You could be using the most expensive foundation at the beauty counter, but if it's not the right shade, you're wasting your time and money, says makeup artist Maria Verel. "You want it to be a perfect match, otherwise any application mistakes become very apparent," she says.
To find your best shade, swipe on the product right at your jawline, then head outside of the store with a hand mirror. "If it disappears completely, you've got a winner," she says. If you're shopping at the drugstore where there are no testers available, she offers two plans of attack. First, get yourself matched at a department store counter and ask for a tester. "Bring the sample to the drugstore to try your best to match it to a product on the shelf -- if they match in the jar, it should be a similar effect on your skin," she says.
If you're in a pinch, you can also just try to zero in on the color as best you can (her favorite line is L'Oreal True Match Foundation, $11.49, drugstores, because of its extensive range and helpful shade names). Then, make good use of the store's return policy. "In my experience, I've found that most of the large chain drugstores will take back open makeup if the color did not end up being right for me," she says.
"It's the quickest way to even out your complexion because you can just whip it out, dab it where you need it, and you're good to go," Verel says. She loves NYX Stay Matte Powder Foundation ($9.99, drugstores).
Her secret for perfect coverage every time? Dust your face with a little translucent powder first. "This makes sure the powder foundation won't drag or cake on any areas on your face that might still be dewy from your moisturizer," she says. There's one thing to keep in mind, though: "Powder foundation can emphasize texture or dryness in skin, as well as settle into fine lines or wrinkles," Surratt says. In that case, you might want to try a creamier formula instead.
It won't cake on dry skin or settle into lines, plus formulas that have words like "radiance," "luminizing," or "glow" in the name often have light-reflective particles to blur the appearance of any imperfections.
Surratt recommends to start applying the liquid formula on any redness at the center of your face -- like your cheeks, nose, and chin -- and then feather it out toward your hairline. "Concentrate the foundation where you need it, not all over your face," he says. Most importantly: Always, always, always set it with translucent powder or a setting spray. Otherwise, you might find it has pulled a disappearing act by lunchtime.
Most powder foundations come with a sponge applicator -- use it. With a dry sponge, you will get a lighter veil of product; if you wet the sponge first, you can create a heavier coverage that will really conceal any major blemishes you may have. You could also apply it with a powder brush, Surratt says, just buff it on in a circular motion instead of dabbing it on for even coverage.
When it comes to applying liquid foundation, Surratt likes a dense, blunt brush like the Shiseido Foundation Brush, $30, or the Beauty Blender sponge, $19.95. "I try to avoid foundation brushes that are thin and flat -- the kind that look like a paint brush from the art store -- they can leave a streaky finish," he says. In a pinch, Verel says your hands work just as well as any tool. "The warmth of your fingers really helps the product just disappear into your skin," she says.
While not blending your foundation past your jawline is a cardinal makeup sin we've all heard about, Verel says the biggest mistake she sees most women commit is applying foundation without looking in the mirror. "Just slapping it on while you're distracted -- or worse, on your way to work -- means you don't see the subtle areas like your brows or your hairline that need to be blended, or you may have fingertip streaks if you're not careful," she says.
Surratt adds that another big no-no is trying to use your foundation to change the color of your complexion. "Some women will choose a warmer or darker shade to look tan, or one with rosier undertones to perk up their skin, and that's a major mistake," he says. "You want to do that strategically with bronzer or blush, not all over your face."