How to Choose and Use Concealer
Concealer Myths and Expectations
Before we get into the specifics of choosing and applying concealer, it's important to clarify some common myths about how concealer works.
Concealer is meant to be used on small discolored areas (underneath the eyes, around the nose, on blemishes). It's not an alternative to all-over foundation; instead, it works best with foundation.
Depending on how much coverage you need, concealer can be applied over or under your foundation. For less coverage, apply concealer before foundation; for more coverage, apply concealer on top of foundation.
Tip: Generally, concealers should not be applied over powder foundation, as doing so tends to cause streaking and makes the powder layer roll and pill. If you prefer powder foundation, apply concealer first.
Using a concealer that is one or two shades lighter is enough to neutralize dark areas without attracting unwanted attention to the area by making it look too light.
Many women think they can achieve a more natural look by skipping the foundation altogether, choosing instead to use just a concealer for coverage and only where needed. In reality, this doesn't work for most people because it ends up looking like you have little patches of concealer dotted over your face. However, this technique can work if you already have a nearly perfect complexion, and you're just using concealer to highlight or enhance an already-even skin tone. But, even then, the concealer must mesh with your skin color perfectly, and you have to apply it sparingly—think several thin layers, not one thick, dotted layer.
The desire to have a natural look is understandable, but it's simply not possible for a concealer to cover flaws, such as acne, brown spots, or port wine stains, adequately without looking like you have makeup on. You can still get a close-to-natural look, but even the best concealers have limitations.
Choosing a Concealer
Choose your concealer based on what works for your skin type and concerns. If you have dry skin, don't go for a liquid concealer with a matte finish because the finish will emphasize dryness. If you have oily skin with enlarged pores, don't go for a creamy or stick concealer as these textures tend to clog pores and add to oily skin's shine. If you have dark circles or brown spots to hide, you'll want a concealer that provides at least medium coverage, and the same goes for covering red marks from past breakouts.
For the undereye area, be sure to select a shade of concealer that is no more than one or two shades lighter than your natural skin tone; for other parts of your face, select a concealer that matches the color of your foundation exactly. Neutral beige to slightly yellow shades look best regardless of where they're applied. Unless you're considering a color-correcting concealer (explained below), avoid concealer shades that are noticeably pink, rose, peach, white, yellow, or copper.
Following the above guidelines, you can experiment to find the textures, finishes, and application techniques that work best for you. Now let's go over the types of concealers to consider before you start shopping!
Types of Concealer
There are several different types of concealer, and if you have multiple problem areas with varying degrees of discoloration, you'll likely need to use at least two of them. Why can't you use just one concealer? Generally, it's because a creamy, moisturizing concealer that works well on dark undereye circles and dry skin around the eyes is not what works best on breakouts.
You also must take the color of the concealer into consideration. For example, for lightening dark circles under the eye area you should use a lighter color than what you use to cover discolorations on the face. Applying a lighter or highlighting shade of concealer to a blemish or a brown spot because just brings more attention to it—probably not what you want!
A word on fragrance in concealer: By and large, most concealers are fragrance-free. That's great, because fragrance-free is the best way to go for all skin types, especially in a product you intend to use around the eyes.
- Best for normal, combination, oily, sensitive, and blemish-prone skin
- Coverage is buildable, ranging from light to full coverage
- Available finishes include satin, radiant shimmer, and matte
Liquid concealer is the most versatile type of concealer because it offers buildable coverage and works for all skin types except very dry. This type of concealer is also easy to apply. For quick application use a clean finger or the wand applicator provided with just about every liquid concealer. If more precision is desired, use a small flat concealer brush.
Liquid concealer is preferred for covering blemishes because it is the least likely to cake up and it poses minimal to no risk of causing additional breakouts, which a creamier concealer may do.
Liquid concealer is also desirable for use on wrinkled areas because its thin texture makes it the least likely to crease throughout the day, although some slippage into lines is always possible. Liquid concealers with a matte finish last longer than those with a satin finish; they are also less likely to migrate throughout the day. Satin-finish liquid concealer has more movement, but it can provide a more natural look, especially over dry areas. A liquid concealer with a radiant shimmer finish is good for under the eyes because it covers and highlights the area with a soft glow, but it should be only a subtle glow, not overt, sparkling shine.
- Best for normal, dry, and sensitive skin
- Coverage is buildable, ranging from medium to full
- Available finishes include satin and powdery matte
Stick concealer is aptly named because it has a semi-solid texture like a lipstick, is often richly pigmented, and has a thick, creamy texture. This type of concealer can be dotted on or swiped on in a line of color and then blended. Caution: Swiping without blending it out tends to build up too much product, which leads to creasing throughout the day. Blend the product in a stippling motion with a clean finger or with a small concealer brush, feathering the edges into surrounding skin.
Because stick concealer provides reliable medium to full coverage, it works very well to cover moderate to severe undereye circles. Stick concealer works best under the eyes and around the nose and mouth area and is great for hiding brown or red spots.
Many people with acne are drawn to stick concealer because of the intense coverage it provides, but the ingredients that keep these concealers in stick form pose a high risk of clogging pores and making a breakout worse. Unfortunately, many “acne treatment” concealers come in stick form, and we do not recommend them due to the heavier, wax-like ingredients they contain. (For the record, most anti-acne concealers come in the most obnoxious colors you've ever seen; no one needs to have a blemish look orange or mint green!)
Some matte-finish stick concealers are available, but they are less common than those with a satin finish. Both matte and satin finishes have good staying power with minimal movement or creasing, but stick concealers with a satin finish, once blended, should be set with a dusting of loose powder to ensure long wear.
- Best for normal, dry, combination, or sensitive skin
- Coverage is buildable, ranging from medium to full
- Available finishes include satin and creamy
Generally, cream concealer provides medium to full coverage and comes packaged in a small pot, palette, or compact. Cream concealer works well under the eyes and is one of the best concealer options for covering severe discolorations like melasma (patchy, light tan to brown discoloration also known as "the mask of pregnancy") or port wine stains.
The intense coverage that you can get from cream concealers is due to their thicker texture and more opaque pigment, which means it's easier to build coverage than with liquid concealers. The downside is that it can look too heavy on the skin if you don't use the proper blending technique.
Cream concealers have more slip and can be applied in a stippling motion with a clean finger, sponge, or a small concealer brush. However, those with a notably more creamy finish are more prone to creasing into lines and wrinkles and should be set with loose or pressed powder once blended.
- Best for normal, slightly dry, combination, or sensitive skin
- Coverage is buildable, ranging from light to medium
- Available finishes include powdery and smooth matte
Cream-to-powder concealer generally comes in a small compact and is best for normal to slightly dry skin that's not prone to breakouts. It's very easy to use because it has a creamy texture with good slip during application. To apply, use a clean finger or concealer brush to dab the product over discolorations.
Although a cream-to-powder concealer tends to have more staying power due to its powdery or smooth matte finish, it also tends to crease into deeper lines and wrinkles after a few hours.This presents a dilemma because setting this type of concealer with powder can exaggerate its powdery finish, emphasizing wrinkles. For this reason, most people will prefer a liquid or cream concealer over cream-to-powder.
Cream-to-powder concealer is generally not recommended for use over blemishes or areas of dry, flaky skin because the ingredients that create the creamy feel can exacerbate breakouts, and the powder finish tends to emphasize dry skin.
- Best for skin color issues (such as bluish undereye circles, extreme redness or sallowness) that aren't adequately corrected with foundation and concealer alone
- Coverage is buildable, ranging from sheer to full
- Available in multiple finishes depending on the formula
Color-correcting concealer is a last resort when flesh-tone concealer doesn't work well enough to cover or neutralize severe discolorations. Color-correcting concealer is most commonly available in cream or stick form; the liquid versions tend to go on quite sheer or can be easily blended so as to appear sheer.
When using a color-correcting concealer, the important thing is not to trade one color problem for another; for example, green concealer may help neutralize redness, but if the result is a visible hint of green under your foundation, the product has only exchanged one discoloration problem for another.
If you decide to try a color-correcting concealer, apply it before your foundation; this helps to neutralize and balance the unnatural color of these concealers. You also can pair it with a flesh-tone concealer with the same finish, so that when the foundation is applied on top there is no indication of the color corrector underneath.
No question: Color correctors have their place, but they take practice to get right. As for which shade to choose, it depends on your concern:
Lavender: counteracts sallow or yellowness in the skin
Yellow: counteracts deep purple tones such as dark circles or scarring; pale yellow works well to highlight brows and cheekbones but it must be pale, not gold
Green: neutralizes redness, including diffuse redness from rosacea
Pink: Neutralizes a blue cast on lighter skin tones; can enliven very pale skin
Orange/Salmon: neutralizes blue to deep purple or grayish tones on deeper skin tones
How to Apply Concealer
Regardless of the type of concealer you're using, the application techniques generally remain the same. If your skin is dry, particularly around the eye area, prep it with a light layer of moisturizer (you don't need an eye cream), allow a moment or two for it to set, then apply concealer.
Dab the concealer onto discolorations with a clean finger, brush, or sponge and gently blend out until there are no apparent lines of demarcation between the concealer and your skin or foundation. Liquid, cream, or cream-to-powder concealers should not be applied over powder foundation. If you use powder foundation, apply concealer first, allow it to set, and then apply your foundation.
Finish by setting the concealer with a light dusting of loose or pressed powder. A concealer with a matte finish doesn't need to be set with powder because that may make it look or feel too dry, but you can experiment and see how your matte-finish concealer looks and lasts with and without powder.
If you have moderate to severe discolorations you need a more richly pigmented concealer. This type of concealer works best and looks the most natural when paired with foundation because foundation gives the concealer something to blend into, making it less obvious. Foundation is also typically available in more colors than concealer, which helps to create a more natural, unified look—the foundation color should match your skin exactly, but the concealer shade should be lighter if applied around your eyes, and the same color or a touch lighter than your foundation if applied to dark spots outside the eye area.
When applying concealer to the undereye area, try using one with a radiant finish or adding a luminescent highlighter on top of it for a light-reflective finish that further disguises shadowed areas (Yves Saint Laurent's Touche Ecalt is a classic example). Keep in mind that a luminescent highlighter is not always recommended for use on wrinkled skin because, depending on how much shine the highlighter has, it can emphasize lines. On wrinkles, a radiant glow is more becoming than overt sparkles.
You can find all of our favorite concealers in the Best Products section of Beautypedia. All of our top picks have a smooth texture that's easy to blend, set to a long-wearing finish, and have minimal to no likelihood of creasing into fine lines and wrinkles. These are the concealers that have proven themselves time and time again, for a variety of concerns. We've come to rely on them, and now you know how to choose and apply them!
The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Makeup.