Base makeup 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 pigment are left choosing between "tan" and "brown." (And, don't even get us started on "one shade fits all.")
Thankfully, according to CoverGirl makeup artist
Jennifer Fleming, there's been progress over the past few years. "Many brands are offering shade extensions catering to a much wider range of skin tones and complexions," she says. "As the world continues to become more blended, there will always be work to do."
makeup artist Sir John, who's worked with everyone from Queen Bey to Joan Smalls, not having a uniform complexion is another big problem that plagues women with darker skin. "Women of color — [and that includes] Pacific Islander, Asian, Latin-American — have two different colors that they're working with," he says. "They're lighter in the center of the face, and they’re usually deeper around the hairline and under the cheekbones." To counter that, he suggests mixing two products: one that matches your hue and one that's slightly darker. Genius.
Ahead, get more base-makeup wisdom from these pros, along with their go-to brands for women of color.
This creamy foundation — which comes in a whopping 26 shades — delivers one of the most natural-looking finishes we've seen from a stick formula.
Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick, $46, available at
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.
Luminous Silk Foundation, $64, available at
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 just 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.
Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15, $28.50, available at
“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.
Mattifying Fluid Foundation, $41.50, available at
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.
Re(marc)able Full Cover Foundation Concentrate, $55, available at
Iman — yes,
— 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.
Cream to Powder Foundation, $9.99, available at
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.
Teint Idole Ultra 24H Foundation, $47, available at
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.
Studio Fix Fluid Foundation, $27, available at
This completely lightweight foundation finishes matte (like your dream skin) and is available in 18 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.
Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup, $40, available at
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.
Ultimate Coverage Complexion Crème, $44, available at
— 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.)
Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation, $48, available at
Candleglow Soft Luminous Foundation,
Photo: Via NARS.
The one product 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.”
Radiant Creamy Concealer,
Photo: Via Yves Saint Laurent.
Sir John praises Yves Saint Laurent's Le Teint Touche Éclat for its color selection. "This is a great time to be not just a makeup artist, but a woman who happens to be multiethnic or multicultural," he says.
For those (like me) who are wondering how to find your perfect match, he 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."
Photo: Via CoverGirl.
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."
Queen Collection All Day Flawless Foundation,
Photo: Via Tom Ford Beauty.
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,
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
Photo: Via Black Opal.
If you're going to go with a drugstore brand, Sir John recommends Black Opal (although he says
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.
True Color Creme to Powder Foundation SPF15,
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.”
Custom Color Drops, $44, available at
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.”
Moisture Rich Foundation SPF 15, $50, available at
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.
Beyond Perfecting Foundation + Concealer, $28, available at
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.
Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Foundation Stick SPF 21, $42, available at
"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.
Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20, $44, available at
Celebrity makeup artist
, who works with Rihanna, uses this base to tackle under-eye circles, too. "And is not drying on the skin!" she says.
The Sensual Skin Enhancer, $48, available at
"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."
Velvet Matte Skin Tint, $45, available at
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!