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How to Know When To Apply Foundation Vs. Concealer To Achieve Your Desired Look

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Photo by Anna Efetova/Getty Images

We’ve all heard the age-old question: What came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, in the world of makeup, it’s more like: What came first, the foundation or concealer

If you’re reading this because you honestly aren’t quite sure what you should apply first when you’re putting on your makeup (or why you even really need to incorporate both in your daily routine), you’re not alone. In fact, whether you should apply foundation before concealer (or vice-versa) is a hot topic that even makeup artists often debate. 

We’re here to settle the question once and for all, so read on for Ipsy-approved tips and tricks for achieving the perfect glam, one step at a time. 

About the Expert:

Cara Lovello is a celebrity and bridal makeup artist based in New York City.

What’s the Difference Between Foundation and Concealer?

Sure, you have both foundation and concealer in your makeup bag and you apply them on a daily basis, but do you know what really differentiates the two products? Although they both help smooth out imperfections and minimize the appearance of fine lines and blemishes, they serve two distinct roles and. While they work well enough on their own, they’re even better together. 

Foundation 101

Just as the name implies, foundation creates an even skin tone and serves as a base for applying the rest of your makeup. Think of it like the foundation of your home: it’s a solid layer that creates a buildable surface for whatever you want to achieve. 

While it’s a multi-functional step in your makeup routine, not all foundation is created equal. While some products offer full coverage, other formulas are on the sheer side. They also come in a variety of forms and offer SPF protection, all while delivering nourishing ingredients to your complexion. While liquid foundations, like the YENSA BC Foundation, are quite popular, you can also opt for a powder or cream-based foundation. 

Finding the right foundation all comes down to your complexion needs and matching the shade to your skin tone. If you’re unsure which form is right for you, check out our guide on all things foundation for a quick refresher.

Concealer 101

Like foundation, concealer also offers a variety of buildable coverage options and can be found in many different forms, from liquids to powders and even creams. While your foundation creates a solid base, a concealer hides dark circles, dark spots, blemishes, and color-corrects. It gives you a targeted layer of protection that you can’t create alone with foundation and works to brighten and lighten areas. It’s also generally thicker than foundation, which allows it to achieve a targeted approach. 

If you’re looking for a multi-tasking concealer that’s suitable for all skin types, you can’t go wrong with the Smashbox Cosmetics Studio Skin Concealer. The waterproof formula is long-lasting and oil-free, making it a great option even if you have an oily complexion, and offers a matte finish that lasts throughout the day. 

So, Which Should You Apply First?

Deciding whether to apply concealer or foundation first is almost a trick question, because there really is no wrong answer. Although typically foundation should come first, there are exceptions to the rule based on your complexion and the types of products you’re using. It really all comes down to personal preference based on the look you’re trying to achieve. Celebrity makeup artist Cara Lovello has a few easy tips to help you get started. “If you’re using your concealer 3 shades lighter to highlight, you should apply it on top of your foundation,” she says. Additionally, “if you are using concealer to hide a blemish, or color correct, I do all of that before I apply the foundation.”

The Pros & Cons of Applying Concealer First

When you apply concealer ahead of a liquid foundation, it can get blended and smudged when you then move onto the next step in your makeup routine. There’s no way to ensure the concealer won’t move away from the targeted area you applied it to in the first place.  This makes it harder to achieve a smooth finish and can mess with your skin tone, since many concealers contain targeted color-correcting properties that aren’t meant to be applied all over. 

However, if you’re working with a powder foundation, it makes sense to apply your concealer first. This will allow you to blend evenly for a more flawless approach. 

If you had a really late night and your dark circles are more prominent than usual, you can also benefit from applying a color-correcting concealer first. Be sure to pat it in place and just blend the edges in with your foundation. Next, apply another level of concealer over the base for additional coverage. 

If you’re running low on foundation you can also use your concealer all over (just be sure to mix it with a little moisturizer or serum so it isn’t as thick to create a base).  

The Pros & Cons of Applying Foundation First

Generally speaking, foundation should come first – especially if you’re using a cream-based foundation or BB or CC cream. Since foundation evens out your skin tone and reduces the appearance of imperfections, you’ll want to apply it as a base. It provides your skin with that first layer of coverage you can then build upon. 

Once your foundation is in place you’ll be able to see where you need concealer and how much of it you should apply, focusing on the areas you want to conceal, brighten, and lighten (like under your eyes, around your nostrils, and on pimples). If you do it the other way around, not only are you potentially wasting product and layering on more than you need, but you can also interfere with your skin tone if you start blending a color-correcting concealer all over your face. 

When it comes to covering up blemishes, you should always apply your concealer over your foundation. If you start with concealer, there’s a greater chance it will crease and the pimple will start to peek through. Apply the foundation as a base, then spot conceal and dab where needed for additional coverage. Next, follow it up with a setting powder to lock everything in place. 

The only time you definitely won’t want to start with foundation is if you aren’t using a liquid formula. If you’re working with a powder or cream-based foundation, it’s best to apply concealer first. 

The Final Verdict: It's Up to You

Although foundation is widely recognized as the first step when it comes to applying makeup (especially if you’re working with liquid products), it really all comes down to your skin tone, what look you’re trying to achieve, and the products you plan on using. A one-product-fits-all-approach just doesn’t work when it comes to our unique complexions, so feel free to adjust your routine to suit the needs of your skin. Some days you may feel like you could use a little extra help looking more awake, so you might start with your concealer first. Hey, we’ve all been there. 

The real secret to achieving a flawless look and ensuring your foundation and concealer work magic with one another? Select shades that complement each other so they blend together to create a flawless, natural-looking finish. 

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About the author
Brittany Leitner
Brittany is an award winning beauty, health, and lifestyle writer and author of the poetry book "23 Emotions." She has eight years of experience writing for brands like Elite Daily, The. Dr. Oz Show, Shape, Stylecaster, Bustle, and more.
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Article Last Updated January 25, 2022 12:00 AM