Usually, I have to undergo several weeks of preparation before I can muster up the mental courage to embark on a foundation shopping trip. The first step is furiously scrubbing off the residual makeup that's caked on the empty bottle of my foundation to try and decipher the shade name. It's usually something arbitrary and food-related like cocoa or mocha, but that's a conversation for another day.
Then I make a hit list and map out the brands that I know have more than 10 shades in their range (or at least one that they deem appropriate for darker skin tones). When I finally make it into the shop, I'm already weary by the time I decide which foundations to swatch.
Then I find it: a seemingly good match. Well, it's a good match until I take it home and head out into the sun and realise my face has oxidised into a shade of brick red. While foundation is actually one of my favourite makeup products, shopping for one is not my favourite activity.
When you find a game-changing foundation, it can really transform the way the rest of your makeup looks, so I decided to save you some trouble and test them all out.
I tried out all the foundations on the market that claim to be best for darker skin tones, making sure to bookmark which ones live up to the hype for your (and my future) ease. As my astrology chart will attest, I take to all things with the precision and dedication of studying for a Ph.D. So I set some strict testing conditions. I used Hourglass Veil Mineral Primer (£53) as the base for each foundation, did my brows and eye makeup and didn't use any setting powder or concealer when photographing the results. I also used a Beautyblender (£17) to apply all of the foundations.
Here are my findings.
1. Huda Beauty #FauxFilter Foundation
If I'm going to battle with foundation shopping, then I need the foundation to be full-coverage. I refuse to go to all of that trouble for something that gives me a subtle hint of colour. Needless to say, this foundation ticked a lot of boxes for me. Disclaimer: It's very thick. (It has the consistency of Greek yoghurt.) But once it's blended out, it gives an even base without any patches or creases. I usually wear under-eye concealer, but with this foundation, I'd probably be able to skip it.
My shade: Mocha
2. Glossier Perfecting Skin Tint
I was fully prepared to dislike this one as soon as I saw "lightweight coverage" on the product packaging. As I shook the mini bottle, I was already wondering if my skin was akin to that of the cool city girls with impossibly dewy skin that Glossier usually attracts. When I first applied it, I used a sponge, and it looked like I'd just spent 13 hours sweating out my foundation on the tube.
I decided to try again, using my fingers and taking some time to blend it into my face, and the results were much better. The coverage is actually good for a natural, your-skin-but-dewier vibe. With a few strategic powder touch-ups, this could easily be my go-to for low-key workdays.
My shade: G3
3. Sleek Makeup Crème to Powder Foundation
This gave me instant flashbacks to my first teen foundation shopping trip with my mum. I haven't used a compact foundation for years, but I was pleasantly surprised. For a drugstore foundation, the shade range was great and really true to life. The formulation leaned more toward the glowier side of life, which I actually enjoyed, but it does promise to dry down into a matte powder, which it didn't. I would use this if I were going for more of a natural finish, but it didn't have the staying power that I expected.
My shade: C2P18
4. Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation
If I'm going to cheat on my beloved matte foundations with anything, it's going to be this one. This was an absolute pleasure to apply thanks to the buttery-smooth consistency. It was long-lasting and managed to re-create that luminous summertime skin with the added benefit of medium coverage.
My shade: 13.5
5. MAC Cosmetics Studio Fix Fluid Foundation
This was my very first "big-girl" foundation—one that I actually had to go into a department store to purchase and came in its very own branded bag. A defining moment. This is a heavy-duty, full-coverage foundation that's easy to blend, but most importantly, it stays put. A lot of foundations on the market claim to last for all kinds of durations but rarely do. Studio Fix does, and with a huge number of shades, it's really stood the test of time.
My shade: NC50
6. Clinique Even Better Refresh Hydrating and Repairing Makeup
I usually only get a satisfaction out of makeup when I catch a glimpse of my highlighter shimmering on my skin in a shop window or when I find the perfect shade of red lipstick to match London buses. But this foundation gave me that same good feeling. It has the rare ability to look better the longer you wear it and balanced out my skin tone while still making it look real. I'm hooked, and I've been wearing it ever since.
My shade: Clove
7. Chantecaille Beauté Future Skin Foundation
Chantecaille Beauté's skincare has always been on my radar, especially after the range saved my skin on a 10-hour flight to L.A. It's never really been my first choice when it comes to foundation, as, to be completely honest, I wasn't expecting a huge shade range. I tried the darkest shade in the very small collection, but it worked well for me, and I'm glad it did, as this has fast-tracked its way into my makeup bag. With the consistency of a dense night cream, it thins out as I blend it in for a soft finish that managed to give my face a plump look that's reminiscent of post-facial skin. The fact that it also offers great coverage feels like a bonus.
My shade: Carob
8. Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation
This foundation had me peering into the mirror like I was a young girl of 13 who'd just discovered makeup. Not only was it a dream to apply, as it went on so evenly, but it also dries and settles into a powder. This isn't a wishy-washy powder finish either—this is next-level matte perfection that doesn't require even a hint of setting powder, fixing spray or oil blotting sheets. This stuff is magical.
My shade: Ebony
9. Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup
This is a classic and for good reason. It's one of the OG long-wear foundations, and it really does its job of not budging. I wore this on a jam-packed, busy day, and it really held its own. It was very unhelpful that, when I was out and about, I forgot to pack my trusty blotting powder with me, but I didn't need it. While it is a matte foundation, it still managed to give my skin some life, so the speckles of shine that peeked through as the day went on only enhanced the finish.
My shade: 6N2 Truffle
10. Dior Diorskin Forever Fluid Foundation
This stuff is like a vacation in a foundation. I was really impressed by the amount of radiance that's packed into this bottle, as it made my skin look brighter and smoothed any uneven texture out.
My shade: 6.5N
11. Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation
There's been so much hype about this foundation, mainly as a result of the incredible offering of shades that it boasts. I was a bit confused as to where to even start with picking one to match my complexion, as I'm quite accustomed to having one to three dark shades to pick from. Once I found the shade, that's when the fun really began. First of all, this is such an easy foundation to apply, as the consistency is fluid enough to be blendable but without any patchiness. There's a softness in the formula that gave my skin a much-needed boost in complexion, and most importantly, it wears extremely well throughout the course of the day.
My shade: 440
12. Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Nude Foundation
There's something wrong with me. I spent a good 15 minutes in front of the mirror feeling guilty about wearing this foundation. I've been a long-time, dedicated wearer of its sister foundation, Teint Idole Ultra Wear. So wearing the nude version just didn't sit right with my spirit. That was until I let this settle in and took a look at the results. I had to play around with the application technique a few times, as it's quite a lightweight one and can glide around the face, but once it dries, it has such a smooth finish that has longevity.
My shade: 12
13. YSL All Hours Liquid Foundation
"Rich" is the only word to describe this foundation. All Hours is an overachiever in the world of full-coverage and long-lasting foundations. I applied it and was instantly sold by the silky texture and creamy finish. It's so satisfying to feel on the skin and that richness continued to come through the longer I wore it.
My shade: B85
14. La Mer The Soft Fluid Long Wear Foundation
I definitely had a moment of despair as I watched the remnants of this £98 foundation being washed away into the dark depths of the pipes beneath my bathroom sink. This feeling was long forgotten when I put it on again the next day and remembered just how hydrating it felt on my skin. It has a matte finish that still has a softness to it, so it didn't look like I'd thrown a bucket of foundation at my face. I didn't have to touch it up in the day but noticed a few patches at night, as the consistency is quite fluid. This would have scored higher, but I found the fragrance a bit too strong, as I could still smell it on my face an hour after application. Worth it for the skin feel, though.
My shade: Dusk 61
15. Nars Sheer Glow Foundation
I'm pretty sure that this foundation had me under some sort of spell, as I felt a strong compulsion to take around 25 pictures of my face on the day I wore this. It took less than a few minutes to apply but gave me the look of someone who had a team of five makeup artists diligently applying the product to their face for hours. This is a must-buy if you're not a consistent foundation wearer but want one that gives you fresh-looking skin and feels comfortable to wear over several hours.
My shade: Manaus
16. Maybelline Dream Urban Cover Foundation
Talk about coming full-circle. Maybelline Dream Matte Mousse was my first drugstore foundation, and I remember searching in every single store to find the one dark shade they had in the range. There's been quite the evolution, as this foundation melted on my skin for a flawless, matte finish that rivalled some of the more expensive foundations I tried. Despite the full coverage, the formula is really light. I preferred using a foundation brush with this one to keep the look quite subtle.
My shade: 352 Truffle
There you have it—a whirlwind tour of the foundations that are deserving of a spot in your makeup bag. I'd have to go with Clinique, Estée Lauder and Hourglass as my top picks. Huda Beauty and Fenty Beauty followed closely behind, though.
I was impressed by the shade range in most of the mid-range to luxury brands, but the drugstore brands still have a long way to go. What's most disappointing isn't actually the number of shades that some brands have but the tone and pigment of the shades for darker skin tones. There's such a spectrum of neutral, yellow and warm undertones in all of our skin, but this isn't adequately represented as the shades get darker. There's still a lot of work to be done.