When shopping for foundation, first you have to decide what you want the foundation to do, says celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine (whose clients include Tyra Banks, Iman, and Jennifer Hudson). Yes, before you even start color-matching, you need to know if you want sheer coverage that will just even out your skin tone, or heavier cover up. "Formula is almost more important than finding the right shade," Sam says. "We're so caught up in shopping for the color that we forget about our special needs. Women of color scar and hyperpigment more easily from acne, so we need more coverage. I don't care if you're oily—and every black woman is not oily—if you need coverage, you must use a cream foundation. But that doesn't necessarily mean you need to apply the cream all over your face. Just apply a stick foundation in certain areas and if you're oily, use a primer. You want the foundation to look very light and natural, but you still may need to step it up in the coverage department."
To help navigate which formula's right for you, here's Sam's advice (along with his favorites from each category):
For the most coverage, Sam recommends cream formula foundations. "Dermablend and Cover FX can cover scars and tattoos. It's the most coverage you can get, but you can just use them for spot treatment," Sam explains. For those who don't need full camouflage, Sam suggests cream-to-powder formulas and mousses. For foundation sticks, he likes Black Opal and Bobbi Brown's. "MAC and Bobbi Brown have great shades. Their range is limited, but they do go really dark. For very deep skin tones, try MAC or Fashion Fair. I've worked with Alek Wek and she uses Fashion Fair."
Black Opal True Color Stick Foundation
Cover Girl Queen Collection Natural Hue Compact Foundation
Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse Foundation
"Not all liquid foundations give lighter coverage. Some mattifying liquids are really heavy, almost like toothpaste. As a pro, I prefer a cream foundation when I want to cover up because it offers more control and is less messy," Sam says. "But medium coverage is real woman coverage—if you don't have a ton of acne scarring or hyperpigmentation and just want to even out your skin tone, that's all that you need. MAC Face and Body Foundation is on the sheerer side but still gives great coverage."
And just as all liquid foundations aren't necessarily lighter in coverage than creams, tinted moisturizers aren't all sheer. "Laura Mercier's Tinted Moisturizer is not sheer," according to Sam, who recommends watery formulas like YSL's Perfect Touch Radiant Brush Foundation and Giorgio Armani's Face Fabric.
For truly sheer coverage, Sam turns to a light dusting of powder. "Any kind of pressed powder can be used instead of foundation and wet-to-dry formulas will give the most coverage. Removing shine makes skin appear more consistent in color and texture," Sam explains. "If you paint a bumpy wall matte, it will look more smooth. A little powder in the T-zone will make your skin look more consistent in color and texture. And that may be just enough makeup for someone." That said, all powders were not created equal, warns Sam, who loves translucent loose powders without heavy pigments. He also isn't a fan of mineral makeup: "I have not met a mineral makeup that I felt like I could recommend and I haven't really seen colors that are really rich enough for the beautiful hues in the women of color spectrum."
Sam's shopping tip #1:"If you're just going to use a little spot cover, you need to try it where you're going to apply it. If you're shopping for a liquid foundation or tinted moisturizer—something that you're going to use all over the face, test it on the jawline. When it comes to color-matching, the jawline is your truest color, but keep in mind that shade will not match the center of your face."
Sam's shopping tip #2: "I use foundation that's one shade lighter under everyone’s eyes—a highlight under the eyes looks more flattering and helps me bridge the shade at her jawline and at the center of her face without looking un-dimensional. No woman is just one color. You had range and dimension, but foundation can rob you of that if you use just one shade. Liquid foundation and tinted moisturizer tend to be sheerer, so you’ll still have some of your dimension showing through. Stay lighter in the center of the face, truer at the outer perimeter and chin and darker on the forehead—many women of color don’t wear sunscreen and are darker on the forehead. Apply bronzer or a darker foundation powder to the forehead and jawline. If you use the same shade as center of the face, it’ll look false. You need to do something to warm that area and all along the outer perimeter of the forehead. You need to make it look bronze and rich."
Sam's Shopping Tip #3: "Makeup shopping is trial and error. If you like one brand's foundation but when they put the powder on you it looks ashy, that doesn't mean you can't still buy the foundation. Free your mind and think about your skin's needs. You don't have to get everything from one line."