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Problem:
I've got a moisturizing formula in the right shade, but my foundation still looks splotchy and caked.

Solution: Prepare your skin before you apply foundation.

  • First, slough off dead skin cells once or twice a week so makeup goes on evenly. Second, use a moisturizer with SPF—even if your foundation has one. "To get adequate sun protection, you'd have to use too much of the makeup," says Hirsch. Third, slip on a primer. A light gel or lotion, primer makes foundation go on more evenly and last longer by creating a smooth base for the pigment to adhere to. Massage a pea-size amount onto your face. Let it absorb before you apply foundation. New York City makeup artist Mathew Nigara specifically looks for primers made with silicone, which fills in pores and lines and illuminates the skin, giving you an airbrushed look. (Too Faced's Wrinkle Injection, $27, a silicone-based primer, feels especially silky.)

  • If you use concealer, apply it after the primer but before foundation. To hide dark circles or hyperpigmentation, dot a bit of concealer on those areas, then blend. Step back and take a look: How much foundation do you really need now? You'll probably find you need less than you thought you did, says Nigara.

Problem: I'm trying to conceal rosacea, and it isn't working.

Solution: For the heaviest coverage, look for brands like Cover Fx and Dermablend.

They're packed with pigment (containing 40 and 25 percent, respectively), are water resistant, and last for 12 to 16 hours (so a little goes a long way). Many earlier incarnations had a texture like bathtub caulking, but new formulations are remarkably light.

Problem: Should I use my fingers to apply it? A sponge? A brush?

Solution: Each method has its pros and cons.

  • Use your fingers to apply liquid and cream foundations, because the heat generated helps to warm up the pigment, making it easy to blend.

  • Use a sponge if you want a sheer look; it absorbs a lot of the foundation, taking down its intensity. But since you'll go through your foundation much quicker, apply with a sponge only on days you want minimal coverage. Lightly press it into the skin in a blotting motion. (Sweeping the sponge across your face will create streaking.) If you want a dewier look, dampen the sponge with water before dipping it into the foundation.

  • Use a brush for depositing the pigment most evenly. For liquid foundation, choose a tapered synthetic brush with a tip about one and a half inches long. (The tapered tip allows you to get into the areas around your nose and under your eyes, and the synthetic bristles don't absorb too much product.) Tap the end of the brush into the foundation and "paint" it across your forehead, down your nose, across your cheekbones, and on your chin. In sweeping motions, blend the pigment into the skin until it's invisible. For powder foundations, use a thick, fluffy brush—it imparts a soft, seamless finish, Mercier says. Choose one made of natural bristles; they're porous, so they grip the powder, preventing you from depositing too much. In a circular, buffing motion, swirl the brush against your face, starting from the center.

Problem: When I use a foundation brush, I wind up with brushstrokes all over my face.

Solution: "Eliminate brushstrokes by pressing your palm gently into your skin as if you were using a puff," says Dorf.

And next time, go easy: If you have brushstrokes or swirl marks, you're using too much.

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