The Best Foundations
How We Found The Best Foundations
4 experts interviewed
737 foundations considered
3 top picks
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
The Best Foundations: Summed Up
How We Chose the Best Foundations
No questionable ingredients
When it comes to the wellness world as a whole, controversy rages around many ingredients and their potential long-term effects. Nearly every ingredient we looked at had been denounced by at least a few voices. We cut harmful ingredients proven to have a negative effect on the skin, including heavy metals like chromium and lead, formaldehyde releasers, retinoids, simple alcohols, and pore-cloggers like paraffin, mineral oil, and phthalates.
We also took a close look at fragrance. Dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka explained that “while fragrances don't bother everyone, they do have the potential for allergic reactions and skin irritations.” Since we can’t confirm what’s in those fragranced formulas, we don’t feel confident recommending them and we cut anything with “fragrance” as an ingredient.
Finally, we cut any products with SPF. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a minimum SPF 30 to protect from harmful UV rays. But even if your foundation does have SPF 30, you’ll have to wear a lot of it and endure a “sunscreen-y tinge” to actually receive any benefit from it. You’d need to apply at least half a teaspoon of foundation, which is way too much product for most faces.
Inclusive shade offerings
Women of color are notoriously underrepresented in the beauty industry, but there is simply no excuse for a lack of diversity in shades. To figure out which formulas have a broad, inclusive shade range, we evaluated each formula’s shade offerings. Any with fewer than six shades were eliminated immediately. Then, using the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale, we found the industry’s average number of shades for three different categories — “light,” “medium,” and “dark” — and cut anything with a below average score in any category. To ensure options for darker skin, we made sure the formulas we passed were above average in either medium shades or dark shades (preferably both).
The best foundation should be easy to use, with well-designed packaging that doesn’t encourage bacterial growth or slow down your morning routine. We scrutinized product photos, user reviews, and makeup tutorial videos to see what the packaging for each product was like. We cut anything with packaging that involves contaminating the entirety of the product in the container (think: tubs), forces you to apply a contaminated applicator to your face, or forces you to use a brand-new spatula with each application in order to ensure hygienic application.
While talking to makeup artists about what defines an excellent foundation, the same features kept resurfacing: easy to apply, flawless finish, and comfortable wear. To find out which formulas would hold up flawlessly throughout 8-12 hour long days, we tried out all 22 of our finalists with our team of office volunteers. Testers ranged from near-makeup novices to bonafide beauty aficionados, but the goal for everyone was the same: to find out which products were mess-free, smoothly blendable, transfer- and fade-proof, and breathable. We scored every formula for its packaging, blendability, wear time, and coverage. Testers put the foundations through transfer tests, wore them through long work days, nights out, gym workouts, and weekend adventures. The best held up with flawless, breathable coverage through rainy Seattle weather, while the worst dried out skin and became flaky or clumpy.
Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Foundation
All Day Wear
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.
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
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
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.
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 into a smooth and even look.”
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
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.
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
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.”
More Face Care Reviews
Your face is the first thing people see when they meet you; of course you want it to look its best. Check out these reviews to find out more on the best products for keeping your face hydrated and dewy: