Ever since Max Factor patented the first foundation back in 1937, women have relied on this makeup-bag essential to achieve a flawless complexion. To avoid looking “overdone,” here’s the 411 on how to find the best shade, formula and texture.

“I find that people tend to think they have lighter skin than they actually do, so try a foundation that’s one or two shades darker than the colour you’re initially attracted to,” explains Charlotte Willer, global make- up artist for Maybelline New York.

This isn’t a beauty impulse buy. Select two or three shades and then apply them in long swatches from your cheekbone to your jawline to see how they sit on your skin, suggests Kimberly Soane, director of global artistry for Bobbi Brown. Aim for a shade that blends in without requiring too much rubbing. Worth noting: “Anything will ‘blend’ if you rub it in enough, but that’s how you end up with a pumpkin face,” jokes Soane. Willer recommends taking home a sample. “Foundation is traditionally tested in natural sunlight, but there’s something about looking in your own mirror,” she says. “It’s easier for you to see a change or difference in your skin if you’re in your own setting.”

PERFECT MATCH If you want to avoid any Snooki-esque streaks, selecting the right formula is almost as important as the perfect shade. Choose a richer mousse or balmlike foundation for dry skin, a mattifying, oil-free one for oily skin or a light but hydrating one for normal skin (slight shine on the T-zone, dry cheeks). Your skin’s needs change throughout the year, so you may want to swap your light, oil-free “summer foundation” for a thicker, moisturizing formula in winter months. Your skin tone changes too, depending on how many beach vacations or ski trips you take, so keep an eye on the colour.

KEY TAKE-AWAY Repeat after us: Foundation is not a moisturizer. Generous pumps and two-hand smears lead to peach-toned hairlines and flesh-stained collars. Soane suggests dabbing a dot of foundation on your nose, cheeks, forehead and chin and blending outwards with fingers for a full yet natural look.

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View our top picks for the best foundations to achieve flawless skin.