If there’s one thing I absolutely dread in the morning, it’s spending 3,000 hours applying a full face of foundation before heading to work. It’s time-consuming, tedious, and not something I want to be doing while half asleep. I’ve been on the hunt for tips for applying concealer without foundation for some time and was lucky enough to get the 411 on faking a full foundation look with just concealer from two celebrity makeup artists.
My cystic acne has calmed down over the last few years since I decreased my dairy intake and started birth control. Before I got my acne in check, though, you’d rarely see me leave the house without a full face of makeup. Nowadays, my skin looks and feels much better, and I’m comfortable enough applying the bare minimum to my face each day before heading to my co-working space. Naturally, I sometimes do have a pimple or two I want to cover, and instead of applying a bunch of foundation, I’ve been wanting to perfect the “spot concealer” look, where you apply concealer to areas of concern, sans foundation on top or underneath, and your complexion still looks even and blended.
Experts Natalia Thomas, celebrity makeup artist, and Sarah Lucero, celebrity makeup artist and Global Executive Director of Creative Artistry for Stila Cosmetics gave me the rundown on how to get up and get glowing with just a touch of concealer.
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1. Prep skin like a pro.
In order to paint a true masterpiece, you need a prepped canvas. Before concealer application, Thomas suggests exfoliating the skin to remove any dry skin or texture that will show through the concealer. “I start with Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel Pads ($88, Sephora), Cane + Austin Miracle Pad ($88, Amazon) or M-61 PowerSpot Pads ($58, Bluemercury) and follow up with an organic oil,” explains Thomas. “I always use B3 Balm Astraea Facial Oil ($35, B3 Balm) because it acts as a barrier against makeup settling in the pores and helps keep skin evenly hydrated throughout the day and night, which helps your makeup wear longer.”
Thomas loves a good facial oil because it prevents your concealer from becoming patchy and flaky. “If your concealer gets patchy, you may be on the dry side and not hydrating enough, so your skin is drawing hydration from your concealer and leaving just pigment behind, which causes the color to look patchy,” she says. “If your makeup tends to slip off your face due to excessive oil production, your cleanser may be too drying and/or your moisturizer does not provide enough lasting hydration, which, in turn, makes you produce excessive oil, causing your concealer to slip off.”
If you’re someone with sensitive skin, Lucero suggests being more gentle with your prep work. “I always prep skin before makeup by using a cleansing water and cotton pad as a toner and to remove any traces of makeup or residue — my go-to product is La Roche Posay Micellar Water Ultra for Sensitive Skin ($16, Amazon),” says Lucero. “It’s important for me to rely on prep products that are gentle because the last thing you want to do is cause more redness by irritating the skin, leading you to over-apply concealer to combat the temporary redness, rather than use concealer more effectively in spots or target areas of concern.”
2. Be choosy with your concealer.
When picking out a proper concealer, take a look at the undertones of your skin. Are you golden? Do you have more pink tones? Or do you need to neutralize gray? “I usually get one concealer with a golden undertone and one with a warm undertone, because the mix of the two is generally what most of us are working with,” says Thomas. “Choose a shade closest to your décolleté, because the neck and face are generally lighter than the body.”
Lucero suggests choosing a neutral shade of concealer that tones down discoloration. “Test the color on the sides of the nose and cheeks, anywhere you see redness, or the most uneven areas,” she says. “If it appears too yellow, chances are it's too dark. If it appears too pink or ashy, chances are it’s too light.” When you see the concealer melt in and disappear, you have found the right shade.
In terms of coverage, Lucero looks for a medium-coverage concealer, because you can usually build it or use it as a “tint” all over. “If the concealer is too full coverage, try using a small amount of moisturizer blended with it and then apply,” suggests Lucero. Try the Stila Pixel Perfect Concealer ($24, Ulta), VDL Master Skin Concealer ($21, Amazon) or the RMS Beauty Un Cover-Up Concealer/Foundation ($36, Sephora).
If you find a concealer that’s more sheer, Lucero says it’s probably best suited for brightening. If it contains more peach or pink undertones, it’s to “be used as a veil or wash of color over dark circles or to ‘lift’ dark spots,” she says.
3. Pick you application tool wisely.
When it comes to applying the concealer, Thomas and Lucero enjoy using different beauty tools. “I usually apply concealer with the doe-foot applicator that it comes with in the areas that generally need more coverage, which, on most people, is around the nose area, under the eye, around the mouth, and, of course, on any blemishes that may pop up,” says Thomas. “If using a cream concealer, a moist Beautyblender ($20, Sephora) stamped and rolled over the top [of the area] is a great way to make it look more like skin. But if you are using a creamy concealer that dries down, your best bet is to apply and blend with a brush.”
Using a synthetic brush will give you a heavier application, while applying with a natural fiber brush will give you a softer, more natural finish. This is because the pores that occur in the hairs of natural fiber brushes generally soak up some of the concealer, allowing for a softer finish.
Lucero likes using a tiny concealer brush or retractable, clean lip brush on blemishes. “A smaller brush will place and ‘pack’ the concealer in the spot and let you press in the rest with your fingertip,” she says. “Tap your ring finger over the concealer until it is blended into the spot and surrounding area — the warmth of your finger will melt it in and remove any excess product that could be sitting on top of the spot.”
4. Set it and forget it.
Thomas opts for a good ol' setting powder to set the concealer in place. “My favorite is Laura Mercier Translucent Loose Setting Powder ($39, Sephora). Apply it in the areas of the face that generally read as greasy, which are across the forehead, around the nose, and next to the mouth and chin,” she says. “Another great trick is to apply powder over the top of any raised pimple or bump. Powder removes texture on camera and helps to blur it in person, making the bump appear less raised and a bit more flat.”
When setting your concealer, Lucero suggests dusting a powder in an upside down V shape with a medium-size powder brush. “You don’t have to powder the entire face — I always leave the cheekbones and bridge of the nose exposed and never powder that area,” she says. “You can cut the shine out by doing an upside down ‘V’ where you apply the powder, down both sides of the nose, toward the inner cheek, and on the side of the mouth and chin.”
If you’re using a concealer that comes with a wand applicator, Thomas says you might not actually need to use a lot of setting powder. “Note that cream concealers that come in a jar generally will not dry down and need powder to make them sit and not move, whereas the ones that come with a wand generally dry down to a powder finish and don’t need to be set as much or throughout the day and night,” she says. Once you've set it, forget it and go about your day.