Types of Foundations

Water-based Liquid Foundations

Water-based liquid foundations provide light to medium coverage. Most come in a dewy finish. The emollient content in these foundation allows other makeup like eyeshadows and blusher to be blended easily later on. This is a great option for those with normal to dry skin. Combination and oily skin types will be better off if the foundation is followed by pressed or loose powder to remove some of the shine

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Generally not the best option for women with combination skin (the finish makes oily areas look worse).
  • A tricky option for those with blemish-prone skin because the moisturizing ingredients can contribute to clogged pores.
  • If your skin is very oily, it could help a great deal to use an oil-control "primer"-type product underneath.
  • Not the best if you want to use cream blush or bronzer, as the finish makes it difficult to blend on smoothly.

Oil-based Liquid Foundations

Oil-based liquid foundations can be very soothing for women with very dry or mature skin. The emollient ingredients keep the skin dewy and supple and help to minimize the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Combination, oily and acne-prone skin types should steer clear of these.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Generally not the best option for women with combination skin (the finish makes oily areas look worse).
  • A tricky option for those with blemish-prone skin because the moisturizing ingredients can contribute to clogged pores.
  • Satin finish is a beautiful look for women of color (strong matte finishes can make dark skin look ashen).
  • Works with powder blush or bronzer only if you set the foundation with a sheer application of loose or pressed powder so the blush or bronzer doesn't grab and look too heavy.

Compact Foundations

Also called the 2-way cake, this pressed powder lookalike is a popular choice among women who are always on-the-go. It is perfect for those who are pushed for time, and want a speedy makeup. Compact foundation is actually a combination of foundation and face powder, so a one-step application accomplishes both the foundation and powder steps. Apply with a slightly damp sponge if you want greater coverage, or just use a dry sponge for a natural finish.

Compact foundations are ideal for oily and combination skin types because of the powder content, which has oil-absorbing properties. Avoid this if you have dry, flaky skin as the powder will exaggerate the flaky appearance.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Not a good option if you have any amount of flaky skin because the absorbent finish "grabs" to and exaggerates this issue.
  • Finish can be too absorbent and feel uncomfortable on dry skin.
  • Can look too thick or change color on those with very oily skin. The color change occurs when pigments in the foundation mix with the excess oil and oxidize.
  • Powdery finish doesn't work well with cream blush or bronzer.
  • If you want more coverage, building too much powder on your skin can look thick and overdone.

Cream-to-Powder Foundation 

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Depending on the formula, can blend on too thick and look more obvious than other types of foundation.
  • Not for very oily skin because the cream portion exaggerates shine and the powder finish isn't strong enough to keep excess oil in check.
  • Not for dry to very dry skin because the finish exaggerates dry areas, even when they're prepped with moisturizer.
  • Depending on how powdery the finish is, this type of foundation can impede smooth application of cream blush or bronzer.

Stick Foundation

Stick foundations are essentially cream-to-powder foundations in stick form. If you want a cream-to-powder foundation and prefer the convenience of a stick these are an option, but they have drawbacks, which is why there aren't many of these being sold. Most stick foundations go on thicker than powder or cream-to-powder foundations, which make them more problematic for those with oily or blemish-prone skin. Plus, some stick foundations feel thick and heavy.

Because of their size and the type of packaging, stick foundations do travel well, but overall, even the best ones in this category should be approached cautiously. Apply with a sponge or using your fingertips. It provides sheer to full coverage, and is available in either matte or creamy finish. For the best results, it is better to smooth on thinly, going layer on layer, rather than be hard-handed at one go. 

TIP: Stick foundations can double as concealers.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Some stick foundations have a thick, waxy texture that looks heavy and can lead to clogged pores and/or can worsen acne.
  • Blending can be tricky because most stick foundations set quickly, so you don't have as much play time as with liquid foundations.
  • If the finish is too creamy, it can crease into lines around the eye.
  • This type of foundation is not the best for blemish-prone skin.

Tinted Moisturizers

These provide minimal coverage, and are perfect for those blessed with rather good complexion. Tinted moisturizers are good for adding a hint of color to sallow complexions and to conceal very slight complexion flaws. Because coverage is so sheer, if you've gotten one with a slightly wrong shade, the mistake will probably go unnoticed. Tinted moisturizers are more suitable for younger skins, which look healthy enough on their own. Younger skins that want a little more coverage can try this tip: mix the moisturizer with your foundation on the back of your hand to create your custom-blended moisturizing foundation.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Coverage can be too sheer for any apparent flaws, including skin discolorations, broken capillaries, or red marks from acne, rosacea, or dark circles.
  • Generally, these are too moist or creamy for oily or breakout-prone skin, putting you at risk for further breakouts.
  • The moist finish makes application of powder blush or bronzer difficult. For best results, set with a dusting of loose or pressed powder or go for a cream blush or bronzer.

Mineral Makeup

Despite widespread marketing to the contrary or what you may have heard, mineral makeup isn't a special type of foundation—it is merely a powder foundation sold in either loose or pressed form.
As mentioned above, mineral makeup comes in loose or pressed versions, although the loose-powder version is more common. Both typically provide heavier coverage than what you can achieve from regular pressed-powder foundations. Mineral makeup with sunscreen rated SPF 25 or greater is an easy way to add to the sun protection from your daily moisturizer and/or liquid foundation. They can add a soft shine finish to skin, but be careful because many mineral makeups impart too much shine. It also works beautifully with powder blush or bronzers.

Possible negatives to watch out for:

  • Mineral makeup can be drying and too absorbent for dry skin or dry areas.
  • The color can oxidize, pool in large pores, and change color or look streaky over oily areas.
  • Generally, this type of foundation doesn't work for women of color because the finish and color itself looks ashen or too pasty.
  • Loose mineral foundation is by far the messiest type of foundation. It can be a pain to travel with because the powder tends to "leak" and the component gets messy.
  • This type of foundation is not at all compatible with cream blush or bronzer