A Complete Guide to Finding Your Foundation Shade Match

Plus, expert-approved tips for choosing the right coverage and finish.

In the past few years, foundation shade offerings have come a long way (and it was about time). Gone are the days of having to settle between a handful of shades only to result in the dreaded mask-like foundation line on your neck. Today's inclusive assortment considers the wide range of skin tones and undertones out there with some brands offering foundations with at least 40-plus shades to choose from. You could say that given the wide array of shades, finishes, and coverage levels available, foundation is just as customizable as your go-to Starbucks order — but that's exactly what makes it one of the toughest makeup products to buy. So to help you out, we turned to celebrity makeup artists Daniel Martin and Allen Avendaño to break down everything you need to consider when shopping for your new go-to foundation.

Keep scrolling for our complete guide to finding the right foundation for your skin tone — and undertones, too.

Figure Out Your Skin Tone

To find your perfect match, start by taking a look at your skin tone. This can range from fair to light to medium to deep with nuances (e.g. light-medium or very deep). Since skin tone can be uneven, use your jawline as the most accurate indicator of your natural complexion.

How to Compare Foundation Shades

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Don't Forget About Your Skin's Undertones

Unless you want to color correct, don't fight against your skin's natural undertones. These can be either warm, cool, or neutral. A quick way to determine this is by taking a look at your veins. If they're purple or blue, you've got cool undertones. Meanwhile, those with green veins have warm undertones. And in case you've got blue-green veins, your undertones are most likely neutral.

If you have a warm complexion, go with a foundation shade that has yellow, gold, or peach undertones. And if your complexion is on the cool side, a foundation with pink undertones is your best bet. Those with neutral undertones should look for a foundation shade with both gold and pink tones.

How To Choose Your Shade

Once you've figured out your skin tone and undertones, it's time to test some shades. Choose those that seem closest to your skin tone and undertones. Then, let the trial and error begin either by trying out the shade on your face or using a swatch.

The Face Method

"Find a spot towards the center of your face and blend out towards the hairline so you match the sides of your cheeks and down the middle of your neck," instructs Martin. "If your neck is lighter than your face and you don't want your face to be as pale, choose one shade lighter than your face so it's comparable. (You can always 'warm up' the face with bronzer if your complexion still appears light.) This way it's not too light or that much warmer than your neck."

The Swatches Method

Sure, there's a lot of space for swatching foundations on your forearm, but the skin on this part of your body is a lot darker than your face. Avendaño says to apply potential shades to your chest to see if they are right. "This doesn't have to be an exact match, but maybe slightly lighter because the color is going to shift throughout the day," he explains. "Foundation oxidizes with wear, and naturally gets darker with the mixture of elements and the oils on your face."

Pro tip: Regardless of which method you choose, both makeup artists say it's important to test foundations in good natural lighting. Of course, this can be hard to achieve when most makeup aisles have less-than-ideal lighting. If possible, try taking a few samples home to test out in natural lighting before committing to a purchase.

Know What Coverage Level You Need

Now that you have your foundation shade, it's time to decide which type of coverage you're after. Understanding the look of every coverage level is the key to picking the right one for your needs. For instance, when you want a long-wear foundation that doesn't require mid-day touch-ups, or have acne or discoloration, opt for a full-coverage foundation. However, Avendaño recommends picking a more sheer foundation when you're not sure exactly what kind of coverage you need. "I always refer people to foundation that is light to medium coverage because it's buildable," he says.

Consider Your Skin Type

Matte or dewy? That's the question to ask before swatching foundation shades. And your skin type is an important factor when it comes to choosing finishes. Martin says that dewy foundations tend to work best on normal to dry skin types. "Too much radiance on this skin type looks even oilier and it's not a good feeling on the face," he explains. Matte foundations are usually more suitable for combination to oily skin types.

Avendaño recommends using a satin finish instead of matte on mature skin. "More mature skin can get away with matte but again, just like dewy skin can emphasize [fine lines] and wrinkles, so can matte foundations because the skin has no dimension," he explains.

Adapt Your Shade to the Current Season

It's true: You won't be able to stick to one foundation shade year-round. "Our skin tends to warm up in the spring-summer while we're more active outdoors and in direct sunlight," says Martin. "Even if you're wearing sunblock every day, our tone warms up."

Take Advantage of Virtual Try-On Tools

Sure, germs are a good reason to opt for a virtual makeup try-on tool rather than use in-store testers. However, trying foundation shades on at home ensures you buy the right shade on the first try and allows you to see what the foundation will look like in selfies. A number of brands and retailers have created their own tools, including L'Oréal Paris, Ulta Beauty, Chanel, MAC, and NYX Cosmetics, to name a few.

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