I'm completely confused by makeup-speak. What the heck is a "finish," and how do I figure out which one I want?

Solution: A finish is the kind of sheen (or lack of it) a foundation leaves on your skin. There are three types: semimatte, matte, and luminizing.

  • Most foundations are semimatte, and they work on almost anyone. "It looks the most natural," says New York City makeup artist Paul Innis. (If the packaging doesn't say that it's matte or luminizing, assume it's semimatte.)

  • Matte foundations absorb oil, leaving your skin with an even, powdery finish. Look for "poreless" and "shine-free" on the label. If you have dry or mature skin, choose a matte formula enriched with moisturizers.

  • If your skin lacks luster (whether it's dry, mature, or sallow), consider a foundation with a luminizing finish. Infused with finely ground light-reflective particles (such as mica and crushed pearls), it diffuses the look of fine lines and wrinkles. (Try Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Powder, $44, or Guerlain Parure Compact Foundation with Crystal Pearls SPF 20, $58.)

Problem: By the time I leave the house in the morning, my foundation has settled into my lines and wrinkles, making me look as if I just emerged from an Egyptian tomb.

Solution: Don't try to fill in those areas with makeup.

Apply less makeup on crow's-feet and marionette lines, and keep those areas well moisturized, says Laura Mercier, a New York City makeup artist.

Problem: My foundation always looks fake. I'm sure it's because I can't find the right shade!

Solution: Go straight to a department store for professional help.

The foundation will cost more than at a drugstore, but the initial investment is worth it. You can use your purchase as a guide for buying a less expensive foundation in the future. (For the most precise match, try Prescriptives Custom Blend service, $62. A professional blender hand-mixes several pigments to create your custom foundation in 20 minutes. The formula is saved in the company's database.)

For women of color, many foundations are unsuitable and often leave an ashy finish, says Ashunta, a celebrity makeup artist for Dior, because of the wide range of undertones in dark skin. (She recommends DiorSkin Fluide Mocha #800, $41; it works with many different African-American complexions. The new CoverGirl Queen Collection Natural Hue Compact Foundation, $8, is specially formulated with low levels of titanium dioxide, the ingredient that causes ashiness.)

Problem: My face looks as powdered as a sugared doughnut.

Solution: Once you've dipped your brush or sponge into powder foundation, immediately tap it to get rid of excess particles that give that overly dusted look.

Also, if you have peach fuzz (as many women do), sweep the powder in the direction that the hair grows, not against it. Going against the follicles inadvertently fluffs up those hairs, creating a little cushion for the powder to settle on.

Problem: Suddenly, my face is one color, my neck another—not a great look.

Solution: Check your foundation shade against your jawline, says New York City makeup artist Paula Dorf, and adjust the color. Your skin color may change with the seasons, especially during the summer (even if you use sunscreen).


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