Concealer tips, please!
July 21, 2011 10:27 AM   Subscribe

How do you apply concealer on acne without making it more obvious? Every time I try and put concealer on, it ends up magnifying the flaky skin around my zits.

Even though I'm in my late 20s, I still get cystic acne, which often is very large (eraser head size) and stay around for a few weeks around the nose or chin. Before I started birth control though, it was much worse. I've accepted the occasional zits as a fact of life. Still, it's kind of embarrassing at this age so I'd like to hide them.

I don't wear a lot of makeup regularly, usually lip gloss so concealing is kind of a challenge. I dab on some Korres silicone-free primer, then use a concealer brush to dab on some Bobbi Brown foundation stick (the BB ladies told me this was a better deal than buying the concealer stick). However, the makeup just kind of sits on skin flakes around the zits and not on the zit itself. This draws more attention than not, and I'm not sure what I'm doing wrong!

Mefites, do you have any helpful tips for a makeup-dumb person?

More details:
Skin type: Asian, oily skin that manages to be dry as well. Rarely get regular pimples, just one or two cystic ones every few months or so. The oil production has really ramped up with summer. Typical summer skincare regime goes:

- rinse face with water.
- apply gel moisturizer on cheeks
- apply salicylic acid, %2
- apply spf (philosophy hope oil-free, spf 30)

- wash face with mild cleanser (neutrogena gentle cleanser)
- apply gel moisturizer
- apply tazorac

In the shower I will also use some type of physical exfoliator on my face.
posted by mlo to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
the only way i can wear concealer or foundation and not have a huge flake-fest is to mix my moisturizer in with them.
posted by nadawi at 10:34 AM on July 21, 2011

YMMV, but I used to find that if my face was quite non-oily (its natural state) and the pimple quite oily (its natural state) then concealer would just attach to my face and slide right off the pimple. My solution was to use a little bit of pressed powder instead.
posted by lovedbymarylane at 10:43 AM on July 21, 2011

Oily + dry skin at the same time often means you are drying your skin out with products and your skin is overcompensating by producing too much oil. Don't be scared of using moisturizer that is more hydrating. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, it can help your skin balance out oil production and be more normal! If you get this under control, that will help reduce the flakes you're getting around your zits.

Are you applying the salicylic acid to your cystic zits? I wouldn't really bother with that because cystic acne comes more from within, so the salicylic acid won't really have any effect on it aside from drying out those areas. Just use salicylic acid on areas where you tend to get regular old whiteheads, if anything.
posted by joan_holloway at 10:45 AM on July 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

To cover my cystic acne, I used a solid concealer and a concealer brush to press the product on top of blemishes. I put a tiny bit on the brush, then placed it under the blemish and pushed upwards to apply it. Don't spend much effort blending it in, because you'll probably just be pushing it around. I found that any concealer that was the tiniest bit liquid would slide off; I really needed very solid concealer.

I disagree with joan_holloway; salicylic acid can help keep the pores clear and improves their shape over time, which increases the chances that oil from burst cystic acne lesions under the skin can escape. (But it is true that the cause of cystic acne is not related to how clean or dirty your skin is.)
posted by neushoorn at 10:51 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: What you're trying to do is extremely, extremely, extremely difficult. Without the right product it will be impossible.

What you need to do is find a concealer that is an exact match for your skin colour. Not lighter, as some experts will advise you. All that will do is highlight the pimple, not hide it. It also needs to be a concealer, which is opaque, not a foundation, which is sheer.

Since you're Asian I'm guessing your skin undertones are yellow, which means you are in luck. You will find it relatively easy to find an exact match since most of the concealers and foundations on the market are yellow. However, expect a LOT of trial and error. If Prescriptives hadn't been closed down, I'd suggest you go to them. But it might still be worth going to Estee Lauder and asking them if they have anyone there who used to work at Prescriptives.

You need to check the colour in harsh daylight as that will give you the most accurate verification of a match. Checking it in fluorescent light will be misleading.

Once you've found the concealer, take a small eyeshadow brush and blend it right onto each pimple and smooth the edges around it. If there's not enough coverage, build up thin layers.

Next you need to take some loose powder. The powder does not need to be an exact match for the concealer, but when you apply it, it shouldn't react to make the concealer stand out more, which can happen. If you have oily skin, also, sometimes foundations, concealers, and powders can react with your skin and turn orange after a short time, even though they were the right colour to begin with. So you need to watch out for this too.

Apply the powder by taking a large foofy brush, dipping it in the powder, tapping off the excess, and brushing it on in the direction that the little hairs on your face grow. Go over the concealer once, and then over your whole face.

Take an eyelash comb and comb through your eyebrows and eyelashes. Then you are done.

Carry around with you: some tissues; a reasonable-quality pocket powder brush (the kind with a lid that twists up and down), a pocket concealer brush (a lipstick brush will do... as long as you don't use it for lipstick as well, lol), a concealer, a small lash comb, and a small jar of loose powder (a little round pillbox may be enough). Do not bother with pressed powder, it is far too greasy. Once at the end of the morning, and once at the end of the afternoon, blot your face with a single ply of tissue. Smooth over any caked concealer and apply repairs as needed, then powder down.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned foundation. You don't necessarily have to use foundation but you do need a layer of something for the concealer to adhere to, otherwise it's going to go on choppy. Your facial sunscreen should do the job, fortunately. But you need to leave it for 30 minutes to bind to your skin before applying anything else or you won't get the sun protection.

And before the sunscreen? Moisturizer, leave 10 minutes to absorb. I use Cetaphil's super-ultra-mega Daily Advance Ultra Hydrating Lotion and it is great: doesn't hurt my acne, smooths my skin to the max.

And before that? Splash face with 2% salicylic acid wash, leave for a couple minutes, rinse off with lukewarm water.

I don't understand why you would put moisturizer on your cheeks and then follow with salicylic acid. Wash first, then moisturize.

Other than that, your treatment regime sounds sort-of good, as in not to be abolished, but Tazorac really won't do much for cystic acne on its own. I think you might need to hassle your dermatologist some more.
posted by tel3path at 11:01 AM on July 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I agree that pressed powder can cover oily blemishes better. I use a loose mineral powder dusted over my face and then pressed into problems areas (blemishes, redness, etc.). But I would address the flaky skin because no concealer -- powder, solid, cream, etc. -- will ever look natural over flakes. What physical exfoliator do you use in the shower and how often do you use it? I'd be concerned that the salicylic acid + tazorac (a retinoid) + physical exfoliation is just too much for your skin. I'm not sure what you could use as a gentle exfoliator that wouldn't further irritate your skin -- perhaps a soft, wet washcloth? Oatmeal mixed with just enough warm water used as a scrub?

Also, I wanted to mention that according to my dermatologist, Neutrogena's facial cleansers are rather harsh (their sunscreens are fine though). She recommended Cetaphil facial cleanser to me and it's been great.
posted by Majorita at 11:02 AM on July 21, 2011

I use a stick concealer by Physician's formula. It's a color corrector, so the green tones down the red, because it's opposite on the color wheel. There are some yellow ones out there too. It doesn't work well for under eye circles, but is great for covering up the red.
posted by annsunny at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2011

Like tel3path said cover zits in layers. Lots of light layers, I find it easier to pat it on with my finger tip instead of rubbing it or sweeping it on. I know a lot of people can get great results using a brush with concealer, I've just never gotten the knack. I have had problems when the weather is hot keeping the concealer on and ended up just using a colourstay type foundation and just building up the layers gently until it concealed. I have had great luck Mineral powder is a great coverage over oily blemishes too, again build up the coverage slowly it just makes everything look smoother and less clumpy.

I don't have cystic acne though I do not know if this will work with it or not, but I have used bicarb soda mixed with water to a soft paste as a gentle exfoliant on acne prone skin with good success.
posted by wwax at 11:21 AM on July 21, 2011

Response by poster: @joan_holloway: i was using the salicylic acid in hopes it would help exfoliate my skin versus helping with the cystic acne itself. i've been trying to keep my regime at a minimum, but it sounds like it's still too much.

@tel3path: thank you for all the suggestions! i haven't thought of going to a dermatologist since my health plan is awful, but sounds like it might be worth it, since i would rather deal with the root cause of my acne.

@majorita: i've been hearing a lot about neutrogena's cleansers being harsh. luckily i am almost out so i'll try the cetaphil next.

@annsunny: its lipstick shapes looks intriguing!
posted by mlo at 11:28 AM on July 21, 2011

a couple of things. firstly- the opposite of red is green. use a green concealer made specifically to cover acne, if you get a palette that has a number of different shades of green, you will find one that will work with your skin tone. something like a kryolan mini palette gives you a lot of options to play with.

secondly, if the skin is unbroken but dry you can use a mask of honey and sugar to gently scrub your face at night. it will add moisture and will help exfoliate the dead skin.

finally- something that works miracles on acne (if not permanently) is visine. It will "get the red out" as the way it works is by constricting blood vessels. That said, it will also make the skin drier. You could put visine on the spot and then go about your regular beauty routine or add a touch of regular foundation over the zit. Just know, the visine only really shrinks the zit for a few hours.
posted by memi at 11:36 AM on July 21, 2011

I realize this answer will make me sound like the easygoing Eugenian (Oregon) I am deep down. But well.

I used to have terrible acne, cystic as well. I had a regimen not unlike your own, and same thing with birth control, it helped a bit, but I still got those awful cystic ones. The best thing I did was to only wash my face once a day, and use jojoba oil (plain jojoba oil) as a moisturizer. That improved things immensely.

Then, a year ago, during a time when I just got tired of regimes, period... I stopped washing my face. I didn't have acne any more. Seriously. I haven't had a zit in a year. I don't use any moisturizer. I wash my face twice a week, more only if it feels grimy (y'know the feeling). I use a Lush facial bar... and that's it. I cannot believe how clear my face is now. YMMV, of course, but I saw a huge change within two months.

It also solved the makeup problem since I don't need to cover zits any more... :) (But I know exactly what you mean, I had the dry-skin-zit problem before, too.)
posted by fraula at 11:44 AM on July 21, 2011

Just my non-medical opinion, but I say stop with the salicylic acid. As Joan Holloway said, it won't do much for the type of acne you have, and in its attempt to slough off dead skin its causing the problematic flakiness. If you can't give it up, at the very least do not use it int he morning. After years of skin problems and trial and error make-up approaches, I use a gentle anti-bacterial bar day and night (Cetaphil, such a godsend); before i put my makeup on it the morning I put a light moisturizer on, wait a few minutes (the makeup gets too slick if you don't let the moisturizer soak in/settle first), the concealer, then "set" everything with a loose powder. Pressed powder technically does have better coverage but I'd almost rather have a little redness show through than to have my face look all cakey.

I also feel the need to plug the MAC concealer that comes in a little Neosporin-type tube (speaking of cakey, probably the only MAC product that doesn't seem to go on like paint). I've gone though hundreds it feel like but I LOVE LOVE LOVE this one. It's really lightweight but has GREAT coverage and a little actually goes a long way. For my loose powder I like Laura Mercier.

Skip things like primer; it sounds like your skin is overwhelmed.
posted by lovableiago at 11:47 AM on July 21, 2011

Using salicylic acid helps red marks left after acne go away quicker in my experience but if you're already using a retinoid though I'm not sure you need both. You might want to lay off the chemicals a bit or reduce the frequency of use. I've found that using a face primer with a green tint like this Smashbox photofinish one helps makeup to adhere and reduces the redness. It's pricey but I got the travel size to see if I like it and it lasts a long time. I just use my Prescriptives foundation (woe, it i not available anymore!) over the photofinish, where it's needed, covered with loose powder all over then brushed off.

No chemical exfoliants have helped with the flakiness and I use a washcloth or something to gently get rid of skin before putting on sunscreen and makeup. If you want to combine steps my dermatologist recommends Cerave AM (a moisturizer with spf 30).
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2011

I started having a lot clearer skin when I started cleaning my face at night with cold cream or olive oil. The oils dissolve all the oil and leave it hydrated and refreshed. Do remove the excess oil afterwards with a hot damp washcloth or piece of dry tissue/TP.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:54 AM on July 21, 2011

Oh, that and changing my diet - lowering the carbs has made my freakout-prone skin much less freakout-ish.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:55 AM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: I have cystic acne.
I find the Laura Mercier secret camouflage to be highly effective in covering it up.
I start with the tinted moisturizer all over, then I apply the secret camouflage lightly [it's pretty powerful] with a brush to those spots that need covering.
Then sponge over, blending the two layers.
Sometimes I go with pressed powder after that (I put it on with a big brush, because I find the poufy thing provides WAY too much coverage).
Usually, if I don't need that serious coverage, I forgo the pressed powder for Make Up Forever's micro-finish powder. It seals everything in place and slightly mattifies without providing any color. Plus, it doesn't get hung up in my pores, overaccentuating them.
When explained this sounds kind of detailed, but including eye makeup and everything else I do my makeup in about 5 minutes max.
And it stays on my face, not everything around me.
PS-these are more expensive-ish brands, but all of this stuff lasts a really long time. Maybe the tinted moisturizer is the only one I have to buy more frequently [and because of gym timing, I frequently put on makeup more than once a day]
posted by atomicstone at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I know nothing about real makeup tips.

For larger, smoother blemishes I use a q-tip dipped in foundation (that matches my skin exactly). I use a very light hand to dot it on, and the q-tip does a better job of getting it to stick and applies more evenly than just my finger. If there are no flakes, I might put a tiny bit of powder on to help it stay longer.

If the skin texture is very uneven, I roll toilet paper into a point and dot foundation on in very precise areas. The point also helps to spot-poke the foundation off That One Flake Where The Makeup Has Piled Up And Is Really Obvious. You can also use the point to poke a little powder somewhere it's needed.

It's better to apply thinly and have it show somewhat than to cover completely and have it be obvious. IMHO anyhow.
posted by lemonade at 12:23 PM on July 21, 2011

Best answer: I'm not really that into makeup, as a glamour routine. As a result, I've given up on trying to spot-conceal a zit because even if I did the spot job perfectly, that becomes a smooth constant-color supermodel region on my otherwise normal-person-blotchy and freckled face with normal somewhat visible pores - and stands out like a sore thumb if I do something like run up 2 flights of stairs and get pink in the face. The only way to make it actually blend is putting on a layer of foundation to smooth out the rest of my face, and I'm just not into that.
So yes, powder, a light layer does an overall slight improvement on everything, and that just has to be good enough for me.
posted by aimedwander at 12:34 PM on July 21, 2011

I just want to be another voice for Cetaphil, specifically the non-anti-bacterial bar & the lotion with SPF. I try to wash and moisturize every night and every morning with these, and I can't believe how much I like this stuff. I had a terrible spate of cystic acne last fall following an experiment with the oil cleansing method. I read a bunch of recommendations from AskMeFi for Cetaphil, so I went that direction. It's months later: my skin is clear, and my cystic scars are so faint that I haven't worn makeup since my last big date with my boyfriend (i.e, for a dress-up occasion, not to hide problems).
posted by aabbbiee at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2011

Have a look at Lisa Eldridge
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:51 PM on July 21, 2011

Step 1: Apply concealer to zit.
Step 2: Gently tweeze flakes of skin highlighted by concealer.
posted by amber_dale at 2:37 PM on July 21, 2011

Look into Bare Escentuals. Their multitasking SPF 20 concealer is awesome, and lasts forever. I also really like their Matte foundation.

I have/had acne that responds to nothing, but I just discovered Obagi Clenziderm MD and my face looks better than it ever has. I got the whole system on amazon for $50 and it lasts me 6 months, but even then I only need to replace the face wash - the rest lasts a year. It's seriously the best thing ever. Better even than accutane or proactive or any of the other millions of products/drugs I've tried.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:48 PM on July 21, 2011

BB Cream--- Blemish Balm cream.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:02 PM on July 21, 2011

I second the jojoba oil...I used to have terrible skin as well(oily, acne, etc). Jojoba oil is amazing. You only need a couple of drops. The brand I buy is available at trader joes(Desert Sun - it's cheaper at TJs than anywhere else). It will help the flakiness as well as just make your skin look nice overall. I use the oil as moisturizer and to remove makeup - you can google the "oil cleansing method" or something and that's basically what I do.

My skin has mostly cleared up(I'm's about time) and looks pretty good because of this. I use stila tinted moisturizer and I think maybelline cover stick for the odd blemish. I used to use normal foundation(whatever brand), but when I started using the stila(it has spf and is somewhat shimmery but makes skin look dewey rather than oily) I actually received compliments "your skin looks so nice! what do you do?" a 27 year old who has had pretty terrible skin for the past 15 years or so, I was blown away. I've had crappy skin for so long that receiving compliments on it is like being in the twilight zone. "are you sure you're talking about my skin?" heh.

Anyway, something like the tinted moisturizer would be good to wear as a base if you don't want to wear foundation. Stila is sort of expensive(the tube is $32) but I just replaced it after a little over a year, and it didn't go rancid or anything.
posted by fromageball at 7:58 PM on July 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

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