The Best Foundations for Every Skin Type, Concern, and Coverage

Start your makeup routine off right.

best foundations
(Image credit: Future)

Experimenting with lipstick, mascara, or eyeshadow is all pretty low-lift. I swap those beauty products in and out of my routine without a care. Complexion, on the other hand? I will jump into a deeply researched, highly opinionated debate about the best foundations ever to exist. Choosing the right product is very personal—foundations are now tailor-made to suit different skin types and tones, address specific concerns (think: dullness, acne, longwear), or provide varying levels of coverage. “Sheer is very lightweight, transparent and dewy, medium offers a more airbrushed finish to the skin, while full coverage is the most amount of coverage you can achieve,” notes makeup artist Pat McGrath, who was responsible for the runway looks seen at Maison Margiela, Anna Sui, and Yves Saint Laurant. 

There is no shortage of elegant formulations—I’ve personally tested well over a dozen launches this year alone. While some of the newer releases, like Laura Mercier’s Real Flawless Weightless Protecting Foundation or Saie’s Glowy Super Skin Tint Foundation, have made a significant impact on the industry (and onto this list), the majority of the best foundations of all time have been around for years. There’s a reason Giorgio Armani’s Luminous Silk, Charlotte Tilbury’s Airbrush Flawless, and YSL’s All Hours are best sellers across every single retailer; they’re that good. The finishes across the board are impeccable; there’s no separating, pilling, or fading, and the shade selections ensure an option for everyone. 

Whether your skin is oily, dry, red, dull, or textured (the list goes on!), a foundation will address your concerns and work with your skin type. To help kick-start your search, I’m sharing the best foundations of all time—according to editors, makeup artists, and celebrities—below.

The Best Foundations

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How to Choose the Best Foundation for Your Skin Type

It’s nearly impossible to name one universal best foundation. The reason is that the foundation that will work best for you depends on your skin type. “For example, those with dry skin may prefer dewy or radiant finishes to add luminosity and hydration to their complexion. On the other hand, individuals with oily skin may opt for matte or semi-matte finishes to control shine and maintain a long-lasting look,” explains makeup artist Benjamin Puckey. Those with combination skin may find that combining foundations is the best option, or they can choose a balance with a natural or satin finish to get a little glow without excess oil or dryness.

What Coverage Level Is Best?

There are three primary coverage options: Sheer, medium, and full coverage. “Sheer is very lightweight, transparent, and dewy; medium offers a more airbrushed finish to the skin, while full coverage is the most amount of coverage you can achieve,” explains McGrath. As important as these labels are, it’s worthwhile to note how much product you use and the tools at your disposal will affect the final finish. “It is easy to build up formulas and layers for added coverage just like it is easy to sheer out formulas by mixing in a drop of your favorite serum or moisturizer,” advises makeup artist Jasmine Ferreira

giorgio armnai

The Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation has dozens of celebrity fans, including Kim Kardashian, Maude Apatow, and Meagan Markle.

(Image credit: Giorgio Armani)

What Are the Best Application Tools for Foundation?

As McGrath eloquently explains, “Application is its own form of alchemy.” Using your fingers to apply the product provides warmth and sheer-to-light coverage, whereas a brush provides more control and a fuller coverage finish. “Using a fluffy brush with a buffing motion will result in a more airbrushed look. Using a traditional flat foundation brush or a dense brush to stipple on the foundation will always result in maximum coverage,” adds Ferreira. That all said, don’t be afraid to combine methods. Use your fingers or a sponge on spots where you prefer lighter coverage and a stippling brush to build up product around blemishes or discoloration.

How to Apply the Best Foundations

All our top makeup artists are aligned: Don't pump foundation directly onto your face. "I like to gently pump one to two pumps on the palm or back of the hand to warm up the product," says celebrity makeup artist Dominique Lerma. "Then blend the foundation starting at the center of the face and work outwards for a blurred finish." 

Foundation does not need to go everywhere, either“Foundation should not be wall-to-wall carpeting. Be purposeful with your application,” says Ferreira. You can always build up in areas that require spot coverage or a heavier finish, but your natural skin should shine through. 

One final (essential) tip: Make sure you’re applying foundation in good lighting to ensure your neck is blended and the color match is accurate.   

Meet the Experts

Pat McGrath

Pat McGrath is the world’s most influential and in-demand makeup artist. For over 25 years, McGrath’s creative vision has made her a tour de force whose legendary and creative power has transformed both beauty and fashion on a global scale. Throughout her career, Pat McGrath has been recognized around the world with some of the most prestigious honors and accolades, including The CFDA— Council of Fashion Designers of America Founder’s Award—the first Makeup Artist in history selected for their highest honor, The British Fashion Council 2017 Award for Fashion Creator and Time Magazine’s 2019 100 Most Influential People, as a “Titan” of the fashion industry. Each season, Pat McGrath conceptualizes and creates the beauty looks for over 60 ready-to-wear and couture shows in Milan, Paris, London and New York for the world’s most prestigious luxury brands and designers. In addition to her many shows and hundreds of shoots worldwide including every cover of Italian Vogue for twenty years, McGrath is also Beauty Editor-at-Large for British Vogue since 2017.

Dominique Lerma

Dominique Lerma is a Hollywood-bred, internationally published Makeup Artist and Beauty Educator known for her ability to create flawless complexions and innovative beauty looks. She fell in love with makeup artistry at a very young age and began beautifying faces for her classmates at her all-girl parochial high school. Her self-taught passion flourished when she was allowed to work with the world-renowned Mac Cosmetics and soon became a Viva Glam Ambassador. Her nine years in the beauty industry have landed her on the pages of Instyle, Nylon, Runway, and Photo Vogue Italia. She serves as a Beauty Educator for Frankie Rose Cosmetics and is a bilingual traveling sales representative for both Enzo Milano Professional Hair Styling Tools and Royal Langnickel Brush. Her creative expertise consists of Makeup artistry, hairstyling and men’s grooming.

Benjamin Puckey

Benjamin Puckey is a New York-based makeup artist. Since his breakthrough fashion spread with W Magazine in 2011, Puckey’s work has appeared across international editions of numerous publications such as VogueDazediDW MagazineAllure, and Harper’s Bazaar. He has also worked with brands including Ralph Lauren, Versace, and Oscar de la Renta, as well as jewelry houses David Yurman and Van Cleef & Arpels. He now serves as the Global Color Director for Clé de Peau Beauté .

Jasmine Diane Ferreira

Jasmine Diane Ferreira is a Makeup artist and National Learning Director at Lancome.

Beauty Editor

Samantha Holender is the Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she reports on the best new launches, dives into the science behind skincare, and shares the breakdown on the latest and greatest trends in the beauty space. She's studied up on every ingredient you'll find on INCI list and is constantly in search of the world's glowiest makeup products. Prior to joining the team, she worked as Us Weekly’s Beauty and Style Editor, where she stayed on the pulse of pop culture and broke down celebrity beauty routines, hair transformations, and red carpet looks. Her words have also appeared on Popsugar,,,, and Philadelphia Wedding. Samantha also serves as a board member for the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME). She first joined the organization in 2018, when she worked as an editorial intern at Food Network Magazine and Pioneer Woman Magazine. Samantha has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from The George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs. While at GWU, she was a founding member of the school’s HerCampus chapter and served as its President for four years. When she’s not deep in the beauty closet or swatching eyeshadows, you can find her obsessing over Real Housewives and all things Bravo. Keep up with her on Instagram @samholender.