How To Find Your Perfect Foundation Shade With Three Different Methods

By Gwen Farrell··  7 min read
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Is my makeup clogging my pores? Do I actually need a primer? Are setting sprays worthless? Beauty routines are already agonizing enough, but when you factor in finding a foundation shade, it can become next to impossible.

Nobody wants to be too oily, too dry, too pale, or too orange, and after suffering from all of these for a number of years, I finally decided enough was enough. I was going to find my shade.

While we know the natural look is in right now, there’s absolutely no shame in glamming it up. As someone who works with the public on a day-to-day basis, I apply foundation more days than not. It pulls my look together and gives me a much-needed confidence boost. But back to my original problem – I decided to conduct an experiment to find my ideal shade and document my findings, with surprisingly good results. Maybe one of them will work for you! Here’s how to find your perfect shade with three different methods.

First, Know What You Want

In this day and age, finding your go-to foundation is not simply a matter of choosing to wear it. We’re definitely spoiled for choice which makes things even more complicated, but knowing exactly what you want beforehand in terms of finish, price point, and other factors can narrow things down considerably.

Finding the right product starts with knowing your skin type because for every skin type there are hundreds of possibilities. If your skin is prone to being oilier, you might not go for the hydrating option, which will only clog your pores and make your skin look overly saturated or sticky. If your skin is drier and doesn’t maintain moisture well, the hydrating, dewy option might be just the ticket.

A matte finish looks closest to my natural skin and better in a professional setting.

Knowing what kind of finish you want is also key. While I love a dewy, fresh look, I’ve come to the realization that a matte finish looks closest to my natural skin and better in a professional setting. With dewy options, matte finishes, and everything in between, there’s definitely something out there for everyone. Also be aware of how a dewy or matte primer or setting spray may interact with whatever finish you choose, and adjust accordingly. 

Sticking to a price point is also a necessity. I decided at the beginning of this venture that as long as the foundation was a good investment shade-wise, I didn’t mind spending a little more than I normally do, though a drugstore price is always what I go for – especially since there’s much more available there now than there used to be.

1. Use Jewelry and Good Lighting To Find Your Undertone

Before you can start searching for your shade, it’s imperative to know your skin’s undertone. While every beauty-oriented femme probably already knows this trick, I was unaware of it before I began my experiment.

Essentially, all you need for this one is great lighting (not too dim, harsh, or fluorescent) and a couple of items of silver and gold jewelry. I recommend the window where you get the most natural sunlight during the day. Once you have the lighting, place the gold or silver jewelry items close to the veins in your arms or any under-eye circles, if you have them. Your skin’s undertone will either be cool, warm, or neutral. Using the natural light, see if your skin looks more vibrant or animated depending on if you wear silver items (cool) or gold items (warm). If you look good in both gold and silver, you’re neutral.

A warm undertone tans easily in the summer, and a cool undertone is more likely to burn.

If the veins in your arm look purple or bluish-tinted, you probably have a cool undertone. If you have more green veins, you likely have a warm undertone. If you can’t tell either way or there’s a mixture of the two, chances are you’re neutral. It also helps to factor in if you tan easily during the summertime (warm undertone) or if you sunburn (cool). 

Once you have a good grasp of your undertone, you’ll be better equipped to find a website or go in-person and pick out a shade based on being warmer or cooler. While this method can be pretty helpful if you’re just starting out, it probably won’t get you to your exact shade (but can get you pretty close). I discovered that because my veins are green, I have warmer, olive skin and should look for warmer-toned shades in the fair/light range.

2. Use an Online Match Quiz

Nowadays, we do pretty much everything online, and for a while, we had to out of necessity. If you already have a brand in mind that you like, most brands will have websites where you can get “matched” virtually to your perfect shade. Personally, I found this method to be the least helpful, but it was pretty interesting.

If you find a brand’s website and look at their shade range of foundation, you can start to get a feel for how many might realistically work for you. Most brands, like e.l.f. or NYX for example, which I used, will give you a short quiz on your undertone, and then ask for a selfie to match you to your shade. The cool thing is, you can basically try on every single shade that the brand offers, but depending on the photo you submit and the finish of the product, you’re not likely to find the exact shade that’ll look best. While this method isn’t necessarily the most accurate, it’s better than going in blind to a drugstore and picking out any shade that you think might look okay. The shades that were recommended to me online aren’t the exact ones that fit me, but they were pretty close.

3. Get Matched at the Beauty Counter 

Growing up, I remember waiting for my mom at the Clinique counter while she picked up her skincare products and got makeovers done by the salesgirls there. For the last (and most successful) attempt in my experiment, I took a page from her book, got in my car, and drove to my closest department store. Department stores may be dying out in the age of Amazon and online shopping, but for this purpose at least they’re the ideal option.

Nothing beats a personal interaction with someone who can see your skin and knows the products.

In a physical store, I was able to sit down face-to-face with someone who actually knows the products and the shades backward and forward. If you do take this route, be prepared to buy something more expensive than you normally would (the good news is, every high-end product on the market has a dupe that’s good or just as good as the luxury one. For example, I ended up buying a $43 bottle of Estée Lauder Double Wear foundation, which you can easily get in drugstore form in the $8 L’Oreal Paris Infallible 24 Hour Fresh Wear). 

Don’t shy away from going into a department store, Sephora, or Ulta, and asking an employee for help. Nothing beats a personal interaction with someone who can see your skin, shade, and undertone for what it is instead of just you looking in a mirror. They know all of the products and all of the shades, and you might even get a free makeover out of it.

Closing Thoughts

All in all, I bought six foundations during my quest – five drug store products and one high end – and spent a little over $100. However, if you, like me, have a bunch of shades sitting around that can’t be returned, save the darker shades for summertime, the paler shades for winter, or find a makeup donation site online that takes gently used products. 

I did end up finding my ideal shade which is pretty much the closest I’ve ever been to my actual skin tone, and now that I know my undertone and the finish that works best for me, I’m better equipped to shop for foundation in the future. Now, if I could only find the right lipstick...

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