Foundation, Tinted Moisturiser Or BB/CC Cream? Your Ultimate Guide

Confused about which makeup base you should be using? We asked the experts for their tips and best buys.
Learn which makeup base is best for your skin.
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Learn which makeup base is best for your skin.

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The best makeup looks have one thing in common: a seamless base. But there are so many to choose from – and we’re not just talking different brands.

When it comes to achieving a flawless look, the sheer range of base options makes things, well, a little confusing. There’s foundation, tinted moisturiser, BB cream and CC cream – and on top of that, you’ll want to pick a formula type (liquid, cream, powder, etc) and the finish that’s best for your skin type.

Thankfully, when it comes to understanding the key differences between all these products, we’ve chatted to a couple of experts who can help.

Makeup artist and hairstylist Lee O’Driscoll knows how confusing it gets. “Choosing what to put on your face can be quite the minefield!” she tells us. “From the cheapest to the most luxurious brands, the choice is vast.”

So, what’s the difference between bases? O’Driscoll explains it this way. “As a general rule, tinted moisturisers and BB creams tend to be lighter coverage, CC creams can have a little more coverage as they’re designed to colour correct, too, and foundations have even more coverage,” she says.

“However, to add a bit more confusion into the mix, it’s worth remembering that foundations now come in a whole range of coverage, from light to ‘cover-everything’! And some BB and CC creams have fuller coverage. The lines between these products have definitely blurred over the years.”

The point of all of these products is the same, says O’Driscoll – “to ‘perfect’ the skin to some degree. And they can each be applied all over the face, or just where you think your complexion could do with a little extra help.”

Your handy base-by-base guide

NickyLloyd via Getty Images

Keshia East, makeup artist and founder of No Knot Co, breaks it down further.

Foundation Probably the most well known and common base choice,” says East. “These bases definitely have the most variety from the most broad shade ranges to the most diverse textures (matte, dewy, semi-matte, natural). They even have a variety of finishes (full, medium or light coverage).”

Foundations are great for those who have very specific wants from their base, she says. “They’re probably the most versatile of all bases they can be mixed with creams/serums for lighter finishes or doubled up for full coverage.”

Tinted moisturiser“Does exactly what it says on the tin – moisturiser with a tint of colour. It’s a great choice for someone who wants a low maintenance base with light to medium coverage.”

Tinted moisturiser is simple, says East. “It can usually be applied with hands and often comes with an added SPF or/and oil control or a dewy finish. It can be used on top of a moisturiser or simply as a moisturiser/foundation hybrid”.

BB creams“Took the market by storm and originate from K beauty (Korean beauty). Short for beauty/blemish balm, they usually offer sheer-medium coverage and can be packed with skin-boosting ingredients as well.”

According to East, BB creams are multi-purpose. “They’re moisturising, give a slight coverage and are packed with skincare benefits all in one,” she says, adding that they are best applied with a brush or beauty sponge.

CC creams – “Colour correcting cream – it’s all in the name. They help colour correct, so aim to cure skin issues such as discolouration or dullness.”

CC creams are another step up, says East. “They are a great product for anyone wanting to address multiple concerns; conceal dark spots, redness or hyperpigmentation, while gaining some coverage too. They can be applied all over the skin or in specific skin concern areas.”

How does skin type (and age) dictate the best base for you?

Senior woman applying makeup
milan2099 via Getty Images
Senior woman applying makeup

When selecting the perfect base product, it’s not just about coverage levels, you also need to take your skin type into account. Certain formulas pair better with specific skin types, so knowing what the best option is for you is important.

Oil-prone skin

While BB cream, CC cream, tinted moisturiser and foundation usually all have oil-free/matte options, East recommends a matte foundation for those with super oily skin who love good coverage. But any formula can work well as long as you use a mattifying primer before application, she advises.

O’Driscoll elaborates: “For oil-prone skin I would recommend a primer designed for oily skin on the areas that need it (usually the T-zone), then depending on the degree of oiliness, a medium or full coverage liquid foundation set with powder.”

If only your T-zone is oily, use a fuller coverage foundation on that area so that it’s more likely to go the distance but something lighter on the rest of your face. This is helpful if you prefer a more natural look overall, she says, or if other areas of your face are dry and not flattered by the formulation for oily areas.

Dry skin

“I always recommend a liquid tinted moisturiser or BB cream for those who want minimal coverage but have dry skin,” says East. “These will give the most moisture to the skin without clogging pores or the feel of a heavy foundation”

O’Driscoll agrees. “On the foundation side, creams can be a dream for dry skin, and liquids are fine as long as the formula is not too harsh. Some full coverage liquid foundations can be quite drying and the finish isn’t flattering,” she adds.

Blemish prone skin

“The number one concern for clients with blemish-prone skin is hiding those blemishes! So coverage is important,” says O’Driscoll. “However, as with dry skin, some fuller coverage foundations aren’t always good on dry or dehydrated skin or on lines and wrinkles. I would recommend a foundation with a medium to full coverage liquid or cream that best suits your skin overall, followed by a concealer and/or colour corrector to target individual blemishes.”

“BB creams and CC creams are packed with the most skin-benefits for those with blemish prone skin looking for treatment as well as coverage,” agrees East.

Mature skin

“I always say lighter is better when it comes to mature skin,” says East. “Tinted moisturiser or BB creams are great as they keep the skin looking dewy and fresh while providing coverage. Matte bases can enhance lines and wrinkles.”

O’Driscoll agrees, explaining that, “Fine lines and wrinkles tend to be the main issue, and this is where ‘lighter’ formulation liquid foundations, BB and CC creams or tinted moisturisers can be really effective. Heavier and drier consistency foundations have a tendency to crease and sit in lines and wrinkles, often making them look worse than they actually are.”

If you’re intent on foundation, try one with light to medium coverage you can use sparingly and build up gently where you need it,” she adds. “A top tip is to do your foundation, then go and do something else for a while. It can take a little time for foundation to find those lines and wrinkles. If you find it’s settled in yours, gently buff those areas out with a brush, setting with powder if needed.”

And one last tip

Before applying your base of choice – BB, CC, foundation or tinted moisturiser – don’t forget to dot a little primer on. “Primers can help manage dry, oily or dull looking skin,” says East. “But even if these specific things are not a concern, they can help make your base last a lot longer.”

Fancy upgrading your makeup base? We’ve put together a roundup of lots of MUA-approved options.

This lightweight, oil-free foundation
East is a real fan of this Estée Lauder classic. "You get all the benefits of a full coverage foundation with a lightweight formula", plus it contains skin-saving SPF protection," she says. The lightweight, oil-free liquid formula coats the skin, creating a fresh, matte finish and up to 24 hours of wear. It's also enriched with hyaluronic acid (for added hydration and nourishment), and is sweat, water and humidity resistant.
This super lightweight skin tint
This perfecting skin tint is designed to offer the perfect medium between are skin and a subtle skin perfecting base. The breathable, ultra-thin formula is designed to even out skin tone, brightening, softening, and minimising the appearances of pores and blemishes, without being heavy.
This innovative beauty balm
This medium to full coverage beauty balm formula is recommended by O'Driscoll'. The skin hydrating formula is designed to keep skin moisturised all day long, while also evening out skin tone and giving your complexion a flawless finish.
This innovative skin blurring tint
East is also a big fan of Fenty Beauty Eaze Skin Tint. “It provides amazing coverage with a super lightweight feel." she says. Formulated to offer smooth, instantly blurred skin with just a few drops, this easy-to-apply tint (which comes in 25 shades) will even your complexion while blurring blemishes. Plus, it comes makeup artist approved.
This makeup artist favourite BB cream
When it comes to BB cream, East loves this roller pen for its "great formula and [being] super nourishing and vegan". The SPF 30 formula provides buildable, breathable coverage, moisturising skin with natural oils for a dewy finish. Meanwhile the rollerball makes reapplying simple and stress-free, even when you’re in a rush or on the go.
Nars Cosmetics Sheer Glow Foundation
This Nars foundation offers luminous, sheer to medium-coverage complete with a satin finish, and is a personal favourite of O'Driscoll, who says it's "flattering on most people, offers good coverage that's not too heavy and comes in a huge range of shades".
This super hydrating tinted moisturiser
This innovative lightweight formula is the perfect combination of tinted moisturiser and sunscreen (featuring SPF 30 protection). For a glowy, natural-looking finish with a hint of dewy skin, this is the one.
This luminous tinted skin serum
This ‘drug store’ alternative to more expensive bases is a firm favourite of mine. It's a tinted serum designed to offer easy-to-achieve luminous skin with a dewy, non-greasy finish. For a ‘no makeup look’, it’s this formula for the win.
This 'soft-focus' foundation
Formulated as a long-wearing base, this foundation promised to blur imperfections while also hydrating and nourishing skin. Available in 40 shades, its buildable silky formula offers medium to high coverage, and is also sweat proof, transfer-proof and waterproof.
This lightweight skin perfector
This skin perfector from Laura Mercier also comes makeup artist approved, and with its SPF 30 protection, sheer coverage, and super hydrating formula, it's easy to see why. FYI, for an effortless no-makeup makeup look, this is the one.
This doubly approved CC cream
When it comes to CC creams, both East and O'Driscoll recommend IT Cosmetics as their go-to – so there’s no denying the formula must be ever so dreamy. East loves this product as it offers “ light to medium coverage, and has anti-ageing and pore minimising properties" and O'Driscoll agrees.