Best foundation 2020: Our 7 fave formulas for all skin types
Searching for the best foundation around? You’ve come to the right place. Foundation is arguably the most important product in your make-up bag. This is for obvious reasons – it goes all over your face and sits there all day – and less well-advertised ones, too. Beauty brands are well aware that the best foundation breeds loyalty like no other make-up. This means every year millions are invested in researching and developing ever-improving formulas in an attempt to inspire some of that lucrative devotion.
If you’re loyal to your favourite foundation you might think, why roll the dice? Evolution. Your skin’s needs are always on the march and thanks to the continuous investment, the latest technology is more comfortable, invisible and skin-improving than anything you’ve tried before.
Finding the best foundation is not a one-size-fits-all scenario. There are as many great bases out there as there are skin types and needs to address.
But if you’re looking for a great all-rounder combining skincare benefits, medium coverage and a glowing finish, then It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare covers all the bases.
If you prefer an ultra-sheer base and can afford to get a bit spendy, Chanel Les Beiges Water-Fresh Tint should fit the bill nicely.
While for oily or combination skin that needs a hard-wearing yet flattering base, Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Fluid Powder Foundation won’t let you down.
How to choose the best foundation for you
The smart approach to finding the best foundation is to treat it like skincare and tailor by skin type.
If you’re lucky enough to have skin that’s neither especially dry or oily and fairly even, go for a water-based formula that’s sheer with a low level of pigment. This ensures your skin looks natural, not caked in make-up that you don’t really need. You can always use a higher-coverage concealer on smaller areas that do need disguising.
Most of us have combination skin to some degree, but if oil is a real bugbear, look for silicone-based formulas with mattifying elements like micro-powders. Dryness more of a concern? Pick products with a high water content, oils and other hydrating ingredients such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid. A light-reflecting finish gives dry to normal skin a flattering glow, but can look a bit slick if shine is already an issue. If like many of us you have sun spots, redness or thread veins, consider fuller coverage. This doesn’t mean total camouflage – just enough pigment to hide what you don’t like, while letting the better bits show through.
How to shade match foundation
Shade matching and how you apply are key to success. Beauty brands have stepped up their shade selection lately, and about time too. But with 40-strong ranges now the norm, how can you get it right?
“The main mistake I see with shade matching is trying to use foundation to add colour and in turn making skin look drier, textured and orange,” says Bobbi Brown Senior Pro Artist Amy Conway. “Always match foundation exactly to your skin then use products like bronzer to add colour.”
If you’re buying online, work out your skin’s undertone, as large shade ranges tend to include cool, neutral or warm variants. Many brands offer clever shade-matching tools on their websites, where you can virtually try on the product or have a digital consultation with make-up artists. If that’s not available, run a Google image search of the product name and shade. Very often someone will have ‘swatched’ it on their arm so you can see how it looks on real skin.
The best foundation you can buy right now
It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare
The best foundation for most people
Price: £32 for 30ml
Shades and inclusivenes: 40 shades in cool, warm and neutral undertones. Good selection of shades for dark skin
Reasons to buy
+Versatile coverage+Skin-improving ingredients+Excellent shade range
Reasons to avoid
–No SPF–May not suit very oily skin
The clue is in the name with this ticks-every-box base
To call It Cosmetics Your Skin But Better Foundation + Skincare a great all-rounder sounds like damning with faint praise. But actually that versatility is what makes this my top pick as the best foundation across the board.
The coverage is medium but buildable, meaning one pump will lightly wash over minor tone anomalies while two gives more robust coverage for days when that’s required. Either way, you can expect a healthy amount of skin show-through, and no cakiness. Despite looking and feeling just like – you guessed it – better skin, you’ll get a decent day’s wear from this foundation, with the odd powder top-up on shine if needed. This means almost anyone should find their happy place, coverage-wise, except those looking for matte, mask-like uniformity, or next-to-nothing sheer pigment.
Including the word skincare in the name of your foundation is a bold move, but sure enough, the ingredients list is a veritable pick-and-mix of skin-improvers. Aloe leaf juice and hyaluronic acid hydrate, glycerin softens, and vitamin E does its antioxidant thing and protects against pollution. Texture-wise, this is thick enough to pump out cleanly, but spreads on and blends with impressive ease. The finish is lightly radiant but not sparkly. This means pores and shallow lines are blurred over and skin looks hydrated, but you won’t be ultra dewy or slick.
As the first proper foundation in a grown-up glass bottle for the cult problem-solving brand, it more than delivers. The texture, finish and coverage are as easy to get along with as a “99” cone on a hot day, and will appeal to a similarly broad demographic. Bonus points for the exceptional 40-strong shade range, up from 12 in the brand’s well-regarded CC cream franchise.
The best premium foundation
Price: £48 for 30ml
Shades and inclusiveness: 8 shades in cool, warm and neutral undertones. Adaptable pigment means one shade will work for several skin tones
Reasons to buy
+Ultra hydrating+Dewy finish +Adaptable pigment
Reasons to avoid
–Pricey–Limited shade range
It’s not a foundation, it’s a tint. And it’s all about that dewy glow
Technically, this isn’t a foundation at all, say Chanel – it’s a water tint. And it is every bit as juicy as it sounds. Semantics aside, this would be ideal if you’re looking for the best foundation to wear on dry or dehydrated skin. This isn’t oily or sparkly, so combination types can get on board, too. Essentially anyone looking for a thin veil of pigment, moist finish and plumping effects will find much to love.
Said plumping happens as a result of an ultra-watery formula – it’s 75% H2O in fact – plus hydrating tamarind seed extract. The bubbly effect visible through the transparent packaging is the pigment, encapsulated in tiny micro droplets that burst onto the skin as you apply. This makes the texture feel fairly loose and easy to spread on and enhances the dewy effect.
Offering only eight shades does feel minimal, although these are sheer enough to be highly forgiving. I’d expect most skin tones will find something that suits well enough, but given how appealing the product is as a whole it would be great to see an enhanced shade selection at some point.
Let’s address the diamond-encrusted elephant in the room. This base costs nearly £50, so either you do or you don’t have that to spend on make-up. If you do then it’s worth mentioning that the cost includes a very sweet little brush that, unlike nearly every free-with-purchase make-up item, is actually a quality, useful tool.
Plus, let’s be honest, it’s Chanel. So as well as a very well-formulated base packed with skincare goodies you get a slickly designed pump bottle that ensures you squeeze every last drop out and an envy-inducing object for your dressing table.
L’Oreal Paris Skin Paradise Tinted Water Cream SPF20
The best drugstore foundation
Price: £10.99 for 30ml
Shades and inclusiveness: 10 shades. 4 light, 3 medium, 3 deep
Reasons to buy
+Excellent value+Hydrating and dewy+Built-in sun protection
Reasons to avoid
–Limited shade range–May not suit very sensitive skin
Slippery, hydrating and glow-inducing, bargain bases this good are rare
There is a long-held belief among beauty editors that budget foundations are, on the whole, a lacklustre bunch. This is in contrast to other make-up, where price often bears little relation to greatness (see: mascaras that cost less than £10). But every now and then a sub £15 base comes along and proves us all wrong, and this is definitely one of those exceptions.
Skin Paradise (as I will now call it to preserve my word count) is nearly everything you could want from a foundation of its ilk: light and silky, with enough coverage to be worthwhile, more than you would expect from the name of the product. It sets down to a nice glowing sheen and packs in undetectable mineral sun protection.
This is a water-based foundation, of course, and also includes moisturising glycerin, aloe vera and natural plant extracts with antioxidant properties to brighten. Such juiciness means it may not quite last the whole day, but that easy-going nature is part of the appeal. On a lazy Sunday, you could spread this on with fingers in a few seconds and enjoy a healthy-looking complexion well into the afternoon.
Still, no product is perfect: the shade range could use a bumping up or five as even Light 01 was a touch warm for my Celtic skin on paler days. It’s fragranced, which sensitive skin may not like and the pleasing “slip” of the texture comes from dimethicone crosspolymer. That may bother some silicone refuseniks, although it’s absolutely fine by me for a product I wash off at the end of the day.
The best foundation for dry skin
Price: £36 for 35ml
Shades and inclusiveness: 20 in cool, warm and neutral undertones. 6 light shades, 6 medium and 8 deep
Reasons to buy
+Buildable pigment+Soothing skincare ingredients+Blurring finish
Reasons to avoid
–High coverage won’t suit all–Runny texture
Grown-up, very long lasting coverage meets a radiant finish
Another foundation promising superlative hydration. This however sits very much apart from water tints and tinted moisturisers et al, as beneath the veneer of juicy plumped skin lies a sophisticated full-coverage base.
This combination is unusual in a market that generally swings from high coverage mattes to light and silky sheers, but Futurist Hydra Rescue pulls it off. This should please those with dry skin who need a solid pigment to cover rosacea, pigmentation or hormonal breakouts. Equally so oily-combination types who like the idea of a sheer base but hate how it dissolves into nothingness after one sticky tube journey. That second group includes me by the way.
Starting with the hydrating part – this comes from a combination of the usual suspects; glycerin, hyaluronic acid, nourishing seed oils and emollients like coconut-derived coco-glyceride. What is more unusual is that the carrier liquid of the foundation – aka water – is ion charged. What does that do, you ask? As did I, and was informed by my contact at Estée Lauder that, “The water is electrically charged via a process that physically changes the water, creating two types of water that have different levels of pH and ion contents. The different PH levels and ion contents help improve the compatibility of the water to the skin.”
One surprise with Futurist is the texture, which was far more loose than expected. It’s worth saying I tested this on a very hot week in August, which probably played its part. This runniness made blending nice and easy although could also make spillages easy too, so cautious application is advised. Once spread, buffed and blended, the finished effect really is an ideal grown-up base. Glowing but not shiny, evened-out but not unnaturally so, going nowhere, but not looking much like it’s there at all.
Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Fluid Powder Foundation SPF20
The best foundation for oily skin
Price: £28 for 40ml
Shades and inclusiveness : 28 in cool, warm and neutral undertones. In depth info on tones and undertones on product descriptions.
Reasons to buy
+Lasts extremely well+Soft matte finish
Reasons to avoid
–Won’t suit dry skin–Messy dispenser
A smart buy that proves oil-control formulas don’t have to be heavy
A radiant foundation that keeps shine at bay and can withstand make-up melt, while remaining resolutely natural-looking, sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? You can’t have everything, but Bobbi Long-Wear Fluid Powder Foundation ticks enough of the boxes to take the title of best foundation for oily skin.
This formula is designed to be the antidote to all those heavy, flat and matte foundations often peddled at those with oily or hot flush-prone skin. As the name suggests it’s a loose, water and silicone-based fluid that sets down into a soft powder finish designed to last and last. On top of the pigment and mattifying ingredients, this packs in sun protection and a “protein complex” that on inspection comprises whey/lactis protein, an excellent skin-softening and collagen-stimulating ingredient.
As the owner of combination skin that fluctuates into mild rosacea outbursts every now and then, I found the texture unusually pleasant for the first few seconds. It slipped around with zero drag when buffed in with a firm brush, but then did start setting quickly – not a lot of playtime here, so quick blending is advised. The coverage is medium, although you could get a lighter finish by applying it sparingly where needed, around the nose say, and blending outwards.
It’s the finish that really impresses here. The slickest bits of shine on my nose and chin were dulled down, but not completely mattified. Think more of a soft-focus blurring effect, rather than totally sheen-free, which is far more flattering for most skins. Halfway through the day, this soft matte look was still very much ongoing (and it was a very warm day I might add). Only after six hours did I notice the oil on my chin finally making a break for the surface. This would be impressive under the circumstances for your average chalky oil-control base, but particularly so for one that looks so natural and feels so comfortable.
As a minor aside the fluid comes in a nice lightweight tube but with repeated use does tend to dribble at the end of the nozzle. It’s nothing major, but clean freaks will need to give it a wipe every now and then. It also goes without saying that this base isn’t for everyone. Dryer skin types should avoid, as should those who just don’t need the steadfast coverage that a powdery finish will provide.
The best long-lasting foundation
Price: £34 for 30ml
Shades and inclusiveness: 45 shades. Utilises a unique ultramarine blue pigment that ensures that the darkest shades don’t appear ashy
Reasons to buy
+Very long-lasting full coverage +Outstanding shade range+Comfortable feel
Reasons to avoid
–High coverage won’t suit everyone–Fragranced
Harder, better, faster, stronger. If it’s resilience and pigment you seek, step this way
There are some skin types and some occasions that demand a muscular foundation. Something that looks supremely polished, will truly cover what needs covering and can be trusted to stick around when the going gets tough (meaning humid, rainy, sweaty or squiffy at the end of a wedding). I can’t think of a better foundation for the job than Teint Idole Ultra Wear.
This high-cover, long-lasting base is an absolute megaseller. This is particularly true in France, where it’s the number-one fluid foundation. It’s also many a beauty ed’s favourite, full-throttle, going “out-out” non-cakey base. The main ingredients along with a shedload of pigment are perlite and silica, both of which mattify without looking chalky. It also contains SPF15 sun protection, which I would file under “every little helps” and a flexible polymer makes it feel soft on the skin, as hard-wearing bases go.
Naturally, in exchange for that robust coverage and true all day and night wear you do have to accept a degree of feeling like you are wearing foundation. Not in a tight or chalky way, just a light “I’ve got my face on” sensation. For the majority of us this might make it more suitable for a special occasion.
For anyone who wants or needs full coverage day to day this will likely be a good deal more comfortable than many highly pigmented bases you’ve tried before. It also lacks the dreaded drag when applying and crucially is extremely transfer-proof, even when tested on a very hot afternoon. This is also unusually natural looking, which may come down to that superlative shade selection – 45 in total – which means just about anyone should find a seamless match.
If I had to have a tiny little gripe I would say the fragrance is fairly strong. It’s not unpleasant, it smells luxurious and very French, but if you’re someone who avoids fragranced make-up and skincare in general then it might put you off. That aside this is a luxurious, thoughtfully-created classic that fits a need in the market and does so with style.
The best tinted moisturiser foundation
Price: £35 for 30ml
Shades and inclusiveness: 20 shades in cool, warm and neutral undertones. Range from Petal, very fair neutral to Cacao, very deep cool
Reasons to buy
+Light coverage that lasts+High level of skincare ingredients
Reasons to avoid
–Limited deep shades –Less glow than original formula
Reformulated with a little more skincare and a little less shine, this is still the tinted moisturiser to beat
Few bases can truly call themselves iconic, but Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer makes the grade. This is the product that introduced the world to the concept of foundation-skincare hybrids back in the 90s and remains a firm favourite of make-up artists and consumers to this day. The formula has been tweaked through the years, and the latest reformulation in summer 2019 saw the addition of improved sun protection plus extra shades. This has resulted in a few shifts in the feel and finish of the product.
The texture is still hydrating and creamy thanks to hyaluronic acid, macadamia and kukui seed oils. It also includes antioxidants vitamin E and C to protect skin from pollution and SPF30 UV protection, up from SPF20 in the previous formulation. This new iteration does feel slightly thicker, and has more opaque coverage. This will be welcome for anyone with oily skin or who wants more of a pigment hit, but if you have very dry skin you might find it trickier to blend.
Happily, this is still an incredibly flattering foundation on the skin. It blends nicely and doesn’t dry out or settle into lines thanks to those softening oils. Once applied, the finish is lightly sheeny, almost satin-like with no sparkle or shimmer. If you are used to the previous formula, especially the Illuminating variant that has now been discontinued, you may find this lacks that obvious sparkling glow. But there is still plenty of dewy light reflection on the finish, so it shouldn’t really be an issue unless you have particularly dehydrated or dull skin.
It’s great to see this classic base keeping up with the times, both in terms of ingredients and extending the shade range to 20 with a decent sweep from fair to very deep. That said, there’s always room for improvement, and I hope to see the selection keep growing, especially the darker end of the spectrum.