Of all the makeup products, foundation is the one I'm most fascinated with. The reasons probably speak to some earlier trauma: Picture an Asian girl living a 95% white community and coming of age in the late 1980s. I had the double-curse of acne, which meant I had to try to find something to cover it. This meant I had a pink face for most of my adolescence and into my early 20s. Even my Caucasian friends sported lines of demarcation and blotchy foundation that oxidized throughout the day.
Of all the makeup products out there, foundation is the one that has come the farthest. It's also the product we expect a tremendous amount from and that can be the most polarizing (second only to mascara).
Foundation used to be like layering paint onto your skin: It was that thick, obvious, and unnatural in color and consistency. High-end or low-end, the options were extremely limited and underwhelming. Today, the types are so varied that we have the opposite problem of narrowing down our selection. It's important to remember that even a good foundation won't perform well on you if it's applied incorrectly, in the wrong shade, or not meant for your skin type.
For someone just starting out, I'd recommend getting a consultation at a makeup counter or Sephora. You'll have another person's eyes on your skin, identifying aspects of your skin and giving options you wouldn't have thought of. Many will allow you to take home a sample size to try before you buy. Even if you don't end up buying a department store foundation, you'll have a clearer idea of your skin's undertones and type.
Below are my favorite foundations:
Make Up For Ever's High Definition Foundation: For a woman whose skintone is hard to match, this brand likely has your exact match. It was extremely rewarding to go to Sephora and have the sales associate apply a shade that literally blended right into my skin. It only took about 30 years of my life to find this. This is a medium-coverage foundation that blends imperceptibly into skin and looks like a perfected version of your actual skin. The downside is it's not long-wearing, but the brand doesn't make that claim. I've mixed it with more long-wearing formulas and found a perfect hybrid.
Revlon Colorstay: This is one of the few drugstore foundations that has covered all the bases: It offers a variety of shades in varying undertones and even has formulas for both oily- and dry-skinned types. The finish is matte without appearing chalky or cakey. And, yes, I've worn it on a date and it truly didn't rub off on him. It's a great long-wearing formula that won't budge.
YSL Teint Resist: This is another long-wearing formula that offers full coverage without masking your face. The consistency is light and applies easily. The best part of this foundation - and what reminded me that sometimes paying up truly makes a difference - is it appears flawless even under harsh florescent lights.
It's easy for a foundation to appear nice under flattering lights, but one that still gives an airbrushed and true-to-life color under any light stands out.
Graftobian High-Def Glamour Cream Palette: These palettes come in a variety of undertones, making an exact match for any woman possible. The ability to mix the colors from the palette makes it something that can be used year-round, when you're tan or pale. It's also ideal for someone who does makeup on others and needs to customize shades. The foundations are creamy, blend easily, and have a beautiful finish on the skin.