation

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
Sheamoisture Weightless Shea Serum 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.


Available shades. Source: Sheamoisture

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 Test for Foundation

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
Kokie Professional Skin Perfect HD 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.


Available shades. Source: Kokie

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.”

Kokie Test for Foundation

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
C.Y.O Lifeproof Long Lasting 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.


Available shades. Source: C.Y.O.

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.

CYO Test for Foundation

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.

How to Get 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.

What’s an undertone, and how do I know what mine is?

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.

Mindy Green Makeup artist and Owner of MG Beauty

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