Finding your perfect foundation match is much more difficult than it should be.
You can spend a fortune on finding the best foundation, but not a single brand – from budget to designer – will look right until you find the correct foundation shade and tone for your skin.
READ NEXT: The best foundation for all skin types
As a guide, you’ll know when you’ve got a perfect foundation match when you are able to apply it to only parts of your face without it being obvious.
In our How to apply foundation like a pro, our resident makeup artist Victoria Howe explains – as part of our Ask the MUA series – that if you have to apply foundation all over your face to balance out the colour, you’ve got the wrong shade and tone.
The first place to start when looking at foundation types and brands is to identify your skin tone, which is notoriously the most difficult part.
Undertones fall into three categories – warm, cool and neutral – and choosing a foundation with the wrong undertone is what causes your face to look yellow or orange, or white as a ghost when applied. So how can you tell which of these three categories you fall into?
In natural lighting, look at the veins on your wrist.
In natural lighting, put on a piece of gold and silver jewellery at the same time.
In natural lighting, hold a pure white piece of clothing next to your skin, followed by an off-white piece of clothing.
If you have warm skin tone, look for foundations with yellow and peachy undertones.
If you have cool skin tone, your skin better suits makeup with pink/red and blue tones.
If your skin is neutral, a mixture of the two will look great.
This brilliant video from Birchbox helps explain these tests in more detail.
It is always important to try any foundation before you buy it, and most shops and online retailers will be able to provide samples for this once you’ve narrowed down your shade.
They will also be able to help you make these selections. Alternatively, you can carry on reading to find out how to match foundation to your skin online.
Foundation match sites, such as Findation, work by comparing the similarity between brands. For example, if you know your match in Smashbox or MAC, the site will tell you what Estee Lauder foundation you need.
You can add a single foundation, or multiple types, and the site will build a picture of what your skin tone is before making suggestions. The more types you add, the more accurate the suggestions. The downside is that if you’re yet to find a foundation match, you won’t have a point of reference.
With Temptalia’s foundation matrix , you start from scratch. By manually inputting information about your undertones and how fair your skin is, the site will given you a foundation match.
Of course, the accuracy depends on the information you input, and the exact foundation colour match you need can change throughout the year. In summer, if you spend a lot of time in the sun, your skin might tan or become freckly (make sure you’re reducing the chances of this by wearing SPF if you want to avoid age spots when you’re older!). In this case, you will need a different shade of foundation.
What started out as foundation match app, Slapp has since expanded to be an online makeup comparison and shopping site. However, it’s stayed true to its original mission and offers a way to get an exact match by uploading a selfie. It was set up by fashion and beauty journalist Jamila Robertson, and it uses technology to recognise your skin tone before recommending which foundations will suit you best.
Almost all major makeup brands now offer tools that help you find a foundation match. Of course, they only recommend their own foundation shades but once you’ve successfully matched to an individual brand, you can use the likes of Findation or Slapp to find the matching shade in other foundation ranges.
We’ve tried many, many, many foundation match quizzes and tools but the best, most accurate has been Il Makiage’s Power Match algorithm.
If you haven’t heard of Il Makiage, it’s a cult makeup brand from New York that recently launched in the UK.
With the launch, it brought its machine learning Power Match makeup quiz and, through the use of a bespoke algorithm, the foundation finder can find your perfect shade with a 90% accuracy rate.
This quiz asks you a series of questions before recommending one of the company’s 50 shades, and it does this without ever looking at a selfie. The brand can also recommend concealers that pair perfectly with your recommended shade.
Having typically struggled to find a shade that suits us, this tool nailed it however, at 90% accurate there will of course be 10% of recommendations that don’t hit the mark.
This is why Il Makiage lets you try any recommended shade for a matter of weeks before giving you the option of trying another shade. If it does mismatch your tone, you can return the foundation or swap it for free.Take the Il Makiage quiz
Urban Decay offers a great online Find my Shade quiz that helps you find a foundation match, but (unsurprisingly) it will only match you to an Urban Decay Stay Naked foundation.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, we’re big fans of this foundation – particularly for dark skin tones – but it is pricey.
The video below explains more about using the quiz and you can discover your Urban Decay shade here.Take the Urban Decay quiz
The MAC Foundation Finder tool approaches finding a foundation match a little differently. You have to manually choose whether your skin is Light, Light to Medium, Medium, Medium to Dark, Dark or Deep Dark before selecting a selfie, from a row of images, of a person whose skin most closely resembles yours.
This is definitely quicker and more simple than other foundation matching tools but puts more emphasis on you knowing whether you’re dark vs deep dark, or whether your undertone is golden or rosy.
Either way, once you make a selection you will be shown your selfie choice and you can either swipe right to see a lighter shade, or swipe left to see a darker one.
Under each image are the most appropriate shades across MACs base makeup range including its Studio Fix Fluid, Studio Fix Powder and Studio Waterweight foundation.
These offer Full, Medium-To-Full and Sheer-to-Medium coverage, respectively.Take the MAC quiz
Many beauty counters in shops and department stores will not only advise you or your shade and tone but will give you a small sample pot of foundation which allows you to try before you buy.
These samples are not only great for helping you determine if the tone is right, but you can check the foundation’s coverage, consistency and staying power.
This is great if you have the time, and the confidence, to go to a beauty counter but many of us don’t and we rely on buying foundations online which can be even more difficult.
That’s where Feelunique comes in. The site offers a Try Me service which means that when you buy any foundation from the site, it will include a matching sample pot.
If you decide the shade or texture isn’t right, you can return the unopened, full-size product and get your money back within 31 days. This promotion is only for customers in the UK. We love Feelunique because it very often sells many of our favourite products at a discounted price and it’s worth keeping an eye on our makeup sale page for the best bargains.
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Abigail is a leading science journalist writing about space, sustainability, technology and culture. She is author of The Art of Urban Astronomy, a must-have guide to the night sky that guides you through the seasons and learn about the brightest stars and constellations, the myths and legends of astronomy and how to identify star clusters and galaxies.