OK, trying to find the right foundation is a never-ending, awful task. With each new purchase you think, "Yes, this is the one. This will make me perfect and I will never think about my skin again." But it isn't, and it's discarded to the beige and brown foundation graveyard.
To help customers with this mammoth quest, lots of higher-end brands have assistants that can help you find a match, either just by using their own judgement or some sort of scanner contraption. Obviously, there are many, many brands that offer this service, but because we are mere mortals with time constraints, we decided to test out four brands at different pricepoints to see if it's worth putting your hopes, dreams, and faith into the hands/scanner of a stranger.
We tested out Nars, Benefit, No. 7, and Bare Minerals, and ranked them both on the service they offer and the foundations we were matched to.
1. We had to go to the counters barefaced.
2. We could tell the assistants about our preferences in foundation.
3. BUT we couldn't give any indication of what we think our shade is unless they asked us, so the assistants had to use their own judgement.
4. We had to try to get the most complete base: foundation all over, and any other products if they were available.
5. We had to wear the foundation for at least four hours.
This is us with our regular foundation on.
Tolani: My skin is oily, like, makeup-slides-off-my-face type of oily. So I've spent a lot of time and money looking for foundations that are mattifying and stay on for the whole day, which has proved a little difficult. To add to this, I have to deal with the struggle of finding a foundation in my shade and undertone. Foundation shopping is very frustrating for me.
Elizabeth: My skin is normal to dry with very yellow undertones. I recently went for a facial and was told my skin was dehydrated, even though I drink loads of water. I also have open pores on my cheeks, but other than that my skin and I get on pretty well. I also use a moisturiser with SPF30 because, you know, UV rays and city pollution.
Natalya: My skin is normal to dry, and I'm quite pale. However, I'm not so fair that I struggle to find light-enough foundation. Rather, my issue is that I have neither cool, nor warm, nor neutral undertones. I actually have olive/green undertones, which means that with a tan I look human but in the winter I look like a weird green reptilian. And not many brands cater to reptilians.
Tolani: I like to have a lot of coverage – I don't spend £30 to not look any different. I have a lot of dark spots on my face so I need a foundation that covers this. I have just discovered the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation in Shade 10, and it is the best foundation I have ever used. It covers every spot on my face, doesn't make me look shiny, and stays on the whole day.
Elizabeth: I don't ever want to look like I'm wearing foundation but I still want a flawless finish. On an average day I use MAC's Studio Moisture Tint with concealer under my eyes and on blemishes. For a ~fancy~ look, I rely on MAC's Matchmaster SPF15 which is a pretty perfect match, followed by concealer and MAC Mineralize Skinfinish, all in NC42.
Natalya: I like something quite sheer and dewy, but with enough coverage to hide the redness around my nose. At the moment I use Nars Sheer Glow in Gobi, which I apply with a beauty blender. Though the colour is the best match I've found to date, it isn't particularly sheer or glowy on my normal/dry skin and I'd prefer something dewier.
Tolani: Erm…this foundation is just a little mehhhh. Before deciding on the All Day Luminous Weightless foundation in New Guinea, the makeup assistant tried a lighter shade on me, which I thought looked better, but hey, she's the expert. The shade match is fine, but I think I look a little grey and one dimensional. The coverage is very subtle, which like I said before, I don’t like. But on a good note the foundation stayed on for the whole day, and it didn’t get too oily either.
Elizabeth: You know how I said I like a subtle finish? Well, yeah, Nars Sheer Glow in Medium 3 (Stromboli) was indeed subtle. Though my skin had coverage, it seemed a little flat and dry... Kinda lacklustre. The makeup assistant did apply it lightly, so perhaps you could build coverage, but it didn't have the finish I would like. Much prefer my usual foundation. I can't fault the match though.
Natalya: I do actually already use Nars Sheer Glow, bought from the exact same stall we went to. So I had to do a very unconvincing performance of not knowing which shade suits me and how the foundation feels so I could get matched. If the lovely girl that served me is reading this, I am so sorry. Anyway, the colour I was matched to was Gobi, which is a relief because it means I actually know what colour my skin is!!! The service was good, if a little rushed. Nars has an excellent range of colours, but I think ultimately this doesn't get on well with my dry skin and sits on top of it rather than giving me a natural finish.
Benefit Hello Flawless Oxygen Wow!, £26.50
Tolani: So this was the darkest shade that Benefit had to offer. 😒 I could actually see the relief on the lady's face when it worked for me. She used the Hello Flawless Oxygen Wow! in Nutmeg on me. The colour match was good and I was really impressed with the coverage! It added a nice glow to my skin, but the glow quickly turned to shine, and by shine I mean you could actually fry food on my face. It was applied in the morning, and by lunchtime I was ready to take it off.
Elizabeth: The customer service was fantastic – the makeup assistant took the time to ask me about all my preferences, then moisturised and primed my skin. My shade in both foundation and powder was Toasted Beige. At first the finished look was definitely veering into tangerine territory, but it settled in and then IRL it looked kind of amazing! As the day went on, I kept looking in the mirror because I looked so frickin' glowy. I could "feel" the foundation on my face, but I wasn't sure if it was just because it was way more than I usually wear. It also kind of irritated my eyes, but lots of things irritate my eyes. I wrote this, though, before I saw the pictures, so I can confirm that this foundation does not photograph well.
Natalya: The assistant really went all out and gave me the whole works, including moisturiser, primer, foundation, and powder. For all her efforts, I think the actual colour match is a letdown. I was matched to the lightest shade with yellow undertones; even so, it's still isn't right. This isn't obvious in the pictures or jarring IRL, but the skin around my eyes, where she didn't apply any foundation, looked grey in comparison to the rest of my face. This foundation also photographs bizarrely yellow and blotchy despite being peachy IRL. I also don't think they have a good range of shades, seeing as I am the lightest.
No. 7, £12.50–£16.50
Tolani: So this is what I would look like if I were dead. I can't believe how bad this is – a makeup expert did this to my face and was pleased with herself! HOW?! If you have seen No. 7's foundation campaign you will know that they have a fancy scanner which scans your face and finds "your perfect match". Lies, ALL LIES! As soon as she picked the Stay Perfect Foundation in Mocha I knew it was too dark, and told her so, but she told me "the scanner is never wrong". But the scanner was very wrong this time. Not only that, but look how shiny I look! Everything about this was bad.
Zero, zilch, zip, nil, nought, nothing/10
Elizabeth: I'm literally in whiteface. Like, literally, the offensive living embodiment of a reverse-minstrel show. If you look closely, you can see my normal skin trying to break free around my eyes. IRL, it wasn't that bad a match and the foundation gave a nice powdery-but-still-dewy finish. This is me with just foundation, so it probably would've looked better once I applied under-eye concealer and blusher/bronzer. I'm not convinced and I still prefer MAC.
Natalya: If you look closely at these pictures, you can see the sadness in our eyes. No. 7 should really change their campaign from "colour your way" to "colour your way but only if you're not too pale or dark or yellow." The assistant asked my preferences and scanned my face. I was matched to the palest shade in the range, Calico, in the Instant Radiance foundation. My heart dropped the moment she pumped it out of her hand because it looked pink-grey. What's the point of so many foundation ranges and finishes if you don't even do undertones, No. 7?????? And why do I look like I'm melting?
Bare Minerals foundations, £26
Tolani: This is by far my favourite foundation, I would definitely buy the Matte Powder in Warm Dark. The colour match and the coverage were perfect, and it looked great for the whole day. I was served by a black woman, and I think this made a huge difference. She seemed to have plenty of knowledge on my skin tone, and didn't just pick up any dark foundation. She tried several shades with different undertones before deciding on this one. She cleansed my face, applied primer, and gave me a little sample. I'm sold.
Elizabeth: I think I'm yet to come to terms with just how truly pale I am in the winter, but I still think this match was too pale for me. 👀 Before it was properly blended into my hairline, there was a serious colour contrast. The lovely sales assistant tried two different shades across my jaw, and chose the lighter of the two. Possibly I'd go back to try a full face of the darker shade. The product itself was really lovely – no parabens and SPF20, which is important to me. In another shade, it would be a dream product.
Natalya: The service was definitely the most thorough and professional. The assistant cleansed my face and used a serum on it, then a primer. She matched me to the shade Bare Ivory in the Pure Brightening Serum foundation. It's fairly sheer and has a lovely finish. However, it just wasn't the right shade. She kindly gave me a sample, which is an excellent touch. At home, in proper light, I tried it and could see it was just too peachy, especially in comparison to my Nars foundation. It's hardly perceptible in these pictures, but I know. And in broad daylight, anyone looking at my jawline will also know.
Tolani: As expected, looking for a good foundation shade was bloody frustrating. It's fair to say I've been left traumatised by my No. 7 experience. It proved to me that when it comes to foundation for darker skin it's best to go for higher-end brands. This experience also makes me think makeup assistants need training when it comes to darker skins, as no one but the lady at Bare Minerals seemed to have any clue. I will stick with my Charlotte Tilbury foundation, and maybe buy the Bare Minerals foundation once I run out.
Elizabeth: People take makeup lightly but bro, there are Burj Khalifa-type levels to this. Does your perfect match change day to day, hour by hour? Can there even be a perfect match considering your face is probably 50 different colours anyway? Can your perfect just be the one that makes you feel like you look good even if you look an Oompa-Loompa in pictures? Friends, I am truly lost and for now will be sticking to what I know works on camera and off: my tried-and-tested MAC.
Natalya: What is the point of free-market capitalism if beauty companies can't cater to all consumer foundation-based demands? I've got pretty good at being able to tell which foundation will suit me just on sight alone, and, ultimately, I know my skin better than anyone else. Finding the right foundation will always be a case of trial and error. You're always going to have to test it out several times before you know if it's right for you, no matter what a scanner tells you. But at least none of the assistants were pushy.