The Best Korean Foundation for Coverage, Color, and Finish
Korean cosmetics can be tricky, and many cosmetics lovers are a little bit wary about venturing too far out of their comfort zone when it comes to BB creams, CC creams, and moisturizers. Those products can be truly helpful (and we love BB creams in particular!) but they get a little complicated.
Luckily, Korean foundations are a lot simpler. They offer a lot more “perks” than their Western counterparts, and with a few exceptions, they’re pretty simple to use.
Below, we’ll take a close look at the Korean foundations we like (including our pick for best Korean foundation overall), discuss the differences between “regular” foundation and Korean foundation, and provide some insider tips on how to get the most out of the Korean foundation you go with.
Korean Foundations: Our Picks
Here’s a quick list of our favorites…
…and here’s what we think of them!
MISSHA M Magic Cushion SPF50+/PA+++
The MISSHA M Magic Cushion SPF50+/PA+++ can be a great option if you’re new to Korean foundations. The magic cushion (and if you’re not sure what a cushion is, read on—we describe it below) looks like a beautiful little pancake, and it’s designed to provide coverage while making skin look dewy and ethereal.
MISSHA crafted this foundation with silica and boron powders in order to conceal blemishes and discoloration, and it was formulated to be feel light (which is a nice effort—many foundations, especially Western ones, can feel heavy and kind of cumbersome). It includes some nice moisturizing ingredients that can help to nourish the skin and give it a natural glow, while still absorbing excess oils from the skin—and that’s a tricky balancing act. That’s why we think this can be a good foundation for both dry and normal skin: it’s meant to make the skin look radiant and hydrated, but not greasy.
The meaning of “cushion” in the name Magic Cushion refers to a type of compact container that has a sponge soaked with foundation along with a foam applicator that is non-porous, so it’s designed to give excellent coverage. The sponge is meant to aerate the foundation, giving it a lighter texture, while the compact container itself can be nice for makeup on the go. At present, MISSHA makes the Magic Cushion in three shades: no. 23 which is a light medium, No. 21, which is fair, and No. 27, which is more tan.
May be good for: those with dry and normal skin, and especially those new to Korean foundations who would like a convenient foundation for using on the go.
Etude House New Double Lasting Foundation SPF 34
We think Etude House New Double Lasting Foundation is the best Korean foundation when it comes to real coverage, longevity, and oil-control, making it our recommendation for those with oily or combination-oily skin. Etude House concocted this formula to stay in place for hours on end, as the name “Double Lasting” implies.
This foundation was crafted to have a matte finish by Korean standards, so we think “demi-matte” might be a better description for our readers who are used to Western foundations. It might look matte over normal or dry skin, but for those with oily skin it can provide a more natural look.
Etude House concentrated on ensuring that this foundation adheres to the skin well, and they’ve even put it through 24-hour wear tests to prove that it can last with no need for touch-ups. Despite the incredible longevity, it was also designed to feel light and non-sticky on the skin.
When compared to the shades offered by other Korean foundations, Etude House stands out—it offers the Double Lasting foundation in a wide shade range of 12 colors—but unfortunately, even the darkest shade may not be dark enough for a lot of people. What is nice is that whatever shade you choose, you will know that Etude House designed it to hide the majority of imperfections with a single layer.
May be good for: those with oily skin who would like a lightweight and long-lasting foundation with medium coverage.
The Face Shop Ink Lasting Foundation Slim Fit SPF 30
The Face Shop Ink Lasting Foundation Slim Fit is our “mid-range / middle-of-the-road” pick for the best Korean foundation. It was designed to offer high-performance with features that we think make it a good fit for anyone with normal or combination skin and light redness or discoloration.
Let’s start with coverage: this foundation was designed to smooth the appearance of the skin while remaining undetectable, which in practice means that it gives nice medium coverage to mask most imperfections without looking heavy or mask-like on the skin. The Face Shop included red and blue pigments in the mix to give the skin a natural, bright glow designed to look satiny rather than dewy.
What we find most impressive about Ink Lasting, though, is the fitting complex with which it was designed, which is meant to help the foundation adhere to the skin smoothly and to prevent it from breaking up or wearing away throughout the day. When we need a foundation to last a while, that’s the kind of feature we look for.
One thing you may want to keep in mind is that this formula often oxidizes throughout the day, so it might turn a shade or two darker on your skin. If you pick it up in a shade lighter than you would normally consider you are likelier to get a good color match, and since The Face Shop manufacture this foundation in five shades, hopefully that won’t be a problem.
May be good for: those with normal or combination skin who would like a foundation that really stays put, with medium coverage and a natural finish.
Touch in Sol Advanced Real Moisture Liquid Foundation SPF 30
We have a very specific opinion about Touch in Sol Advanced Real Moisture Liquid Foundation: it gets our vote as the best Korean foundation 1) in a bottle formula, 2) for those with dry skin, and who 3) likes a natural-yet-dewy look. If that fits your situation, then there you go!
This is one of the more unique foundations we’ve come across. It was designed with a buildable coverage that we think is about light to medium, which is nice for anyone who doesn’t like the heavy look of full coverage foundation, and despite a light and natural formulation, Advance Real Moisture was actually designed with a “high-adherence” effect, which means it can last nicely on the skin throughout the day. That mix of features—buildable, light-to-medium, and long-lasting—can be a rare find.
“Real Moisture” is a fitting name for this foundation because it was crafted with a water-holding formula of birch sap, collagen, and Aquaxyl, included to keep the skin looking hydrated throughout the day. It was also designed to have an anti-wrinkle function that those with maturing skin may appreciate. The color range is the only thing that we’re not thrilled about, because Touch in Sol only make this foundation in two shades, but that’s a pretty common complain about Korean foundations (and Korean cosmetics in general). That said—if one of those shades matches your skin, then you’re in luck! 😉
May be good for: those with dry or maturing skin who would like a hydrating foundation with medium coverage.
IOPE Air Cushion Natural
IOPE Air Cushion Natural may not be as well-known as some of our other picks, but we’ve used it a few times, and really like it. It’s our favorite “classic” Korean foundation cushion, and it can be a great option for those with dry or normal skin. It was formulated to revive the skin with moisture, designed to provide a radiant satin finish that is dewy but not overly so, which is ideal for achieving the ‘chok chok’ sheen that is so prized in Korean beauty.
Though this cushion foundation was reformulated in 2017, we still consider it a classic because it resembles some of the original Korean beauty products that first made their way to the U.S. and Canada a few years back. IOPE is one of the most well-entrenched Korean beauty brands, and the sheer amount of research and engineering they do for their products is truly wonderful. They test their products to ensure they provides long-lasting brightness and hydration to the skin, and that research seems to be a big part of their mission.
IOPE crafted the cushion with low pigmentation, so we think that while it can lightly even out the skin tone, it may not cover any intense redness or blemishes—and if you’re looking for more coverage, you might prefer their Intense Coverage formula instead. IOPE does manufacture it in four shades, however, and so it can cover a wider range of skin tones than some other comparable foundations.
May be good for: those with normal or dry skin looking for intense hydration and long-lasting glow, but light.
Korean Foundation vs. Cushion vs. BB Cream: What’s the Difference?
When we think of Korean complexion products, the first thing that usually comes to mind is BB cream, but Korean beauty brands also release some incredible foundations. Korean foundations and BB creams have a lot of similarities, but there are also differences, and to complicate things, there are also cushion compacts that jump into the mix. Here's how it plays out:
Korean BB Creams. As you may already know, a BB cream is a two-in-one product that covers like a foundation while also nourishing and protecting the skin. People call it a “two-in-one” product because it straddles the space between skincare and makeup. BB creams often contain skincare ingredients that are popular in Korea to hydrate, brighten, and/or soothe the skin. Because of this, many Korean women prefer to use BB creams over foundations, and that’s something we’ve seen in Western markets, too—people skipping foundation altogether, and using BB cream instead. So BB cream = makeup AND skincare.
Korean Foundations. Foundations, on the other hand, are first and foremost a makeup product. Their main purpose is to glide over the skin to make it look smooth and evenly toned, and Korean foundations often offer higher coverage than the average Korean BB cream. While Korean foundations are not formulated specifically with skincare in mind, they almost always offer sun protection at around 30-50 SPF, which is much higher than we would normally see in a Western foundation. They usually come in a wider shade range than BB creams—that’s the good news—but they rarely come in as many shades as you’d find in a Western foundation that you’d find in the U.S. / Canada / Europe / Australia / etc.
Cushions. Finally, there are cushions, which offer a twist on both foundations and BB creams. A cushion compact refers mostly to the container, rather than the actual product, and while a cushion compact looks like any other makeup compact, it actually holds liquid cosmetics rather than powder or cream ones. Here’s what that means:
Inside the compact there are two sponges, with an inner plastic lid separating them. The sponge on the bottom is a bouncy one that is totally soaked in either a foundation or BB cream formula (or sometimes CC cream). Because the makeup is suspended in the sponge, it gets a little aerated so it becomes more lightweight and breathable. The upper sponge is the applicator, and unlike the typical freebie sponge you get with compact makeup (that probably means well but isn’t always so fantastic), these are usually well-made, high-quality tools. The applicator of a cushion foundation is often made out of special foam that is antimicrobial, and it tends to give very seamless coverage that’s higher than what you would get with a sponge or brush.
Cushion foundations and BB creams are easy to fit into a makeup bag, and because of that portability, they’re very popular with professional women and students who lead busy, on-the-go lives with full schedules. There is also an eco-friendly component to cushion foundations: once you’ve purchased your first compact, you don’t have to repurchase it. Instead, once you run out, you can just buy a cushion refill that slides right in, saving yourself money while reducing unnecessary waste.
How to Choose the Right Korean Foundation for You
Finding the appropriate Korean foundation for your skin requires a bit more investigative work than buying a mainstream or Western foundation. Here is our guide to the things you should do to find a perfect match even when there is little information out there:
Find a Color Match
As much as we love Korean beauty, we must admit that there is one major drawback to Korean foundations: the shade ranges, to put it plainly, can be… disappointing. If you have darker skin you might not be able to find a Korean foundation that matches your skin tone at all, while if you have fair skin you may still need to find the correct undertone. Selection can be a pain.
With that said, companies that make Korean foundations know that finding the right color—especially when you’re selecting one online—is a concern that their customers can have, so they often share clear photos of what the foundations look like swatched, and they might also include an explanation of the undertone. If those photos are not available, you can always check the brand’s website, and as a last resort, you can look them up online by searching “[name of foundation] + swatches”. While it’s not a sure thing, we’ve had a lot of luck with that approach.
Before you start searching for the right Korean foundation for your coloring, it’s important that you know what kind of undertone you actually have. The two main undertones are cool and warm, with cool being a little more pink, and warm being a little more yellow. To figure out your own undertone, examine your skin in the mirror while wearing a white shirt and try to see whether you see more yellow tones or more pink tones. You can also examine your veins: greenish veins are a sign of warm skin, purplish veins are a sign of cool skin, and blue veins signify a neutral, beige undertone.
You may expect most Korean foundations to come in a warm undertone, but that’s not always the case, as there are many cool and neutral options. Some brands will use letters like “c” or “w” to denote the undertone of each shade, while others will use keyword names like “honey” or “peach”—but looking at swatches is usually better than relying on names.
Our final suggestion is to find a K-beauty reviewer or Youtuber whose skin tone matches yours, and see what shade they use in every particular brand to figure out what will match your skin tone. And, once you find that person—bookmark their page, so that you can come back to them!
Look for the Right Coverage
Many Korean brands don’t really disclose the level of coverage their foundations offer, and instead opt for vague words like “buildable” or “perfecting,” so selecting the right coverage level can be a challenge. You can try to read between the lines, but it can be very helpful to read reviews or to find videos of people using the foundation on YouTube. Recently, it’s become popular for people online to post videos where they apply the foundation over a little sketch that they drew over their hand. That can be very helpful, as it allows you to tell exactly how much a foundation covers, especially if the person in the video doesn’t have obvious discolorations on their face.
As for light vs. medium vs. full, here’s what we’ve found:
If you’re new to makeup altogether or if you have fairly even and unblemished skin, you might prefer lighter coverage, and you’ll be happy to know that many Korean foundations (especially cushion ones) are usually quite nice on that front. If you would prefer sheer coverage that lightly evens out the skin but doesn’t totally cover it, the best hint that a Korean foundation offers low coverage is when there are no descriptions of coverage at all.
If you would like a Korean foundation that will conceal discolorations and diffuse most blemishes, you are likely looking for a “medium” coverage foundation. Korean foundations that offer medium-coverage are often described as “buildable.” You should also be aware that sometimes a brand will describe their foundation as offering a lot of coverage, but when reading the reviews, you’ll see that for the foundation to do so actually requires a few layers, which makes it more of a “medium” coverage foundation.
Finally, you might want a high / full coverage foundation that really conceals everything. There aren’t a lot of Korean foundations that offer full coverage, but they do exist. Once again, you will probably want to read reviews or watch product demonstrations rather than to totally rely on product descriptions, since some things get lost in translation.
Select the Right Finish
When we talk about finish, we’re referring to how reflective a foundation is—much like we would when talking about the finish of a paint. You want to choose a finish based on the level of “glow” that you like your foundation to give, as well as based on your skin type, which will influence how the finish of the foundation interacts with your skin.
If you like dewy, glowy-looking skin, you may have a lot of luck with Korean foundations, as there is no lack of hydrating formulations. They are usually described by the brands as “hydrating” or may even suggest that they will give you ‘chok chok’ or ‘glass’ skin—clear, reflective skin that’s considered a beauty ideal in Korea. However, these kinds of formulas can make oily skin look straight up greasy, so that’s something to keep in mind.
If you would like dewy skin but are naturally oily, you might prefer foundations with a natural finish, which is usually the next step after dewy. It’s a little less glowy but still has a bit of a reflective sheen, albeit a natural one. When those with combination or oily skin wear a natural-finish foundation, the result will often be dewy, while it will look more natural on those with dry skin.
Finally, we have demi-matte finish, which is not exactly totally flat or matte, but not quite reflective either. On those with oily skin, demi-matte foundations usually look very natural, while for those with normal, combination, or dry skin, they will look more matte—though usually not overly so. Normally, demi-matte Korean foundations will be described as matte, but in our experience, that’s rarely the case. Because matte-looking skin is rarely desirable in Korean beauty, even for those with oily skin, there are very few Korean foundations that offer a true matte finish. That may change in the future, but that’s been our experience so far.
How to Apply Korean Foundation
There is no rule saying that Korean foundation has to be applied differently from Western foundation, so if you would rather stick to the techniques you’re used to, feel free, but this is our guide for applying foundation in a K-beauty style:
- Start with clean and very well-moisturized face, so that the foundation can go on smoothly and last longer;
- Next, apply a little bit of primer to your skin. You can choose a pore-filling primer for the center of the face, or a more brightening primer to get a head-start on achieving a glass skin glow;
- Now for the Korean foundation: you can apply your foundation with a buffing brush, a makeup sponge, or a foam applicator if you are using a cushion foundation. Each one requires a slightly different application style, so alter your approach accordingly, so keep the following in mind:
- A brush application will give you slightly fuller coverage, so start off with a smaller amount of foundation than you think necessary. You can put a few drops of foundation directly on the brush and then dot the brush over your face to dispense the product, or dot the foundation over your face first and then use the brush to buff it out. To actually blend the foundation into your skin, use a circular motion starting from the center of the face and working your way outwards. This can help give you a seamless application;
- A sponge will give you a lighter and more dewy coverage. First, saturate your sponge with water and then squeeze it a few times so it is just damp rather than wet. Dip your sponge directly into the foundation and then dot it over your skin. Next, to blend the foundation out, use overlapping bouncing motions which will move the foundation around while also blending out harsh edges. Flip the sponge to the thinner end in order to cover hard to reach areas like the nose or under the curve of the lips; and
- If you have a cushion foundation, then always use the applicator that it comes with. Dip the applicator into the foundation-soaked sponge, and then apply the foundation to your skin with overlapping rolling motion. Never drag the applicator—either roll it over the skin or tap it if you would like to build up coverage. Start near the center of the face and work downwards to cover the cheeks, and then move over to the forehead, starting at the center and working outwards. Fold the applicator in order to get it under the eyes and around the crevices of the nose;
- Once you applied the first thin layer of foundation, examine your skin to see if you think any areas need a bit more coverage. Use tapping motions with whatever tool you chose to add a bit more Korean foundation to those areas;
- If you still need a bit more coverage, apply your favorite concealer to the skin instead;
- If you would like to control facial oils a bit or ensure your foundation’s longevity, use a fluffy brush to set it with a setting powder. Load the brush up with powder and then tap it over the skin to set the foundation. Be careful not to apply too much, and if you can get away with it, try to only powder the areas of your face that get very oily, like the T-zone; and finally…
- Once your foundation is done, you can finish off your eyes, lips, and apply some blush or bronzer, and there you go! You’re well on your way to experienced usage of Korean foundation.
By the way: we've talked about skin and how to keep it healthy—you can check out our post on our favorite Korean moisturizers to get an idea if they'd be a good fit for your skincare routine.
Incorporating Korean Foundation into Your Routine: Next Steps
Korean beauty has slowly but surely integrated its way into Western cosmetics, but it takes a little ingenuity and adventurousness to work it into your beauty routine. If you’re a little intimidated, just give it some time and practice, and you’ll see if it’s right for you. Good luck, have fun, and happy makeup!