Traditionally, foundation makeup, or base, had one use: to create a consistent complexion all over the face, which acts as a canvas for the rest of your makeup application. Modern foundations have skin-enhancing effects, have buildable coverage and are functional for multiple skin types.
Now, there are formulas that add moisture, eliminate shine or have anti-agers. Some foundations provide the sheerest coverage -- offering little more than a hint of color -- while others will hide every undesired blemish or dark mark. Much like many beauty products these days, some foundations are multi-taskers and claim to clear up acne while subtracting years. Of course, as with any product category, it's best to examine these claims warily; not every foundation lives up to expectations. Even more importantly, even the best foundation won't work well for every skin type. It's important to consider the coverage, finish (that is, matte, semi-matte or luminous), available shades, application and any other benefits a foundation may offer.
Liquid foundation is the most common type of foundation makeup. Depending on the formula, liquid can be appropriate for all skin types and provide a wide range of coverage. Liquids are commonly applied with a foundation brush, makeup sponge or fingertips. Because buildable coverage is easier to achieve with a liquid foundation than a powder or cream, they offer more versatility.
However, liquids tend to look shiny after a few hours and are usually used in combination with a setting powder. Depending on the formula, some wearers find that they also feel a bit heavy or suffocating on skin. Application can also be time-consuming.
Powder foundations are another popular option. These typically offer a matte finish that's great for normal to oily skin, but can accentuate fine lines or dry patches on dryer skin. Coverage varies based on the formula, but it usually isn't very buildable, as too much can often look cakey and feel heavy. Powder foundations are typically applied with a makeup puff, sponge or powder brush. Most users find them far quicker and easier to apply and less messy than liquid formulas, plus compact powders are highly portable for on-the-go touch-ups.
Mineral foundations are also powders -- though there are some exceptions -- and offer many of the same benefits. They are marketed as a natural alternative to standard foundation makeup, but some experts are skeptical of these claims. Cosmetic chemists at TheBeautyBrains.com say, "There's nothing magical that happens just because the products contain minerals; basically, that's just hype from the cosmetic companies."
Testing done by consumer advocate groups affirm the chemists' assertions. In fact, many well-known mineral foundations contain as many synthetic ingredients and preservatives as non-mineral makeup. Both mineral foundations discussed in our report are approved by beauty expert Paula Begoun for women with sensitive skin.
BB cream is a relative newcomer -- it's been trending for about a year now -- to the foundation category. (The "BB" can have various definitions, including blemish balm, blemish base, beauty balm and others.) Where tinted moisturizer used to corner the market on ultra-light, hydrating coverage, BB cream has taken over. The formula is touted for its ability to moisturize, hide blemishes, provide sun protection plus add a bit of color.
The competition in this category has gotten fierce with price points ranging from $10 to $50. CC creams (Color Corrector) and DD creams (Dynamic Do-Alls) have also cropped up at the beauty counter claiming to be amped-up BB creams, the next step in your beauty product journey.
Concealer is the last step. It can be applied under or over foundation (this is both a matter of preference and depends on the foundation formula used) and can be applied with a concealer brush or fingertips. The most common use for concealer is hiding blemishes or under-eye circles. Typically there are different concealers for each purpose, but a couple standouts can work well for both.
Foundations and concealers are widely available at drugstores, department stores and specialty shops, but we didn't see a strong correlation between price and performance. The least expensive start around $8 to $10, but we found recommendations for formulas as pricey as $60. There is also a range of other products often used in tandem with foundation and concealer, like primer, setting powder or setting spray; these categories aren't discussed in this report.
There are numerous reviews available for foundation. Beauty and lifestyle publications like Allure, Good Housekeeping, InStyle, Redbook, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Shape, Self and Real Simple offer roundups of the best bets based on expert input and real women's reviews. Beauty expert Paula Begoun and her Beautypedia team tirelessly update reviews for nearly every makeup product on the market, and we found all Beautypedia's reviews to be less than six months old.
A handful of beauty blogs also provide reviews along with one non-beauty-focused review publication, Choice magazine. Reviews from these experts and users helped define the best reviewed picks in five categories, including best liquid foundation makeup, best powder foundation makeup, best mineral foundation makeup, best BB cream and best concealer.