Cover imperfections and create a natural-looking canvas for makeup with the best full-coverage foundations
A lightweight foundation is a good option for day-to-day wear, to gently even out the skin’s tone and texture while still looking natural. However, if you’re going for all-out glamour then you’ll want to reach for a full-coverage foundation. Full-coverage foundation, as the name suggests, is formulated to cover the face more completely, creating a blank canvas for your colour cosmetics.
In combination with a good concealer, full-coverage foundation will cover dark circles, redness, blemishes, scars and hyperpigmentation for a flawless finish. Full-coverage provides the ideal base for an evening look with lots of colour and drama; but applied sparingly and layered just where you need it, it can also create a natural daytime look for anyone whose complexion needs a little extra cover.
In the past, full-coverage foundations tended to be oil-based and rather heavy on the skin. Today’s formulas are more likely to be silicone-based for a smoother and lighter finish, using modern pigment technology and light-diffusing particles to create even-looking skin colour and texture. Today, full-coverage means softer, hydrating formulas that won’t cake, flake or turn orange on the face.
Read on for our guide to choosing and applying your full-coverage foundation, and below for our picks of the best full-coverage foundations.
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Best full-coverage foundations: At a glance
- Best long-wear full-coverage foundation: Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation | £35
- Best budget full-coverage foundation: The Ordinary Coverage Foundation | £5.90
- Best-value full-coverage foundation for darker skins: NYX Professional Makeup Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Full-Coverage Foundation | £15
How to choose the best full-coverage foundation for you
What does it mean for foundation to be full-coverage?
Full-coverage means what it says on the bottle – the foundation when applied to skin will cover it more opaquely than a lighter-weight foundation or BB cream; it will allow less of the skin’s natural tone and texture to show through. This makes full-coverage foundation an excellent base for glamourous, dramatic looks, since it creates a neutral base for colour cosmetics.
Traditional foundations tend to come in cream or thick liquid formulations that offer excellent coverage and can give long-lasting results – especially for a more dramatic evening look, or for photographs – but that cover the skin quite opaquely. New pigment technology means that a lighter-weight gel base can colour the face evenly for a flawless finish without feeling heavy or blocking pores.
Modern formulas can be built up in layers, too, to provide the coverage you need. As such, you can adjust from day to night, or as needed over different areas of the face to produce an even result.
Full-coverage foundations come in a range of finishes, from dewy to matte, and many come in long-wear versions that will keep you looking flawless from day into evening. We’ve included a range of finishes below.
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How do I choose the right shade?
With a full-coverage foundation, it’s very important to choose the correct shade for your skin. The right colour shade should blend into your skin seamlessly, so that there are no tidemarks around the jaw (and no need to extend your foundation down onto your neck).
Foundation shades match two key aspects of skin colour: your tone (how light or dark your skin is overall) and your undertone (warm, cool, or neutral). To figure out your undertone, take a look at your veins where they show through the skin. If the veins appear blue or purple, you have a cool undertone; if they appear green you have a warm undertone. Warm undertones look better with a yellow-toned foundation; cooler undertones will suit a foundation that has a pinker tone. If your veins match your skin tone, try a neutral foundation tone.
Some brands offer a virtual skin-tone quiz that will help you find your perfect shade; we like this one from Fenty Beauty. If your skin has multiple tones over different areas of the face, aim to match the shade somewhere in the middle, near the cheekbone. Be sure that your chosen shade blends well at the jawline, so that you don’t end up with an unnatural-looking change of colour between your face and neck.
Your overall tone is likely to change throughout the year as skin is exposed to more or less sunlight, so check your foundation colour every few weeks to ensure it still matches.
How do I apply my full-coverage foundation?
To apply your full-coverage foundation, always begin with cleansed and moisturised skin; allow moisturiser to sink into the skin to prevent creasing or slipping, then follow with a primer if using. For a stronger and more defined look, and with products that offer fuller coverage, a brush can be a good choice for application; a sponge or beauty blender will create a dewy, natural finish. Full coverage doesn’t have to mean applying lots of product; for daytime, you can apply a small amount of highly pigmented foundation for a lighter-weight finish.
To apply liquid foundation with a brush, apply a small amount to the back of the hand, then dip the brush into the foundation. Apply to the centre of the face (nose, chin and forehead) first, then blend outwards using short strokes. Start with a little product and build up if needed – it’s easier to keep the finish smooth and even if you layer in small amounts.
To apply with a sponge, dot your foundation with the fingers onto the centre of your face as above, then blend with a dampened sponge or beauty blender by pressing gently over the face. Note that the sponge is used for pressing the foundation into the skin after dotting it on – squirting your foundation onto the sponge and smearing it on will give you uneven and cakey results.
Finish by dotting your concealer over blemishes, and set with a light dusting of translucent powder.
How we test full-coverage foundation
At Expert Reviews, we know that hands-on testing delivers the most complete understanding of a product. As such, we personally test all of the full-coverage foundations in the roundup, either at home or in-store.
We first note the formulation of the foundation and then use it as directed with a beauty blender or a brush. We note the range of colours available, the pigmentation and coverage of the product and how well the foundation builds and blends with additional layers. We wear the foundation for a day and take note of any issues that arise with caking, dryness or colour alteration over time, and we see how long a single application of foundation lasts over that day. We also note how comfortable the foundation feels on the skin, the fragrance of the product, and the overall ease of use, paying particular attention to how much product is required to achieve a flawless full-coverage finish.
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The best full-coverage foundations you can buy in 2023
1. MAC Studio Fix Fluid SPF15: Best classic full-coverage foundation
Price: £30 | Buy now from John Lewis
An absolute classic and – as the name suggests – used by makeup artists on studio photoshoots worldwide, MAC’s Studio Fix is a liquid foundation that builds to a full coverage, blending away any skin imperfections while still looking natural. One of the brand’s best-selling products, Studio Fix is fantastic as a base for party or special-event makeup (countless brides have used it on their wedding day), and with its oil-control formula and demi-matte finish, it’s particularly suitable for oily and combination skins.
Whatever your skin type, the colour stays true and it won’t budge all day. The formula includes SPF15, to offer some protection against the sun, plus it arrives in an impressive 67 shades to suit all skin tones. MAC’s Studio Fix is a beauty icon that has stood the test of time and still looks great today.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Medium-full; Finish: Demi-matte; Shades: 67
2. Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Wear Foundation: Best long-wear full-coverage foundation
Price: £35 | Buy now from Boots
Another modern classic, Lancôme’s Teint Idole long-wear foundation promises up to 24 hours of smudge-free coverage. Lightweight and oil-free, this liquid foundation provides a natural-looking and flattering demi-matte finish that gives skin a smooth and velvety look, and can be built from medium to full-coverage in areas where you may need to cover discolouration and blemishes.
Teint Idole is available in a decent range of 40 shades, with particularly good options for pale and porcelain skins. The foundation also contains an SPF15 sunscreen for added protection. In our tests, we found that both the colour and the formula’s mattifying effect lasted well throughout a typical day of wear. Delivering lightweight, hydrating and long-wearing coverage, Lancôme’s foundation feels comfortable from dawn to dusk.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Medium-full; Finish: Demi-matte; Shades: 40
3. L’Oréal Infallible 24hr Matte Cover foundation: Best high-street full-coverage foundation
Price: £10 | Buy now from Boots
Infallible is a highly pigmented, silicone-based liquid foundation that covers flaws and delivers a smooth and lightweight base for makeup that lasts all day long. The foundation blends into skin easily and feels soft and light; the resulting matte finish stays in place all day, even in damp or humid weather. The foundation also contains SPF18 for a basic level of sun protection.
The slight downside is the somewhat limited shade range. However, as long as your shade of skin matches one of the 19 on offer, L’Oréal’s Infallible is a great-value full-coverage foundation that feels good on the skin and won’t budge or smudge.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Full; Finish: Matte; Shades: 19
4. Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r: Best matte full-coverage foundation
Price: £30 | Buy now from Boots
Launched in 2017, Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r foundation took the beauty world by storm with its 40 inclusive shades; this number has since expanded to 50, making it easier than ever to find your perfect match. The soft, oil-free silicone formula is long-lasting and gentle on all skin types, and it glides smoothly onto the skin and effortlessly blurs out fine lines, blemishes and unevenness.
Pro Filt’r is also buildable, making it suitable for every occasion from day to evening and special events. If you’re on the lookout for a matte foundation that offers excellent coverage and a great shade range, this is a great-quality product at a good price. For a non-matte finish, seek out the Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r Hydrating Foundation, which is available at the same price.
Key specs – Pack size: 32ml; Coverage: Medium to full; Finish: Matte; Shades: 50
5. Estée Lauder Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup: Best full-coverage foundation for combination skin
Price: £38 | Buy now from Lookfantastic
Estée Lauder’s Double Wear foundation is another best-selling beauty classic, beloved of influencers and beauty editors alike for its flawless, matte finish that lasts for up to 24 hours. It’s ideal for long days at work or extended evening events.
The liquid foundation applies smoothly without clogging, caking or looking unnatural, and it’s transfer-proof, so won’t come off on your favourite white jumper. The Double Wear formula is SPF10 and also resistant to heat and sweat, making it perfect for partying in the tropics. Just apply sparingly, because a little really does go a long way.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Medium to full; Finish: Matte; Shades: 51
6. The Ordinary Coverage Foundation: Best budget full-coverage foundation
Price: £5.90 | Buy now from Boots
A highly pigmented, lightweight and non-greasy liquid foundation, The Ordinary Coverage Foundation is a smoothing and perfecting formula that delivers full coverage in a semi-matte finish. Vegan and cruelty-free, the foundation blends easily over the skin and blurs fine lines with its silicone base. A good shade range of 36 includes colours to suit light, medium and darker skins with cool, neutral and warm tone options in most shades. The foundation also has a protective SPF15.
In common with many products from the cult no-frills, clinical-first brand, The Ordinary’s Coverage Foundation is a great-performing base at a sensational price.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Full; Finish: Demi-matte; Shades: 36
7. Too Faced Born This Way Foundation: Best full-coverage foundation for a demi-matte finish
Price: £34 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
Too Faced’s best-selling Born This Way foundation is a super-lightweight, oil-free base that builds easily to full coverage. It creates a flawless base that still looks like natural skin. Containing coconut water and hyaluronic acid for a hydrating boost, it leaves skin looking and feeling fresh, and the light-textured liquid blends easily to blur imperfections and smooth the skin with a natural, slightly luminous finish.
Born This Way comes in a range of 35 shades, and there’s a matte version of the product (also in 35 shades) for oily skins or those who prefer a fully matte finish.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Full; Finish: Semi-matte; Shades: 35
8. NYX Professional Makeup Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Full-Coverage Foundation: Best-value full-coverage foundation for darker skin
Price: £15 | Buy now from Lookfantastic
A lightweight and creamy, silicone-based liquid foundation from NYX, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop glides onto skin smoothly for a matte finish that lasts all day. Non-comedogenic – which means its ingredients won’t block pores – and with a velvety finish, Can’t Stop Won’t Stop is particularly good for mattifying oily and combination skins; those with dry skins may find it a little too drying. The foundation also contains skin-nourishing vitamin E to help normal to oily skins stay moisturised.
Available in a decent range of 37 shades, it includes a number of deeper tones – from Cocoa to Deep Ebony – that are ideal for darker skin tones. The foundation doesn’t oxidise but dries on to skin slightly darker after application, so be sure to swatch carefully to choose the right shade for you. However, for £15, this is a great lightweight and mattifying full-coverage foundation that will take you through the day and on into the night.
Key specs – Pack size: 30ml; Coverage: Full; Finish: Matte; Shades: 37