The 5 Rules Of Natural-Looking Foundation

Wendy Rodewald
A makeup artist applies foundation to a model backstage at Fashion Week.

A makeup artist applies foundation to a model backstage at Fashion Week.
Photo: Getty Images

There’s nothing more beautiful than a flawless complexion, but foundation can be one of the trickiest makeup products to apply. These easy rules let you fake perfect skin.

1. Find the perfect match.
Choosing the right color for your complexion may be obvious, but it’s a point that even makeup artists get wrong sometimes (ever see a celebrity on the red carpet whose face is a different color than her neck?). “I suggest going to Sephora or a department store. Try different foundations to your hand for feeling, and then test the color to the jaw line to see if it blends in well to the neck,” says makeup artist Nico Guilis, whose clients include models Dree Hemingway, Bar Rafaeli and Poppy Delevingne. “Don’t test color to your wrist — your body is usually darker than your face and neck.”

And it’s not just about the color — the foundation’s formula should work with your skin type, too. If your skin is oily, choose an oil-free, mattifying formula such as Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation ($55, or Maybelline New York Fit Me! Shine-Free Stick Foundation ($8.99, available July 2013). For dry or aging skin, choose a cream-based foundation that hydrates, such as Dolce & Gabbana Perfect Finish Creamy Foundation ($66, Normal skin types should look for a balanced formula that’s neither too drying nor too creamy, such as Bobbi Brown Skin Foundation ($47,

Keep in mind that a formula that isn’t compatible with your skin can oxidize after a few hours, so that a shade that matched out of the bottle turns darker and no longer looks right. “Do get a product that makes your skin look fresh after five hours — there’s nothing worse than muddy foundation,” Guilis says. Ask for a sample and wear the foundation for a full day before you buy.

2. Prep your canvas.
Applying foundation over skin that’s dry, flaky or oily only serves to highlight the issue. To create a smooth canvas, cleanse and exfoliate before you even open your makeup bag (we like to mix Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant with a gentle cleanser). Then apply a moisturizer with sunscreen, or a mattifying primer if your skin is on the oily side. A primer can also help downplay pores and fine lines. Just don’t apply too many layers of product — foundation on top of primer on top of sunscreen on top of moisturizer will slide off your face and decrease your makeup’s staying power. Look for products that do double duty, such as primer with SPF.

3. Use the right tools.
“When applying foundation, remember it needs to finish looking smooth and blended into skin properly,” Guilis says. For some people, a brush is the best tool for the job, but for Guilis, it’s her fingers. “I always apply foundation to my skin with my hands, as if it is a moisturizer — it allows me to really press it into my skin without looking streaky or spotty.”

Do what works best for you — and for your foundation’s formula. “Don’t use a sponge on a water-based foundation,” Guilis advises. “It soaks up product and doesn’t disperse well.”

4. Choose your coverage.
For the most natural look, choose a formula with coverage as light as your skin can handle. Young, even-toned skin can get away with sheer formulas; complexions with more problem areas will need more pigmented foundation.

Your technique will help determine your coverage too. Build foundation on the areas that need it most — the nose (don’t forget the nostrils!), the chin, and center of the face — and blend it out sheer on the perimeter of the face.

5. Add concealer and powder to the mix.
Foundation works best when part of a team including concealer and setting powder. Use concealer to double up coverage on the areas that need it most, like under eye circles and blemishes. Lightly dust setting powder over the T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) to keep foundation in place, and to help camouflage problem skin.

Read more: The 5 Rules of Clear Skin