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Secrets to Finding Your Perfect Foundation and Shade Match

By Elise Marquam-Jahns January 21, 2024 Beauty

I once heard someone say that doing our makeup without foundation is like painting without first applying a base coat. It can work, but the end result won’t be nearly as good. And I certainly would agree with that assessment.

As a makeup artist who specializes in working with those of us over 50, one of the questions I am asked most often is “What foundation should I buy?” And it’s not surprising that this question comes up so frequently because finding our best foundation is so important to looking our best.

In fact, one of the four things that ages us the most is an uneven skin tone, and foundation not only evens out our skin tone but also smooth the texture of our skin. But the wrong foundation can make us look washed out, ashy or yellow.

On the other hand, choosing the right foundation can be overwhelming because there are literally hundreds of choices – with often 10 to 20 different foundation options in just one brand. As a result, finding the right foundation and shade can be a little like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

So, in today’s article and video I’ll share some questions you need to answer before you begin your search.

#1: What Is Your Skin Type?

The first thing you need to consider is your skin type: is your skin dry, oily, or a combination? Most brands have foundations that specifically meet the needs of each of these different skin types.

#2: What Is Your Skin Tone?

Is your skin fair, i.e., the very lightest, most porcelain shade. It also usually means that you burn easily and have light or red hair. Is your skin tone light, that is, fair but with a little more color? If your skin tone is medium, it means tan. And dark includes the deepest range of skin tones.

#3: How Much Coverage Do You Want?

Are you interested in very light coverage, more of a medium coverage or full coverage? Often, medium coverage foundations are buildable so a little more can be applied to certain areas of your face where you need more coverage.

If you want medium coverage, you can always use a concealer – which provides more coverage than foundation – to “spot” conceal areas of your face that need more coverage. And something else that can be helpful to know is that any foundation can be made sheerer by mixing it with your favorite moisturizer or applying it with a dampened makeup sponge.

Full coverage provides the greatest amount of coverage but doesn’t necessarily translate into “cakey” because foundations have come a long way since the days of Max Factor pancake makeup. Still, keep in mind that full coverage is not necessarily the answer for uneven texture like acne scars or Rosacea.

Sometimes it can make the texture of the skin appear more raised and uneven. Using a silicone based moisturizer or face primer to smooth out the surface of the complexion before applying foundation can sometimes be helpful.

#4: What Type of Finish Do You Want?

A matte finish is one which is evenly smooth, shine-free and makes the skin look poreless. All skin types can use a matte foundation, but it works especially well for those with combination or oily skin.

Some good matte foundations include: Estee Lauder Double Wear, L’Oreal Infallible Pro Matte Liquid Longwear Foundation, and Maybelline Fit Me Matte + Poreless Oil Free Foundation.

One that’s termed a “natural finish” – which is close to matte – is Catrice’s True Skin Hydrating Foundation.

A satin finish is a perfect balance between a matte foundation and a dewy looking foundation. There’s some radiance, but not as much as a dewy finish provides. Some examples of foundations with a satin finish are Stila’s Hide and Chic, Maybelline’s Dream Satin Liquid, Anastasia of Beverly Hills’ Luminous Foundation.

A dewy finish is one which creates a natural sheen, high shine or radiant glow. Some examples of this finish are Maybelline’s Fit Me Dewy Foundation, Armani’s Luminous Silk Glow Flawless Foundation, and Nars’ Sheer Glow.

Be sure to check out Elise’s YouTube channel which specifically focuses on makeup tips, techniques, and product reviews for those of us 50+. Don’t forget to subscribe!

#5: Do You Want an SPF in Your Foundation?

Many foundations come with an SPF of 15 which really isn’t enough to provide adequate sun protection. But there are a number of foundations on the market which provide a stronger SPF. Since SPF in a foundation can sometimes be irritating to certain skin types, it is important to check out if there is an SPF in the foundation you’re considering.

#6: What Is the Undertone of Your Skin?

A warm skin undertone has a yellow cast to it and a cool undertone has more of a pink cast. If you’re someone with a neutral undertone, you land somewhere in between and have a wider choice of color options.

If you’re not sure of the undertone of your skin, it is important to find out since it not only makes a difference when choosing foundation, but it also makes a huge difference when choosing blush and lipstick colors.

Wearing colors that work the best with our skin undertone makes a dramatic difference in how good we look because the right colors for our skin undertone literally make our skin come “alive.” The wrong colors for our skin undertone can make us look tired and older.

#7: What Foundation Formula Do You Want to Use?

Powder foundation works best for combination or oily skin and can sometimes make dry skin look flaky or even drier. Liquids and creams can even work well for oily skin and sensitive skin if the formula is oil-free. For dry or combination skin, a formulation that includes oil will usually work just fine.

Some Additional Helpful Tips

And here are a few additional tips to keep in mind:

Do Get Samples

Being able to take a sample home gives you the opportunity to see what the foundation looks like in different kinds of light, see how long-lasting it is and whether you have any sensitivities to the product.

Read Reviews

Other people’s reviews can be helpful if you want to know the pros and cons of any foundation. And if there’s any type of age range listed for the reviewer, pay special attention to the reviews written by older women since we all face many of the same issues related to choosing foundation as we get older.

Application Matters

A good buffing brush helps to really smooth out the foundation making it look seamless. Using a damp makeup sponge to blend out the foundation can help sheer it out and add moisture. But be aware that applying the foundation directly to the sponge – rather than dotting it on the face with the fingers and then using the sponge to blend out the foundation – can mean that you’ll be using more foundation since the sponge definitely absorbs some of the foundation.

Tips for Choosing Your Best Foundation Shade

Once you’ve answered all the questions above and found a foundation you like, the next challenge is to find a perfect shade match to your skin with that foundation. Knowing that you have light or medium toned skin, for instance, will be the first step in narrowing down your choices.

And once you know the undertone of your skin, you’ll be able to identify the shades in that foundation that will work for you. Most makeup brands have a letter C, N or W on their foundations which indicates whether the shade is a cool color, neutral color or warm color.

Tips for Testing the Shade

If at all possible, test the shades in person at a makeup counter. This is a much more reliable method of ensuring that you’ll find the perfect shade match.

Exfoliate Before Testing

You’ll always want to test the shade on bare skin that has been prepped for makeup in the manner you’d normally prep your skin before any makeup application. Exfoliating the skin the day before or the day you’ll be testing foundations can also be helpful.


The lighting you test foundation under can also be crucial. Natural light is by far the best, so if you’re at a makeup counter, ask if you can take a mirror and stand by an outside entrance to get a better look at the makeup. And better yet, ask for samples that you can take home and test.

Don’t Test Too Many

Try to narrow your choice down to two to four foundations before actually testing them on your skin. And when you do test them, apply the foundation to the bottom of your cheek and onto your neck in parallel stripes.

Once you have it narrowed down to a couple of shades, apply each shade on a larger area of your face. The perfect shade will blend seamlessly into your skin since foundation is the one rare makeup product that you don’t want to be able to see.

If possible, you’ll want to keep it on for a few hours because some foundations can oxidize and change color a bit when in open air. The color can also change slightly because of your personal skin pH and chemistry.

Season Matters

The time of year you’re purchasing the foundation can also be important since our skin tone can vary throughout the year. What’s a good match in the winter may not work as well in the summer. You can always, of course, buy two different foundations – one that works for you when your skin is lighter during the winter and one that works better in the summer.

Or, sometimes you can get away with a shade that’s not quite right if you sheer it out a bit with a makeup sponge. And then there’s always the option of mixing one or more shades together to create the shade that’s a perfect match… or a near-perfect match.

Choosing a Foundation Online

But what do we do if we’re unable to try out foundations in person and must purchase our makeup online? Well, thank goodness many brands are now doing a better job of actually describing each foundation color on their website.

Many brands and sites like Sephora also have a foundation “quiz” they’ll walk you through on their site or a “Foundation Finder” where you’re asked to answer a few questions which filter down the number of possible foundation choices.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Have you had to change foundations in the past few years because your skin has changed? What are some of the challenges you’ve had in finding a foundation that’s right for you? Have you found a foundation that works really well for you? If so, please let us know what it is and what you like about it.

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There’s another important consideration when I buy cosmetics. Have they banned animal testing? I look for the blue rabbit symbol for cosmetics such as Cover Girl that don’t use animals in testing their products.

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Roxanne–Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this with us. In the description box of each of my YouTube videos I include a list of the makeup brands that aren’t cruelty free so viewers can easily check this out.

Jo Kennedy

When I read these articles that recommend products, I never see anything about MAC cosmetics. I use their foundation and I like it very much. I was told by a friend who has a daughter who is a model, that lots of models use MAC. It is good, and not overpriced. Your thoughts?

Elise Marquam Jahns

Hi, Jo–Yes, MAC definitely has some great products. I’ve heard really good things about some of their newer products recently and of course they’ve always had an amazing array of different lipstick options. So glad to hear you’re enjoying their foundation.

The Author

Elise Marquam-Jahns is a professional makeup artist who is passionate about helping women 50+ get their glow back. She is the founder of Boomer and Beyond Beauty and runs the “Boomer and Beyond Beauty with Elise” YouTube channel. Elise has authored the free guide The Top Four Research-Proven Makeup Techniques That Help Us Look Our Best Now.

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