Foundation Formulas 101: A Basic Guide to Foundation Formulations

photo of foundation bottle

It's no wonder that foundation is so difficult to get right. Not only have you got to consider the obvious like 'will this shade make me look like a pumpkin' but there's finish, coverage, longevity and formulation to to ponder over. Seeing as you then have to consider your skin's needs based on your age (younger vs mature skin will have different needs) your skin type and whatever season currently it is, it's all a bit of a confusing and potentially expensive journey. The same foundation can look completely different based on how it's applied, and it doesn't help that what looks amazing on one person will look absolutely terrible on another. Even if you find a foundation that works well, what looked good on your skin last week wont necessarily look good today. It's all very well getting matched to your perfect shade at a makeup counter, but that's just one factor to take into consideration. Here's a rundown of the most popular formulations and how they work with different skin types.

Liquid foundation has to be the most popular type of formulation out there by far, and when you think about foundation the first thing that probably springs to mind is a liquid foundation in a glass bottle. There are so many different finishes of liquid foundation there's probably one out there for everyone regardless of your skin type. As a general rule if you have oily skin or don't want to have to powder your foundation you should look for a product that's described as 'matte' or 'oil free.' If a dewy glow is more your thing, look for 'brightening' 'satin' or 'radiance boosting.' Liquid foundations are notorious for oxidising on the skin, so even if it feels like a match made in heaven on first application you might want to try it out over a few hours to make sure it hasn't turned you orange by the end of the day. I think when it comes to liquid foundation there are the most choices when it comes to application. Most foundation brushes will work well- flat top brushes, buffing brushes as well as standard 'paintbrush style' foundation brushes. A damp sponge or beauty blender is another brilliant way to achieve a flawless, even coverage and if you prefer you can just use your hands. My favourite method for applying liquid foundation is with the Real Techniques buffing brush.

Not quite a liquid and not quite solid, mousse foundation feels velvety and soft and usually give a flawless high-coverage finish. Mousse foundations generally give a matte finish on the skin, so great if you want to avoid looking shiny but don't want to add another layer with powder. This formulation definitely seems best suited to normal/ oiler skin types, if you do have dry skin use a good exfoliator beforehand as they have a tendency to cling to and accentuate dry and flaky patches. I'm not a fan of applying foundation with my hands, but with this formulation I do think that's what works best. I think a standard foundation brush works better than a flat top or buffing brush in this case, as unlike other formulations you don't need to buff this right into the skin.

Cream foundations are basically liquid foundation in block form. The finish is usually the same as a standard liquid foundation so will work with most skin types, although for a matte finish you'll need to set with powder or go for a 'cream to powder' formulation (but be aware this is likely to be disasterous  for dry skin). Cream foundations tend to have higher coverage than liquids, and are also easier and less messy to apply. A flat top or buffing brush will work best with this formulation, my favourite application is with the Real Techniques Expert Face Brush as it's soft, dense and gives a high coverage finish (sounding like a Real Techniques advocate now- I'm really not I just love their brushes!) 

This is different from pressed powder that you'd use to set your makeup or take away shine, unlike a pressed or setting powder this has coverage as it's an actual foundation. They include products like Mac's Studio Fix powder foundation and Loreal's Creamy Powder Foundation; I don't have any experience of using this formulation, but I can imagine if you have good skin and want to quickly add coverage without messing around with layering products on this would be perfect. For a light coverage use a loose powder brush, and a heavier coverage can be achieved with a denser powder brush or mineral makeup brush.

Mineral makeup is usually fragrance free, contains no oils and none of the harmful ingredients found in some other formulations. This means it's ideal for everyone, especially people with sensitive or acne prone skin. Unlike other types of foundation this won't leave an obvious layer on the skin, so if you need something that's good coverage but is undetectable (e.g. men looking to cover blemishes or redness, or if you're still at school and not allowed to wear makeup- this is the stuff for you). Mineral makeup is best applied with a domed or flat top kabuki-style mineral makeup brush.

What's your favourite type of foundation?
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  1. Nice and comprehensive. Thanks for sharing this. I love foundation - all types. But I feel that liquid probably works the best. Or liquid + powder together.
    Beauty Fashion Skin Care Blog -Girlie Blog Seattle | Casual Chic Style

    1. Thank you :) At the moment I'm using liquid, although I probably prefer creams just because they're a bit more coverage and easier to apply x

  2. great post, I found this interesting to read all the different types x

  3. I love Liquid in winter and liquid and powder in summer.

    Great post nice read

    Carrieanne x

  4. Great info! Thank you for spreading JOY and sharing at the Oh What a HAPPY Day party.

    Holly at Not Done Growing

  5. Hi Stacey
    I'm visiting from our Thursdays Favorite Things Blog Hop. Thanks or sharing your awesome post. This is some great information.
    Angel @ sewcraftyangel

    1. Thank you, so glad you found it useful :) x

  6. thanks for all the info! :) foundation is so daunting... after all its all over your whole face lol, it better look good!!!! :)

  7. Thank-you! This is a useful guide!!

    Please stop by my blog..

    Brittany, xx

  8. I really don't know whether I must use foundation or not. Whenever I use it I usually ended up white and shiny. Please do a post on choosing right foundation shade