Laying Your Foundation: The guide to determining what you’ll need for making your face smooth and even all day


Alright ladies, I know there are TONS of options for foundation out there, which can be overwhelming. Choosing the right foundation affects how the rest of your makeup will look. Who cares if you perfected the perfect smoky eye, if you can see that telltale delineation at your jaw line of a mismatched foundation? You get that, I’m sure. The problem is not that you don’t know what looks good. The problem is that you don’t know how to sift through the plethora of options before you. Do I choose a powder, liquid, cream? What’s the difference between concealer and foundation? Do I even need concealer? What the hell is primer, anyway? Remain calm. I repeat, REMAIN CALM!

Step 1) Figuring Out Your Skin Type:

The first and most essential step to picking a foundation is determining your skin type.

  • Oily:

Your skin might be acne prone in this case but not necessarily. Individuals with acne will almost always be in the oily skin type category, because having acne means that your skin is producing a lot of oil that clogs your pores and becomes pimples and blackheads. Just because you don’t have acne, however, doesn’t mean that you don’t have oily skin. Perhaps your skin just gets very shiny throughout the day, or you find your foundation tends to slide off of those areas. Now many people get a little oily in their T-zone (which is their forehead, down their nose, and chin). This does not really make you oily. You’re really only oily if you cheeks and jaw line get shiny too. I like to say, if you are oily, you’d know it. If you’re not sure, you’re most likely not oily.

Below are all great picks for oily skinned gals & gents!

foundationTop (L to R): Maybelline Dream Wonder Foundation, L’Oreal Infallible Pro-Matte 24HR Foundation, Maybelline Fit me! Matte + Poreless Foundation

Bottom (L to R): Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation (new container), Marc Jacobs Genius Gel Super-Charged Oil-Free Foundation, Benefit Cosmetics The Big Easy Liquid to Powder SPF 35 Foundation

  • Combination:

If you notice that your T-zone (remember, that’s the forehead, nose, and chin) gets shiny and a bit oily, but your cheeks are normal to a little dry, then you’re combination. Still not sure if you fit this category? Imagine if you weren’t able to put any moisturizer on your face all day, or that you had to use a very stripping cleanser all over your face. Perhaps you immediately cringe (as you should). Which part of your face popped into your head first as getting the most irritated? If you think your T-zone could probably handle it, but your cheeks would be a wreck, then you’re probably combination skin.

  • Dry:

Like oily skin, you’ll probably already know if your skin is the dry type. You don’t have an oily T-zone, and your skin often feels tight and probably gets flaky dry patches. You don’t need to look like you’re covered in alligator scales to have dry skin. You may have noticed that your foundation tends to cling to dry patches on your face. This is a sign of a dry skin type.

Here are some great options if you have dry skin:

hourglass hyaluronic skin tintHourglass Illusion Hyaluronic Skin Tint

Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation

Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation
  • Normal:

If I ask you what your skin type is, and you honestly aren’t sure, you’re probably normal. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to use moisturizer or anything. It just means that you don’t have any particular concerns that need immediate addressing. Maybe you get a little shiny in the T-zone, or occasionally a little dry in the cheeks in the wintertime. No big deal.

You can select your foundation more based on your coverage concerns and don’t need to worry about getting a too-hydrating or too-drying formula. Take a look at some options for you below:

make up for ever ultra hd foundationMake Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation

maybelline fit me dewy + smooth foundationMaybelline Fit me! Dewy + Smooth Foundation

anastasia beverly hills stick foundation

Anastasia Beverly Hills Stick Foundation

Step 2) Determining Your Skin Concerns:

Now that you’ve figured out your skin type, look at your bare skin in a mirror. What are your concerns? Do you have post acne marks or sunspots you want to cover up? Rosacea? Big pores? Figuring this out will determine what kind of coverage you want your foundation to have. There are a lot of factors that come into play here, however.

For example, if you have a lot of discoloration on your face, you’re going to want more of a full coverage foundation. Full coverage means there’s more pigment in the foundation. It’s more opaque, so it can cover more of your spots. You may “need” full coverage, but perhaps you don’t like the feel or look of a thick, full coverage foundation. So then you might go for a more medium coverage foundation and put up with seeing those spots a little more. You could also use a medium coverage foundation and add a little more concealer into you routine, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.


Here’s my super-mega-BASIC rules for figuring out what kind of coverage you’ll need:

Full Coverage:

  • Your concerns are: significant, post acne marks, sunspots, freckles, big pores
  • Note: If you’re someone that puts on your foundation, and then finds that you feel the need to pull out the concealer and use it on tons of spots around your face, you’re going to want a full coverage concealer.
  • Types of full coverage foundations: Liquid to powder formulas (these are liquids that, once applied, leave a light powdery finish), cream compacts, many liquid foundations that specifically say full coverage
IMG_5197Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation

Medium Coverage:

  • You concerns are: mild/moderate post acne marks or sunspots, freckles, moderate pores
  • Types of medium coverage foundations: liquids, some powders, BB and CC creams, (BB and CC cream coverage varies by manufacturer and really isn’t standardized).
IMG_6224Lancome Teine Idole Ultra 24H Long Wear Foundation

Sheer Coverage:

  • You concerns are: generally evening out your skin tone, but you have no major concerns
  • Types of sheer coverage foundations: powders, tinted moisturizers, tinted primers, some BB creams (BB cream coverage varies by manufacturer and really isn’t standardized).
nars sheer glow foundationNARS Sheer Glow Foundation

I would just also like to add that many foundations can change their coverage level by the way they are applied, and the number of layers you use. This is how a foundation might be labeled medium to full coverage.


Be wary of anything that says sheer to full coverage. These will probably be more medium coverage. You can’t be everything. The marketers of this product are just trying to get all customers to purchase their product. If you really want strictly only sheer or only full coverage, this probably will be too much or not enough coverage for you, respectively. So just keep this in mind.

Ok, I know you probably have a lot of questions right now, like, what’s the difference between a BB and CC cream? Do I need liquid to powder? Do I need powder if I’m using a liquid?
BREATH! I’m getting there. A lot of questions are going to arise as we go through this. Keep reading, and I’ll be sure to address them.

Terms You’ll Want to Know:

  • BB Cream:

This stands for Beauty Balm (or Blemish Balm). As you’ve probably heard, these are a relatively new fad that started out of Korea. It was created for postoperative patients with scars that need to heal. Essentially, this is like a foundation with other beneficial skin properties. They often will have hydrating, anti-aging, or other skin protective and reparative elements. BB coverage varies based on brand. Some are nearly clear, while others offer a good medium (sometimes even full!) coverage. BB creams often only come in a few shades. Some only come in one! Some brands will slightly change to match your skin tone, and others don’t really change at all. There are lots of BB brands out there, so if you’re dead set on a BB cream, keep looking until you find your shade.

dr. jart bb creamDr. Jart Black Label Detox BB Beauty Balm
  • CC Cream:

CC cream is the exact same thing as a BB cream, but it also has components in it that are supposed to help with skin discoloration due to post acne marks or sunspots. There is some debate as to how effective CC creams are. You’re really going to want to use serums and creams to help correct skin discoloration. If you’re already using those, and you’d like an extra little oomph, you might want to get a CC cream. Basically, what I’m saying is that, if you can’t find a CC in your shade, don’t panic.

smashbox cc creamSmashbox Camera Ready CC Cream Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Dark Spot Correcting

  • Tinted Moisturizer:

Just like BB/CC creams, tinted moisturizers vary in their coverage. A good rule of thumb, however, is to view tinted moisturizers as strictly SHEER coverage. Some offer more medium coverage, though. So you’ll have to try them out first. It should be noted that using a tinted moisturizer does NOT mean that you get to skip moisturizer. It basically means it’s a sheer coverage foundation. It really doesn’t offer many skin benefitting properties. So, don’t do your skin a disservice by skipping on the moisturizer (and SPF!).

NARS tinted moisturizerNARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30
  • Liquid-to-Powder Formulas:

Liquid to powder formulas are liquids or creams that are applied to the face, and, after a few minutes, leave a light powdery finish. I’d only recommend these to people that don’t have any dry patches. If your skin is even a little dry, these will cling to your dry patches and make them look flaky. So steer clear of these if you’re dry! They are good, however, if you have oily skin. The powder helps to absorb and mask the oil your skin will produce throughout the day.

hourglass immaculate foundationHourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation Mattifying Oil Free

Brushes, Sponges, and Fingers oh my!:

What do I used to apply my foundation? That’s the big question of the day. For this, I find it to mostly be personal preference. I will say, however, sponges help increase the coverage of whatever you’re using. Sponges push the foundation into the skin, as opposed to sliding it over your face like a brush or your fingers do. Brushes that look like paint brushes can be a bit streaky. There are brushes that are fluffier, sometimes called stippling brushes, that offer much better coverage. You use these by almost pushing the foundation into the skin, and then buffing it in by brushing it with little, small, circular strokes. I’ll say that BB/CC creams go on pretty easily, and generally can just be applied with the fingers. Just make sure your fingers are clean and washed, so you aren’t rubbing any bacteria into you face, which could cause breakouts.

Let’s Get Transparent About… Concealer:

You’ve probably heard the term, but how do you know if you really need it?

Concealer is like foundation on steroids. It’s a super-duper-full coverage paste that you use to cover up particularly stubborn dark (or light) spots on your face and to cover up darkness under your eyes. It’s not meant to be used all over your face, because its consistency wasn’t made for it to be applied that way. Not to mention, concealer comes in much small containers, so you’d break that bank going through a few of those a week if you used it all over!

  • Brightening Concealers Versus Regular Ones:

Here’s something you might not know about concealer. Some concealers are labeled as “brightening” and are specifically for use under the eyes ONLY. You’re not going to want to use these to cover up a blemish, because the brightening properties in it are going to draw attention to your pimple. If the concealer doesn’t say brightener or isn’t labeled for specific under eye usage, then it’ll be more of a matte finish that will help disguise you blemish. Basically, brightening concealers are better for illuminating dark circles under the eye, but, if you don’t want to buy two concealers, you can use a regular concealer under the eyes are you’ll probably be fine. Only splurge on buying two different concealers if you’re dark circles are severe. You’re going to want those brightening properties.

Concealers are, I find best applied with the fingers. It’s also perfectly fine to use a concealer brush to brush the concealer onto certain areas, then use your fingers to melt the concealer into the skin.

What the Heck Does Primer Do?:

Ok, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time we got to the subject of primers. Primers are put on a clean, moisturized face BEFORE your foundation. You might be saying, wait a minute, why the heck didn’t we talk about this first, then?! Well, that’s because, in my opinion, not everyone NEEDS primer. Essentially, primers sort of spackle over and fill in fine lines and pores. It evens out the texture of the skin, and they also might address any other skin concerns directly on your skin. For example, there are mattifying primers that help cut shine and prevent shine throughout the day. It prevents oil production directly on the skin, before it can get to your foundation and make it slide right off of your face. There are also tinted primers that can color correct dullness, redness, or sallowness (aka yellowness).Primers are supposed to help your foundation go on more smoothly and stay on your face longer.

What I’ve noticed, after trying a slew of primers, is that, unless you’re currently having a problem with your foundation, you probably don’t need it. If you skin type is normal and perhaps you have more youthful skin, you can probably skip primer. More mature skin tends to need primer more, as it fills in any unevenness in skin texture.

One option for people who don’t like to wear foundation, is to wear a lightly tinted or clear primer. It will help diffuse the look of pores and fine lines. You can wear it bare, or add a little powder on top to set it and make sure it stays put all day.

I like to say that you only need primer if you notice you’re having a problem with your foundation, like it’s sliding off or settling your pores etc. If you don’t notice a problem, don’t waste your money. You could always get a sample of a primer and try it out first. You might notice it improves your makeup in a way you hadn’t planned. However, don’t worry about if you don’t use primer.

If you do decide to use a primer, just apply it with your fingers. No brushes or sponges!


Eyelid Primers? I Need a Separate One?:

While face primers are more of a personal preference, I do have to INSIST, on using eyelid primers. They are specifically formulated for the eye area, and help you eye shadow (and concealer!) stay on infinitely longer. Using eyelid primer on your lids will help oil produced on your lids from letting your eyeshadow slide off. We’re blinking all day, and eyeshadow, powder or cream formulas, will inevitably settle in your crease and migrate elsewhere. Eyelid primers almost essentially eliminate this. Use a little primer underneath your eye to help concealer stay longer and prevent it from settling in any fine lines, like crows feet.



  • Foundation Powder Versus Setting Powder:

Do I need to use a powder if I’m already using a liquid foundation? YES! The only exception is if you’re using a liquid to powder formula. You’re not going to want to add more powder, which would just be too much and could age you.

Powder helps to set your foundation. What does “set” mean? It means that the powder clings to the liquid foundation on your face and helps it from migrating and sliding around your face, settling in your pores and fine lines. It will also help minimize shine, even if your skin type isn’t super oily.

A foundation powder is going to be heavier and a shade that matches your skin tone. These powders could be used alone for light coverage, or on top of your liquid foundation to set it, as well as add a little extra coverage.

Setting powder is really only meant to set your makeup, not cover up anything. It’s usually white, but it can be slightly tinted. The color doesn’t really matter, because you’re going to use such a small amount that it’s barely going to show. It just sets your makeup and reduces a bit of the shine.


  • Loose Powder Versus Pressed Powder:

Again, this one is really personal preference. Loose powder comes in a tub with little holes at the top, which seals closed with a cap. You can tilt the containe) and tap out some of the loose powder into the cap. ‘

Pressed powder, however, is a solid block of powder that’s inside a little compact case.


Usually, pressed powder goes on a little heavier, because it’s harder to control how much goes on your brush. With loose powder, you can use the little bit that’s in the cap, then add more if you need it. So, I guess you could think of it as pressed powder offering a little more coverage and having a slightly stronger effect. Honestly, I prefer pressed powders simply because loose powders can get kind of messy. But, hey, that’s just me!

Basically, use a powder! You need it to set your makeup! To apply ANY type of face powder, just use any big, fluffy brush. Easy peasy!

In Summary, This is the Order in Which You Should Apply Your Makeup:

Starting with a clean, moisturized face (plus SPF!):

1) If you use a face primer, apply it all over your face, except around your eyes

2) Apply eyelid primer on your eyelids and/or under your eyes

3) Apply foundation

4) Apply concealer to your undereyes and any other spots around your face

– You don’t want to apply concealer before foundation, because the application of foundation over concealer will move the concealer and almost “wash” it away.

5) Apply your foundation OR setting powder all over your face

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s