Do You Wear Foundation Lighter Or Darker Than Your Skin Tone?

Do You Wear Foundation Lighter Or Darker Than Your Skin Tone

Photographed in the wrong light or makeup faux pas? You decide.

Tabloid magazines often catch celebrities in their most unflattering form and more often than not, the caption has absolutely nothing to do with reality. It’s just like pressing the pause button when you’re watching a video and it happened to stop right at the moment when the person is blinking. Eyes closed, maybe looking a little sad and bam! “Kate Middleton is sad about being preggers again!“. Y’know, that sort of thing.

And then there are those unflattering photographs of celebrities whose faces look a few shades lighter or darker than their actual skin tone. I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of those as well. Often those photos make me wonder: is it the photographer’s flash that made their look way lighter than their neck? Is the light bouncing of the SPF in the makeup? Or did said celebrities really wear foundations lighter than their skin tone?

It made me curious. Do we wear foundations that are exactly our skin tone or do we deviate to something lighter or darker depending on how we want our skin to look?

Let’s go back to the basics for a bit here. What are foundations for?
1. They’re meant to even out your skin tone.
2. They’re meant to conceal any light blemishes on the skin (concealers for the darker and stronger blemishes).
3. They’re meant to still look like your skin but much better.

The best way for all three to happen and still make you look natural is to find a foundation that matches your skin tone to a T. But if you can’t find a foundation that matches your skin tone perfectly? This is not an uncommon problem. Would you prefer to go a tad lighter? Or a tad darker?

On many occasions, I’ve gone a shade or two lighter. My face would look lighter than my neck because I forgot to take the foundation down to my neck. It’s still passable in real life but woe betide me if I’m to be in photographs because you’ll see me with a very washed-out face looking very pale and quite sickly.

I’ve also gone darker, especially in summer. It’s not significantly darker and you probably won’t be able to tell so much in real life but as the hours go by, I would seem to go even darker. I don’t know if it’s the foundations oxidising on my skin that is making me look darker or if my mind was playing tricks on me. Either way, darker or lighter, they’re not good looks on me.

These days, I’m very particular about the shades of foundations or BB creams I wear. They must suit my skin tone to a T. If they’re darker or lighter, I’d mix them with some lighter or darker foundation just to get the right shade. I used to be happy going lighter but after seeing myself with a white cast one too many times, methinks it’s best to stick to what works best for me and that’s my exact skin tone. I adjust the colours according to seasons, when I’m paler in winter and when I’m darker in summer.

Oh and note to self: Tine, please remember to take your foundation down to your neck. You ALWAYS forget to do this!


I’m interested to know your thoughts about this. If you couldn’t get a foundation that suits your skin tone perfectly, would you prefer to go a shade or two lighter or darker than your skin tone? Why?

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39 comments… add one
  1. Robert C.

    Well, if I couldn’t get a foundation that suits my skin tone perfectly (which is currently chanel vitalumiere aqua – between 10 and 20), I’d get the one with one shade lighter and one with one shade darker and mix em to get the right colour for my face. – but that’s only if I reeeallly like the foundation though, if it’s not a HG, I’d just leave and find another foundation.
    Robert C. recently posted..I’M BACK! + Estee Lauder Double Wear Brush-on Glow [Review]My Profile

    1. Tine

      That’s what I noticed about some people as well for foundations they absolutely adore, their Holy Grail, and that’s to buy two foundations, one lighter and one darker. I think it’s a very good idea. The shade can be adjusted for warmer and cooler months when the skin tone becomes darker or lighter. For me, it has to foundations I really like though and hopefully not that expensive. If I get two of these foundations, then it’ll be $154 for just “one” foundation! :O

  2. Allison

    What a fun post! I’m glad I’m not the only one who makes foundation shade mistakes! I’ve gone both ways, but I guess I tend to go too light rather than too dark, but I hope I’ve never done anything quite as noticeable as the faux pas of these gals, lol.
    Allison recently posted..Hourglass Ambient Lighting Powder, Luminous LightMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Me too! Fingers crossed my face doesn’t get caught like that, eeps! 😛

  3. Jessica

    It’s near impossible for me to find a foundation to suit my skintone (that doesn’t oxidize on my skin), so I’ve fallen victim to both the too-light and too-dark foundation situations! I’d rather be too light than too dark, I think – as my neck is so white!
    Jessica recently posted..Holiday SnapshotsMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Yeah, sounds like a lighter foundation would be better than a darker foundation or else the difference between the face and neck will be very obvious! Do you find that a lot of foundations oxidise on your skin? Gah I hate those. The popular Chanel Vitalumiere Aqua does. 🙁

  4. Paris B

    You know, I never quite understood taking foundation down to the neck (shirt collars!) but then I realised one day that the skintone on the face may not match the neck. So, one way to even out the tone would be to take the foundation down to the neck but the other is to match the foundation to your neck so you can then even out the tone on your face! I also realised (thankfully) that I do have the same skintone on my face and neck! Whew! 😀 So it wasn’t much of a worry.

    But coming back to your question, I’d wear a shade that suits my skintone. It’s what we should all do. However, I have spoken to makeup artists who advise having 2 foundations in your stash – 1 that matches your skintone, 1 a little darker. The reason is because our skintones are never constant so we may have to mix colours as we go along to get the exact match. Also, a slightly darker toned foundation can act as a contour if you aren’t into the whole contouring/bronzing trend. I thought it was interesting! But in the main, I stick with a base that is an exact/close match. I’m not into the whole shading thing 😛
    Paris B recently posted..When you wear the stunning Guerlain Rouge G Rose Grenat, you don’t need much more makeup than lipstickMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Hahahaha that’s true! Easier to match face to neck than neck to face so that you don’t have to “paint” your neck as well! 😛
      Yeah I’ve heard a lot about having two foundations, one lighter and one darker and then mix to match your skin tone. I’ve never done it though just ‘cos I didn’t want to pay extra for another of the same foundation. But it’s a really good idea if it’s a foundation that has reached Holy Grail status and one you love to bits. I might give this “getting 2 foundations” thing a go when I finally find The One. 😛

  5. Emy

    The skintone on my face is generally darker than my neck — so I tend to go a shade lighter when choosing foundations. However, I have definitely gone both too light and too dark in the past, and neither is a good look on me!

    1. Tine

      Wow, I’m usually the other way round – darker neck, lighter face. Makes sense to choose a lighter shade. 🙂

  6. Sara-May

    If I had to chose a foundation that was either too light or too dark, and i HAD to wear it, I would choose to go too light (although I don’t know that there is a foundation on the market that is too light for me. If I was allowed one of each, I would just custom blend, and if o had the option, I would simply go bare faced.
    Sara-May recently posted..Face of Australia Glossy Lip Crayons – Review, Photos, SwatchesMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Hahaha have you tried the really light ones by Illamasqua? Surely their Skin Base (I think it’s the number 1) is too light for you! 😛

  7. Angie

    Heheheh what a collection of funny photos! Did you see the ones of Angelina Jolie today, another victim of HD powder… You’d be wanting to fire your makeup artist! I always end up with foundations in light shades, I think I’m actually more medium skintoned but for some reason sales assistants take one look at me and try and will colour match me to really ivory shades.. then I find it really hard to tell if the colour is a good match under department store lights. I have about one foundation in my stash at the moment that I can use as the rest are too fair gaahh
    Angie recently posted..Verso Stockholm: Night CreamMy Profile

    1. Tine

      I did! I was like what the …??? What sort of makeup artist would do that? That’s not a good look on her or anyone at all.
      The very few times I’ve been to MAC, I’ve always been matched with darker foundations. I don’t know why they keep doing that!
      For colour matching in store, I usually have the makeup artist/sales assistant apply the foundation on me and then I won’t buy it until I’ve had it on all day (or at least, leave for an hour or so, check the colour match under better lights, etc). Can’t afford to make colour-match mistakes if the foundation is really expensive. 🙁

  8. gio

    It’s almost impossible for me to find a shade that matches my pale skintone, so I often have to go a shade darker. In winter it’s ok. I often wear turtleneck sweaters, so no one notices. But in summer, I either mix it with moisturizer to lighten it or, if my skin is behaving, skip the foundation and just use concealer. These days, though, I tend to stick to a few high-end brands like YSL that make very pale shades, but even they aren’t a perfect match. But they are really close and you can barely see the difference with the naked eye, so they’ll have to do.
    gio recently posted..5 Common Makeup Mistakes And How To Fix ThemMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Have you tried any of the Illamasqua Skin Bases? They have a wide variety of foundations from the very fair (they literally have WHITE foundation!) to the darker skin tones.
      Most of my foundations are just the really close ones. Only few actually suits my skin tone to a T. Like you said, if it’s barely noticeable, I don’t bother about it.

      1. gio

        I’d love to try them, but we don’t have the brand here and I’m a bit hesitant to buy them online. But if I have the chance to travel and visit one of their counters this summer, I’ll surely check them out.

        I actually tried a white foundation once. I had completely forgotten about it. It was the only time I used a shade that was too light for me, but surprisingly, I managed to pull it off. Think I’d like something with some colour next time though!
        gio recently posted..QOTW: What Beauty Tip Do You Preach But Don’t Practice?My Profile

  9. Beth and Beauty

    If I could not get a foundation to suit my skin tone to the T. I would buy a shade darker matte foundation and mix it with a little moisturizer or Illuminator to make it better fit my skin tone. If I had to choose between just a darker foundation or lighter foundation than I would definitely go lighter. I am a cool tone/light skin type.
    Beth and Beauty recently posted..Beth and Beauty’s FOTD Tutorial: All Products used!My Profile

    1. Tine

      That’s a good idea, to mix darker foundations with moisturiser/illuminator. Sometimes I mix them with other brand of foundations too.

  10. Wendy@BlushandBarbells

    I always go a smidge lighter because it seems to cover better without needing concealer. Also, my neck is much fairer than my face, and I like to match my face.
    Lately, my makeup has seemed a bit too light, so it must be time to bump it up half a shade for summer.
    Wendy@BlushandBarbells recently posted..Flywheel with Brett HoebelMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Mix your current foundation with a bit of bronzing cream and you’re all ready for summer! 🙂

  11. Hilary

    This is the bane of my life! Being ultra ultra pale, (think ‘blue white’ pale), its been a life long struggle to get a foudation in my shade. Add to that chronic awful acne, and just very very patchy coloured skin really, and its a heap of pain. Luckily I like being Casper’s little friend, so I tend to go lighter, just because if I attempt to go darker, I look like I’ve been Tango’d – I think the tones in my skin are just ultra hard to match up (I’ve never really had anyone get it quite right – the MAC make up artist I had on my wedding day came closest, but my skin was probably in the best shape ever – to be fair, MAC artists are the bomb and they have the range to be able to mix exactly the right shade for me, which I have neither the time nor cash to do each day myself.

    I also love a really really matte look, so I tend to go with a foundation and then a powder foundation compact, – I almost like painting a canvas on my skin (not so it looks like you could drag your fingernails through it, just so its lovely and even and matte and lush – all the things my skin is not!).

    I wear a lot of scarves or blend like a demon – as I’m so pale my neck and chest are pretty blue white too, so its not too much of an issue really…..Pale is interesting (not pasty at all! LOL)
    Hilary recently posted..TV Down UnderMy Profile

    1. Tine

      Wow, blue white! Dang, must be really difficult to find colour matches :(. I know someone who’s very fair, so fair that she needs to mix the lightest foundation she has with Illamasqua’s Skin Base #1 (that’s literally a white foundation) just to get her shade right. If you have access to Illamasqua, do check them out their Skin Bases. I don’t think MAC has that fair shades compared to Illamasqua. You may be able to stumble upon your perfect shade after all!

  12. Adri

    I dont think its the color of their foundation thats making them look washed out. Its either the setting powder or physical sunscreen theyre using, notably, silica. It flashes back white because of the camera. I think Catherine Zeta-Jones is just the only one who went to far with the bronzer.

    1. Tine

      Yeah, I reckon it’s the HD powder too but I couldn’t get light/dark foundation pictures so I used the ones on the celebrities instead. 😛 I didn’t realise how bad HD powder could look with flash until I saw a video on YouTube by Wayne Goss where he did an experiment with HD powder and flash photography. Yikes!

  13. Melissa

    I like a perfect match and do the custom blend at times. If I have to choose, I think slightly lighter is a better option then too dark. You can always fix it with powder, bronzer and blush. If foundation is too dark there’s no room for bronzer. I usually wear BB or CC cream and that I buy seasonally so shades change.

    1. Tine

      Yeah I agree. It’s definitely easier to go darker with a lighter foundation than the other way round.

  14. Jen

    Nothing wrong with one or 2 shades lighter

    1. Tine

      1-2 shades lighter, one can still get away with. I’ve seen those with many shades lighter. Not a good look. 🙁

  15. Kelsie

    I always go darker, because my face is naturally so much lighter than my body, from rosacea.
    The darker color helps even the skin tone out to my body, and it also helps hide the redness easier than a lighter color, without having to cake on a bunch of concealer as well.

    I find that my biggest problem isn’t weather or not it’s too light or too dark, but that it’s always either too pink or orange, since I have olive skin.
    Have to ever tried buying makeup for olive skin? It’s next to non-existent. I usually find myself trying to find makeup made for Asians, as it’s yellow, and closer to my skin tone.

    Yay for being an oddball Caucasian, that has skin too weird for makeup companies. lol 🙁

    1. Tine

      I have very yellow undertones so I tend to go for makeup for Asians (I am Chinese after all 😛 ). Aww it sucks that it’s hard for you to find suitable makeup shades easily. Cosmetics companies tend to generalise and lump people of all types of skin colour to simply Light and Medium. UGH.

  16. alshiva

    i’ll go lighter because my skin is medium-light tan and i feel like if my face matches my body perfectly, it sort of looked dull in my opinion, so i rather go a tad lighter to bring the glow and brightness to my face and i would probably bronzed the outer perimeter of my face so i get an even looking skin in sort of way. it is thankful passable in real life, but in photographs, its not my fave 🙁

    1. Tine

      What about not being photographed with flash? Would that work?

  17. alya

    what should i do if my “stick” foundation is darker for me. I wanna lighten it plz help me

    1. Tine

      Initially I’d recommend mixing it with a bit of lighter concealer but that would make the consistency too thick given that stick foundations are already pretty thick to begin with. Is it possible for you to get another stick foundation that is more your shade instead of having to mix with something else? Stick foundations are harder to mix and lighten, at least in my experience. Sorry, no help at all. 🙁

      1. alya

        Thank you for ur time 🙂

  18. Ivy

    Today I am picking up a new foundation, but I decided to go for 2 foundations. A matte mousse and a liquid mousse. I have super oily skin and my makeup turns out awful at the end of the day. I recently found out that for people with oily skin, a liquid foundation isn’t the right one. Oily skin works better with a thicker foundation, like a mousse or cream. It also doesn’t lose its coverage so easily. I’ve seen what HD powders do to people’s skin, making them pasty and chalky in flash photographs, so I’m going against that choice of item. I’m going to go ahead with a setting powder that is supposed to help with oily skin and I am seriously hoping it will help me out. Also, always test foundation on your neck, never your arm or your actual face. Your neck doesn’t get as much sun as your face or rest of your body, so you’re picking a shade that matches your real natural tone, even if it ends up too light, it’ll still look flawless.

    1. Rosie

      Try milk of magnesia for a primer or get a shine killing primer. I have really oily skin but I use a liquid foundation. It’s maybelline & it’s for oily skin.

  19. Rosie

    I’d say I’d go darker just to add some warmth to my face. My concealer will lighten it up but overall, I’d rather go w the darker parts of my face for my foundation color & just highlight where it’s lighter.

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