Concealer vs Foundation: Difference & When to Apply (#1 Guide)

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Foundation and Concealer serve similar purposes but these are definitively different makeup steps.

And in this foundation vs concealer guide, I’ll explain what’s exactly the difference between concealer and foundation, when is it best to use one or another, how to apply each and if you can use one instead of the other.

Also, I’ll share some great tips and tricks to apply concealer and foundation flawlessly!

Let’s get into it.

woman wearing concealer and foundation with concealer vs foundation text overlay

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Concealer vs foundation: What’s the difference?

The main difference between concealer and foundation is that concealer is meant to cover heavy-colored imperfections like discoloration, redness, and dark circles while the foundation is meant to even the entire face’s skin tone and complexion. Foundation brings some coverage as well but in a more lightweight way than concealer.

Is it better to use concealer or foundation?

Wearing both, concealer and foundation is a great way to get a full coverage makeup look but you can also choose to wear only one or another.

Even when both products serve similar purposes, they are not the same and I prefer not to categorized one better than the other.

As a Makeup Artist, I always use both concealer and foundation, especially for clients.

And this is because the majority of people that look for a makeup expert to get their makeup done, most of the time is for a special event. And on those special occasions, we look for full coverage finishes and not so much the “natural makeup” look.

So for full coverage makeup, for sure you need to wear both, concealer AND foundation.

If you are seeking natural-minimal makeup skipping one of those could be an option. For example, wearing only concealer and skip foundation is something I do constantly in my everyday makeup routine.

But you can also do it the other way around. I’ll explain more below.


Can I use concealer instead of foundation?

woman wearing concealer and foundation

No. You can’t use concealer as a foundation.

However, you CAN wear concealer without foundation. Just not as a foundation.

Wearing makeup without foundation is possible. And the best way to do it is by preparing the skin properly with primer to make your skin look even and flawless, then you will need to cover problem areas with the spot concealer technique. After that, continue by adding some color with blush and eyeshadows to finish the look.

I have a full face tutorial on how I do my makeup without foundation and there, I explain exactly how to apply concealer, blush, and bronzer when you are not wearing foundation.


Why you shouldn’t use concealer as a foundation?

You shouldn’t use concealer as a foundation because concealer is thicker and heavier than foundation and wearing it on the entire face can cause a serious cakey-looking finish on the skin that nobody wants.

In fact, wearing too much concealer or mixing concealer and foundation on certain areas of the face can lead to a cakey, flaky makeup as well.

I go more in-depth about this and other 10 more reasons in my post: Why your foundation looks flaky, dry, or cakey and how to finally fix it.

Do I need both concealer and foundation?

Yes. You need both concealer and foundation but only if you are seeking a full coverage makeup look.
Another way to approach this is seeking a medium semi-casual makeup look by selecting a light to medium coverage foundation and a hydrating light to medium coverage concealer.

Now in the makeup world are several different formulas, so you can totally wear a natural look while also wearing concealer and foundation.

But as I mentioned earlier, you can also skip one or another for different makeup looks.

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What Comes First…Foundation or Concealer: The Chicken or the Egg of the Beauty World


The age-old question of a beauty routine: do I put my foundation or my concealer on first? 

Most of the time the answer will always be foundation first, concealer second

However, there are a few aspects to consider such as: what type of products are being used, is any color correcting needed, and when do you add in contour?! 

Everyone’s unique beauty needs will require different products and application techniques to result in their desired look, but general beauty guidance will apply to all. 

One rule of thumb to remember is foundation is meant to achieve an all-over even base, while concealer is meant to add additional coverage to specific areas of concern. 

Below will be the step-by-step guide to a perfect foundation and concealer application, answer any questions on the method of application, and provide additional tips and tricks on how to have a flawless base every time.


Foundation or concealer first for dark circles 

One of the main concerns for most when approaching their foundation and concealer routine is to ensure any dark under-eye circles are thoroughly camouflaged, but where does that process begin? 

Dark circles are discoloration or darkening around the eye area and can often be helped by using a color-corrector. 

A big misconception is to initially apply a lighter colored concealer to brighten the under-eye area, and while adding brightness is key, without color corrector applied first the result will be the opposite with a slightly gray cast under the eye. 

Our #1 recommendation for color correcting concealer is this palette here from Stila. It includes 3 different shades for pink and orange, as well as other color-correcting shades like green and purple.

Dark circles typically have a slightly blue-purple hue to them, which can peek through when solely using a lighter color concealer, causing the two tones to clash and a gray cast to appear. 

A color corrector is used to eliminate any unwanted tones from appearing in the final look and is selected based on the type of discoloration it is being used to cover. 

Because of the blue-purple hue present in under-eye circles, choosing a color corrector that is in the pink, peach, or orange family will cancel out any discoloration before applying concealer. 

Fair to medium skin tones want to look for color correctors in the pink to peach range, and deeper skin tones will want to look for a shade in the salmon to burnt orange range. 

Because these tones are opposite on the color wheel from the tones apparent in the under-eye discoloration when applied on top of one another the tones will cancel out and the darkness will disappear!

NOTE: Avoid the under-eye area when applying foundation to prevent too many layers of product which can cause creasing in the concealer. 

Apply a thin layer of color corrector to only the areas which require it. 

Finally, apply thin layers of concealer over where the color corrector was applied and the remaining under-eye area. 

Concealer after the color corrector will blend into the foundation by bringing the area back to a skin tone color appearance and add any additional coverage. 

If under-eye circles are not the main concern, selecting a concealer that is one to two shades lighter than your skin tone and applying it after foundation will provide an illuminated under-eye area while still appearing natural.

Related Makeup post: How to pick to right Shade of Concealer to combine with your Foundation

How to apply concealer and foundation Flawlessly

woman applying concealer and foundation to a makeup client

If your skin is looking good, then whatever makeup you apply on top of it will only be enhanced!

A smoky eye or perfect red lip can catch attention, but the flawless application of your foundation and concealer is going to take your look to the next level! 

Whether you like to switch between several foundations depending on the day or stick to your tried-and-true favorite, the steps that follow will guide you to a perfect application every time.  

1. First things first: Primer

Starting out with a foundation primer first will help to extend the longevity of the products put on top. 

Depending on the unique needs of each individual, primers also work to target any main skin concerns from uneven skin tone, unwanted texture, skin dehydration, or excess oil production. 

A primer is the bridge between skincare and foundation and should be picked based on the overall desired skin appearance. 

Applying the primer onto the skin with hands ensures the product is worked in thoroughly and can be absorbed quickly. 

One of my favorite primers of all the time is this primer here from Thank me later. It is a shine control makeup primer that also hides wrinkles and fine lines amazingly!

2. Foundation in thin layers

Next, Apply foundation in thin layers all over the face to begin the process of evening out the skin tone and achieving any initial coverage. 

By applying foundation first, it gives a better understanding of how much or how little concealer is needed and where to avoid adding too much product which can cause creasing or an unwanted cakey appearance. 

Our current favorite foundation is this one here by e.l.f. It is a full coverage cc cream that aside from the absolutely amazing coverage it gives, also includes skin-loving ingredients that hydrate the skin and leave a beautiful finish!

3. Conceal Smart

If there are specific areas of concern on the face that require additional coverage, concealer next in targeted areas and lightly blended out would follow the foundation. 

Under eye concealer would then be applied, as often that can be a different shade than the concealer used for the face based on preferences and needs. 

Check this full step by step tutorial on how to apply concealer under eyes (with pictures)

4. Set everything on place

Lastly, setting the foundation with a powder and setting spray helps to lock everything in place until it is time to remove. 

The best setting spray of all the time is this one here by Urban Decay.

What Makeup tools to use to apply Foundation and Concealer?

Tools are an important part of the application process; a beauty sponge like this one absorbs liquid products which provides buildable coverage, while a dense brush like this one here offer more full coverage by not thinning out the product, and a fluffier brush will spread the product over the skin for medium coverage. 

Any of these tools can be used together or separately with both products, and when used in the order listed above will guarantee a flawless application.

Foundation or contour first

Along with foundation and concealer, adding in a product for contour can also enhance the final appearance by creating shadows and depth on certain areas of the face. 

Because there are so many types of foundations, concealers, and contour products, knowing the order of steps can be confusing due to the mix of textures. 

PRO TIP: apply any liquids and creams before any powders to prevent a cakey appearance or splotchy areas from appearing.

 If all base products being used are liquids or creams, the cream contour can be applied before or after the foundation and concealer. 

By applying the contour after, less product will need to be used. 

If powder contour is the way to go, apply any liquid or cream products first, set with a face powder, and then apply the powder contour with a medium-sized fluffy brush. 

Conversely, if the contour is a cream product, start by applying it with a synthetic, domed-shaped foundation brush, apply liquid concealer where needed, and then apply the powder foundation all over the face with a large powder brush to ensure even coverage. 

With cream contour and powder foundation, the concealer acts as the bridge between the different textures, so blending the concealer and contour well before applying the powder foundation is key to achieving a natural base without any obvious lines of where certain products start or stop. 

Lastly, if powder foundation and powder contour are the choices for you, much like all liquid and cream products, either contour or foundation can be applied first. 

Powder contour applied secondary often blends better with the powder foundation and requires less product to be used in order to achieve the desired look.

Related Post: How to Apply Cream Contour (The complete Guide + Full Tutorial with pictures)

Powder foundation

Powder foundation is a product that has been a hero in the makeup world because it is multifunctional and easy to use. 

With different application techniques, powder foundation can be used to set liquid foundation, on its own for a natural base, or a quick fix for makeup mistakes. 

Because applying a cream or liquid product over a powder can cause the products to separate and become splotchy, blend out any concealer well into the skin and the surrounding area of where the concealer is applied to allow the coverage to appear seamless overall without an interruption in coverage from cream to powder. 

As powder foundation ranges anywhere from medium to full coverage on its own, it does not always require liquid foundation underneath. 

However, if it is being used to set a liquid foundation or for added coverage, using a larger, fluffier powder brush disperses the product over the skin evenly without concentrating heavy coverage in a specific area. 

Powder foundation is also great for any makeup mistakes! 

Accidentally applied too much blush or bronzer, or have a wobbly lip line?  Using a light amount of powder foundation can take down any excess color or clean up the edges of any lines easily and flawlessly while blending into the rest of your makeup. 

Related Makeup: The Best Anti-aging Face Powders to use for Mature Skin (Or any skin!)

Conclusion on Concealer vs Foundation

Overall, the key trick for an impeccable foundation and concealer routine is to work in thin layers, pick the products and tools wisely, and start with all liquids and creams first before moving on to powder products. 

By taking time to perfect your base, whatever color products are applied on top are going to be enhanced. 

As the appearance of our skin is often a large concern for most, finding a foundation routine that works for your skin type, tone, and unique beauty needs can be the boost of confidence needed to take on the day!

There’s so much more to cover on foundation and concealer, like formulas, types of products, and best products. If you are interested in these topics I highly recommend you to take a look at my popular beginner’s guides:

FOUNDATION 101: Complete guide for beginners
CONCEALER 101: How to choose the right concealer under eyes
10 Best Under eye Drugstore Concealers (Reviewed)
10 Best Foundation Dupes that are as High-quality as Luxury Foundations

Concealer vs Foundation: Difference & When to Apply (#1 Guide)

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