The Search for the Perfect Foundation // What’s Your Type?

Yes, this is a series! In my previous post, I talked about skin shade vs skin tone and mentioned that a proper foundation will fit both (even though, for many of us, it’s just not quite right most of the time and “good enough” has to be good enough). Today, though, let’s get into the types of foundations: what are the mediums they come in, and what about finishes? How does this play into your skin?

I classify foundation “types” in three ways:

  1. The medium or what most stores just call “type” or “form.” Mediums may be liquid, creams, powders, etc.
  2. The finish, or how it looks on the skin. Some finishes are matte, semi-matte, dewy, velvety, etc.
  3. The coverage, or opacity. Coverage can be sheer, light, medium, full, or “buildable.”

So let’s get into it.


  1. Pressed or loose powders. I’m grouping these together because there’s not enough of a difference between the two. These are essentially pigments that are just pigments. Pressed powders may have some added properties to them, but in general, these are oil free, water free foundations. They will soak up any oil you have, and, in general, are great for oily skin. Many foundation compacts are pressed powders, and foundations like bareMinerals come in loose powders. You use a brush or a cosmetic puff for these almost exclusively. While powders are great for oily skin, they often don’t offer good coverage, and any cream products cannot go over these. Blush, contouring, etc? Better get a powder form because cream will make this foundation look HIDEOUS.
  2. Liquid. Pretty obvious what this one is. Liquids are some of the most universal foundations. You buy them in a bottle, and if you’re lucky, there’s a nice pump-top to help you with the application process. They make liquids in all kinds of finishes. Some are oil-based, some are silicone-based, and some are water-based. There’s not a “good skin type” for these because there are so many of them specifically targeted for different skin types. You can apply these with a brush, with a sponge, with a beauty blender, with your fingers- honestly with just about anything.
  3. Creams. Kind of like a liquid, these are super-dense formulations. You usually don’t need as much due to the density of pigmentation, and they’re pretty good for dry skin.
  4. Cream-to-powder. Like a normal cream foundation, but when applied to the skin, it dries in a powdery finish. These are best suited for normal skin, as the creaminess emphasizes the oil in oily skin and the powdery finish may emphasize the dryness in dry skin.
  5. Stick. These foundations come in what essentially looks like a jumbo tube of lipstick or even a jumbo concealer. It may actually confuse you (well, it confused me). These are similar to creams but are a bit thicker (to hold shape in the stick). You apply a few streaks to your cheeks, forehead, chin, etc, and then use a brush or sponge to blend it out. Formulation depending, I find these best on normal skin as it’s so heavy for people with oily skin and the application almost requires you to buff it in and micro-exfoliate, which emphasizes dry patches.


  1. Matte. Matte refers to being not-shiny. That’s probably the best way to think about it. There’s no shine there. Matte foundations also tend to diminish the appearance of pores. It’s very popular, but it’s definitely not best suited for drier skin types. Most matte finish foundations are great for people with normal to oily skin.
  2. Semi-matte. Obviously it’s got matte-like properties, but it isn’t fully matte, so there may still be some shine. Again, I don’t like the appearance on dry skin, but normal to oily skin works well.
  3. Dewy. Think about early morning on a spring day: the grass is covered in dew drops. And thus, this explains dewy. Dewy gives a radiant glow, especially on dry and aging skin. On oily skin, however, it tends to look odd, as you really don’t need to add more shine.
  4. Satin. You can think of satin as being not-matte but not-dewy. It’s a nice medium. It’ll feel nice and smooth on your skin and give you a nice glow. Just about every skin type can rock this one, although very oily or very dry skin might have some problems.
  5. Velvet. You’ll see this in some places. IMO, velvet is similar to semi-matte; it doesn’t quite have the luminosity of satin finishes, but it’s not completely matte. It can be a little bit too drying on dry skin, but works great for oily skin to give it a bit of a healthier look than matte.

And finally… coverage!

  1. Sheer. Sheer coverage is just a tiny tint of color. Most BB creams offer sheer coverage. It won’t cover up any blemishes, redness, etc, but it makes the differences a little smaller. Good for people who want a nice, light foundation and have pretty even tone to begin with.
  2. Light. With a little more pigmentation than sheer, light coverage foundation covers slight splotches and redness, but it won’t cover things like freckles. Light coverage works great on people who have decent skin, but want some of their natural features to shine through (freckled beauties, this one typically works amazing for you!)
  3. Medium. Yep, it’s got even more pigmentation! This one is great for people with more splotchiness, people wanting to cover up light freckles, and people with some pigmentation from acne. If you set it with a tinted powder (eg, a powder foundation), it works even better.
  4. Full. The most pigmented, and heaviest, full coverage can cover just about anything. If you have skin conditions that severely change your pigmentation, like birthmarks, vitiligo, scars, etc, this is the type for you. Some are even formulated to cover tattoos- and you can even use them on your body. Often people will use this to cover up body scars and tattoos before a job interview. The downside? It’s so heavy that it may feel a little… gross.
  5. Buildable. While this isn’t technically a coverage, it is a term related to it. Build able coverage means you can apply extra layers to get a fuller coverage. Beware though: sheer, buildable coverage does not mean you can build it up to full. If you try, you will almost definitely cake.

So I think that covers the basics of foundation. You need one that matches what your skin looks like, but you also need one that matches your skin’s needs. For me, with dry, irritable skin and pigmentation, I will need some medium coverage foundation in a liquid or cream with a satiny or dewy finish. That isn’t to say that a powder will never work for me or that a matte foundation is 100% out, but this gives me a starting point. Look for formulations, and then select your shade and tone.

With that, I think I’m ready to start my testing!



2 thoughts on “The Search for the Perfect Foundation // What’s Your Type?

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