It doesn’t much matter if you find your holy grail foundation if you can’t get it in a shade that matches your skin.
Thankfully, with brands under pressure to increase their shade offering across the range, paler-than-pale is no longer such a niche requirement.
We’ve been testing foundations to find those that not only sit well on skin and last well, but also offer shades that match pale skin beautifully, whether you’ve got oily or dry skin, yellow or peach undertones.
Consider whether you’d prefer a yellow tone to even out the pink in your skin – or vice versa – rather than matching your natural tone.
It can be tricky to buy a foundation in person during a pandemic, but if you can get to a store, don’t swatch foundations on your hand: apply along the cheek under the cheekbone and along the jawline, where you’re less likely to have redness and you can see how well the shade blends to your neck.
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Estee Lauder double wear stay-in-place make-up
The brand’s long-standing favourite “double wear” now comes in a phenomenal 61 shades, with plenty of cool and warm tones. It offers medium, buildable coverage, is comfortable to wear and stays put all day, even through high humidity. Those with dry skin may find it leaves cheeks papery after a few hours wear, so you need to start with a well-moisturised base.
Mac studio fix fluid
This is an oldie but a goodie and comes in more shades than we can count. It’s beautifully buildable, so you can wear a small amount for a natural look or build up for full coverage. It has a satin, natural-looking finish, but oily skins may find they need to set it with power or touch up during the day. When it comes to choosing a shade, N stands for neutral, C for cool and W for warm. The website has a handy tool where you can filter by skin tone to make finding your match easier.
Shiseido skin self-refreshing foundation
Japanese beauty brands aren’t classically known for their wide shade range, but this is pleasingly broad and well-balanced. Be warned, we did find that the shades come up lighter in real-life than they appear on the website. The finish is silky with a subtle glow, and it’s highly pigmented so you don’t need to wear a huge amount of product to get good coverage.
YSL all hours liquid foundation
This is our holy grail of long lasting foundations: it’s lightweight with medium coverage yet also stays put all day without becoming patchy or sinking into pores. Thankfully it comes in a good range of pale shades too, with variations for cool and warm tones. It's also just the right level of coverage that we find one shade can adapt to winter and summer skin, as let’s be honest, we’ll only be catching a mild tan.
Too Faced born this way foundation
We found this had a light, second-skin feel with a subtle, natural-looking glow and fairly full coverage. The shade range has been expanded since its initial launch (when even the palest shade was too dark for many pale skins) and it now comes in 35 shades, including the gorgeously named “cloud”, “snow” and “pearl”. The Too Faced website has pictures of models with half made-up faces, allowing you to compare bare skin and the foundation, which we found useful for choosing a shade.
Fenty Beauty pro filt’r soft matte longwear foundation
Rihanna's beauty brand was started with the promise of inclusion for all skin tones, and its pro filt’r foundation is no exception, coming in an impressive 50 shades. It goes on velvety smooth and blurs out redness or scarring, but it doesn’t dry too fast so you’ve got plenty of time to blend. The finish is flawless, it's comfortable to wear and we experienced only minimal creasing around the nose and mouth throughout the day.
Illamasqua skin base foundation
This foundation comes in a pretty good shade range but the real star is 01, which is an opaque, milky white. We’ve yet to find anyone who can actually wear it as a foundation, but it is ideal for mixing with other products you may have that aren’t quite the right shade to match exactly to your skin tone. Particularly useful if you’ve bought foundation online during lockdown.
Huda Beauty fauxfilter foundation
This formula has a thin consistency but offers medium coverage with a blurring, satin finish that lasts all day. It comes in 30 shades, with 12 falling into the light/fair categories. Drier skin types might find this too matte, so we’d recommend it for oily or combination skins. To help you decode the shade names, B (beige) has blue tones, R (red) pink, G (golden) has yellow tones and N stands for neutral.
Bobbi Brown skin long-wear weightless foundation
The shade range of this foundation has been extended to feature more than 40 shades, and with its natural, matte-but-not-flat finish, we’ve yet to find a skin type it doesn’t suit. It gives medium, buildable coverage and has an almost gel-like, emollient feeling on application.
Lancome teint idole ultra wear
This is our go-to for when we need make-up that stays put but also doesn’t feel heavy or caked on. It’s creamy and light on the skin, with a transfer-free, semi-matte finish, perfect for events or nights out. It comes in a brilliant 45 shades, including our much-loved “beige opale”, a pale neutral that knocks back all redness.
Marc Jacobs re(marc)able full cover foundation
This is definitely a full-coverage foundation. It covers blemishes without the need for concealer, but still doesn’t feel super heavy or cakey on the skin. Oily skins will love its staying power and matte finish especially; those with dry skin may find it too much. The ivory light shade is one of the most flawless porcelains we’ve seen.
The verdict: Foundations for pale skin
Estee Lauder’s “double wear” is a bestseller for a reason: endlessly reliable, it’s also the most extensive range we’ve seen by far.
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