Market America | SHOP.COM Develops A Guide That Explains The Many Categories Of Makeup And How To Use Them

The world of makeup can be confusing for those who aren’t beauty experts. What’s the difference between foundation and concealer? What is foundation primer and do you need it? Should you use pressed or loose powder? What tools do you need for contouring? If you’re asking any of these questions, don’t worry. Market America | SHOP.COM has developed a guide that explains each category of face makeup, what its purpose is and how to use it.

Most face makeup comes in a variety of different forms — powder, liquid, cream, cream-to-powder……so which one to choose? It depends on your skin type. Find your skin type below and see which type of makeup will work best for your skin! You can also find out more about your skin through a Skincare Analysis, which will help you discover what skincare regimen is best suited for your skin type before you start applying your makeup!

Sensitive/Allergic: Mineral foundations have natural, hypoallergenic ingredients that are ideal for those with skin allergies or sensitivities. Powders applied with soft brushes are good for not irritating the skin.

Dry: Oil-based foundations are good for adding moisture to the skin, as well as cream or mousse products that may have oils or silicones to help them apply easily. You can also look for a BB (beauty balm) cream that will moisturize and condition the skin in addition to providing foundation.

Normal: Normal skin can use nearly any type of foundation, from liquid to cream to powders or sticks. Just make sure your skin is properly moisturized before applying foundation to ensure the best results.

Oily: Stay away from oil-based foundations or those that use silicones. Instead, choose water-based foundations or powders, which will absorb excess oil and mattify the skin.

What Is Primer?

Primer is the first makeup product that should go on the face, after your skincare regimen and before foundation. Primer helps to create a smooth, even base that will hold makeup and help it last longer. It minimizes pores and lines, evens out the skin tone, and acts as a protectant to seal in your skincare regimen while preventing makeup from clogging the pores. Most primers are either silicone-based or water-based, with silicone generally being a better smoothing agent but water-based being a good choice for those who have oily skin or silicone allergies. It’s most commonly found in cream form but can also come as a powder.

What Type Should I Use?

There are many different types of primer that serve different purposes. For dry or dull skin, try an illuminating primer that includes reflective particles to brighten your skin. For oily skin, a mattifying primer will absorb excess oil and cut down on shine. Color correcting primers come in different colors to balance out your skin tone — pink for sallow skin, green for redness, yellow for blue undertones, etc…… — so your makeup will stay true to its color once on your skin.

What Is Foundation?

Foundation is makeup that matches your skin tone and is applied to the entire face to create an even, uniform skin tone. It can be found in many forms, from liquids and creams to powders and even sprays. Foundation is generally either oil-based or water-based. Oil-based foundations add extra moisture to the skin, plumping and firming it. This makes it great for dry skin and those wishing to reduce lines and wrinkles. Water-based foundations are mattifying and prevent shine, making them a good choice for oily skin. They tend to dry quickly when applied to the face and should be applied over moisturizer or primer to prevent drying out the skin. For those with dry or easily irritated skin, mineral foundations are made of natural, hypoallergenic ingredients and will provide coverage without irritation.

What Is BB Cream?

BB (beauty balm) cream is a beauty product that is wildly popular in Asian markets and has recently gained recognition in the US as well. BB creams act as an all-in-one product that moisturizes and primes the face (and in many cases includes SPF) in addition to acting as foundation. These creams typically offer sheer to light coverage, providing more than tinted moisturizers but less than most foundations. They can be a good choice for those who don’t wear much makeup and want quick and easy application, but they shouldn’t replace moisturizing and priming steps for those who wear a full face of makeup. For many Korean beauty lovers, CC (color correcting) and DD (daily defense, or anti-aging) creams are starting to make their way to the US as well.

What are the Coverage Types, and What Do They Mean?

Foundations are offered in different levels of coverage, meaning how fully they cover the skin. Sheer coverage is nearly transparent, with only 7-12% pigmentation. It feels light on the skin and evens out the skin tone but won’t hide blemishes or redness. Light coverage provides slightly more pigmentation (13-17%) but is still largely transparent. Medium coverage is more opaque, with 18-24% pigmentation that will cover redness and blemishes. Full coverage is completely opaque and will provide the most coverage at 25-50% pigmentation, making it ideal for those who wish to cover scars or extremely uneven skin tone or surface. Typically, tinted moisturizers and BB creams provide sheer to light coverage, liquids and powders provide light to medium coverage and creams and sticks provide medium to full coverage.

What Is Concealer?

Concealer is another skin tone makeup product, but this one is thicker and more highly pigmented than foundation and is used only for spot coverage to conceal blemishes and other imperfections on the skin. Choose a concealer just slightly lighter than your skin tone to avoid creating dark spots that call attention to the areas you mean to conceal. Liquid concealers typically provide more sheer coverage but are good for oily or sensitive skin. Cream or cream-to-powder concealers (which go on as cream but dry quickly as a powder) are good for dry to normal skin and provide more coverage, making them ideal for use on dark circles underneath the eyes. Concealer sticks are semi-solid and provide medium to full coverage that can correct redness and scars but should not be used on heavy acne as they can clog the pores.

What Is Contouring?

Contouring is an increasingly popular makeup method that was once used mainly in films and on models and celebrities but has since become far more mainstream. Contouring uses shades both lighter and darker than the natural skin tone to subtly change the shape of the face, usually creating a more angular or slimming shape. Contouring and highlighting products can come in liquid, cream, stick or powder forms and can be bought separately or found together in contouring kits that include a range of shades for contouring and highlighting the face.

Contouring Products

Contouring creates the illusion of shadow to provide depth to the face, so it should be one shade darker than your skin tone and have a matte finish. Some people even simply use a darker shade of foundation or concealer to achieve this effect. The contour shade should be applied at the cheekbones, along the jawline, at the top of the forehead and along the nose to best define the facial structure. Be careful to not use too much product and to blend it carefully into your skin tone to create a subtle gradient effect.


Highlighting creates the opposite effect of contouring by attracting light to certain parts of the face to complement the shadow and give the contouring illusion more depth. A highlighter should be a shade slightly lighter than your skin tone and, unlike the matte contouring shade, should have some shimmer to attract the light. A pearl shade is best for pale to fair skin or a warmer golden tone for medium to dark skin. Highlighter should be applied under the brow bone, on the apples of the cheeks and to the inside corners of the eye. Similar to contouring, it should be used with a light hand and blended carefully to create a subtle gradient effect. If you don’t have time to completely contour your face or want a more natural look, highlighter can also be used on its own to give your face a dewy glow.

What is Blush?

Blush adds a slight flush to the skin to add vitality and liveliness to the complexion. For fair skin, a soft pink tone works best, with rose or peachy tones for medium skin, warm reds and browns for olive skin tones and olives, apricots and plums for dark skin. Blush is most commonly found as a powder that is applied with a soft brush but it can now also be found as a liquid or cream. It should be applied along the cheekbones or on the apples of the cheeks and blended well to create a light, natural hint of color.

What Is Bronzer?

Bronzer is used to add a warm, sunkissed glow to the complexion. It’s similar to blush except that it uses warm gold tones rather than pinks and reds. A light honey color is best for fair skin, with rose or gold for medium skin tones and amber for dark skin tones. Like blush, bronzers usually come as a powder that can be applied with a soft, larger brush to create a gradual, blended effect. It should be applied to the parts of the face that the sun hits — the forehead, cheekbones and jaw. One common trick is to apply it in the shape of the number 3 starting at the forehead, then sweeping outward across the temple and in over the cheekbone, then back out and inward again along the jawline.

Setting Powder

Setting powders are typically applied evenly to the face after foundation to ensure that it stays on and doesn’t smudge. The powder absorbs any excess oil from the face or foundation, mattifying the skin and providing a good base for contouring, bronzer and blush. Some people prefer to apply all their face makeup first and use setting powder at the end to help set the entire look. Setting powders can be either translucent or skin tone and come in both loose and pressed powder forms. Loose powder comes in a jar and is usually a finer consistency that is good for oily skin, while pressed powder comes in a more portable compact and includes ingredients like silicone or wax to help it hold together. This makes for easy application but isn’t ideal for oily skin and can run the danger of looking cakey if overapplied.

Finishing & HD Powder

People often think setting and finishing powders are the same or interchangeable but they in fact have different purposes. Finishing powder is a very fine, translucent powder that is applied after setting powder to blur away the appearance of pores and fine lines. It comes in both pressed and loose versions and is applied with a puff or brush. HD (high definition) powders serve the same purpose but are mainly used for the best appearance in photography and film to create an airbrushed effect, as finishing powders can sometimes appear white and powdery on camera.

Setting Spray

Setting spray is used as a final touch once all makeup is applied. It sets the makeup and prevents it from smudging, melting, caking or setting into wrinkles or fine lines. It helps the skin stay moisturized while wearing makeup and limits the need for touch-ups throughout the day. It comes as a spray that should be lightly misted over the entire face once makeup application is complete. The biggest difference from a setting spray and a setting powder is often the value it has for different skin types. For instance, a setting powder can be great for absorbing excess oil. A setting spray can be much better for those who have dry skin and want to avoid using too much powder that can show more lines and wrinkles.

When it comes to makeup, there is a lot to choose from. Consider bookmarking this page for future use!

Market America | SHOP.COM is a global product brokerage and internet marketing company that specializes in one-to-one marketing and is the creator of The Shopping Annuity®.

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Public Relations Team at Market America | SHOP.COM

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