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Liquid Foundation Jargon, Untangled

Liquid Foundation Jargon, Untangled

Staring at a row of foundations, even legitimate makeup experts struggle for answers: Are my undertones blue or yellow? Do I want “dewy” or “luminous”? Am I “dark” or “deep”—or both? Do I really even need foundation? What does all of this mean?!

Flesh asked writer and editor Amy Keller Laird to unravel the tangled mess. She spoke to top makeup artists, dermatologists, and neurobiologists to get the scoop.

1. Undertone: The hue just below skin’s surface, an important clue to getting the right foundation.

  • Cool undertones: Pink, rose, blue, violet, gray, or olive tones.
  • Warm undertones: Yellow, gold, red, orange or peach.
  • Neutral undertones: This is a mix of cool and warm tones and looks neither one nor the other. 

2. Depth: How dark or light a color is. Makeup brands usually categorize these as dark/deep, medium, and fair/light.

3. Formula: The physical form of the foundation. The usual types are liquid, stick, cream and powder.

4. Texture: The viscosity of the formula: thin, thick, creamy or solid.

5. Finish: The desired makeup result on your skin, often categorized as dewy, satin, matte, and luminous.

  • Dewy finish: Glossy and slick, like the “wetness of skin just after you’ve put on a moisturizer.” 
  • Natural finish: Sometimes called “satin,” this finish is neither dewy nor matte. 
  • Matte finish: With zero glossiness, matte appears velvety and sometimes powdery, almost airbrushed. 
  • Luminous finish: If matte were the Sahara desert of foundations, luminous would be the most sparkly mirage. 

6. Coverage: The sheerness or opacity of a formula.

  • Sheer coverage: Translucent, with the tiniest touch of pigment. 
  • Light coverage: Natural-looking with a small dose of pigment. 
  • Medium coverage: Evens out your skin tone, diminishing redness and minor skin irregularities, while still allowing freckles to peek through.
  • Full coverage: It’s that perfected look that blanks out any freckles, dark spots or discoloration. 
  • Buildable: The ability to increase coverage and opacity seamlessly by adding more foundation on top of your first layer.