How I Found My Perfect Foundation Shade In Just Under A Minute

As a beauty journalist, I'm lucky enough to try a variety of beauty products, cherry-picking the worthy from the waste-of-time. Despite this (not to mention years of wearing makeup), I've never found the perfect foundation.
I'm picky when it comes to my base. My oily, acne-prone and scarred skin is always slightly red and I often have breakouts to cover. I like my makeup to be matte without looking cakey and to match my fair skin tone without making me appear ghostly. That's before I've touched on staying power (must be excellent) and my full coverage requirement. I don't have time to top up my makeup during the day and I like to know my foundation will look passable for a solid eight hours plus.
Over the years I have tried countless brands, from budget to bougie. I've ordered online and tried testers in shops. As a result, my beauty drawer is cluttered with unused bottles I can't seem to bear to part with. I'm the Goldilocks of foundation, if you will. So when I was given the chance to try DCYPHER's world-first foundation technology, I was dubious.

What is DCYPHER and how can it match you to your perfect foundation?

The new website enlists the power of artificial intelligence to analyse your skin tone from your laptop and in the comfort of your own home, instantly matching you to your perfect foundation shade. Sure, beauty tech has come a long way lately, with clever gadgets taking over our bathroom cabinets and try-before-you-buy hair dye filters. But I didn't hold out much hope. Would the custom brand turn out to be a gimmick or a game-changer?
DCYPHER was founded by husband and wife duo Adam and Claire Triantis, a biochemist and consumer scientist respectively. Combined, they have years of experience in the beauty industry — Claire helping big-name brands understand what consumers want from their beauty routine, while Adam developed many of the innovative skincare formulas that are likely sitting in your bathroom cabinet right now. Through their work, both came to realise there was one component that beauty brands were missing out on: accurate personalisation.
While many foundation brands boast a 40-strong shade range, a match that comes close to a buyer's skin tone wasn't close enough for Adam and Claire. By developing a bespoke formula, not only can DCYPHER supposedly get a great match but the product itself can be customised to achieve the coverage, texture and finish you desire, from light to full, matte to dewy. The brand believes millions of shades are possible. Adam explains: "Our mission is to disrupt the beauty industry by giving the customer exactly what they want, with infinite shades, finishes and formulations."

How does DCYPHER work?

Matching is easy. I headed to the website where I was prompted to click 'Create My Formula' and instructed to face a window, wearing no makeup and no glasses and ensuring there weren't any shadows on my face. I clicked 'Start Scan' and the technology began to scour my skin, capturing it "in the most minute detail" and "noting all of the tones and nuances" of skin. Centring my face in a dotted circle, it scanned a total of three times to ensure accuracy. While good enough for word processing, my laptop and camera (which I used to take the images) is not brand-new or state of the art. I was worried about the quality of my images (and therefore the colour match) but I needn't have been.
Next, I was asked to select my coverage from a choice of ultra sheer, sheer, medium and full, and the finish (matte, natural or radiant). Once that was decided, a sample of my formula was sent in the post for me to try at home, with a link to visit to make any alterations. If the formula needs tweaking, a new sample is sent free of charge until you're 100% happy. Once matched perfectly, the custom formula was shipped securely to me within hours.
You're probably thinking, Where is the formula made? Nothing is off the shelf and it's created from scratch in the brand's lab. As a result, I did anticipate this high tech to come in at a high price. At £28, it's a little more expensive than high street foundations but a lot cheaper than some luxury versions I've used in the past. Ever conscious of my beauty footprint, I wondered about the eco credentials, too. I was assured that as well as being made right here in the UK, the brand is cruelty-free and vegan. What's more, since users try a small sample of foundation first (and each product is bespoke for each order), less waste is created.

Is DCYPHER good at shade matching?

I thought the AI technology might shade-match me to a passable level but I was sceptical of whether it could meet my high demands. My complexion is pale. Very, very pale. I have learned to go light with my foundation and build up colour with bronzer and blush, otherwise I succumb to an unsightly tideline under my jaw. Often, if I do find a shade that matches at my jaw, when applied to a full face I end up looking like Elizabeth I in her stark white face paint.
I started with a small dab of product, which beautifully and seamlessly blended with my own skin. I headed to the link provided to click 'YES' to order a full-size bottle. Again, the product was here faster than you can say shade-match. Despite being full coverage, the foundation felt lightweight and was easily blendable. I was able to build coverage quickly where needed. As you can see in my final makeup selfie, I'm wearing just the foundation, no concealer and no contour. My redness was covered, as were my dark under-eye circles. The look lasted a good eight hours, too. Admittedly, I have used foundation which has lasted longer but not without a heaviness that sets in fine lines. In other words, I much prefer this small trade-off. I've had compliments already and I've even encouraged friends to try it out.
Half face applied
As well as being a perfect match, I like the personal touch. Similar to Lush, my foundation was 'Made by Liz' in the UK, which made me feel as though I was getting a unique, boutique experience. It's akin to having a personal shopper pick a couture dress for you, rather than an off-the-rack frock.
If you have darker skin and have been unhappy with the shade ranges available to you or if you have skin concerns such as acne and eczema, this customised option could cut out any compromise. The brand is tallying up a host of positive Trust Pilot reviews from happy customers whose makeup game has been changed. Talking about diversity in beauty, Claire tells Refinery29: "In an age where consumers are promised products that are crafted to meet their specific needs, there is still a long way to go when it comes to foundation. The cosmetics industry has responded to pressure by ever expanding their shade ranges by the tens. However we know that there are more than 30, 50 or 100 shades in the population — because we’ve matched them." Claire says the brand speaks to customers every day, many of whom feel ignored and unseen by the cosmetics industry "simply because their skin tone is not 'popular' enough to be stocked."
Claire adds: "This issue goes beyond shade, as a foundation needs to be able to perform in terms of the base formulation, too." She's totally right when she mentions that not every skin type suits a matte finish and not every person feels comfortable enough to wear sheer coverage. "At DCYPHER we are offering full customisation with no compromises," she explains. "We have a product to match every person and to perfectly enhance any skin tone, no matter how good or bad a skin day you are having. We're not leaving anyone behind; we are fully inclusive."
It's safe to say I'm impressed and it looks like DCYPHER's thousands of Instagram supporters are, too. The focus on diversity is a major selling point and in the age of coronavirus, when lots of us aren't too keen on using testers or heading into store to buy products, the website just makes sense. My time of buying the wrong shade and hoarding half-used bottles is officially behind me. I hope yours will be, too.
Refinery29's selection is purely editorial and independently chosen – we only feature items we love! As part of our business model we do work with affiliates; if you directly purchase something from a link on this article, we may earn a small amount of commission. Transparency is important to us at Refinery29, if you have any questions please reach out to us.

More from Beauty

R29 Original Series