Beginner Basics: An Introduction to Foundation

As part of my Beginner Series. The first post is ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Makeup‘.

Beginner Basics: An Introduction To Foundation


(Image from here)

When starting out with makeup, foundation would probably be your first purchase (except maybe second to eyeliner. And lipstick. =X)

Something I’ve noticed that a lot of people do: wear the rest of their makeup and skip their foundation. I see plenty of Asian women, for instance, who love a bright lip and wear it alone without foundation. While there aren’t any rules to how you want to makeup, I’m of the opinion that a good clean base is necessary. Putting on a red lipstick is just going to emphasize any redness on your face, and dark eye shadow and eyeliner will emphasize any eye bags.

Foundation is called your ‘base’ for a reason. It’s the canvas that isn’t meant to distract from the rest of your makeup. A good foundation reduces the appearance of redness of your face, evens out your skin tone, makes you look fresh and clean and bright, controls the face shine, creates a smooth canvas for the rest of your makeup (yes like primer), and hydrates your skin. I actually love it when models show their freckles and birthmarks; it makes them look all the more human. So no, foundation doesn’t always have to be caked onto your skin and you don’t have to conceal everything.

So yes, foundation is very important, don’t skimp out on it!

Before you start: Know your skin type

Are you

  • Oily/blemished/combination/normal
  • Dry/normal 

In a way, picking out your foundation is like skincare. You need to know what kinds of products are going to work best with your skin so you can get the most out of it. So there’s a spectrum between oily – dry, with combination skin (ie. your T-zone area, which is your forehead, nose and chin) somewhat in between. Even if you have a normal skin tone (neither excessively dry or oily) you’ll find yourself leaning to one side of the spectrum.

Most people with oily skin go straight for powder foundations when they have oily skin in hopes that it blots up the oil, but nothing beats the natural coverage a liquid foundation can give you, and water-based liquid foundations, suitable for oily skin, do exist. (tip: check the first ingredient of your foundation, if it says aqua, it’s water-based)

If you have dry skin, go for oil-based foundations, as water-based ones won’t give you the moisture you want, and never ever skip the moisturizer or primer step. Most people get scared off by the term ‘oil’ because you think you’d end up looking like an oil slick, but the trick is to use just a little bit of product, and it blends like a dream.

If you have sensitive skin, please please avoid anything with silicon in it. This is actually the ingredient in primers that make them feel all silky and wonderful on your skin, but they tend to cause acne and those with sensitive skin also tend to be allergic to it. 

Finishes and Textures

The ‘finish’ is the eventual effect the foundation will have on your skin. To know what foundation to use, you also need to know what your preferred effect is.


(Image from here. This photo probably exemplifies dewy makeup.)

  • Glowing/luminious – this has a higher glow factor (note: I said glow, not shine which implies oiliness) and gives you a radiant lit-from-within look. BB creams like the Laneige 6-in-1 BB Cushion achieve this like no other product. Or you can add liquid highlighter like Benefit High Beam to your liquid foundation before you apply it.


(Image from here. Just look at that model’s glow.)

  • Matte – a powdered down, no-shine look. The powder used to achieve this effect is usually visible.

Matte Foundation

(Powdered down, no-shine matte finish. Image from here)

  • Velvety – this is a little like matte, but with some shine, though not as much as dewy skin. You can get this by applying some translucent powder on top of a dewy liquid foundation.


(Image from here. See how her face has the powdered down look but still has some shine in all the right places?)

A Note: On the silly obsession with matte skin

People in Singapore and other tropical countries tend to have oilier skin because of the humid climate and are constantly looking for ways to make their skin appear matte. Rae Morris (probably my favourite makeup artist ever) once gave this excellent piece of advice, which is probably counter intuitive to everything you’ve ever known about makeup. If you have oily skin, avoid going for matte or velvety textures as it’s too different from your normal skin. Stick to a dewy finish instead. You basically have to work a lot harder to keep your skin looking matte and you’d probably end up with cakey or overly powdered skin. Also, a no-shine look is usually not seen on anything but glamour magazines as it tends to age you. Don’t be scared of luminous or dewy finishes, it’s a very different kind of shine from the oily type.

Also, always blot before you touch up to remove excess oil. Sure adding powder may initially make your skin look matte, but it also has a tendency to cake up. 


  • Sheer/light – tinted moisturizers are the sheerest possible foundation that even out the skin tone. Some do colour correction. After that, lighter foundations that cover small blemishes and even skin tones, but would probably not do very much for acne, freckles and hyperpigmentation. If you’re blessed with flawless skin and just want something to even out your skin tone, this is what you pick for the most natural coverage.

Sheer light foundation

(Image from here. I love how the model’s freckles show.)

  • Medium – Medium coverage foundation is probably the most commonly one used. This is what you pick to cover acne, blemishes, dark spots, etc. It evens out your skin tone and reduces redness too.


(Image from here)

  • Heavy/high – This is the kind of heavy-duty coverage that can cover scars, birth marks and the like. It probably has a creamier texture that clings to the skin. Definitely not recommended for everyday use, unless you feel it’s absolutely necessary.


(Image from here)

Foundation Types Available

Powder (loose and pressed)

 Description: Loose and pressed powder are essentially the same product, the latter is just compressed (duh). I find that loose powder tends to have better coverage as you usually have to scratch your brush bristles along pressed powder compacts to kick up some product first. Pressed powder’s definitely a lot less messier though, so it’s always good to have a compact in your travel case! Coverage for powders range from light to medium. Powders can have either a luminous or matte finish, depending on the formula. Personally, given that I live in a tropical climate I don’t like powder foundations much; they clump a lot when you sweat. Creams and liquids don’t look as cakey.

Application: Use a powder puff for heavier application, and a fluffy brush for a more natural finish. 

s747410-main-heroa233067Loose and pressed powder from bareMinerals. Image from here and here.

BB and CC Creams

 Description: Ah, the great mystery of alphabet foundations. (Do you know there are DD creams now?) BB creams – BB being short for Beauty Balm – aren’t just a foundation. They original Korean formula has much heavier coverage than the Western counterpart (it’s a medium coverage with Korean formulas, probably a light or light-medium with Western takes on the formula), has SPF, antioxidants and skincare properties, depending on which brand you buy. CC creams are meant for colour correction. These barely have any coverage, but are mostly meant to even out your skin tone, and have the usual skincare properties that protect you from nasty UV rays. Both BB and CC creams tend to give a dewy or radiant finish, nothing so don’t expect a matte finish from them.

Application: These can be applied with your fingers or brushes, but lately, the BB and CC Cushion has been making it’s way around the market. These are compacts soaked in BB or CC Cream which come with a specially formulated polyurethane puff. My Laneige one doesn’t absorb as much product as standard foundation puffs, and is so easy to clean.


My Laneige BB Cushion… Yes it looks a little gross but it’s easily washed out.

Liquid Foundations

Description: Liquid foundations are well… liquid. They usually have a thick syrupy consistency. These give medium to heavy coverage foundation, and the many different formulas out there mean that there are many options for your skin type and preferred finish. They can be either water or oil based, pick one that suits your skin type.

Application: These are best applied with a synthetic hair brush; natural hair brushes are naturally porous and absorb a lot of product. I find them a little too runny for my hands, and sponges tend to absorb a lot more product than you apply, which only goes to waste. 


Image from here.

Crème Foundations

Description: These are cream to powder foundations. They may come either in a compact or a nozzle, and squeeze out like a cream, and then dries to a velvety powder finish. They provide excellent coverage and are easy to apply once you get the hang of it. You have to work fast to blend this one! Once they set before blending properly they tend to look cakey.

Application: I prefer to use my fingers with crème foundation as the fingers warm up the product and helps it blend better. A stippling brush or foundation brush also works.



Happy Skin’s Second Skin Creme Foundation is well, a creme formula.

Cream Foundations

Description: I’m conflating cream and mousse foundations here because they’re pretty much the same thing. The latter is just like the former, just with a whipped formula so they’re a little lighter when you apply them. These are like liquid foundations, but are much thicker and heavier in texture, and give the heaviest coverage. They usually come in pots or foundation sticks. I wouldn’t recommend this for everyday wear unless you’re intending to hide birthmarks and severe acne.

Application: I’d recommend using a stippling brush with this one, so you don’t accidentally use too much product, and because stippling brushes are so great to blend with. 


(Image from here)

Tinted Moisturizers

Description: As stated above, these give very the least amount of coverage. Pick one that at least has some SPF for sunscreen protection! (It doesn’t replace an actual sunscreen though).

Application: I recommend using your fingers to warm up the product, then spread it on your skin.


This is my Jane Iredale Dream Tint Tinted Moisturizer. It’s got some lilac undertones meant to correct redness on the face and brighten up the skin. Has no other coverage though.

Note: Why I don’t Powder

Lots of people add an extra layer of tinted or non-tinted powder on top of their liquid foundation to set it, believing that this will help make their makeup last longer. Rae Morris’ book Express Makeup gave me this piece of life changing advice: never powder your base just to make your makeup last longer.

‘Powder the skin if you want the finished look to be velvety/less shiny or matte (ie. use a translucent finishing powder) but never powder your base. Here’s why.

Let’s say, for example, that your non-powdered foundation lasts perfectly on your skin for three hours before it starts to slightly separate and deteriorate. As a result, you decide to pick up some powder and apply it, hoping for an all-day lasting effect (which is impossible). When you do this you change your desired youthful dewy skin to powdered matte skin and believe me, no one is going to look at you and wonder, ‘Wow, I wonder how long your makeup’s lasted?’ They’re just thinking how caked and flat your skin looks.

Yes, powering your foundation will make it last a little longer, but not as long as you think (it usually adds only an extra hour or two), and it also creates all sorts of problems with reapplication. The second you powder your skin, you can never go back and reapply your cream concealer or liquid foundation to touch up – you can only reapply more powder. And we all know how that starts to look after a few attempts.’

Picking a Colour

This is the part where most people freak out. And I will admit, sometimes sales assistants won’t be as helpful as you’d like (I still cannot believe the Laura Mercier staff that attempted to sell my mother a BB cream two shades too light for her skin, telling her that it would oxidize to her natural skin colour after a while). But a big part of it is all about knowing which skin tone you are.

There’s an assumption that Caucasian skin means cooler-toned and Asian skin-tone, with the yellow undertones is warm-toned. Not really, your race doesn’t determine your skin type. Also, you may have a yellow-toned skin, but it can be a cool yellow. This post is fantastic for helping you figure out your skintone, especially if you’re Asian. The green vein blue vein tests don’t really work anyway, so the best way is really for you to compare your skintone with other people. I have a neutral skin-tone, and realised both the pink and yellow undertoned foundations at MAC can work on me.

Frankly, there really aren’t very many people with pink undertones anyway. Also, in the makeup videos I’ve watched (like Pixiwoo’s channel), I find that women with pink undertones can work with yellow-toned foundations. It’s quite simple. If you have constant pink skin, whether because of acne, eczema or a natural flush, you don’t want to add more flush to that. This is probably why Bobbi Brown and Laura Mercier (both of which are leading in the foundations department for Western makeup) only sell yellow-toned foundations.

After figuring out skintone, you need to figure out what shade you are. I love Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier and MAC because these brands have the most extensive foundation shades, especially for darker skinned ladies.

When picking out the right colour, test it out on the cheek and the forehead. Do note that your face isn’t the same shade all over, so you want something that’s a happy medium between the one on the less pigmented and more pigmented areas. Don’t pick a foundation that entirely matches the neck, as your neck is almost always much lighter than your face.

That’s about all I can think of for foundations! Do leave any questions in the comments.

The Beginner Basics Series:
A Beginner’s Guide to Makeup
Beginner Basics: Foundation
Beginner Basics: Makeup Brushes
Beginner Basics: Primers
Beginner Basics: Eyeliner

More links:
How-To: Foundation – by Bobbi Brown 
Lisa Eldridge’s Foundation Series

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5 Responses to Beginner Basics: An Introduction to Foundation

  1. Juvy says:

    Super helpful! I love this: “If you have oily skin, avoid going for matte or velvety textures as it’s too different from your normal skin.” — MAKES SENSE! 🙂

  2. Pingback: Beginner Basics: Makeup Brushes | Natzi's Stash

  3. Pingback: A Beginner’s Guide to Makeup | Natzi's Stash

  4. Pingback: Beginner Basics: Prepping and Priming | Natzi's Stash

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