The Best Foundations

Foundation can make you feel frustrated and self-conscious if it’s too oily, too drying, or fades before lunchtime. The best foundation offers a generous shade range, has budge-proof coverage, and gives your skin a flawlessly even finish. We talked to dermatologists and makeup artists, and spent weeks testing products, to find the best foundations for every face,

The 3 Best Foundations

Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Foundation

Best for
All Day Wear

Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation
Estée Lauder
Medium to full coverage
Matte finish
Wide range of shades, widely available
Pros
Wide range of shades
Transfer-resistant
Medium to full coverage
Cons
No pump packaging

Why we chose it

Wide range of shades

Estée Lauder’s Double Wear Stay-In-Place has 36 shades—the most of any of our picks—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.

Transfer-resistant

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.”

Medium to full coverage

The all-matte coverage starts out medium, but is buildable up to full coverage. 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. If matte finishes aren’t your favorite, we’d recommend looking at the dewier Stellar Limitless Foundation instead.

Points to consider

No-pump packaging

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.

Stellar Limitless Foundation

Best for
Smooth Finish

Stellar Limitless Foundation
Stellar
Medium to full coverage
Satin finish
Comfortable wear, transfer-resistant, cruelty-free
Pros
Focus on medium tones
Dewy Texture
Cruelty-free
Cons
Online only
Plastic bottle

Why we chose it

Focus on medium tones

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. This foundation comes in 35 different shades, with a special focus on medium tones.

Dewy texture

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. It looks a little dewy and I was able to easily blend it in to a smooth and even look.”

Cruelty-free

As a plus for animal lovers, the entire brand is vegan and cruelty-free. It’s also formulated without parabens, sulfates, phthalates, fragrance, and mineral oil, making it worth trying if you have sensitive skin.

Points to consider

Online only

The Stellar line is only available online, exclusively through Sephora. This is frustrating if, like us, you want to physically make sure a product matches your skin before purchasing. Currently, Stellar doesn’t offer samples online or in-stores, but that may change as the brand develops.

Plastic bottle

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 points are deal breakers 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.

Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation

Best for
Full Coverage

Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation
Kat Von D
Full coverage
Matte finish
Comfortable wear, transfer-resistant, cruelty-free
Pros
Intense, lasting coverage
Good span of shades
Cons
Hard to open

Why we chose it

Intense, lasting coverage

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. 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. 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.

Good span of shades

This formula comes in 32 shades — second highest after Estée Lauder — that span equally across light, medium, and dark skin tones. An excellent choice for anyone who wants full, matte coverage that won’t feel heavy on your skin. For those who prefer powder foundation, you can also get similar full coverage (although not in as many shades) from Kat Von D Lock-It Powder Foundation.

Vegan and cruelty-free

Kat Von D products are not tested on animals and are completely free of animal-derived ingredients. They even avoid common ingredients like beeswax and carmine, a red dye made from beetles, opting instead for ingredients that don’t harm even the smallest of creatures. All of which makes this foundation a great alternative for vegans and those interested in animal welfare issues.

Points to consider

Hard to open

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. 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.

Guide to Foundations

How to find the right foundation for you

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 away from your skin tone. 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. “See if you can get a sample to take for a few days,” Green suggests, “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. “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.”

If you can’t try out your foundation of choice in-stores, you can try color-matching with online makeup databases like Sephora’s Color IQ system, Temptalia’s Foundation Matrix, Findation, and Ulta’s Shade Finder.

Replace your foundation regularly

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."

Protect your skin

To protect your skin from harmful sun exposure, apply 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.

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.”

Foundations FAQ

Why do I have a hard time finding the right shade for my darker skin?

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.”

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.

How do I contour my face?

You’ll find lots of Youtube videos and directions online for contouring, but it’s not hard to use this pro trick for a more natural face. Start by moisturizing and using a concealer to blot out any blemishes. Apply your foundation as usual, then apply highlighter where light hits most: above your cheekbones, in between your eyebrows, and down the centerline of your chin. Use a foundation or contouring product that’s two shades lighter than your usual foundation. Next, choose a shade of foundation or concealer that’s two shades darker than your skin, and apply it to areas that are more shaded, like under the apples of your cheeks and along your nose. Finally, blend everything thoroughly, blot out any lines between the shades, and finish the look with a setting powder.

How do I keep my foundation from looking cakey?

Start by applying a thin layer of moisturizer first and blending it in well. When applying your foundation, remember that less is more. Many people use too much, and the results can look cakey and theatrical. Start with a portion the size of a small pea—you can always add more. Make sure you’re blending it thoroughly, with a good makeup brush, sponge, or your fingers, so that it doesn’t settle into small creases or wrinkles. If you’re still having problems, try a different product that features a more matte or satin texture, and avoid those that offer full coverage.

Why does my foundation look orange?

Your skin has an undertone. For most people it’s either pink or yellow. If your skin has yellow undertones, a foundation may give your skin an orange cast if the shade has too much pink. The same is true if you have pink undertones: a product with too much yellow will produce a peachy-orange face. The solution? When at all possible, try on products at the makeup counter with the help of a professional makeup artist. They may use the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale, commonly used by dermatologists, aestheticians, and tattoo artists, to determine your true skin type.

Are parabens unsafe?

The push behind paraben-free products largely stems from a 2004 study that found trace amounts of parabens in tumors and called for additional research. But the FDA and EU Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety have not determined any health hazards related to parabens. According to the American Cancer Society, “So far, studies have not shown any direct link between parabens and any health problems, including breast cancer.” The truth is, without preservatives like parabens, beauty products would be breeding grounds for truly harmful bacteria and fungi.

The Best Foundations: Summed Up

Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation
Stellar Limitless Foundation
Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation
Best for All Day Wear
Best for Smooth Finish
Best for Full Coverage
Price
$42.00
$38.00
$36.00
Number of shades
36
35
32
Cruelty-free
Coverage
Medium to full
Medium to full
Full
Finish
Matte
Satin
Matte

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