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Expert Tips

The Foundation Files

"Your skin tone is as unique as your fingerprint," says Balanda Atis, chemist and manager of L’Oréal’s Women of Color Lab. How, then, do you find a foundation to match your unique shade? There are hundreds – if not thousands – of formulas, shades, tones and finishes on the market. Put simply, the answer to finding that gem product is a process of elimination, but there are some key tips to bear in mind that will get you that bit closer to the 'perfect match'.

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Firstly: shades. "Our skin is made up of lots of different colours," says make-up artist Lisa Eldridge, "so think about what part of the face you are matching to." The most accurate place is around an inch inward from your ear; take the swatch down to your neck and blend – the correct shade will look like it’s disappeared. "For me, foundation is about uniformity, and blending the different colours of your face, neck and chest into one."

The best place to start is at a make-up counter in-store, Estée Lauder has a colour-match gadget to narrow down its 60 shades of best-selling Double Wear foundation. If you’re shopping online, look to tools such as the Dior Backstage Shade Finder, which matches foundation shades to real women. Remember though: "Just because a foundation looks great on someone else, doesn’t mean it’ll suit you too. Try it on and see how it looks at home," says make-up artist Hannah Martin.

Secondly: tones. The notion of skin undertones can be confusing, but Atis uses a clever trick in the L’Oréal labs. "Take a look at your inner wrist and identify the colour of your veins. Even though we all have different colours in our skin, the tone you are on your inner wrist is the most accurate. If you’re blue, you have a cool undertone, green and you have a warm undertone. If you can’t tell, you are neutral." These are often marked by letters – MAC categorises all of its foundations C, W or N, whereas YSL Beauty uses BR for cool tones (rosy beiges), BD for warm (golden beiges) and B for natural (natural beiges).

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  • "Your skin changes daily, so everyone should have two shades to play with."
    Balanda Atis

Thirdly: finishes. With terms such as velvet, satin, dewy, natural, flawless, sheer – how do you pick? One key thing to remember is that a foundation may not do it all. "Focus on the colour match first as you can always add in a matte or shine with primers and powders or fix sprays," says make-up artist Bea Sweet. Bear in mind your skin type, too: "If you’ve got dry skin, avoid matte formulas as it can emphasise dryness, whereas for oilier skins I’d avoid a tinted moisturiser or dewy finishes, as you could look too shiny."

Regardless of the coverage you choose, the trick is to look covered but not caked. "Cup your face with your hands after application and before powder to melt the make-up into the skin and lift off any excess product. I do this to myself and also to my clients," says Martin. When building your look, Sweet suggests to "go lightly – start with a little and add more, only if you think you need it. You can always top up with powder, which adds another layer of pigment."

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Foundation can have many uses beyond being used to conceal and correct, like using warmer shades to sculpt temples and lighter ones to highlight. "It’s a technique that was used widely in the days of black and white photography and cinematography, but there’s been a real resurgence," says Martin. "For a non-shimmery, natural highlight, I use light shades of foundation through the T-zone and either side of the mouth to gently brighten the centre of the face, and foundation sticks are brilliant for contouring."

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  • "Try experimenting with contrasting nude tones for modern make-up accents."
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  • Photographer Anya Holdstock
  • Beauty Editor Olivia de Courcy
  • Fashion Editor Jack Reid
  • Make-Up Bea Sweet
  • Hair Kota Suizu @ Caren
  • Nails Yasmin Elwakil
  • Models Amina Adan @ Models 1 & Wenting @ PRM