What the best foundation has

  • Wide range of natural-looking shades. Just because a foundation is available in dozens of colors doesn't mean it's a good choice. A good foundation should offer shades that aren't too pink, peachy, yellow or ashy.
  • Skin-friendly formula. There isn't one right choice for every skin type, but the best formulas should contain ingredients that if not helpful, aren't harmful to your skin. There are options with anti-aging benefits that are good for acne-prone skin or add moisture.
  • Long-wearing formula with good coverage. Whether makeup is marketed as full-coverage or light-coverage, it should provide the coverage promised and last all day. The best foundation sets and maintains its texture for 12 hours or more.
  • Easy application. You're probably not a makeup artist, so you shouldn't have to spend 20 minutes perfecting your foundation application each morning. The best foundations are easily smoothed onto the face and blend without streaking.

Know before you go

What's your undertone? Warm, cool, neutral? Many brands are making foundation shades with several different undertones. Knowing yours can make shopping for a foundation much easier, especially in the drugstore.

What's your skin type? Before shopping, you should consider your skin's unique needs from a foundation. Think about whether you need a product that's good for acne-prone or sensitive skin. Identify whether your skin is oily, dry, normal or combination.

Consider your desired finish. Generally, the oilier your skin is naturally, the more matte a foundation you'll want. Every type of foundation -- cream, liquid, powder, mousse, stick -- has pros and cons from a finish perspective. Be sure to consider which format -- luminous, semi-matte or matte -- will provide the finish you want for your skin.

How much coverage do you need? Not everyone needs or wants a full coverage foundation. Consider whether you'd prefer a barely there foundation -- just enough to brighten your natural complexion, like a BB cream -- or something more heavy-duty to cover mature skin, stubborn blemishes, unevenness or discoloration.

How much are you willing to spend? Some experts recommend splurging on foundation. For specialty foundations that are all-natural, good for sensitive skin or offer hard-to-find shades, many women are willing to spend a bit more. However, there are plenty of great options at the drugstore.

Buying tactics and strategies

Start by selecting the right formula. Even if you find a perfect shade match, it's useless if the foundation formula is all wrong; so start by selecting a few brands or product lines appropriate for your skin type. You'll also find that some brands specialize in certain skin tones, according to Refinery29.com.

Judge shades carefully at the drugstore. Since you can't always test shades, examine all the options carefully. First, select the shade range around your skin color (fair, light, medium or dark), then eliminate every shade that has visible overtones of pink, peach, orange, rose, ash or copper, beauty expert Paula Begoun says.

Bring along your favorite shade. If you like the color of your current foundation but want to try a new hue, bring the old foundation with you to the drugstore or makeup counter.

Test your shades. At the department store, skip testing on your hands or wrists. Some beauty experts claim the jaw line is the best indicator of your skin tone, but Allure, for one, says the neck is better. To ensure your foundation will blend well from your face to your neck, do a vertical stripe test from cheek to neck. Be sure to test on clean, makeup-free skin.

Head outdoors. Once you've got a few strong contenders drawn from cheek to neck, head outdoors or near natural light to confirm which blends most seamlessly.

Check the return policy. Finally, make your best guess and be sure to shop somewhere with a good return policy in case the color doesn't match or the formula isn't right.

Foundation Makeup Runners Up:

Jane Iredale Pure Pressed Base Mineral Foundation Est. $52

3 picks including: Real Simple, Women's Health magazine…

L'Oreal Paris True Match Super Blendable Makeup SPF 17 Est. $11

2 picks including: Allure, MakeupAlley.com…

Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup Est. $27

2 picks including: Allure, MakeupAlley.com…

Revlon ColorStay Makeup for Normal/Dry Skin Est. $13

2 picks including: About.com, MakeupAlley.com…

Cover Girl CG Smoothers AquaSmooth Est. $10

1 pick including: About.com, MakeupAlley.com…

Bobbi Brown Foundation Stick Est. $42

1 pick including: About.com, MakeupAlley.com…

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Jane Iredale PurePressed Base Mineral Foundation SPF 20 - Warm Silk - Refill
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New: $52.00 $37.48   
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L'Oreal Paris True Match Super-Blendable Compact Makeup, Natural Ivory, 0.30 Ounces
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New: $10.99 $6.99   
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Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup 03 Fresh Neutral
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Revlon ColorStay Makeup with SoftFlex, Normal/Dry Skin, Fresh Beige 250, 1-Ounce
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New: $12.99 $2.80   
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CoverGirl Smoothers Aquasmooth Compact Foundation, Buff Beige 725, 0.4-Ounce
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Bobbi Brown Foundation Stick Warm Walnut #7.5
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