At the Intersection of Makeup and Microprocessors, the Sephora + Pantone Color IQ Foundation System Promises To Help You Find a Better Foundation Match

Published in: Makeup Tips/How To, Sephora

The Sephora Color IQ Foundation System

The Sephora + Pantone Color IQ Foundation System. Goooooo science!

Ah, technology… It’s not just for sending obnoxious text messages to your best friend about how you really feel about capri pants anymore.

At Sephora tech is also helping women (and makeup-lovin’ dudes) get a better foundation match.


At the intersection of makeup and microprocessors, the Sephora + Pantone Color IQ system promises to put processor cycles to work to help you find an exact foundation shade match.

At least that’s the idea.

“Color IQ is the first and only beauty service to scan the surface of your skin, assign it a Color IQ number, and then find your scientifically precise foundation match from over 1,500 options.”

How does it work?

I’m glad you asked! 🙂

A Sephora makeup artist places the Color IQ device, which basically looks like a hybrid handheld camera/Star Trek tricorder, against your skin in three places to take color readings.

The Sephora Color IQ Foundation System

But first, lemme take a selfie!

You can match to either your face or neck. I opted to go with my neck, because my face is much redder (I use a lot of exfoliating products).

Sephora Color IQ screen

The device uses that data to assign you a Pantone Color IQ number, which it then matches from among all of the foundations Sephora carries.

My Pantone Color IQ number is 3Y09.

“3Y09, please report to the medical bay for assimilation!”

The Starfleet cadet/makeup artist who helped me explained that the “Y” in the Color IQ number refers to the overall skin tone (mine is yellow), while the numbers at the end refer to its depth, or darkness.

Sephora Color IQ screen

A Color IQ scan and shade matching is free, and it takes less than five minutes. No need to make an appointment, either. And when you’re done, you can email yourself the list of products it generates.

Sephora Color IQ


Color IQ is available now at all Sephora stores. Click here to find a location near you.

By the way, I ended up grabbing one of its recommendations for me — Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Flawless Fluide Foundation in Chai. I haven’t worn it yet, but you’ll be the first to hear how it turns out. 🙂

Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,


P.S. Happy hump day, fellow beauty bounty hunter.


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So far, 37 people have commented on this article. How cool is that?

  1. Agata says:

    I really want to try this system and see what results it comes up with but I always feel intimidated approaching any of the Sephora makeup artists, I don’t know why.
    Agata recently posted … Lorac Pro2 Palette- review and look.

  2. Keri says:

    2Y10 at your service! I thought “Oh, that’s just like Karen’s!” for half a second, but I’m pretty sure Color IQ shades don’t work the way bra sizes do, where you can go up a band size and down a cup size. 🙂

    • Karen says:

      Hi Keri!

      Have you found any great foundations through Color IQ? I would love to know your faves. 😀

    • Paula says:

      That’s interesting because last fall/autumn I was matched to 3y09 and late this spring/early summer I was matched to 2y10. I guess that makes sense since I’m less yellow and more brown when I tan.

  3. Jennifer says:

    I had this done last summer and really enjoyed all the recommendations it generated.
    I was dragging my feet buying anything though because I get a lot darker in the summer (I know, I’m a bad girl but I do wear spf 50)so I was going to have it redone in the late fall and never got around to it.
    So this is a good reminder. I’m going to pencil it in for maybe mid-October when I’ve really lost my glow.

    p.s. love the lipstick blouse you’re rocking in the photos!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      Thank you! It’s a top I got from the Nordie’s anniversary sale.

      From the foundations you tried, which ones did you like the most?

      • Nikki says:

        Hey Karen, We have the same color IQ 3Y09!!! Yay!!!! I was kinda surprised at first to actually find someone with the same color IQ.

  4. Alison M says:

    I tried this when stores first started offering the Color IQ system. The problem is that it didn’t give me a proper match. It was in the ballpark, but about 2 shades too light. I ended up using the online Color Match where you enter a current foundation match to see what other shades to try. I was left with…two options. #oliveproblems

    A second attempt in store yielded another wrong match. BUT I did notice they were adding more foundations to the online Color Match AND I know my proper match from entering a foundation I do like. It’s a solid start!
    Alison M recently posted … An Intro to Glitter: Sonia Kashuk Showstopper Eyeshadow Quad Look

    • Tracy says:

      I’m glad that this happened to someone else because all of my matches were 2-3 shades off. Not sure if it had to do with the lighting or the program or the person doing it. Needless to say I did the same thing you did and found my match online.

    • Stephanie says:

      The makeup artist told me that if too much light gets in the unit it can give you an odd match. They will do it twice if you ask them to, just to make sure it’s accurate.

  5. Leticia says:

    O-M-G! This looks amazing!! I am going to have to give this a try ASAP! I am always struggling to find the perfect shade!

  6. kwmechelle says:

    I was SO excited so see this post. I used this system last August and it came up with a match that was a dead-ringer! I now use a Smashbox CC cream (can’t recall the color off the top of my head) and it works lovely. I now really like cc creams. Somehow, in my mind, they seem like magic because the product really does seem to color correct my skin in such a way that all of my skin maintains it highlights in the areas where I’m ligher (T-zone) and yet still colors wonderfully in the areas where I’m darker. Magic! Plus, I like the skin benefits and how lightweight it feels. I’d gotten so frustrated after returning my third or fourth bottle of BB cream (tried two from NARS and one from Smashbox). The makeup artist was so kind and helpful. Love that you did a post on this and can’t wait to see what you have to say about the color they matched you with.

  7. Rebecca says:

    The new Laura Mercier Smooth Fluide foundation is pretty awesome. Lightweight, great coverage, doesn’t cling to dry patches. It goes nicely over the Hourglass veil primer. I’ve been wearing it for a couple of weeks now. Apply with your fingers – if you try to use a brush or sponge you apply too much and don’t get even coverage, and it dries very quickly so work in small sections. It has a great finish – matte but not flat or chalky/pasty – and it lasts really well. Not drying, not greasy, no breakouts.
    I’ve struck out with the color IQ – my skin is neutral, not yellow OR pink, and the system doesn’t know what to do with that.
    Note – don’t try to put the Smooth Fluide over a mattifying/silicone-y primer! It clumps.

    • Kristy says:

      I’m late to this conversation, but I too have a rather neutral skintone (greenish olive beige, doesn’t lean yellow or pink). I came out to be 1Y07, but I can also go one step cooler and do 1R07. There is some flexibility there.

  8. erin says:

    The color iq finder thingy has a hard time figuring out my shade as I have both pink and blue tones in my fair skin. But for less wonky skin colors it seems to do a pretty decent job.

  9. jay says:

    i am a fairly new subscriber. i notice that you use a lot/mostly expensive makeup and skincare. do you also use drugstore brands, and if so, what are some of your favorites? if not, why? i find that drugstore brands have almost the same eyeshadow, lipstick, etc. palettes –and i wonder if it is worth the huge difference in price to buy the more expensive?

    thanks, from one makeup addict to another. (i am trying to get a friend to become a “makeup concierge” –my target has someone in that position, and i need a friend to become one, for my benefit.

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Jay. I LOVE drugstore products, and I agree that many of them are right up there with the best department store makeup.

      I have a category on the blog called Drugstore Beauty Finds (here’s one way to navigate it). You might find something you like in there.

      Thank you for visiting. Talk to you again soon.

  10. Well, if this thing is accurate then I say awesome! Figuring out what the perfect foundation is for you is still one of the hardest things in make-up, I think.
    Kiss & Make-up recently posted … Review | L’Occitane Divine Immortelle Divine Youth Oil

  11. Kat says:

    I’m so glad to have tried the Sephora IQ recently. My first match was 3Y08, which I thought was about 1 shade too light or too neutral in tone, so I held off buying the Laura Mercier Flawless Fluide. At another Sephora, I got re-matched but the lady who did it was hopelessly off when I got the results. Karen, hope to hear what your experience is with the Chai shade, because I’m an NC42 as well and one of the reviews for that LM Flawless Fluide say that the Chai shade should match my kind of skin tone 🙂

  12. Ashleigh says:

    Im a little scared to do this… I have a face of freckles and my neck is zombie white (#redhead problems) so im not sure it’s going to work out… do they ask you to take off any powder/foundation you’re wearing?

    • Casey says:

      SAME! they use the little device in three different places on the side of your face: forehead, jaw/cheek area, and neck. if you’re wearing any makeup they’ll remove it first in those areas. i ended up finding a foundation i really like that i wouldn’t have looked at otherwise. i’m a 1Y02 and thrilled not to be the lightest color on the spectrum!

  13. Rachel P. says:

    This is so exciting and will save sooo much guesswork!! Next time I’m downstate near a Sephora, I’ll have to get matched. As someone who orders almost all of her beauty products online from a remote rural location, this will save me a ton of hassle when it comes to buying foundation :)) Thanks Karen!

  14. Tatiana says:

    I’m curious to know how well the foundation you chose matches your skin tone. I did this last fall and the SA who helped me did not give me the option of matching my neck. So I ended up with colors that matched my freckles, sun damage and rosacea. All too pink and too dark. And none of the brands or formulas were things I liked either. I also have a problem with oxidation, so I tend to chose lighter foundations since they all seem to darken up or turn orange on my skin.

    Wondering if I should go in and try it again some time.

  15. Chelsea says:

    I’ve not tried this! I don’t need foundation at the moment, but I’m definitely curious to see how it would match me!

  16. Efraín says:

    They need to bring it to Mexico, now I think that the Clinique foundation I’ve bought it’s a little darker and less yellower than me; but in the mall it looked good.

    I knew it when I put it in the Sephora site and it told me I was an #1R09 and then I put a match in Estée Lauder from other day and it brought me an #5Y08.

    At least I’e found that if mix it with another mismatched foundation it brings me a really good match.

  17. Sylirael says:

    Call me a geeky scientist (I am one), but I’d be all over doing multiple repeats with this thing in different areas around my face and neck! Then I could make a spreadsheet, and a graph, and maybe a colour map of my face…

    *eyes glaze over* 😉

    I somehow feel that if you put it to my absolute zombie vampire white neck though, it’s be all ‘BZZt ERR0R. TO0 P4LE’ 😛
    Sylirael recently posted … A Catacomb Filled With Guerlain Rouge Automatiques? Nahema, Champs Élysées and Roselip Await!

  18. Trude says:

    I’ll have to try this next time! I’ve gone through 4 different foundations already this year and none of them have been perfect matches since I’m crazy fair.

  19. Telma says:

    Mine is 3Y07!

  20. Donna N says:

    I tried this in the dead of winter and got only TWO possible matches (guess it’s because I’m like CASPAR in the winter and have the palest of skin tones)….maybe I’ll try this out again this weekend—I am interested in some new foundations to try…..

    Thanks for the suggestion Karen!!

  21. Renee says:

    i’m a fellow 3y09/nc42 just like you! yay!

  22. Marisa says:

    Hi Karen!
    I love that blouse I shouldn’t have hemmed and hawed about buying it!
    It sold out quickly :{
    I have the sweater into wish list ….

  23. Farhana says:

    Hi Karen. We have the same Pantone match code! How do you feel about the match and the color recommendation? Do you feel the system gave you really good matches? I’ve been loving the Laura Mercier Smooth Finish Powder Foundation in 11, which is one of the 3Y09 matches. How do the matches compare to your MAC color match (of which I can’t remember the number right now). Thanks for your thoughts!

  24. Brittany says:

    I actually work at Sephora and I LOVE using the color IQ. It is so easy to use. If you ladies are getting bad matches, ask the cast member to swatch it on your face or hand. I ALWAYS do it whether my clients ask or not. I always tell them “This is your face. Not the color IQ’s.”Also, they may not be choosing the right patches of skin (free of redness, least amount of freckles, not a dark spot), they could be letting light in, OR they could be pressing too hard making the blood rush to the surface of the skin. I always swatch and ask my client if THEY are happy. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. 🙂 Oh, and if you come to my Sephora, you won’t have to worry about rude cast members. I work with the sweetest ladies in the world. <3

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