Photographed by Janelle Jones.
Foundation is one of those notoriously hard beauty products to shop for. Like picking out jeans or bras, the process takes time, commitment, and patience. The trial-and-error situation gets even harder when you only have a handful of choices — all of which are typically nowhere near your actual complexion shade.
Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality for women of color. There’s a whole spectrum of “fair” shades on the market, while those with more melanin are left choosing between “tan” and “brown.” (And, don’t even get us started on “one shade fits all.”)
But in 2018, makeup brands are finally getting the memo. We need more shades! It seems like every other day a brand is launching a new foundation range or adding more shades to an existing lineup. “Many brands are offering shade extensions catering to a much wider range of skin tones and complexions,” says makeup artist
Jennifer Fleming. “As the world continues to become more blended, there will always be work to do.” Bobbi Brown, CoverGirl, and Dior or all advertising their 40-plus shade counts — it’s what we like to call the Fenty effect. But if it means we can walk into a Sephora and have options, we don’t care who started the frenzy. We’re just happy that diversity has finally hit the foundation counter in a meaningful way.
Ahead, get foundation-picking wisdom from the pros, along with their go-to brands for women of color.
There is a lot of product out there — some would say too much. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team, but if you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.
Fenty, Fenty, Fenty. It’s the word that’s been on everyone’s lips since the brand launched in fall 2017. Consumers shout the name in praise, and competitors whisper it in curses. The debut collection started an industry-wide upheaval with a 40-shade foundation range. The full-coverage formula is especially
popular among Black and Latina customers, who have struggled for years to find a perfect foundation fit. FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation, $34, available at Sephora
After giving Too Faced some tough feedback about its foundation shades, Jackie Aina signed on to help the brand with a much-needed update. This summer the Born This Way foundation formula got 11 new shades (nine of which were designed by Aina to cater to deeper skin tones). And of course, the darkest hue was a sell-out hit. “Most of my audience comes to me as the authority for dark-skinned beauty. I didn’t want to let anyone down,” Aina told
Refinery29 in a previous interview. “I didn’t want to come out with shades just for the sake of coming out with them. I genuinely looked at everything that existed in the line, and I tried to identify where the gaps were.” Too Faced Born This Way Foundation, $39, available at Sephora
This creamy foundation — which comes in 26 shades — delivers one of the most natural-looking finishes we’ve seen from a stick formula.
Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick, $46, available at Sephora.
This creamy foundation is a makeup artist and editor favorite for good reason. Not only does it have excellent medium-to-full coverage, the finish is extremely natural.
For those (like me) who are wondering how to find your perfect match, Sir John shares this application trick: “If you put your foundation near your jawline and it matches your neck and your décolletage area, then you’re in a good place.”
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation, $64, available at Sephora.
Kat Von D just added 13 new shades to her Lock-It Foundation range, making it easy to score your perfect hue — sans mixing.
Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation, $35, available at Kat Von D Beauty.
This line of classic mineral foundations was recently expanded by 12 shades, so you can find your unique color without excess trial-and-error. If you dig mineral makeup that smooths on to a creamy finish, this is your pick.
BareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15, $28.50, available at BareMinerals.
“The shade range is the real star of this foundation line,” says celebrity makeup artist
Tasha Reiko Brown. The foundation also boasts some big benefits for oily skin types by providing medium coverage and mattifying without settling into lines or looking heavy. “The undertones are spot-on and you get a lot of pigment in a lovely texture. The coverage is buildable and sheers out easily when mixed with moisturizer,” she adds.
Black Up Mattifying Fluid Foundation, $41.50, available at Black Up.
This full-coverage foundation never looks cakey on the skin, thanks to a healthy boost of jojoba esters and sunflower-seed wax in its formula.
Marc Jacobs Re(marc)able Full Cover Foundation Concentrate, $55, available at Sephora.
Iman — yes,
that iconic Iman — has made it part of her mission to bring a more complete range of colors to her namesake cosmetics line. We suggest this creamy powder foundation: It’s lightweight and you can easily build the coverage as needed.
Iman Cream to Powder Foundation, $9.99, available at Target.
There are long-lasting foundations that slough off on your collar/scarf/significant other pretty much immediately. Then there’s this 24-hour workhorse, which sticks around until you choose to wash it off. Also? Even though the formula is heavy-duty, the matte and oil-free finish is completely elegant.
Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra 24H Foundation, $47, available at Sephora.
MAC’s Studio Fix Fluid SPF 15 foundation is renowned for not only helping to control oil throughout the day, but also for delivering a matte finish in a whopping 35 shades.
MAC Studio Fix Fluid Foundation, $27, available at MAC.
This completely lightweight foundation finishes matte (like your dream skin) and is available in 26 different shades, that play to undertones as well. So, if you know you have dark golden undertones to your skin or you have a hint of a warm undertone in there, there is a shade for you.
Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup, $40, available at Sephora.
Becca is well-known for its shade varieties when it comes to foundation. And the Ultimate Coverage Complexion Crème is a full-coverage foundation that doesn’t feel like one — basically, what everyone is looking for. If your skin tone is between shades, choose a shade lighter because of the full-coverage pigments. Or, you can always mix and match.
Becca Cosmetics Ultimate Coverage Complexion Crème, $44, available at Becca Cosmetics.
— SPONSORED — Laura Mercier’s Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation comes in a whopping 24 shades. The foundation itself is ultra-flattering with a formula that builds from sheer to medium, depending on your preference. It also contains pearly bits of mica to lend a lit-from-within (albeit not over-the-top sparkly) glow to your skin. (Pro tip: To give your foundation extra staying power, use a powder puff to press and roll a translucent loose setting powder over top, slowly working the powder into your skin.) Laura Mercier Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation, $48, available at Laura Mercier
The one product
makeup artist Sir John swears up and down by is NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer. “No matter the complexion, it’s something I use on everyone, from Karlie Kloss to Naomi [Campbell],” he says. “It runs the gamut color-wise, and it doesn’t look like makeup on the skin. The consistency is medium-to-buildable, so you can even sheer it out with some moisturizer, and then build your coverage.” NARS Radiant Creamy Concealer, $30, available at NARS Photo: Via NARS.
Fleming says that since those with darker skin tend to be on the oilier side, a lightweight foundation can be a good option. “Skin type is definitely a factor to consider when perfecting the pretty,” she says. One of her faves: CoverGirl’s Queen Collection All Day Flawless. “The color payoff is rich, giving great coverage with a lightweight feel. It is a one-stop shop, combining foundation, concealer, and powder in one easy step.”
COVERGIRL Queen Collection All Day Flawless Foundation, $11.29, available at COVERGIRL Photo: Via CoverGirl.
If you’re willing to splurge a bit more for the perfect coverage, Sir John says Tom Ford has amazing shades for women of color. “Both the stick and the liquid foundation called Traceless are genius,” he raves. “He’s quite a modern man, and he uses multicultural and multiethnic women in his advertisements and shows. So, he took that global perspective…to start a cosmetics brand, which I can applaud.”
Tom Ford Beauty Traceless Foundation SPF 15, $80, available at Tom Ford Photo: Via Tom Ford Beauty.
If you’re looking for fuller coverage, opt for Make Up For Ever’s Ultra HD foundation. “This product is great…you can be anywhere within a shade or two of this foundation’s range, and it just blends in,” Sir John says. “It’s water-based, not oily, and won’t clog the pores or sit in the skin.”
He adds that today’s options aren’t the foundations of our moms and grandmothers. “Even if you’re super oily or dry, the products nowadays are skin-care based and have a philosophy of skin at the core.”
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation, $43, available at Sephora.
If you’re going to go with a drugstore brand, Sir John recommends Black Opal (although he says
Iman’s line is great as well) to get the best payoff for your dollar.
At the end of the day, it’s not just about finding the right foundation — you have to know what to do with it. Sir John suggests creating dimension in the face. “When you put on foundation, it sort of wipes the face clean,” he says. “And, your goal as a makeup artist is to bring it back. You’re going to be playing chemist, highlighting and low-lighting — you’re going to lend your artistry to a slight contouring effect.” This means focusing on the darker areas: the hollows of the cheeks, around the hairline, and near the eyeball sockets.
Black Opal True Color Creme to Powder Foundation SPF15, $9.5, available at Black Opal Photo: Via Black Opal.
If you still can’t find the exact right shade of foundation (or your skin tone fluctuates slightly by season), these drops are a godsend. Use them to alter the tone of another foundation that isn’t quite right. “You can [also] customize your level of coverage by mixing a few drops into your serum or moisturizer,” makeup artist Tasha Reiko Brown says. “And because you can mix it into a water, oil or silicone-based product, it’s wearable for any skin type.”
Cover FX Custom Color Drops, $44, available at Sephora
Reiko Brown’s top choice for a light-coverage foundation that delivers a glowing finish? This hydrating formula, which is perfectly suited for dry or mature skin. She also loves the comprehensive spectrum of shades — including half shades — which help ensure a perfect match. “This is the most complete color range on the market,” she says. “The color range is from light caramel to the deepest mahogany, and the undertones shift appropriately throughout the range.”
Bobbi Brown Moisture Rich Foundation SPF 15, $50, available at Nordstrom.
With a natural finish and lightweight feel, this 27-color collection is essential for summer. Bonus: A little bit goes a long way, so this stuff should last you all season long.
Clinique Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer, $28, available at Sephora.
Lancôme is famous for offering lines with plenty of options for all skin tones, which is why we love the brand so much. With 32 shades and the easiest applicator ever, this full-coverage stick foundation is a must-have.
Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Foundation Stick SPF 21, $42, available at Sephora.
“I wanted to skip learning how to use concealer and foundation, so I started using this — and I love it!” Refinery29 writer Judith Ohikuare reports.
Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20, $44, available at Sephora.
Celebrity makeup artist
Mylah Morales, who works with Rihanna, uses this base to tackle under-eye circles, too. “And is not drying on the skin!” she says.
Kevyn Aucoin The Sensual Skin Enhancer, $48, available at Sephora.
“I swear this stuff was manufactured by magical fairies,” beauty writer Khalea Underwood says. “It’s not a full-coverage formula, but a few dabs somehow rases most of my blemishes. And the finish is so, so pretty.”
NARS Velvet Matte Skin Tint, $45, available at Sephora.
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