Rare is the Asian woman who hasn’t at some point walked away from a beauty hall with the back of her hand painted varying stripes of brown in the search for the perfect foundation.
I know; in my early teens I insisted on dabbing on Maybelline’s Dream Matte Mousse any time I stepped out of the house until my mum’s death glare (where do parents learn that? You know it; the one that makes your blood run icy cold) stopped me in my tracks. I should mention that my mum is a makeup artist, so she took particular grievance to my efforts because: one, in her eyes, I was too young to wear it in the first place, and two - and this was a far more serious crime – I was wearing the wrong shade entirely.
How did I plead? Not guilty, Guv. Makeup mishaps are as much a part of the teenage experience as perfecting the moves to Wannabe and trying (and failing) to get a fake ID. At least the episode prompted my mum to dive into her makeup kit to find a foundation more fitting for my tone.
Here’s the thing; back then there just weren’t as many decent makeup options for brown girls. It was the 90s, so pastel eyeshadow, sticky lip glosses and a miniscule selection of foundation colours were just something we had to deal with.
Thankfully times have changed and the UK’s beauty industry has started to become a much more ethnically inclusive place than it once was. No product reflects that more keenly than foundation.
Where once you might be lucky to get your mitts on the only fits-all brown shade around, thinning it with moisturiser or deepening with bronzer as necessary, now more beauty companies offer shade ranges to cater for (almost) every complexion under the sun.
The fact that when Fenty first launched in 2017, beauty editors waxed lyrical about the vast range of foundations available (at first 40, now 50), only served to show how huge a gap there was for shades that suited everyone.
While it’s heartening that more brands have got their act together and now offer products made for women of colour, the beauty hall can still be a minefield to navigate.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of the best foundation for warm, olive and Asian complexions, from budget brands to luxury labels, all-vegan formulations and mineral-based makeup. But before we dive in, a few golden rules to shop by:
How to shop for the right foundation
- Bare-faced truth: it’s pointless testing new foundation if you’re already wearing makeup. Take it off to find your true match.
- Your solution: liquid, powders, sticks and creams; which one’s right for you? Each are more suited to one skin type than another, so those with dry skin might find that a liquid feels better, while oil-prone complexions will probably feel more comfortable in powders.
- Go pro: you could continue painting a beige Rothko on the back of your hand – or you could put yourself in the hands of an expert. Get colour matched by a beauty counter assistant; above the collarbone or mid-jaw is ideal.
- Next best thing: foundation discontinued? Don’t have time to hit the shops for a replacement? Simply log on to Findation and Match My Makeup. As long as you know your shade in one brand, it can show you alternatives from a raft of others. TECHNOLOGY.
- Get set: allow your foundation to set, as colours can change a little due to oxidisation. In an ideal world, you'd have it on all day to see how it stands against a full day’s wear, but if you don’t have that sort of time, try to wait half an hour before you decide to bin or buy.
- Samples are key: many brands are happy to give you a couple of samples of shades that might work. Test these before committing to a purchase and see how they look with the other products in your beauty kit.
As someone who’s worn makeup for around two decades, I’ve gone through my fair share of foundation over the years. Here are some of the best brands I’ve tried that truly deserve your applause, plus a few newcomers who are making the industry a more beautifully inclusive place.
Shades: Flawless Fusion Ultra-Longwear Foundation comes in 30 shades.
One of my go-to foundations comes from beauty behemoth Laura Mercier. The Flawless Fusion Ultra-Longwear Foundation is available in 30 hues from ‘shell’ to ‘ganache’. 4C1 Praline is the perfect match for me.
As someone who likes the look of full coverage but not necessarily the feel, this is a perfect lightweight option.
Use with a damp beauty sponge and for special occasions, set with the Translucent Loose Setting Powder to get an airbrushed glossy sheen.
Beauty vlogger Kaushal shows us how it's done below.
Shades: are you sitting down? 63 shades.
Estée Lauder's Double Wear is the foundation my mum gave me all those years ago. It might seem a pricey thing to give a 14 year-old (and at £34 a go, it definitely is) but the bottle she bequeathed was half-empty, only fit really to be tested by the newly beauty curious.
It's a liquid formula, mid-weight, and the staying power is, to use a professional term, unreal.
If, like me, you have a bad habit of touching your face throughout the day, your makeup can look blotchy by the time you get home, but this did exactly what it says on the tin and remained in place all day. Miraculous.
NARS has a decent selection of formulas, from foundation sticks to liquids and powders. If you’re sticking to liquids, there are some tips to applying this long-lasting foundation from Anna Priadka, NARS UK Lead Stylist: "Work NARS All Day Luminous Foundation into your skin in sections. Its long-wearing formula means it dries quickly and sets in seconds, so start with small areas and build."
The buildable element is especially appealing for the 9 to 5; start with low coverage and add more for after work drinks without feeling like you're trowelling it on.
Pat McGrath Labs
Shades: 36, helpfully split into groups: light, light medium, medium, medium deep and deep.
From the Mother of Makeup, MUA extraordinaire Pat McGrath has a cosmetic collection to behold.
The Skin Fetish: Sublime Perfection Foundations come in a square frosted glass bottle and while the liquid formula appears thin at first pump, keep the faith as it offers full, buildable coverage.
Apply a little to the back of the hand and use a sponge or brush to blot onto the skin, finishing with a gentle blend.
Shades: Skin Foundation with SPF15 has 28 shades
From day one, Bobbi has said her whole M.O is to help women around the world enhance their natural beauty.
Real, healthy-looking skin is best achieved through the brand’s clutch of foundations, and there’s liquids, sticks and powders to choose from, but of course, there’s nothing stopping you using a mix of these to get a base you’re comfortable with.
One of the most successful business women to launch out of Instagram is Huda Kattan. The US-born beauty started her business with a $6k loan, and it did so phenomenally well it’s now worth $1.2bn, and is one of the most influential beauty brands in the UAE.
The success is in part down to Huda’s infectiously warm personality, but also to her superb collection of makeup which includes the #FauxFilterFoundation. Paying tribute to her Insta-beginnings, the 30-strong range is made for selfies, and you can go as HD as you dare.
The liquid formula erases all imperfections and blemishes, leaving you with a completely blank slate. While this means it’s not something you can really wear on its own, it’s ideal for anyone who likes the look of full coverage, or just for those special events when you’re going all out with your makeup look.
Shades: 160 shades
Catering for an incredible 99.5 per cent of skin tones, Clinique is mainstay in my makeup kit. I’ve been using for years, because it's one of the best.
If you’re a fan of heavier coverage bases, the Beyond Perfecting Foundation and Concealer is fantastic at erasing uneven skin tone and dark circles, allowing you to skip the concealer step entirely.
Like Estee Lauder’s Double Wear, this stays put all day, but it does has a slightly thicker consistency – so not ideal in hot weather. Still, that’s easily remedied: simply use more sparingly with a couple of drops of moisturiser if you don’t want to invest in something new for holiday.
Shades: 53 in Studio Fix Powder Range
A brand built around the core belief that makeup is for all ages, all races and all genders, M.A.C has a huge colour range in its foundations.
Altogether, there are more than 50 shades in over 14 different formulas. Now that's inclusive.
Face the day confidently in Smashbox’s Studio Skin Hydrating Foundation, which promises a flawless finish for a whole 24 hours... although it’s a cardinal sin to sleep in your makeup, as any good beauty fan knows.
A lot of R&D has gone into the formula – it evens out the look of skin tone, doesn’t drop into pores or your fine lines and won’t oxidise, so what comes out of the pump is the true hue.
Inspired by backstage beauty at its fashion shows, Dior Backstage Face & Body Foundation is one of the newest products from the brand. There are 50 shades to choose from, ranging a pleasingly full spectrum of complexions.
This foundation means business; it’s water and sweat-resistant, offers a natural-looking second-skin finish and is easily buildable so you can go from barely there to full coverage if you like.
Flexing her businesswoman arm, Fenty is one of many ventures from pop icon Rihanna.
The brand started big, launching with 40 shades, because as she puts it: "Foundation is one of those areas in the beauty industry that has a big void for women at extreme ends of the shade spectrum…. if you're very pale or if you're very dark, there's not a lot of options. And so, I wanted to make sure that women of all skin tones were covered and they could be included in what I created."
If you’re not sure which Fenty Foundation colour to choose, Boots offers a quick six question quiz to narrow it down for you.
Shades: 16 liquid foundations, 13 mineral foundation powders, 6 compact powders.
Made specifically for olive skin tones, EX1 was borne from a frustration over a lack of colours that suited women with brown complexions. As well as liquid foundations, there’s mineral powder ones too and a collection of complementary blushers to complete the look.
Each pump gives a generous amount of foundation, and although it won’t look like enough for a full face, trust us – it is. A little goes a long way, and once blended, the unique blend of golden/yellow pigments will match skin perfectly.
Hailed by award-winning actress Mindy Kaling as "the most light and silky foundation of all time; perfect for light coverage and looking natural and luminous," we couldn’t leave Armani’s Maestro Fusion Makeup off our list.
It costs a pretty penny at £42, but for your money you can expect a matte yet radiant finish that feels like silk and 100 per cent worthy of the red carpet. Maestro Fusion comes in 11 shades, but its sister liquid foundation Luminous Silk comes in 30. Inspired by charmeuse silk it covers and blurs imperfections into nonexistence.