Shopping for foundation is no mean feat. First, there's deciding which formula and finish is best for you: matte or dewy? Full-coverage or sheer? From there, it's down to deciphering your skin's undertone (yes, it matters when hunting down the perfect shade match) and arming yourself with the best tools for application, from brushes and sponges to just your own fingertips. It's almost like you need the help of a professional just to figure it out — which is why we called on Nicole Faulkner to steer us in the right direction.
We asked the professional makeup artist and director of global artistry for Morphe (you — along with the rest of her over 605,000 followers — may know Faulkner better by her Instagram handle, @lipsticknick) to share the tricks of the trade, and she delivered. Ahead, everything we learned about achieving a flawless base every time...
Finding Your Undertone
When it comes to buying the perfect foundation, it pays to take your complexion's undertone into consideration, not just your skin tone.
"Look past your skin tone at the shades that lie underneath," Faulkner explains. "If you have a warm undertone, you’ll detect more yellow, peach, and red tones in your skin when you look in the mirror. Those who have a warm undertone do really well in warm environments — they tan really easily and they have a natural colour within them, which is brought out in the sun."
Those with cool undertones are more or less the opposite. "Cool tones tend to be a little more pink, and suit things like silver. Cool tones also do really well in cold environments rather than in the sun, in which they tend to burn. If you’re neutral, you have both pink and yellow tones, and if you’re olive-skinned, you’ll notice green undertones. It’s not literal green green, just a slight hint. You might also look for certain tones in your veins, too."
Green veins are said to correspond with warm to neutral tones, while blue veins are linked with cool tones. "This is a popular technique, but this can be a little difficult to determine," Faulkner says. Many foundation products now state the undertone on the label or in product descriptions online, which makes it easier to find your true match.
Finding Your Foundation Match
When shopping for foundation, many of us tend to swatch test on the back of our hand. Faulkner says this is a huge mistake.
"The back of your hand can be four times deeper in colour than your face and chest," she says. "Your hands are always exposed, even if you’re wearing long sleeves, so if you want to try foundation anywhere, always go for the inner wrist because it’s always generally a similar tone to your face, neck, and chest. That said, it’s better to match your foundation to your décolletage than your neck, so your foundation flows together. Almost everyone’s neck is lighter because your head pretty much blocks it from the sun and the environment."
The Right Way To Test Foundation
"I don’t like hard swatches," Faulkner says. "When people just swipe the foundation on to see if it matches them, they apply way too much product. You really have to buff it in, so when I do shade matching, I apply very minimal product and blend that into the skin in circular motions."
And it really pays to take your time. "Foundation is an investment," Faulkner says. "There’s no rush. Test it on the side of your jaw, then take 20 minutes or so to shop the rest of the mall, and take a look at how it sits on your skin. I'd recommend trying at least two shades, one on each side of your face, so you can go with the true match."
The Right Way To Prep Skin Before Foundation
"Primers, to me, feel very silicone-y and can sometimes dry the skin out," Faulkner says. "I tend to work with matte foundation more than anything else, so to prep the skin, I will always over-moisturize. I love Embryolisse or Sunday Riley's C.E.O. moisturizer. I’ll also spray a ton of hydrating mist over the skin to really drench it; I’ll even go back in with moisturizer and even an eye cream." If you do want to use a primer, Faulkner recommends Morphe's Revitalizer. "Think of it like priming a wall before you paint it," she says. "This prep helps minimize creases and makes things look seamless."
The Best Way To Apply Foundation
Some makeup artists like Sir John prefer larger brushes, while Val Garland applies foundation with her hands — but Faulkner prefers using smaller tools, like the Morphe M173 Mini Buffer or the E8 Detail Contour. "It might not be that practical for some people, but personally I prefer a smaller brush because I like the painting element. I can get the foundation into all the gaps and crevices," she says. "Sometimes using a large brush can feel too aggressive on the skin, and if I apply foundation with something bigger, I always have to go in with a little brush anyway, so I always just start with one."
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