Ask a Beauty Editor: Should You Apply Foundation or Concealer First?

Let the debate commence.

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Reader question: When doing a full face of makeup, does foundation or concealer go first? —Rachel Ullstrom

Ah, the age-old complexion question: Foundation or concealer first? While some makeup is self-explanatory—primer should go first; setting spray should go last—concealer and foundation are two things that don't have a specific order, which can make them conflicting.

The short answer is that both orders are fair game since there are pros and cons to each. Some people swear by foundation first, while others are hardcore team concealer. Since this is a touchy subject, we tapped three professional makeup artists to get their hot takes, as well.

The Case for Applying Foundation Before Concealer

Most makeup artists and beauty editors fall under team foundation. Foundation is supposed to be the foundation of your makeup, so it only makes sense that it goes first. This is especially true if your goal is to hide skin unevenness, redness, or blemishes. "As a pro artist, I prefer to apply foundation first so that when I blend my concealer into the foundation, it looks completely seamless," says Kim Baker, celebrity makeup artist and founder of Glamazon Beauty.

When you apply concealer first, it often results in moving the concealer off of the area you originally intended to apply your coverage to. This means that if you're trying to hide blemishes, it will be much harder to achieve a high-coverage result, and you might wind up having to apply concealer after foundation on those spots again.

Plus, it's a waste of product. Foundation is meant to even out your skin tone and reduce the need for concealer, so until you've applied your foundation, it's hard to judge how much concealer you actually need to use. If you apply too much under your foundation, it can result in your final complexion looking cakey.

Celebrity makeup artist and Brand Ambassador for CATRICE Cosmetics Robert Sesnek says he almost always likes to start by applying a light layer of foundation, and sometimes that is enough if you're using the right formula. "I would say 90 percent of the time, I'm able to achieve flawless and perfect coverage with just foundation—and then I'll layer the concealer over if necessary. This allows for a softer, lighter, and more natural finish while still concealing blemishes."

The Case for Applying Concealer Before Foundation

However, there are some benefits to applying concealer first. If you're planning on being photographed, for example, it might be a good idea to opt for concealer before foundation as flash can accentuate the points where concealer was applied. "On the rare instances where I do apply concealer first, I'm almost always doing this technique for an editorial, photo shoot, or television appearance where the studio's lights can wash out the face easily," says Sesnek. "By adding concealer first and then highlighting and contouring, you're putting the tones of the skin back in, but in a more precise and controlled manner."

Another instance where you want to apply concealer first is if you're planning to spot-conceal and your concealer isn't a perfect match to your foundation. "If your concealer is too light, that is when it makes sense to apply the foundation over the concealer to conceal the fact that the product is not the same shade," says Baker.

Lastly, Sebastien Tardif, celebrity makeup artist and co-founder of Veil Cosmetics, adds that if you have extremely dark under-eye circles or discoloration that need color-correcting, it might be worth applying color-correcting concealer before foundation, then following up with concealer again. "The benefit of applying concealer first is that it goes exactly to the root of the issue. Foundation doesn't really do anything for concealing discoloration or fatigue around the eyes, so having a color-correcting base can effectively neutralize the appearance of fatigue."

If you're looking to contour, you can follow up with a concealer that is two shades lighter than your skin tone again (after foundation). "A concealer that is one or two shades brighter than your skin tone acts as a highlighter, which is what we see all the time on social media," says Tardif. "By doing this, you can brighten the eye area and get a contoured look—it's a win-win."

The Takeaway

While the majority of experts recommend applying a light layer of foundation before concealer, we admit there are instances where you benefit from a concealer first—if you're getting photographed, your concealer shade isn't the same as your foundation, and if you're color-correcting discoloration. Besides those exceptions, keep in mind that concealer is much thicker than foundation, so apply sparingly and after foundation if you want your makeup to look as natural as possible.

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