The Guide to Department Store Foundation

Foundation is one of those tricky buys that even product junkies can get wrong from time to time. The wrong colour, the wrong formula, even the wrong packaging can lead to everything from a huge orange mess to the dreaded cake face. Lots of women steer clear of it, and it’s easy to understand why.

Department store cosmetic counters are meant to make the whole choosing/buying process easier with their shiny signs, samples and whole host of cosmetic “experts” to help you find the right colour. Unfortunately, sometimes all these options and tools only serve to make the whole process more confusing. Why is it that you spent all that time at the counter with that beauty advisor only to find the next morning that the foundation she helped you choose is far from the right colour?

Fear not, we have a few tricks to help smooth the process along.

Often times it’s helpful to check the tone of your skin; you can do this by examining the veins on the inside of your wrist: if they are on the green side your skin tone is warmer, if they are on the blue side your skin tone is cooler. You can also take a look in the mirror at the colour of your neck. If you see more golden undertones, your skin is cooler and if you see more pink undertones, your skin is warmer.

This helps so you know what to look for when you test the foundation. If your skin is on the cool side, is the foundation too pink? If you’re on the warm side, is the foundation too orange?

Be wary of department store lighting, which makes everything look like a pretty good match. Trust me on this one, you want a match that’s perfect in daylight that you can glop on without thinking, especially if you’re paying department store prices. The best way to do this is to have a sales assistant swatch the foundation right on your jawline, not your face. You want the foundation to match your jawline and neck, not your face for the best, most natural look.

I’m the perfect example of why this is necessary. I’m a habitual sunscreen wearer, but often times when it’s not sunny out I only wear sunscreen on my face and not my neck, with the result that my face-skin is about 2 shades lighter than my neck-skin. A foundation that matches my face simply makes it look like my foundation is the wrong colour and like I’m wearing a ton of it.
When you’re standing at a department store counter make sure she doesn’t swatch more than two foundations at a time on your jawline because when the colours are very similar it’s easy to forget which one is which.

Now, the important part. GO STAND OUTSIDE and take a hand mirror with you. The right shade will seem to melt right into your jawline and it won’t be any of these things: too pink, too orange, too light or too dark.  You can’t do this in the store and I would advise against making a decision under department store lights because 8/10 times it’s going to be the wrong colour and you’re going to be upset that you spent $50+ on the wrong colour of foundation.

As someone who has worked on a department store makeup counter before I’d advise you not to rely on the expertise of the person at the counter. Sometimes people are just too lazy to walk to over to a window in daylight to check the colour properly, and sometimes they just don’t care or don’t know that this is something that needs to be checked. Check for yourself in natural light or one of those makeup mirrors that highlights every flaw. When you’re buying foundation, it’s very important to insure that the colour match is either perfect or at least very, very close.

Department stores are usually pretty good with exchanges if you do take home the wrong colour, but within reason. Most department stores won’t take it back if it has been more than 30 days, or if more than 1/3 of the product has been used.
This is important to keep in mind because even if you find the perfect shade at the store, sometimes foundation will oxidise and wear into a funny colour throughout the day. Usually a foundation primer will help keep foundation from warping and also help keep it from fading throughout the day, but always bear in mind that you’re not stuck with the completely wrong colour, even if you’ve already used it.

Keep an eye out for our guide to drugstore foundation!

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About Wynzie Chai

Wynzie Chai is a freelance writer specializing in beauty and lifestyle articles. She has also worked as a makeup artist for several years, both freelance and on makeup counters, and has a Bachelor of Communications Degree from the University of Calgary.
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