We’ve all gone shopping for a nice new foundation only to find later that it doesn’t suit our skin. It’s especially hard if you’re one of the many people who’s skin tone isn’t one of the eight shades of beige that most foundations seem to come in.
The first time this happened to me was at a MAC store in New York when I was 18. I’d actually never worn foundation before and trusted the makeup artist to match me correctly. But when I got back to the UK and tried it on, it just didn’t look right. It seemed to give my skin a sallow, unhealthy cast.
I’d been matched in the store as NC20 when (I discovered later) my correct shade is actually NW10. The one I bought was both too dark and the wrong tone! I’m a very pale freckly redhead with a pinkish undertone so no wonder it looked wrong.
At the time I was studying media makeup so I beat myself up about the fact I’d let myself buy the wrong foundation. Especially as my student pennies were precious and MAC doesn’t come cheap!
So if you’ve had a similar experience and don’t want to repeat it, here’s my guide to getting your best foundation match.
Check your undertone
Before you head out to the shops you need to figure out if your undertone is warm, cool or neutral. This will help you a great deal once your in store looking at foundations and chatting to sales staff. You’ll be able to narrow down which colours are for you and which ones aren’t. If you’re not sure what your undertone is, you can use my guide to finding your undertone.
Where to test foundation
Over the years I’ve heard people suggest testing foundations everywhere from the neck to the back of your hand. In my experience through, I’ve always found the jawline works best for most people. After all, you wear foundation on your face so why would you test it anywhere else? Your jawline is close to your neck so it means you can make sure that the colour blends well to your skin tone there too.
Test more than one shade
Pick out the colour you think is right for you and test it on your jawline. But don’t stop there – try out the colours on either side of that shade too. It’s easier to know if a colour is right if you have something to compare it to.
Finding the right light
I can’t stress enough how important it is to check the foundation in good light before you buy. Artificial lighting in stores can really affect the the way colours look. If it’s too cool it will give a blue cast to your skin while if it’s too warm your skin will look yellow.
On top of this, some shops are really gloomy, making it difficult to even differentiate between shades while others have dazzlingly bright light to make all the bright and sparkly products look more enticing but doesn’t usually help you to colour match well.
The way around this is to actually leave the store and find some better light. Once you’ve tried the foundations on your jawline, head outside with a mirror.
Checking in natural daylight is by far the best way to get an accurate colour match. If you feel embarrassed leaving a counter mid sale or looking in a mirror out in the street then just remind yourself of the money you’re saving by getting the right shade.
If you’re at a counter with a salesperson, they should (hopefully) understand that lighting is important. Remember that you’re under no obligation to buy if the product isn’t right for you.
Even once you’re outside the weather can affect how your skin tone appears. On a cloudy day the light is evenly distributed and shadows are softened. That makes it easy to see if the foundation matches both your face and neck. But if it’s a sunny day, particular in summer when the sun is high, there can be a dramatic contrast between the light as it hits your face and the shadow that’s created under your chin. If that’s the case, find a patch of open shade to do your mirror check.
Find the most even light
Even once you’re outside the weather can affect how your skin tone appears. On a cloudy day the light is evenly distributed and shadows are softened. That makes it easy to see if the foundation matches both your face and neck.
But if it’s a sunny day, particular in summer when the sun is high, there can be a dramatic contrast between the light as it hits your face and the shadow that’s created under your chin. If that’s the case, find a patch of open shade to do your mirror check.
How to know if the colour is right
So you have your three test patches of foundation and you’re outside with your mirror. You’ll know which one (if any) is a match because it will disappear into your skin. If you see three stripes of colour on your chin then none are correct but you can use them to work out if you need to go lighter, darker or a different tone.
Changes in skin tone
If you live in a seasonal climate and your skin tone changes throughout the year (or when you go on holiday) then the same foundation won’t work for you all year round.
In that case you’ll need to buy one shade for when your tanned in summer and one for when it’s faded in winter. That means that in between, when your tan is fading, you can mix the two shades together (makeup artists do this all the time).
It might sound extravagant to buy two but most foundations have a shelf life of 2 years once opened.