Foundation shade finder: How to choose the right one for you

a close-up image of a woman with a beige foundation shade on her cheek

With so many formulas and finishes on offer it can be tricky to find a great foundation. But, follow our foundation shade finder tips and you’ll get a base that’s the right for your skin.

Perfect skin is a goal most of us strive for. Yet despite our best efforts to tone and cleanse our face (opens in new tab) each night and engulf all the best vitamins for skin (opens in new tab) - blemishes, discolouration and imperfections still have a habit of cropping up. This is when miracle product foundation steps in to conceal on days where we need a little extra coverage. But it pays to get the shade just right - especially as foundations can cost anywhere between £10 and £60. With this in mind we've consulted qualified beauty experts for their best foundation shade finder tips that'll help you find the one that perfectly matches your skin tone.

"When finding that holy-grail foundation, many of us have encountered a few bumps along the road. From a colour mismatch that leaves you with a mask-like line on your neck, to a spot breakout (opens in new tab) or the foundation settling into fine lines," says MUA Joy Howieson, founder of cosmetics brand Project Lip. "The ultimate goal when choosing a foundation is for it to look like an enhanced version of your own skin. And to achieve this you've got to consider the formulas, finishes and shades available to help pinpoint the perfect product for you."

How to find your perfect foundation shade online:

1. Identify your correct undertone

As most of us know there's no 'one skin type fits all' and when it comes to selecting foundation you want to establish what your skin's natural undertone is. There's generally considered to be three in total - cool, warm and neutral - and this affects what colour foundation will compliment your skin.

"To determine your skin's undertone, take a simple look at the veins on your wrists," says Joy Howieson, a former MUA for MAC and founder of beauty brand Project Lip (opens in new tab). "Blue or purple wrist veins typically indicate that you have cool undertones, while green or olive means you have a warmer undertone."

Neither? It's likely you'll have a 'neutral' undertone to your skin. Though neutral individuals tend to be rare.

a collage showing the different skin undertones for foundation shades

Credit: Future

"Neutral undertones are somewhere in the middle," California-based make-up artist Lynn Simpson (opens in new tab) tells us. "Your skin can pull either direction - warmer or cooler depending on colours you're wearing or perhaps if you are slightly tanner in the summer or more fair in the winter. Celebrities with your skin tone include Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Aniston, and Kerry Washington."

Celebrities like Keira Knightley, Adele and Rihanna fall under the 'cool' complexion category. Whilst Jennifer Lopez and Jessica Simpson are blessed with a 'warm' undertone. Should this comparison help with defining your own.

Many foundations are broken down into these cool, warm and neutral categories so when you're shopping, aim for a shade that fits these.

Cool undertones should opt for a pink or beige like foundation. Whilst those who are warm should go for a foundation that's "golden or yellow" - according to Lynn. For those rarer individuals that fall under 'neutral' - avoid ones that are too warm or yellow and select one with a hint of peach.

Undertones matter when it comes to picking foundation. Those that are cool and choose a warm or neutral foundation will end up with a yellow complexion. In contrast, 'warm' undertones using a cool foundation will look pale and grey.

2. Consider your skin type

Whether you have oily, dry or combination skin - skin types can have an effect on what foundation shade you pick as specific formulas will work better on the type they're designed for. So it's something worth taking into account.

  • Oily skin: Matte foundation
  • Dry skin: Moisture-rich foundation
  • Combination skin: Satin formula foundation

"Your skin type definitely impacts the type of foundation shade you should select," says No7 Makeup Ambassador Joy Adenuga (opens in new tab). "For instance, if you have dry skin, try to ensure you use a hydrating foundation."

As a general rule of thumb, dewy, radiant foundations will suit dry skin, matte formulas are best for oily skin and satin formulas last best on combination skin types.

3. Think about coverage

The amount of camouflage your foundation provides is key in the foundation shade finder process. Wearing a full coverage foundation can feel like a heavy mask if you're used to sheer formulas. Whilst anything too thin might not totally conceal imperfections.

It's a great idea to talk to an expert if you're stuck on coverage. "Work with your local beauty consultant," suggests Joy. "They'll be able to help you identify which brands offer suitable products."

Alternatively, look at your skin in the mirror and see where you need coverage. If you want to get rid of dark circles under your eyes (opens in new tab), a sheer foundation with a thicker concealer might be sufficient but if you're suffering from acne scars (opens in new tab), you may want a medium-full coverage foundation.

4. In-store sampling

Of course - the best and original way to ensure a perfect shade is to head to the shops and try it out in person. And No7's make-up ambassador Joy Adenuga still swears by this method. But make sure to follow her instructions to ensure the perfect shade - as that classic dabbing it on your hand technique just doesn't quite cut it.

"We have a tendency to swatch foundation on our hands," explains Joy. "While there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s also useful to try out potential foundation shades on your jawline, which tends to provide you with greater accuracy of what the shade will look like."

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In addition to jaw-testing, Joy stresses to not make the common mistake of swatching a foundation then choosing that shade straight away. You want to wait a while as some foundations can change colour. This is called oxidising and happens when the formula reacts to oxygen in the air.

Joy explains: "Once applied to your jawline, don’t make a decision right away. Allow the foundation to sit on your skin for a few moments and settle down. Also, do ensure you get a chance to see how the foundation looks in natural light to get a true reflection of the colour."

5. Use virtual try-on tools

Shopping for foundation online means you don't have the luxury of trying on in-store. But thankfully advancements in technology have meant using a digital foundation shade finder is more accurate than ever. Many brands offer virtual try-on tools in order to determine your shade online including Il Makiage (opens in new tab), MAC Cosmetics (opens in new tab) and Estée Lauder (opens in new tab).

Bobbi Brown is another beloved brand that offers the service. And it's so simple to navigate - simply allow access to your phone's camera, position your head in the face grid and select different shades to try on.

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6. Get those samples

If you're shopping for other make-up products online you can also request foundation samples at select beauty sites that will arrive alongside your order. Big name make-up brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Mac and Glossier offer this option at checkout.

We're also fans of FeelUnique (opens in new tab)'s foundation approach. If you buy a foundation via their site be sure to hit the Try Me button. This sends you a matching sample pot alongside the foundation you've decided buy. And this means you can try the same product in sample form before breaking the seal of the full-size one. Great if you get it wrong and need to send it back.

7. Compare your current shade

Another fantastic foundation shade finder tool available is the website (opens in new tab). This site allows you to input your current shade of foundation and find its matching shade in another brand/formula. Its database houses over 68,000 foundation shades and cross references each product in order to find your perfect match. Genius.

8. Adapt to the seasons

During the summer months, especially if you're not using the best sunscreen for your face (opens in new tab), it's common to be a shade darker than your 'normal' skin tone and in the winter, you might be a little paler. This is completely normal and just means that you'll need to adapt your foundation to suit.

"Selecting the wrong shade tends to make the skin look a bit sallow and grey," says Joy. So, it's always worth having two foundation shades on rotation to see you through the year.

9. What is your desired look?

Whether you want to look sun-kissed or prefer a porcelain complexion, your desired look will have an effect on your foundation shade finding. Those applying fake tan to their body may have a paler face and opting for a foundation a shade or two darker than your face will match your body.

Similarly, if you're outside a lot and your face is considerably darker than your body, you may find a foundation one or two shades lighter desirable. The choice is yours.

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