top of page



In-depth, informed beauty reviews and advice from a professional makeup artist & lover of all things natural and organic

  • Writer's pictureShelley Scott


If you're a regular foundation-wearer then apologies as I'm sure none of this will be new information to you, but if you're new to wearing makeup or only sometimes wear foundation, I'm hoping this will be a good beginner's guide to breakdown some of the most common lingo you'll hear at the makeup counters or in reviews and also give you some good tips on how to choose the best foundation for you and how to apply it so that it looks great.

Hope you find it helpful x

So here's a basic breakdown of the terminology you'll most often hear in reference to foundation:


Fairly straight-forward. You need to consider to what degree do you want to 'cover' your skin and what are you trying to minimise the appearance of. The main types of coverage are;

Sheer Coverage: Best for people who have good skin, don't like wearing a lot of makeup or don't like the feel of a full face of makeup on their skin. Also suits mature skin as this tends to be the least likely to sit in fine lines and wrinkles. Most foundations can be worn for 'sheer' coverage. You just apply very little of the product and really blend it in. However foundations that are 'sheer' by nature often are not made to be applied in lots of layers if you want full coverage and will look cakey and very obvious if you try to do this. At the most you might be able to get to a medium level of coverage if the foundation is a good one. Tinted moisturisers, BB Creams & CC's creams are all basically just very sheer foundations with some added skincare benefits. The main aim of a sheer coverage is simply to even out your skin tone, minimise a little redness and/or brighten tired and dull looking skin. They are not suitable on their own for covering blemishes, completely masking redness or discolouration etc. But you could wear them along with a heavier concealer if you have just a few small areas that need to be covered.

Medium Coverage: Most true 'foundations' are medium coverage that can be 'sheered out' or 'built up' to full coverage. They are the most flexible option and can be worn by any age or skin type. A medium coverage foundation will not hide everything but should even out skin tone and definitely minimise any redness, pigmentation or blemishes.

Full coverage: Generally I wouldn't recommend buying a full coverage foundation if you only want full coverage sometimes, like for an event, as these foundations are much harder to 'sheer out'. A good full coverage foundation should do just that, completely cover redness, pigmentation or any marks and completely even out your skin tone so that it is all one uniform colour. If you don't like the feel of a lot of makeup on your skin, then these aren't for you. I also wouldn't recommend these for mature skin as it will emphasise wrinkles or anyone going for a natural look. At the end of the day though, it's makeup, not magic, so if you have for instance a large scar or large deep-coloured birthmark, your average full coverage foundation still may not completely cover it and you may need some other products as well (look out for my future post on this though)


Just as there are generally 3 types of coverage, there are 3 main types of finish: Dewy, Satin (Semi-Matt) or Matt.

Dewy: Creates a healthy appearance to the skin that makes your skin look slightly moist. Not necessarily shiny but your skin will reflect light and have more of a luminous glow to it. You can still create a luminous glow with a matt foundation but that's another post again. People who have dry and dehydrated or mature skin tend to prefer a dewy finish as these foundations feel more moisturising. Those with oily skin will tend not too like these as it makes them feel oilier, more shiny and it won't last long on their skin. 'Dewy' foundations by nature tend not to last as long on the skin. Those with oily skin who like a dewy finish, don't fret there are still dewy foundations you can use, just make sure they are oil-free.

Matt: Basically the opposite of dewy, skin will not look moist or have the same sheen to it as a dewy finish. Those with oily skin tend to prefer a matt finish as it minimises the appearance of their oiliness. Matt foundations tend to last longer and have slightly better coverage than dewy foundations. Matt foundations are also better suited if creating a vintage look of any kind. Again though, sometimes those with dry skin also prefer a matt finish and there are matt foundations that aren't drying on skin (again watch out for a future post on this).

Satin or Semi-Matt: For those who are on the fence, a good middle ground. Gives a slight sheen to the finish and is probably the closest to how most people's skin looks naturally. Most of the foundations I use in my professional kit are semi-matt as you can make them look dewy by mixing them with a primer or moisturiser or make them look more matt by setting them with powder. The best of both worlds.


This is a term you'll hear constantly when it comes to foundation and all it means is how well you are rubbing the product into your skin to ensure there are now obvious lines (around the jaw is a common one) and no patches where the foundation is sitting on top of the skin more than it is in other areas. Blending helps you foundation to look more natural and last longer.

There are 3 main ways to apply and blend your foundation. You can use only one, a mixture or all 3 if you prefer.

1) Your fingers: Pros are that this warms up the product (especially if it's thicker) and helps it 'melt' into your skin more. You also get a better feel of the product and you have very little product wastage as none of it is being absorbed by a brush or a sponge.

2) A brush: Which brush you use depends on the type of foundation you're using i.e. liquid or powder. I'll do a separate post on the best brushes as part of my 'foundation series'. The pros of using a brush is that it blends the product in well, you're not left with any finger marks on your face and it doesn't really require any skill. The only con is that a small amount of product will be lost as it is absorbed by the brush. A way to avoid this is to apply with fingers first and then blend with a brush.

3) A makeup sponge or Beauty Blender: Some people will apply the product directly on to the sponge and then on to their face but personally, I think you waste too much product this way. Instead, as with a brush, apply the product with your fingers first, blend it into your face slightly but not all the way and then finish off by using the sponge in a dabbing motion (not a rubbing motion) all over your face.


Obviously if you prefer a natural/organic foundation or need a fragrance free foundation for sensitive skin, then that's your first step but either way, the next things you need to look out for are as follows:

1) Choose foundations that match your skin type: Unless you're going for a particular look e.g. a vintage look with a matt foundation, for day to day wear find out which foundations are best suited to dry, oily, combination, sensitive or redness prone skin etc (I'll do a post soon for each)

2) Choose a foundation that matches your skin's undertones: Your skin's surface tone is basically the colour you'd describe your skin to be e.g. ivory, tan, dark etc and that's often the name of the shades in the foundation too. But you also have to think about your skin's undertones.

Everyone's skin is made up of a multitude of undertone colours (reds, greens, purples etc) but your undertone is the predominant undertone of your skin. This is not the same thing as the shade or colour of your skin. For instance someone with very dark African skin can have a cool undertone the same as someone with a pale Nordic skin. There are 4 main undertones:

  • Cool: Will have pinkish/redish/bluish tones to their skin. The veins on their wrists will tend look more blue/purple. They tend to burn more quickly in the sun. Silver and platinum jewellery tends to suit them better than gold.

  • Warm: Will have yellowish,/peachy/golden tones to their skin. The veins on their wrists will tend to look more blue/green. They tend to tan in the sun more quickly and tend to suit copper and gold jewellery better.

  • Neutral: A good mixture of the above, neither particularly pink or yellow and veins will tend to look blue.

  • Olive: The wild-card of the group. It is a combination of the neutral, slightly yellow undertone everyone has plus the greenish ashen hue that’s unique to olive skin. Olive skin tone is very specific, but is not neutral, as some tend to call it. It can sometimes look grey/ashy especially if you use the wrong foundation.

Now that you have an idea of how to guage your undertone, when trying foundations at a counter you can ask which shades are designed for warm or cool tones. However, at the end of the day, it is quite subjective as some people choose to play up or play down their undertones. For example, I am very pale and actually have neutral undertones but tend to opt for a warm based foundation to give my skin just a little bit of colour.

**NOTE: If you are a MAC foundation wearer then the MAC Foundation colour coding system is basically backwards (just to make things more complicated) to everything we know about undertones which I've outlined above. Basically, they refer to 'Warm' as having pink undertones and 'Cool' as having golden undertones. It is split into the following:

C - Stands for Cool. Best for yellow, golden olive skin. NC - Stands for Neutral Cool. So is best for skins with a slight golden glow. Common color. N - Stands for Neutral. Beige skin. Common color. (only available in Studio Fix Foundation) W - Stands for warm. So best for pinkish skin. NW - Stands for Neutral warm. Pink beige skin. If you have irish in your blood you could be W or NW.

It's best to think of NW as being 'NOT Warm or Neutralises Warm' and NC as being 'NOT cool or Neutralises Cool'. However, when it comes to MAC concealers, the coding takes on a whole new meaning as it depends on what colour under-eye circles you tend to get. The numbers after the letters e.g. NC45 simply refers to how light or dark the shade is, the higher the number, the darker the shade.

3) Test out your foundation by applying it to your jawline, your neck and your collarbone and also in natural daylight. The best way to do this is to ask for a sample at the counter that you can take home. The artificial lights in shops will often distort your idea of whether it's the correct shade for you, so daylight is always best. The reason you should test it on your jawline, neck and collarbone is that as a general rule, you should be matching your foundation to those areas as opposed to your actual face so that the colour of your face with foundation on, blends seamlessly into your body and you don't get the 'floating head' look where your face is a different colour from your body. So if the lady at the counter tries to test the foundation on your cheek (which they often do) don't let this sway you. You don't want to drop £20 or £30 on a foundation only to leave the shop and find it's the wrong shade.

If you are someone who tends to opt for a slightly different colour than those that exactly match your skin tone because you want to give your face a bit more colour then it's really important that you blend your foundation down onto your neck area as well so that it all matches.


STEP 1: Take care of your skin. If your skin is dehydrated and or has dry, flakey patches then you could have the best foundation in the world and it will still cling to those patches of texture. Some will cling less so than others but any texture on the skin like loose skin will only show up as being more visible once you apply foundation. So exfoliate! If your skin is dehydrated your foundation will also end up looking patchy so make sure you moisturise regularly. A light-weight oil free moisturiser is always a good one to use before applying makeup and then if you need it, a richer one in the evening.

STEP 2: PRIMERS: Not essential, comes down to personal preference. Personally, I would never apply foundation to a client's skin without using a primer first. This again is a whole other post but again, match your primer to your skin type and it will help your foundation go on more evenly and last longer.

STEP 3: Always shake the bottle before you use it. Nowadays a lot of foundations have a serum-like consistency and the formulation can split slightly if you don't shake it first and you'll get the watery part of the formulation sitting at the top of the bottle.

STEP 4: Apply your foundation in thin layers. Basically don't put a shit load of product all over your face. Start with a little and if you need more coverage, add a second layer. This will prevent it from looking cakey and help it to last longer.

Apply first to either side of your nose and then blend outwards as generally most people need the majority of coverage in the centre of their face and need less outwards towards the jaw line.

Don't apply foundation all the way up to your hairline. Instead leave an area of about 1cm around your hairline and then just blend your foundation out to the edges with your brush, sponge or fingers.

Speaking of which, it's personal preference what you apply it with. Personally I find I get the best results by first applying with fingers until it's almost blended in and then going over it with a very-slighlty damp sponge like a Beauty Blender.

Finally, if you want your foundation to last longer than a few hours. You have to set it with a powder. Either a translucent setting powder or a very light-weight powder similar to the colour of your foundation ( saw it coming, I'll do another post about this at some point too).

STEP 5: Always blend your foundation under your jaw line so that you don't get the dreaded line of foundation along your jaw. If your foundation doesn't match the skin on your neck perfectly then you'll need to blend further down on to your neck as well.


Makeup is not magic (although it's not far off in my opinion) and from the common complaints I hear, sometimes I think we have to just manage our expectations a little more. A good foundation should last about 4 hours without any touchups, maybe 6 if it's a really good one and you don't have oily skin. If you want it to last longer, you have to set it but even then, generally they won't last for 12 hours if all you do is slap it on and forget about.

Secondly, foundation as a makeup product is not supposed to completely hide every single red mark, pimple or bit of pigmentation on your face. Really foundations are there just to even out your skin tone and concealers should do the rest because if you try to cover everything with your foundation, it'll end up looking like a mask.

And that's it! Hope this helps someone when they're thinking of getting a new foundation. Please subscribe to see future posts about the best foundations for each skin type and my all time top 5 foundations.

Shelley x

60 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page