How to shop for the right foundation: Understanding skin type. Plus bonus cheat sheet!

Acne skin

This is a continuation of my previous post linked here about how to shop for the right foundation, a subject that some often struggle with. Skin tone and undertone were covered in detail in my last post, and now I’ll cover skin type here. Specifically how it can affect how you shop for foundation.

I defined skin type in my last post as the texture or the chemistry of your skin, i.e. whether you are classified as dry, oily, normal or combo skin. It’s important to be aware of a few things. These 4 categories are buckets that in them contain a wide degree of variation. No two people’s dry skin or oily skin is exactly alike and exhibit the same symptoms. That’s why it’s always important for you to do your own research whether it be when shopping for new skincare or new makeup. No one knows your skin better than you, or perhaps your dermatologist. Also, skin type can vary within your lifecycle depending on a wide range of both external and internal factors. Your environment, hormones, medications, age, diet, and stress levels all can play into influencing your skin’s chemistry. And this is in no way an exhaustive list.

*For the sake of transparency, I consulted a few online resources in writing this post since I am not a credentialed skincare expert. Mainly trusted skincare brands like Paula’s Choice and Eucerin.

Here is a list of the typical characteristics that define each skin category. (The T-zone is defined as the forehead, nose and chin.)

Dry skin – generally less oil production

  • Tightness
  • Dullness
  • Roughness
  • Itchiness
  • Redness
  • Flakiness/scales

Oily skin – a general over-production of oil

  • Large pores
  • Shininess
  • Pimples with accompanying redness & bumpiness
  • Varying degrees of acne

Normal skin – well-balanced skin between oily & dry

  • Smooth-textured
  • Brightness
  • May have slight shininess in T-zone

Combination skin – mix of oily & normal to dry textures; typically oily in T-zone, with normal to dry cheeks and outer portions of face

  • Larger pores in T-zone
  • Shiny in T-zone
  • Possible roughness or redness on cheeks if dry

Since this is not a post about how to care for your skin type, all I’ll say here is that good skin makes for good makeup. That doesn’t mean you have to have the best, brightest, or smoothest skin on the planet to wear makeup. Who does? It just means that it’s essential to take care of your skin needs, whatever they may be, from your skincare up. Makeup can horribly exaggerate skin problems that aren’t being tended to. For example, I’m prone to little dry patches on my face. Just the other day I applied a dab of concealer on my chin that emphasized a dry, textured patch of skin that I hadn’t properly exfoliated. Every time I looked in the mirror after that, it was all I could see!

The bottom line is to shop for your skin type, not against it. I must say I’m skeptical of foundations that say they are for “all skin types.” This seems like a huge generalization that assumes skincare is a “one size fits all” kinda thing. It’s anything but.

Here is a link to my cheat sheet that touches on all the information from these last two posts in an easy-to-digest format. This also includes buzzwords to look out for when shopping: Foundation Cheat Sheet.

Dry skin

Go for liquid, cream or cushion foundations, BB creams or tinted moisturizers that provide hydration and glow to the skin like the Revlon ColorStay for Dry/Normal Skin, or Estee Lauder Double Wear All Day Glow BB Moisture Makeup (longest name ever in humanity!). Also serum or whipped textures tend to be good for drier skins. I used to not see the point of primers for dry skin, but I’ve seen the light now and I go for the ones that, you guessed it, provide moisture and slip to the skin, like Smashbox Photo Finish Radiance with Hylaronic Acid or my beloved MAC Strobe Cream.

Oily Skin

Go for powder, stick or liquid foundations that will provide an overall mattifying finish to your skin. Ideally you want a product that will help to minimize the amount of oil that breaks through to the surface of your skin, although no foundation can ever completely block oil. I’ve read that the Estee Lauder Double Wear Light is quite good on oily skin. The original Estee Lauder Double Wear is by nature very mattifying, waterproof and long-wear, which I can attest to. If you struggle with blemishes or acne, try to hone in on the foundations that specifically target and treat these issues like the Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup. Just be aware of potential irritating ingredients in any foundation formula, and perhaps consult with your dermatologist or skincare specialist if in doubt.

Ultimately, what will work for you all depends on your degree of oilyness, the kind of primer you’re using, and a certain amount of trial and error in finding the right combination of products. Speaking of primers, Zahra from ZHAST just did a really comprehensive blog post on primers for every skin type. Go check it out here for more info!

Normal Skin

Since normal skin tends to be quite balanced, not too dry or oily, you have your pick of which foundation texture to buy based on how your skin is currently behaving. If you’re more dry, choose a foundation labeled for ‘Normal to Dry’ skin, like the Revlon ColorStay mentioned above. Or if you’re more oily, simply go for something more matte. However, I think you’re best going with a hybrid of the two, something with a satin or demi-matte finish like L’Oreal Infallible Pro Glow Foundation or Estee Lauder Double Wear Nude Water Fresh Makeup.

Combination Skin

The usual combo skin cocktail is an oily T-zone and normal to dry outer regions along the cheeks, jawline and hairline. Foundation choice then completely depends on your degree of oilyness. Brands often clump certain skin types together, like ‘Normal to Dry’ and ‘Combo to Oily.’ Refer to the section above under ‘Oily Skin’ or the Foundation Cheat Sheet above for more info and suggestions.

What skin type do you have? Do you have any foundation recommendations? I’d love to know!

xo, Erica




Author: Erica

Hi! I’m Erica, a makeup enthusiast based outside of NYC. I discovered my love of cosmetics back in 2011 when I started watching simple tutorials on YouTube. It was a revelation to me that with just a simple few swipes of mascara or dabs of blush, you could transform into a more enhanced version of yourself. My obsession has not abated over the years, but instead has grown stronger as the beauty industry has gone from strength to strength. After graduating from business school in 2018, I decided to finally share my thoughts and opinions on all things cosmetics and this is where ‘We are glamerus’ was born. I share my musings on a bi-weekly basis on everything from my holy grail products and preferred application techniques, to the latest trends overtaking the beauty world. I hope you enjoy! xo

5 thoughts on “How to shop for the right foundation: Understanding skin type. Plus bonus cheat sheet!”

  1. Informative and well researched! Definitely educational for newbies to foundation shopping which can be daunting even to those well versed in makeup 💄.

Leave a Reply