What’s the best way to conceal or remove a very large, visible birthmark?
July 23, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

What’s the best way to conceal or remove a very large, visible birthmark? What makeup should I use, and how do I apply it? Birthmark and makeup details inside.

I have a large birthmark on the outside of my upper left arm. It stretches from below my shoulder to below the inside of my elbow, and it’s about 3 inches wide. It’s dark brown with many black spots (not raised) and a few white spots; the term is “cafe au lait,” I believe. Here’s a picture (SFW, apologies if linking isn’t allowed) -- the brown is a lot darker than it looks. In the past, I’ve always just worn half-sleeved sweaters, henleys, and dolmans to cover it up, but I would really like to wear what I want and not have to worry about covering my arms.

My question is: what brand and color of makeup should I use? How do I apply it well enough to cover up the whole birthmark in public (especially the dark spots) and reasonably quickly (under 15 minutes daily)? I’d appreciate specific brand/color suggestions for my Asian skin tone and instructions or videos.

Currently I have Dermablend Professional makeup. The list is
- leg and body tattoo primer no. 1 (main product)
- setting powder, white
- cover creme, chroma 1 ⅔, sand beige
- another professional cover creme, tan-ish (no label)
- smooth indulgence redness concealer, matte finish, green-ish
- 2 brushes, one large and one small
Here’s a picture of what I have.

I did try using all of them once to cover up my arm. It mostly succeeded, but it took at least an hour and several coats with various products, which was a lot of trouble. Plus, it didn’t fully cover the black spots, and my entire arm seemed like it was glowing orange, so I had to apply coats to my other arm to make it look consistent. And the makeup wore off during the evening.

I think the main problem is that I don’t have the correct shades for my arm: the main product (the primer) is much too orange, and the powders and cremes are too white. The redness concealer does help a little. For what it’s worth, I’m Asian, so I have a light brown/yellow skin tone and probably a green undertone.

(Alternatively, is there any laser surgery I can have done that works permanently? I’ve tried removal before, but it only resulted in itching and flaking and did not lighten the area.)
posted by anonymous to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
There are quite a few alternatives to Dermablend, including Dermacolor, Covermark, Keromask, and Veil.

Depending on where you are, I would expect that your primary care doctor might be able to recommend a para-medical camouflage makeup specialist who can advise you about the best products for your skin tones, and give practical technique tips.
posted by roofus at 6:23 PM on July 23, 2012

The correct shade of Dermablend plus a setting powder should be sufficient, I think. And really, no matter what you use, it is going to wear off as the day goes on. Also, all makeup will sit better on clean skin that has been gently exfoliated first (with a scrubby exfoliator, not a chemical one).

One way of covering it fully and permanently would be to get a half-sleeve tattoo, although I can entirely understand if this option seems worse to you than leaving it alone!

Since the darker spots aren't raised, I'm not sure what they'd look like if removed. I've had some raised moles removed (not for cosmetic reasons but for dermatological reasons, so no special care was taken), one with a scalpel and a few with some horrible burning thing, and the scarring is fairly noticeable. I just choose not to notice it.
posted by elizardbits at 6:26 PM on July 23, 2012

People I know who choose to cover large birthmarks and scars have told me that Covermark works best for them. It does take a long time to do the makeup (at least it seems that way to me as an observer) even for friends who have done it many many times before.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:28 PM on July 23, 2012

I would really like to wear what I want and not have to worry about covering my arms

You could, of course, do that right now. Lots of people do. I looked at your picture and I saw what you were talking about but honestly if I saw you on the street in a tube top I probably wouldn't even notice, or if I did notice I would be "H'm, that woman has an area of darker pigmentation on her upper arm with some moles, reminds me of my friend J."

I have two friends who have large port-wine marks on their faces. One of them uses Covermark religiously; the only reason I know she has the mark is that she and I used to work out together and I saw her do her makeup (which took 20+ minutes for her after years of practice, so don't beat yourself up about taking an hour to do yours the first time!). The other doesn't use any makeup or concealer on hers. Both are perfectly valid options, yes?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:33 PM on July 23, 2012 [14 favorites]

Yeah, I clicked on the picture of your birthmark and was like, "oh, that's it?"

The discoloration is probably a bigger deal to you than to anyone else. I also have a lot of dark skin spots (I always called them beauty marks), and they're just part of me. I wouldn't think of covering them up just so the public wasn't potentially offended by the skin of someone who's not an airbrushed model.

Honestly, no matter what makeup you choose, you're going to end up spending a lot of time, money, and mental energy on covering this up. Perhaps you should consider that all that time, money and energy could be better used in becoming more you, rather than in covering up this part of yourself.

You are more than how you look.
posted by snowleopard at 7:26 PM on July 23, 2012

You know, I wouldn't worry about it. Your birthmark is in no way grotesque or disturbing and I'd bet that no one would really think much about it if you simply wear the clothes you want and expose whatever parts of it show. Why not at least experiment with baring it a few times. Wear a sleeveless top and see if anyone notices.

I haven't worn anything sleeveless for years, maybe decades. I have pale skin with no blemishes or birthmarks, but I do have large, flabby upper arms and I am mortified by how they look. I'd be happy to have nice, slender arms like yours. I'm just saying that YOU probably think a lot more about the flaws you perceive in your own appearance than anyone else and that other people have problems that embarrass them

Be glad you have a body that works and allows you the pleasures and functions that bodies furnish. It may not be perfect, but no one's body IS perfect.
posted by Jenna Brown at 7:29 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think your arm is beautiful. Not all birthmarks are attractive, and I am totally in favor or using makeup/plastic surgery/lasers to improve your appearance if necessary.

But that is lovely, like a constellation. People who get tattoos? They are trying to make their skin look as interesting and eye-catching as yours. Your lovers will thrill to kiss it and trace the dots with their fingertips.

If anybody inquires, tell them it's called a "cafe au lait" mark. The exotic French name seals the deal.
posted by amaire at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2012 [9 favorites]

Just a data point, I had to turn the brightness up on my laptop to even see what it is you're talking about. That said, this is about you and how you feel. A former co-worker with a port wine stain really liked Covermark.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:38 PM on July 23, 2012

It might be helpful if you step back and consider from whom you want to conceal your birth/beauty mark from. No amount of surface cosmetic is going to conceal it from yourself, a more long-term solution may be to try to be more comfortable about that aspect of your appearance.

I know, this is monumentally more difficult to do than it is for me to type it.

FWIW, I think that it looks unique and interesting. One of my ex's had a large and intense-looking burn scar from when she was an infant in a very visible area (arm) - she totally owned it and it was just another aspect of her. My sister acquired a large forehead scar when she was 3 or 4; throughout elementary school she grew bangs to hide it. In highschool, she ended up being really popular and stopped caring about it (and it eventually faded into near-invisibility upon adulthood, but I still see her cosmetically hiding it for certain occasions).
posted by porpoise at 8:04 PM on July 23, 2012

But that is lovely, like a constellation.

I had the very same thought. What you have there is a picture of a galaxy or nebula with a few key constellations marked out; a distinctive and beautiful trademark feature.

But if you have tried laser treatments, you might check how much lightening to expect after one treatment - as I understand it, those treatments can take several sessions to show results.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:09 PM on July 23, 2012

I recommend visiting us at Birthmarks.com, where there are gazillions of cafe au lait, PWS, and other birthmark buddies (sigh, not my term) answering questions and chatting about our marks.

I have heard some good things about Covermark, but for my PWS I prefer Dermablend, not that I ever have the time/energy to cover my mark anymore.

Today on the birthmarks list people were chatting about the Yad laser and CAL marks - no one had actually tried it yet, though.
posted by SMPA at 9:35 PM on July 23, 2012

Not a direct answer to your question, but you don't necessarily have to cover up. I have a large port wine stain on my forearm and hand and I don't cover it intentionally - I wore a sleeveless wedding dress and still managed the necessary quota of gorgeous.

There's a lot of time and effort and money that can go into that makeup stuff. Maybe try wearing a T-shirt one day and see how it goes. I will see a couple of children stare every now and then, the very occasional rude person, and 99% of the universe not caring.
posted by chiquitita at 9:58 PM on July 23, 2012

[Cool that people want to be supportive, but let's now drop the don't-cover-it-up suggestions and concentrate on answering the actual questions. Thanks. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:59 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Aside from the valid suggestions of just leaving it (which is what I'd probably do), I think that evening out the darker background tone and leaving the moles should be what you try for.

Here's how I'd do it:
1. Use face or eye makeup primer that goes on clear. Put that all over your arm.
2. Then use a brush to apply a redness concealer on the darker parts, avoiding the white parts and the darkest spots.
3. Then use a new brush or sponge and put on a concealer or foundation that exactly matches your skin (get a new one since yours doesn't match you, get oil-free, it doesn't have to be dermablend).
4. Finish with a very slightly shimmery powder that matches your skin tone. This will set everything and add another layer of color. The shimmer will lighten up your arm a little bit more and confuse the eye so the darker spots and areas you might not have blended perfectly are more hidden.
5. Light dusting of shimmery powder on your other arm to match.
posted by rmless at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2012

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