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Ace Your Base: Find the Best Shade and Product for You

Use this guide to find your perfect match and look flawless.

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Jana Cruder
Physicians Formula Organic Wear Tinted Moisturizer
Peter Ardito
Jeffrey Westbrook
Peter Ardito
Jeffrey Westbrook
Jeffrey Westbrook
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Find Your Match

Face it: A great foundation is a must for flawless-looking skin, but it's tricky to get it right. Only 15 percent of women choose the correct shade if the appropriate tools aren't provided, says Sarah Vickery, PhD, CoverGirl's principal scientist. And color is just one piece of the puzzle. From tinted moisturizers to loose powders, there are countless formulas and finishes and different techniques for applying them. We've got you covered with this simple three-step guide to finding your perfect match and putting it on like a pro.

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Step 1: Find Your Formula

Take this short quiz to determine the product that best suits you.

How would you describe your skin?
A. Oily/combination
B. Dry
C. Normal
D. Sensitive

What's your biggest foundation gripe?
A. It disappears by noon.
B. It looks flaky and dull.
C. It feels heavy.
D. It irritates my skin.

What are you trying to hide?
A. Large pores and/or acne
B. Fine lines and/or brown spots
C. Nothing; I just want to blend minor imperfections.
D. Redness

The look you crave is
A. matte
B. dewy
C. natural
D. even

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Your Foundation Results

If you scored...

Mostly A's/Zap oil
When a foundation that contains oil comes into contact with oily skin, things get slick, causing your makeup to break down and slide off. Choose an oil-free liquid with lightweight silicone, which helps pigments adhere but won't clog pores, says Troy Surratt, a makeup artist in New York City. We like Neutrogena Shine Control Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 20 ($14, drugstores). On the go, pick a travel-friendly pressed powder with silica, the solid equivalent of silicone. Try Revlon Age Defying with DNA Advantage Powder ($14, drugstores).

Mostly B's/Go creamy
Boost hydration with a rich anti-aging formula that contains moisturizing ingredients, like glycerin, says Brett Freedman, a makeup artist in Los Angeles. Our pick: Shiseido Makeup Radiant Lifting Foundation SPF 17 ($45, shiseido.com). A BB cream, such as Origins A Perfect World BB SPF 15 ($35, origins.com), is also a good choice: It packs emollients, anti-agers, antioxidants, and sunscreen in one tube.

Mostly C's/Lighten up
Lucky you! You're blessed with low-maintenance skin and can wear any foundation, says Charlotte Willer, a makeup artist for Maybelline New York in New York City. For a believable finish, go for sheer liquids with light-reflecting particles, like L'Oréal Paris True Match Lumi Healthy Luminous Makeup ($13, drugstores). Or opt for a tinted moisturizer that has just enough pigment to even out your skin without being noticeable. We love NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer SPF 30/PA+++ ($42, nordstrom.com).

Mostly D's/Correct and cover
If you're the sensitive type, mineral makeup is for you. Most, like Korres Wild Rose Mineral Foundation ($28, sephora.com), contain skin soothers, such as zinc, and are free of potential irritants, like fragrance and preservatives. Highly pigmented mineral formulas cover broken capillaries, redness, and discoloration. If you find loose powder too messy, look for a pressed version, such as Physicians Formula Talc-Free Mineral Airbrushing Pressed Powder SPF 30 ($14, drugstores).

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Step 2: Choosing Your Shade

Tips for the Department Store

Being able to try before you buy at a department or specialty store is a huge bonus, but you can still snag the wrong shade unless you do the following:

Ask for help. Get color-matched by a trained makeup artist -- and score some free samples while you're at it.

Test the right spot. Swipe shades along your jawline to take into account the color of your neck, which is often paler than your face. The right hue should disappear into your skin.

See the (natural) light. Harsh overhead lighting can cast unflattering shadows. Stand near a window or head outside to check your color, says Emily Kate Warren, a makeup artist in Los Angeles. Or visit the Estée Lauder Beautiful Skin Studios (esteelauder.com/locator for locations), which use Philips Lighting technology to mimic day, evening, and office lighting.

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Tips for Shopping at the Drugstore

Thanks to high-tech displays and extensive shade ranges, it's easier than ever to meet your match at the drugstore. A few helpful hints:

Do your homework. L'Oréal Paris, CoverGirl, and Revlon have complexion-matching applications on their websites, Warren says. Log on to answer questions about your skin and receive product and color suggestions to use as starting points.

When in doubt, go darker. If you blend the color well, you'll look tan. But wearing a too-light shade will always make you appear chalky and overly made up, Willer says.

If at first you don't succeed, get a refund. "Many drugstores, like CVS and Rite Aid, allow you to return makeup, even if it has been opened," Warren says.

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Step 3: Apply It Like a Pro

Different formulas require different application strategies. Eliminate guesswork by opting for products "with a built-in brush or sponge tip," Surratt suggests. Or consult our cheat sheet:

Tinted moisturizers and BB creams: Rub them onto skin with your fingers.

Liquids, mousses, and creams: Brushes are best: Choose a flat-topped style that has synthetic bristles. "Unlike natural bristles, synthetics won't absorb the makeup, so it transfers better onto skin," Surratt explains. Buff in a circular motion from the center of your face, blending outward.

Powders: To keep it light, use a fluffy brush to sweep powder up and down the T-zone, Surratt says. Leave cheeks bare for a bit of glow. For more coverage, pick a brush with dense bristles, like a kabuki, and swirl all over.

Sticks: Swipe foundation straight from the tube onto problem spots and buff with a makeup sponge.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, September 2012.

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