How to shop for new foundation, according to the experts

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Amy Swales
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Does the thought of searching for the perfect foundation fill you with exhaustion before you’ve got anywhere near painting the back of your hand with skin-coloured stripes?

The seasons, age, diet: our skin changes constantly and our beauty needs change with it, yet it’s all too easy to slip into a make-up rut because shopping for the essentials can feel overwhelming.

A recent survey for campaign Beautython, from Covent Garden’s Beauty Quarter, revealed that two thirds of women feel too “intimidated” to ask for advice at beauty counters, while 65% said they were “stuck” in their ways, cosmetically speaking.

Thus, we decided to ask the experts to tell us how to make the most of beauty counters, and specifically, how to shop for a new foundation.

So whether you lurch from one new release to the next, took years to find your perfect product only to have it discontinued or find your skin just needs something new, here’s a guide to finding your new make-up basics – without fear of being talked into a face that feels nothing like your own.

1. Book an appointment, not a lunch break

bobbi brown foundation tips
Bobbi Brown experts say it’s “essential” to try foundation on the whole face

Rinse the expertise, because you’re probably not going to find the ideal shade in a 10-minute trolley dash.

2. Try it on the whole face

Bobbi Brown pro artist, Amy Conway, says it’s “essential” to try foundation as you’d usually wear it: “You want to see how it looks on the different areas of the skin.

“Always check the areas that need the most coverage – areas under the nose and cheeks are often the reddest. Also check for texture – that the foundation is sitting smoothly over your cheeks, for example, a key area prone to open pores and dehydration.”

how to buy new foundation
Shopping for the essentials doesn't have to be a chore

Anna Priada, global make-up artist for Nars, agrees: “You can better tell if the colour is what you want from a full application. The artist will also show you how best to prep your skin, and recommend additional products, such as primer, if needed.”

3. Check the forehead for colour

You might check for telltale tidemarks, but Conway says a golden foundation rule is to focus on one particular area when checking shade: “The forehead should be exactly the same colour as the chest to ensure your face and body are one shade.”

4. Venture out into daylight

When choosing a foundation, nothing beats good old daylight, so always head outside with a mirror.

charlotte tilbury foundation tips
The Charlotte Tilbury counter in Covent Garden

Make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury tells us: “The most important thing when choosing the right shade of foundation is to test out the colour in a natural light to get your perfect match. If the light is too dark, it’s likely that your foundation will be too dark.”

5. Wear other make-up over the top

It’s another that seems obvious, but easily forgotten. Bobbi Brown’s Conway says: “Remember your foundation will look different once you've added your powder or bronzer or blush on top. So always try what you would normally wear with it at the counter to get the full look.”

6. Don’t be swayed by the Next Big Thing

Of course it looks amazing, they always do. That doesn’t mean it’ll suit your skin. Conway reminds us not to get hung up on the newest release: “Remember what’s new isn’t always best for everyone. Do head into store to try it before buying it – you can get great advice and wear it all day to see how it looks and wears on your skin.”

7. But do be open to trying new things

Sometimes we get stuck on an idea, believing for years we need matte foundation without so much as a glance at the radiance section, but Conway says there’s no harm in taking advantage of the advice in-store. “Don’t be frightened to be guided into something different, whether it’s a sheerer coverage or a lighter shade – often the reason we are still searching for that great foundation is because we’re looking for the same thing.”

beauty counter shopping tips
Does your make-up bag need a refresh?

8. Know your skin type

You don’t have to know the buzzwords, but it helps enormously if you can tell them what ends up shiny after a day at work, whether you’re prone to spots and where your dry patches are.

Nars artist Priada says: “Be sure to have an idea of what your type is – it gives the artist a clearer idea of what foundation would suit you best. And they can tailor the formula and recommend bespoke add-on products.”

9. Don’t be intimidated

Worried you’re being coached to fall in love with something that will have a major impact on next month’s rent? Or that you’ll buy every recommended product out of politeness? Priada says there’s no reason not to be straightforward: ask prices and be honest about the results. “Our artists love Nars so much they’ll keep showing products to a customer given half a chance, but it’s best to be direct about what you are looking for. All Nars artists are trained to investigate a customer’s needs to find out what is perfect for them.

nars foundation covent garden
Nars in Covent Garden

“And you should never be scared of asking the price. If you are working to a specific budget do say so that they can factor this into what they suggest.

“Ultimately, they just want to make you feel good. If you don’t like the look they have created, tell them! The wonderful thing about make-up is that you can take it off and start again!”

10. Take advantage of the freebies

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for samples. While you should be able to get a good idea of the product thanks to the tips above, if you’re still not sure, Priada says take some home to try it out.

“Our artists are highly trained, so you should be able to decide based on a full application at the counter, but you can ask for a sample to last you two more applications if you can’t make a decision.  

“We also offer samples based on what the customer is interested in, and what will further enhance items that the customer has purchased.”

Find Nars, Bobbi Brown and Charlotte Tillbury in the Covent Garden Beauty Quarter

Images: Bobbi Brown / iStock / Charlotte Tilbury / Nars