By Kate Harvie


For a long time, finding the perfect bathing suit was akin to the search for the Holy Grail. Then the perfect pair of jeans became a woman’s ultimate fashion goal. And for longer than both of these has been the journey to the ideal complexion product (foundation, tinted moisturizer, concealer, powder). For what seems like years, the only woman who had a range of options was she of the porcelain skin tone – those with honey, caramel, mocha, and mahogany tones had to settle for shades that were deep, yes, but they had the wrong undertone. This season, manufacturers have begun working to fill the void at the cosmetics counter and aisle with more diverse assortments of colors.

The first key to finding the right complexion product is to ascertain your skin tone: pink, red, beige, olive, or the most common, yellow. Women of all ethnic backgrounds have yellow undertones and using a product that’s too red or too beige will leave an unnatural finish on your beautiful skin. Take the time to determine your undertone (hint: look at your wrist or décolleté) before choosing your complexion shade.

Armed with your knowledge of your undertone, your skin type (balanced, oily, dry, combination), your preferred level of coverage (sheer, medium, full), your desired finish (matte, dewy, natural) and your favorite formulation (liquid, crème, powder, powder-to-powder, stick, mineral, tinted moisturizer) you are set up to succeed when you go to your favorite product purveyor.

For pure variety of shades, Becca Cosmetics leads the way. This brand from Australia offers a whopping 27 shades in their stick foundation ($38), a creamy formula whose buildable coverage ranges from sheer to medium, with SPF 30+ and antioxidants. Becca also makes a tinted moisturizer in their Luminous Skin Color SPF 20+ (also $38) in 10 shades, providing sheer coverage in its light fluid formula that includes avocado extract (which helps to balance the oil/water ratio in skin). Both formulations feel luxurious on the skin and are easy to blend.

Sephora’s in-house brand Sephora Collection now has three foundation formulations (powdered liquid, balanced liquid, and compact powder) that come in 24 shades and are all oil-free. The shades are universal so whatever shade works for you in one formulation will be the same shade in the other two formulations. The re-formulated Balanced Liquid SPF 15 ($20) was put to the test as far as its mattifying properties go and you’ll see 23% less oil after the first hour of wear. With antioxidants, skin-smoothing lecithin, and silicone to help seal in moisture, this liquid offers natural coverage for oily and combination skins. The Compact Powder ($18) is goes on smoothly and quickly, containing Nylon 12 to prevent creasing, and offers sheer coverage when applied dry and full coverage when applied wet. For those who want full coverage and a matte finish, try the Powdered Liquid SPF 12 ($18). It contains a built-in primer and its dense, creamy formula dries to a long-lasting powder, easy to blend with your fingers.

Sensitive skins will like LORAC – a brand whose hallmark is oil-free and fragrance-free. 10 shades are available in the Sheer Matte ($30), which blends beautifully on oily skin. For drier skins, the Satin Makeup ($35) will provide a dewy finish with more moisture, and added vitamins and Chamomile.

STILA is coming on strong this fall with both a re-launch of a former favorite, Pivotal Skin, and a new stick foundation, the Perfecting Foundation. Don’t call it a comeback; though it’s been gone for years, Pivotal Skin SPF 8 ($20) is an innovative liquid makeup that exists in its own sponge pad. With 10 shades, this sheer coverage product can be applied with fingertips and imparts a light, dewy finish. STILA’s first stick formulation, the Perfecting Foundation ($30) comes in 13 shades and offers buildable coverage with an elegant matte finish. Good news for those who want their skin to show through and whose main complexion goal is to even out skin tone: Sheer Color Tinted Moisturizer SPF 15 ($28) does those while protecting skin from the sun and hydrating it beautifully – 10 shades from which to choose. Lastly, for those who like a sheer-to-medium, semi-dewy coverage have a choice of Illuminating Liquid ($35) in 10 shades or Illuminating Powder SPF 12 ($23 for powder, $20 for refillable compact) comes in 12 shades. Both products leave the skin luminous and looking natural. The powder can be used wet (fuller coverage) or dry (more sheer coverage).

Australian makeup artist Sue Devitt (she was Franà§ois Nars’s assistant and help to develop the Awake line of products) has recently extended the shade range of her two foundation formulas while amplifying the skincare benefits of each. The Triple C-Weed Whipped Foundation ($40) comes in 8 shades – it has a silky feel and intense hydration thanks to three kinds of seaweed (an ingredient known for its powerful antioxidant benefits) and Vitamin C. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a medium-to-full coverage product that feels more light and airy. For oilier skins and those who don’t want as much moisture, the 70% Triple Seaweed Gel Foundation ($38) comes in the same 8 shades and also has the seaweed cocktail. 70% water makes this gel formula easy to apply and blend, helping to balance skin’s moisture.

Smashbox has introduced a new foundation formula, joining their three existing foundations in the Conversion Cream to Powder Foundation ($30) in 11 oil-free shades. The creamy, light texture belies the full coverage possible through multiple applications.

Here are some tips for selecting complexion products if you have a deeper skin tone.

(1) Always look at ingredient lists; titanium dioxide is a common ingredient in most foundations and can impart a chalky appearance on deeper skins. Look for products that list titanium lower on the list.

(2) Another ingredient to look for is cornstarch in powder products – unlike talc, which can look powdery on skin; cornstarch goes on smoothly without any color.

(3) Foundation does not need to go all over the face – only sunscreen needs to do that. If you have any dark spots or discolorations, you can use stick foundation as a spot concealer – it’s often easier to blend and is ultimately a better value for this type of use. Dust your face with a pressed or loose powder that matches your skin exactly to set the product and finish your face.

(4) When choosing your product, if the light in the store isn’t great, step outside with a mirror and make sure that you still look like you – that’s why complexion products exist in the first place.

The products in this article are available at Sephora and (all brands listed here), (Pivotal Skin), Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York (Sue Devitt), and Bergdorf Goodman (Becca).

Originally published November 2005



Leave a Comment

* Denotes a required field

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Become a BN NYC Subscriber


Currently Popular

Social Media

Latest News

How To Beauty
  • Self Tanning – Tips and Tricks
  • Our resident Beauty News NYC videographer, Haley Thompson, tackles self-tanning for bronze beauties this summer. Tune in to in to this latest How To primer for tips and tricks to dazzle like the sun.