How to Shop for Foundation and Apply It Perfectly

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 A good foundation is a staple of any full makeup application. Think of foundation as the canvas for the rest of your makeup; it immediately improves the appearance of your skin tone, covers minor imperfections, and can even offer sun protection. All of those benefits are great, but the trick is finding the best foundation for your skin type that also matches your skin color perfectly.
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Recommended Foundations

Whether you're shopping for foundation at the drugstore or department store, we've assembled essential tips to help you find a foundation that's absolutely perfect for you. Keep in mind that expensive foundations are not necessarily better than inexpensive foundations; there are good and bad versions in all price ranges!

Shopping for Foundation at the Drugstore

You can find truly outstanding foundations at the drugstore, and, of course, those tend to be the most affordable. The biggest drawback is the lack of testers. Standing in a poorly lit aisle trying to determine which shade is best for your skin is a guessing game, but you can improve your odds of success:

  • Regardless of your skin color, look for foundations that offer a range of neutral shades for your skin tone (fair, light, light to medium, and so on). By "neutral," we mean that the foundation shouldn't have obvious overtones of pink, peach, orange, rose, ash (grayish), or copper; watch out for shades that look strongly yellow, too. All of these shades tend to look artificial and mask-like, and that means everything you apply afterward will look wrong, too!

  • Almost every foundation we've ever reviewed makes exaggerated claims about what it can do for your skin; ignore those claims because they are rarely true. On the other hand, the claim companies usually get right is the skin type for which the foundation is designed. However, don't expect a foundation for oily skin to keep your skin matte all day, or if you have dry skin to keep your skin hydrated all day.

  • Look for foundations with built-in sun protection. Many dermatologists recommend layering sunscreens for better protection. If your daytime moisturizer with sunscreen is rated SPF 15 or greater, you can pair it with a foundation with the same (or higher) SPF rating for enhanced anti-aging protection.

  • For best results, stick with foundations whose sunscreen actives are titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. These mineral actives are gentle and work great when applied around the eyes (an area that's prone to stinging or irritation from "synthetic" sunscreen actives). Luckily, such foundations are really easy to find, because most of the major brands offer them.

  • Consider setting your foundation with a pressed powder that also contains sunscreen. If you're going to apply powder anyway, you may as well use one that adds to the sun protection benefits from your moisturizer and foundation with sunscreen. Paula's Choice Healthy Finish Pressed Powder SPF 15 is a favorite; you can find other top picks on Beautypedia.

  • Make sure the drugstore where you shop offers a fair return policy on cosmetics. Most of the large drugstore chains will provide a full refund on makeup, even if it has been used. Just save your receipt, as this typically is required to get your money back.

Shopping for Foundation at the Department Store

If there's one makeup item you may want to splurge on at the department store, it's foundation. It's not that department store foundations are better than drugstore versions; it's just that the shopping experience can be so much better. Compared to shopping for foundation at the drugstore, department stores have several advantages:

  • Almost all lines have salespeople and/or trained makeup artists available to help you find the right formula and shade.

  • Testers are available so you can try different shades on your skin and see how they look before making a purchase. (Note: Always check the color in daylight; department store lighting is deceiving.)

  • Most lines provide samples of their foundations so you can try them at home with the rest of your makeup and see how they look and wear. Finding foundation samples at the drugstore is a rarity!

Beyond these advantages, the same tips for shopping for a foundation at the drugstore apply here, too. Be sure to check the foundation reviews on Beautypedia before heading out to shop (or you can access it on your smart phone).

Application Tips for Flawless Results

Now that you know what to look for when shopping for foundation, let's talk application. After all, even the best foundation won't look beautiful if it isn't applied correctly. Follow these tips for foolproof results you're sure to love:

  • Always apply foundation to cleansed and prepped skin. This doesn't mean you need a foundation primer. If you have normal to dry skin you can beautifully prep your skin with a well-formulated moisturizer and/or serum loaded with beneficial ingredients such as antioxidants. If you have oily skin a well-formulated toner works perfectly before you apply foundation.

  • Oily shine a problem? After applying a well-formulated toner and your other skin-care products, dab on an oil-absorbing product. This helps control oil for hours and also can be dabbed on over makeup when it's time to touch up!

  • To get a natural, smooth appearance from your foundation, start blending from the central part of you face and blend out and down toward the jaw line and along the hairline. To get a professional look, it's best to use a foundation sponge or brush instead of your fingers.

  • Be sure to blend, blend, and blend again! Often-missed areas for blending include the hairline, upper lip, and around the eyes. Check your results in natural light.

  • Use a concealer brush with synthetic bristles to smooth excess foundation under the eyes. This helps prevent the foundation from settling into fine lines and wrinkles.

  • Resist the urge to "set" your foundation with a spray-on mister. Misters don't work and typically undo the precise application and blending you just did, plus they can cause foundation to streak and look blotchy.

Foundation Mistakes to Avoid

It's happened to all of us at one point or another: We either choose the wrong foundation shade, we don't blend well, or we keep using a foundation we don't like because it seems easier than shopping for a new one. Here are the most common foundation mistakes women make—and what you can do instead.

#1: Choosing the wrong shade.

Solution: Remember, neutral shades work best for almost all skin tones. Women with pink or ruddy skin often choose foundations that match these blush-like tones, but they then end up looking like they're wearing a mask. A neutral-tone foundation will soften the redness rather than make it look worse. No matter what foundation shade you're considering, whether applying it at home or in the store, always check the results in natural light. It should enhance your skin tone, not exaggerate what's off about it.

#2: Applying foundation on your neck.

The neck isn't the place for makeup, at least not if you want to keep your dry cleaning costs down (foundation on your neck will get on your clothes)! If you feel that you must apply foundation to your neck, and so are using the same foundation you use for your face, then you might be using the wrong shade. If your neck is a distinctly different color from your face, you need to shop for a foundation that matches your neck, because the best shade for your neck may be lighter or darker than the shade for your face.

#3: Not blending well enough.

Solution: Thorough, even blending is a must for any foundation. It doesn't have to take much time either; in fact, with the right tools (a sponge or foundation brush) you can get smooth results in minutes. Pay extra attention to the hairline, jaw line, around your nostrils, the upper lip, and around the eyes (especially if you have wrinkles). It also helps to use a magnifying mirror to check for mistakes. Magnifying mirrors can be scary (Who wants to see their pores that big?), but they can be a huge help to make sure your foundation looks smooth and everything else about your makeup is perfectly blended.

#4: Applying too much foundation.

Solution: We know it can be tempting to overdo foundation when you have a lot to hide, but try scaling back. Think about why you're using foundation; if it's to conceal bad skin then reconsider your skin-care routine (chances are you're using the wrong products). Ideally, foundation should be used to enhance beautiful skin rather than to cover bad skin. When your skin is in great shape, you'll automatically apply less foundation and look more natural.

Now that you know how to shop for foundation, the next step is to take a look at the reviews on Beautypedia and determine which foundations you'd like to check out! Between the tips above and our reviews on Beautypedia, you're guaranteed to find a foundation that enhances your appearance in all the right ways.

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About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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