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How to choose foundation at the drug store?

Choosing the right foundation can seem daunting, especially when faced with the overwhelming options at your local drugstore. With the right knowledge, tips and tricks, you can narrow down your choices to find the perfect foundation that suits your skin type, tone, coverage needs and budget. Follow this guide to demystify drugstore foundations and walk away with your ideal base product.

Know Your Skin Type and Concerns

The first step in choosing a foundation is identifying your skin type. This will help determine what formulas and finishes will work best for you.

Dry Skin

Look for hydrating foundations with a more emollient, creamy texture. Avoid powders, as they can emphasize dry patches.

Oily/Combination Skin

Go for oil-free, matte finish foundations. You may also want to consider foundations that help control oil and shine throughout the day.

Sensitive Skin

Stick to gentle, non-irritating formulas free of potential irritants like fragrance and parabens. Mineral and powder foundations are usually well-tolerated.

Mature Skin

Look for foundations with a more luminous finish to impart a youthful glow. Anti-aging foundations with ingredients like peptides can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Acne-Prone Skin

Choose oil-free, non-comedogenic formulas that won’t clog pores. Make sure to wash makeup brushes regularly to keep pores clear.

Dark Spots/Discoloration

Color-correcting foundations with built-in coverage can help even out skin tone and conceal dark spots or hyperpigmentation.

Know Your Undertones

Choosing a foundation in the wrong undertone can result in an unnatural, mask-like appearance. Figure out your undertones before shade matching:

Warm Undertones

You likely have warm yellow, peachy and golden tones. Veins appear greenish, you tan easily and silver jewelry may look dull against your skin. Warm foundations with yellow/golden undertones are most flattering.

Cool Undertones

Your skin has more pink, red or blue undertones. Veins look bluer and silver jewelry is more complimentary. Opt for foundations with pink, rose or beige undertones.

Neutral Undertones

Your skin tone falls somewhere in between warm and cool. Veins may appear both green and blue. You can wear both silver and gold jewelry. Stick to neutral foundations.

Not sure about your undertones? Drape different colored fabrics like silver, gold and white against your neck – whichever is most complimentary indicates your undertone. Asking for samples at makeup counters can also help you trial different shades and undertones.

Know Your Coverage Needs

Sheer Coverage

Tinted moisturizers and BB creams provide very light, seamless coverage while hydrating skin. Great for minimal coverage or no makeup makeup looks.

Light Coverage

Evens out skin tone with buildable light coverage. Ideal for those with minor imperfections seeking a natural, your skin but better look.

Medium Coverage

Conceals more noticeable blemishes, spots and discoloration. Provides smooth, even coverage without looking cakey.

Full Coverage

Camouflages imperfections for flawless looking skin. Go-to for covering acne, scars, rosacea, hyperpigmentation or port wine stains.

Buildable Coverage

Allows you to layer product to customize coverage from light to full. Lets you tailor coverage to different areas.

Consider Formulas and Finishes


The most common formula, easy to blend and buildable. Provides a range of coverage levels and finishes, suitable for most skin types.


Provides rich, hydrating coverage. Better for dry skin. Usually higher in coverage. Can appear greasy on oily skin types.


Lightweight, buildable coverage with a dewy, flawless finish. Dispenses product through a cushion puff for easy application.


Portable, solid cream formulas that are quick and easy to use. Drier textures work well for oily skin, while moisturizing sticks are great for dry skin.


Sets makeup and controls shine while providing light to medium coverage. Works well for oily and combination skin but can cling to dry patches.


Very lightweight, sheer coverage in a serum texture that hydrates skin. Great for no makeup looks and layering under other products.

Tinted Moisturizer

Sheer, dewy coverage that doubles as a moisturizer. Usually contains skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and SPF.

BB/CC Cream

Light to medium coverage with skincare benefits. BB creams add hydration while CC creams color correct.


Made with finely milled minerals, ideal for sensitive or acne-prone skin. Buildable coverage with a matte finish.

Cream to Powder

Goes on creamy then dries to a transfer-resistant, soft focus finish. Works for all skin types.


Controls shine for a smooth, flawless look. Best for oily skin. Can emphasize dryness so hydrate skin beforehand.


Provides a soft, skin-like glow without looking greasy. Flatters all skin types when applied sparingly.


Leaves a luminous, lightly moisturized finish. Use sparingly to avoid looking oily, especially if you have oily skin.

Consider Added Skin Care Benefits

Many foundations now incorporate skincare ingredients that treat your skin while you wear them. Here are some key ingredients to look for:

SPF – Help protect skin from sun damage and premature aging. SPF 15 or higher is ideal for daily wear.

Hyaluronic Acid – Provides hydration and locks in moisture, great for dry skin types.

Vitamin C – Antioxidant that helps brighten skin tone and reduce signs of aging.

Niacinamide – Helps refine pores, balance sebum production and improve texture. Excellent for oily, acne-prone skin.

Peptides – Help stimulate collagen production and reduce appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Perfect for mature skin.

Ceramides – Fortify and repair the skin’s protective barrier. Soothe and strengthen sensitive, irritated skin.

Argan, Jojoba or Rosehip Oil – Nourish skin with essential fatty acids and vitamins. Boost hydration for very dry skin.

Compare Prices and Savings

When comparing foundation prices, consider the quantity along with the formula. Here’s how the typical pricing breaks down at drugstores:

Foundation Type Average Price Range
BB Cream $5-$20
Tinted Moisturizer $10-$20
Cushion Compact $15-$30
Liquid Foundation $5-$40
Powder Foundation $10-$30
Stick Foundation $10-$25
Mineral Foundation $15-$40

Higher priced options typically provide additional skincare benefits, better shade ranges, and performance. That said, there are plenty of great affordable options like L’Oreal True Match, Maybelline Fit Me, and Covergirl Clean Matte BB Cream.

Watch for sales, coupons and rewards programs to further slash costs. Signing up for brand newsletters can help you snag discounts and freebies. Splitting costs by going halfsies with a friend is another great money saver.

How to Shade Match

The key to finding your perfect foundation match is testing it on your actual skin tone and in natural lighting. Here are some tips for nailing the right shade:

– Check several shades that seem close to your skin tone. Don’t just grab one that looks about right.

– Swipe or stipple product down the jawline and onto the neck. Make sure to blend into hairline and neck.

– Go outside and look in sunlight if possible. Indoor lighting can distort color.

– Give it time to oxidize fully before determining if it’s a match.

– Ask a sales associate for samples of best-match shades to wear test.

– If mixing shades, make sure they have similar undertones.

– Err on the side of going slightly lighter if between two shades.

– Don’t rely just on swatching the back of your hand, test on face.

– Match to your chest area for true skin color, not backs of hands.

– Get a second opinion from a friend if you’re still unsure.

How to Apply Foundation Flawlessly

Application techniques can make a huge difference in how natural and seamless your foundation appears. Follow these expert tips:

Prep Skin

Start with moisturizer suited to your skin type. For oily skin, consider a mattifying primer to control shine.

Less is More

Sheer out full coverage formulas with moisturizer or apply with a damp sponge for lighter coverage.

Use a Foundation Brush

Ideal for achieving an airbrushed effect, minimizing streakiness. Stipple and buff into skin.

Use a Makeup Sponge

Beautyblenders provide a sheer, flawless finish and easy blending. Stipple and roll to blend.

Use Your Fingers

Warmth from fingers helps blend product seamlessly into skin for a natural look. Gently smooth and pat.

Press into Skin

Rather than rubbing, press and stipple product in using downward strokes. Prevents lifting existing makeup.

Set with Powder

Dust a light layer of translucent powder over liquid foundation to set it and prevent transferring.

Spritz Setting Spray

Mist an oil controlling setting spray as a final step to extend wear and control shine.

How to Make It Last

Prep Skin

Exfoliate and moisturize before applying foundation for a smooth, hydrated base.

Use Primer

Primers fill in pores and create a silky surface for makeup to cling to all day.

Avoid Heavy Creams

Thick moisturizers and serums can break down foundation. Opt for lightweight gel textures before makeup.

Light Powder Dusting

Set liquid and cream formulas with a dusting of pressed or loose powder. Prevents fading and transferring.

Mist with Setting Spray

Setting sprays seal everything in place. Look for sweat and humidity resistant options.

Blot Oil Throughout Day

Carry oil blotting papers to quickly mattify shine before it breaks down makeup.

Touch Up Strategically

Use a concealer brush and pressed powder for quick touch ups rather than reapplying all over.

Clean Makeup Brushes

Dirty brushes can lead to breakouts that disturb foundation. Wash weekly with brush cleanser.


Finding your perfect foundation match at the drugstore just takes a bit of knowledge about your skin, face shape, undertones and formula preferences. Spend time testing out samples and swatch multiple shades. Check application techniques to learn what works best for your skin type and needs. With the above tips in mind, you’ll be able to shop drugstore foundations like a pro and achieve flawless, natural looking coverage.