Here's How To Buy The Right Foundation Online

Not all of us have the time or energy to schlep to Sephora every time we need new makeup. In-store shopping is not only time-consuming, but it can be exhausting and downright overwhelming. If you've ever gone shopping downtown in pretty much any city on a Saturday, you know what we're talking about.

While things like eyeshadow and blush are easier to nab on the interwebs, foundation is notoriously the most difficult. But it is not impossible. To make the process as painless as we can, we enlisted the help of makeup artist Elisa Flowers and YouTube beauty expert Tati Westbrook to give us some insider tips.

Know Your Beauty Needs
To help narrow down the myriad of options available online, try to first identify exactly what you need — and this does actually involve going into a store. But once you get it down, your perfect foundation can be just a click away.

Westbrook recommends spending a couple hours at a beauty counter "walking around and swatching the different foundations, and taking notes on what appeals to you and what matches you best." Keep in mind what finish (like matte or luminous) you like and what level of coverage you want (light, medium, or full). Is your face an oil slick by noon? If so, you'll probably want to reach for a mattifying, long-wear foundation. Is your skin prone to dryness? If that's the case, get a hydrating and luminous one.

If you are able to try a foundation in-store, grab a sample and use it for a couple of days. If you like it, then you can order your shade online.

Maybelline Fit Me! Matte + Poreless Foundation, $7.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
Identify Your Undertones
Knowing whether your skin is cool, warm, or neutral-toned is key to finding your perfect color match. Not sure? The vein test is a nifty little trick. "A cool-toned person would have a rosy tint to their skin, with blue-ish veins that you can see through the underside of the wrist or neck," says Flowers. "A warm-toned person would have yellow or golden tones to their skin and greenish veins, while a neutral-toned person would have a mix between the two and can pretty much wear any shade."

Many foundations on the market are labeled "neutral," "warm," or "cool," so once you've figured out your undertone it'll be a lot easier to pick the right color for you from the comfort of your couch.
The Internet Is Your Friend
Always do your research before you even think about adding an item to your cart. Reading and watching reviews on MakeupAlley and YouTube can be extremely helpful when it comes to makeup-shopping. "They can show the texture, application, and [wear time] of a foundation," says Westbrook. You can even use apps like Covergirl's Custom Blend Foundation App to find your match.

If you already know your shade in an existing foundation, Flowers suggests visiting websites like Temptalia's Foundation Matrix and Match My Makeup, which can help you figure out your shade in other foundations. Pretty cool, right? Simply select your go-to foundation and shade, and the website will pull up dozens of matches in different formulas. Temptalia's Foundation Matrix even has a "Start From Scratch" option, which offers a quiz that can help you determine what your shade is based on your undertones (you guessed it). Then, it gives you a list of foundations and swatches to help you decide which one to cash out for.
Go Swatch Crazy
When in doubt, test them out. As we have said in the past, the inner wrist or the hand may not actually be the best place to color-match your foundations (although it make for a good Instagram). In actuality, to get your closest match, you should swatch your foundations on your neck or jawline, which delivers a more precise match.

Sonia Kashuk Perfecting Luminous Foundation, $12.99, available at Target.
When In Doubt, Go Lighter
If you're stuck between two shades and can't figure out which one is the better match, Westbrook suggests going with the lighter option. "You can always use a bronzer [to deepen the shade]," she says. It's a lot easier to deepen a foundation that's a bit too light for you than it is to lighten a shade that's too dark.

Bobbi Brown Intensive Skin Serum Foundation, $65, available at Nordstrom.
You Can Always Mix Shades
Don't be afraid to mix it up. According to Flowers, you can even play with finishes by adding moisturizers or primers to your foundations to change their luminosity and wear time.

And remember, one shade isn't going to match you all year. Westbrook explains that your skin tone often fluctuates depending on where you live and your exposure to sunlight. "I wear three different shades throughout the year," Flowers adds. "[The foundation you bought] may not be perfect now, but it may be in a couple of months."
Shop At Stores With Liberal Return Policies
Sometimes the foundation you bought just doesn't work for you — that's the reality of shopping for makeup online. Westbrook and Flowers both suggest checking the website's return policies before you purchase, so your wallet doesn't have to take the blow if you end up with a dud.

Many stores — including Sephora,, CVS, Macy's, and even NARS — offer free returns (opened or unopened) if you aren't satisfied with your purchase. Just make sure that you return your items in time (usually 30 days after receipt).

Koh Gen Do Aqua Foundation, $62, available at Sephora.
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Show More Comments...