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beauty lessons:

foundation 
for medium
complexions

The Violet Files presents our foolproof guide to finding foundation for medium skin tones.
Written By Jayme Cyk

The key to a glowing, even complexion? Finding the perfect foundation. As Fiona Stiles, makeup artist to bronzed beauty Chrissy Teigen, puts it, “Finding your right foundation is like finding the Holy Grail, as formulations change all the time. So once you’ve found your match, stick with it for a while and enjoy the synergy.”

Key to finding this synergy is understanding the color that lies just beneath your skin—also known as your undertone. Below, Stiles, along with fellow makeup artists Kira Nasrat (who works with the golden-faced Jamie Chung) and Lauren Andersen (who tends to the impeccably olive-complected Jessica Alba), advise on how to identify your undertone, and thus choose the best foundation for you. 

JESSICA ALBA (LEFT) / PHOTOGRAPHY BY FRAZER HARRISON / GETTY IMAGES
JAMIE CHUNG (RIGHT) / PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL LOCCISANO/ GETTY IMAGES

Your undertone is the color that lies beneath the skin (essentially the color of your veins). When you select foundation with your undertone in mind, the makeup will emulate your skin versus acting as a secondary layer. (When improperly matched, makeup may appear too orange or too copper, too pink or too rosy.) And while your complexion can change in response to environmental elements (a rigorous boot camp session, an afternoon at the beach), the undertone never does.

“The very best way to find a person’s undertone is to look at the inside of the wrist, where the skin is paler and you can see what the underlying color is,” explains Stiles. “With women of color there are lots of very subtle variations in undertone, and when the foundation is wrong, it’s very obvious.” Stiles favors foundations by her line Fiona Stiles Beauty, Giorgio Armani, and Chanel for their array of different tones. Andersen recommends picking a foundation with a cool undertone, then pairing it with a bronzer and deeper pink blush to warm up your complexion. “When working with olive-skinned clients, it’s important to make sure the foundation isn’t too orange or red,” Stiles adds. “There should be a bit of a green undertone in the color to keep the shade neutral.”

COOL UNDERTONE
If the base tone of your skin is pink, red, or blue and the veins on the inside of your wrist appear blue...You have cool undertones

NEUTRAL UNDERTONE
If you have a mix of cool and warm undertones and it’s difficult to tell whether the veins on your inner wrist are blue or green...You have neutral undertones. 

WARM UNDERTONE
If the base tone of your skin is yellow or gold and the veins on the inside of your wrist look green...You have warm undertones. 

What next? Read on for our medium skin-friendly foundation picks for every undertone. 

“I think that every woman should have two to three foundations that match her skin at different times of the year,” says Stiles. “If you’re comfortable blending, two will suffice. If you’re a little more makeup shy, then just have the three shades that will match you in the dead of winter, the height of summer, and where you land in the fall and spring. No one is the same color year round.” Nasrat adds that in warm weather, you should apply a smaller amount of foundation and mix it with one pump of moisturizer because your skin tends to appear slightly more even.

FOR MEDIUM
skintones

A FEW OF OUR FAVORITE FORMULAS

1

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5

A favorite for red carpet, this creamy foundation is best suited for cool undertones, whether you prefer a sheer finish or heavy coverage. 

2

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5

If your complexion is medium yet on the tanner side of the spectrum, Laura Mercier’s Candleglow Foundation is the perfect solution for warm undertones.

3

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5

Warm undertones should take advantage of this water-light foundation that will have you emerging with a post-spa–like glow.

4

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5

A great option for deeply tanned olive hues with neutral undertones on the hunt for foundation with a heavy coverage.

5

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5

Lightweight and buildable, Chantecaille’s oil-free foundation is ideal for neutral undertones that want an antioxidant (rosemary, green tea, and rice bran) boost.

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