With the current number of shades, finishes, and coverage levels available, foundation is just as customizable as a your go-to Starbucks order. And that's exactly what makes it one of the toughest makeup products to buy.
The ultimate goal is a foundation that looks like your own skin—only better. This can be hard to achieve when most makeup aisles have less than ideal lighting for swatching and mirrors smaller than most compacts.
Even if you're able to avoid that dreaded mask-like foundation line on your neck by getting professionally shade-matched, there's a host of other concerns like finish, texture, coverage, and formula that factor into buying the one that's right for you.
VIDEO: Watch an InStyle Editor Put Dark Foundations to the Test
1. FIND YOUR SHADE MATCH
Sure, there's a lot of space for swatching foundations on your forearm, but the skin on this part of your body is a lot darker than your face. Avendaño says to apply potential shades to your chest to see if they are right. "This doesn't have to be an exact match, but maybe slightly lighter because the color is going to shift throughout the day," he explains. "Foundation oxidizes with wear, and naturally gets darker with the mixture of elements and the oils on your face."
Alternatively, you can test shade options on your face. "Find a spot towards the center of your face and blend out towards the hairline so you match the sides of your cheeks and down the middle of your neck," Martin suggests. "If your neck is lighter than your face and you don’t want your face to be as pale, choose one shade lighter than your face so its comparable. (You can always 'warm up' the face with bronzer if your complexion still appears light.) This way it’s not too light or that much warmer than your neck."
Whatever method you choose, both pros say it's important to test foundations in good natural lighting.
2. DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOUR SKIN'S UNDERTONES
Unless you want to color-correct, don't fight against your skin's natural undertones. If you have a warm complexion, go with a shade that has yellow undertones, and if your complexion is on the cool side, a foundation with pink undertones is your best bet.
You can play it safe with a neutral or warm shade. "I tend to go with neutral and warm shades in my kit because its easier to match on different skin tones and shades," says Martin.
3. KNOW WHAT COVERAGE LEVEL YOU NEED
If you hate wearing makeup, you're going to think a full-coverage foundation feels heavy. Understanding the look of every coverage level is the key to picking the right one for your needs.
You'll still see your skin through foundations with sheer to medium coverage. Avendaño recommends picking a foundation on the lighter side as a default when you're not sure exactly what kind of coverage you need. "I always refer people to foundation that is light to medium coverage because it's buildable," he says.
When you want a long-wear foundation that doesn't require mid-day touch ups, or have acne or discoloration, opt for a full-coverage foundation.
4. DON'T FORGET ABOUT YOUR SKIN TYPE
Matte or dewy? That's the question to ask before swatching foundation shades. Your skin type is an important factor when it comes to choosing finishes. Martin says that dewy foundations tend to work best on normal to dry skin types. "Too much radiance on this skin type looks even oilier and its not a good feeling on the face," he explains. Matte foundations are usually more suitable for combination to oily skin types.
Avendaño recommends using a satin finish instead of matte on mature skin. "More mature skin can get away with matte but again, just like dewy skin can emphasize flaws and wrinkles, so can matte foundations because the skin has no dimension," he explains.
5. ADAPT YOUR SHADE TO THE CURRENT SEASON
It's true: You won't be able to stick to one foundation shade year-round. "Our skin tends to warm up in the spring-summer while we're more active outdoors and in direct sunlight," says Martin. "Even if you're wearing sunblock every day, our tone warms up."