Choosing the perfect foundation for yourself is no easy feat. I think it's safe to say that we all want a foundation that looks natural, blends in flawlessly, and is pretty much like "second skin." But that can be a tall order, especially since everyone has different skin tones and undertones, and foundations are definitely not one-size-fits-all, so to speak. All the formulations and brands out there work differently on people.
For me with my yellow and golden tones, I've struggled in the past with finding a shade that really works. I've definitely found products that have gotten the job done but still felt a bit "off" to me. I found that a lot of shades that I've tried were either just a tad too light or a touch too dark. It was nothing that was super noticeable to others or looked like it was an awful shade match, but it was noticeable to me!
These days, though, we're lucky that there are brands that are delivering more inclusive and extensive shade ranges, making the shade-matching process an easier experience. But to be honest, I still think I need a little bit of help in finding the perfect foundation. So, I asked a couple of experts for their tips on how to choose, especially for Asian skin tones like my own.
The first thing I learned was that you shouldn't just think about your face. "Shade matching for any skin tone should start from the neck up," explains Daniel Martin, makeup artist and global director of artistry and Education for Tatcha. "Your neck and face should be the same tone. If you prefer a warmer face, make sure you balance the neck as well so you're not two-toned."
Celebrity makeup artist Kenneth Soh, whose clients include Kerry Washington and Phoebe Dynevor, says it's presumptuous to assume that most Asians have a yellow or warm skin tone, and it's harder to discern, especially for those who have fairer skin tones. "Instead of the very obvious yellow or golden tones of tanned or darker skin tones, many Asian complexions might have a surface yellow tone but in fact be more neutral or olive with a green undertone," he says. "The best way to shade match is to still do the jawline test and see if it blends into nothing. Most of us have a fairer face, especially if we wear SPF consistently, so I always choose a shade that blends into the neckline. It should be half a shade darker or warmer than the center panel of your face."
Soh adds that he prefers to stick to a neutral-tone foundation and not worry too much about the undertone. "I am not too much of a fan of foundations being too yellow—it just looks sallow on Asian skin tones," Soh says. "I prefer the bright and clear finish that comes from choosing a foundation that is slightly fairer, however, there are many approaches to doing foundation. Choose a lighter shade and warming up with contour and bronzer, or choosing a warmer shade and brightening up with a lighter concealer."
Even if you do go for a more neutral-tone foundation, it's still useful to know your undertone, not just for foundation purposes, but also for choosing other types of makeup, like lipsticks. Start by looking at the veins on the inside of your wrist. If your veins look green, you probably have a yellow and warm undertone. If blue, you have a cooler undertone. "The tricky part is when you have red, orange, or green undertones, which could happen in deeper Asian skin tones, but as long as you do the vein test, you will get a pretty good guide," Soh says.
Soh also suggests taking photos of yourself in bright daylight to see which tones (warmer or cooler, both in clothes and makeup) suit you better. "It also helps taking photos standing next to other people with distinct yellow or blue undertones," he says. "A friend might be the same tone as you but have a warmer (tanned) or cooler (pinky or rosy) undertone. You might see to have a slightly green cast which would mean you have an olive tone."
And sometimes you might just have a neutral tone after all. Martin says if it's challenging to noticing your undertone straight away, it's more than likely that you're neutral. He recommends neutralizing any redness around the nose or flushed cheeks with either a corrector or warm undertone to counter the redness.
How to Shop for a Foundation
When it comes to shopping and testing foundations, don't be afraid to ask for samples. "I would get samples of foundation that are in your shade, but try the warmer and cooler-toned ones on separate days and take a photo to see which one you like more," Soh recommends. "You will know which suits your most when one makes you look better than the other."
For those with darker skin and a bit more olive or red in your undertone, Martin says this is what you'll need to balance when finding a foundation. "Test out the foundation on the cheeks and see if the foundation matches your neck. Again this harmonizes the skin without having two different shades from your face and neck," he adds.
When choosing samples to try out, Soh suggests getting one that is a warm tone and one in a cool tone, and you might even want to try one that's slightly lighter and slightly warmer. "When it comes to darker tones, I am not a fan when the foundation is all one shade on the face," Soh says. "It can sometimes look a bit flat. Wearing a very slightly lighter shade might give you a brighter looking complexion and when paired with a bronzer in the outer perimeter, you get a much more three-dimensional effect and less flat."
As for application, Soh says he works from the center panel out towards the jawline and hairline. "It's better to work with thinner layers and applying more when needed," he adds. "Use your fingers and work it into the skin like a moisturizer, using patting and smoothing motions. For more coverage use a sponge like a Beautyblender."
And if you're looking for specific brand recommendations, take a look at some of their favorite foundation picks below.
"Created by an Asian female founder, this radiant foundation gives beautiful coverage," Martin says. The formula is a serum-foundation hybrid that hydrates the skin and targets hyperpigmentation and excess oil.
Shiseido Synchro Skin Self-Refreshing Liquid Foundation
"[It has] 30 shades with really gorgeous clear color pigments that look clean on the skin, and I love that it adjusts according to how skin behaves," Soh says. The weightless formula lasts for up to 24 hours.
"[This has] a melt-into-the-skin finish that is undetectable but gives you a clear, bright complexion and comes in 31 shades," Soh says. "Application is easy and effortless with this beautifully textured fluid foundation."
Martin says this a full coverage water-based foundation with an exceptional shade range. It's especially good for oily skin types because it leaves a matte finish and contains mico-algae and bio hyaluronic acid to absorb excess sebum.