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Concealer vs Foundation: What’s the Difference, and Do You Really Need Both?

You might be surprised.

I've always been anti-foundation and pro-concealer. For the most part, I didn't like the way foundations smelled, the way they could smear off on your clothes and (most importantly) how they just looked so obviously THERE on your skin. Concealers, on the other hand, I couldn't live without. (I do have a concealer wardrobe, after all.) Subtle, stealthy, they did their job but only where you needed them.

So this was my makeup philosophy: If you could get away with JUST applying concealer, and skipping the icky foundation, it was ideal. In fact I believe I've written that sentiment on this very website right here.

But now I have some breaking news. I might have changed my mind on all of this. And that's thanks to a recent sesh (during TIFF) with Lynne Ryan, the lead makeup artist for So You Think You Can Dance Canada and national makeup artist for Murale. In a nutshell, here is the paradigm shift. (I'm going to bold it so you really pay attention.) Whereas I once believed that the right concealer would allow you to skip foundation... now, I'm of the mind that the right foundation will allow you to skip concealer. Come and let me explain my Aha! Moment.

My TIFF '11 makeup experience

If you've been reading here for a while now, you might recall that pretty much the only time I willingly submit my face and hair to be "done" is during the Toronto International Film Festival. For a beauty ed, the Murale HQ is the place to be, because not only do you get to see Sally Hershberger herself (pacing around looking painfully cool in her all-black outfit and always covetable worn-in boots) but you get access to a VERY high calibre of hair and makeup experts. Last year, if you'll recall, I had my hair done by Sally's boyz James Vides and Mike Viggue, and makeup by one of the Murale artists. (I had to add the red lippie myself because the dress was purchased subsequently and it called out for A Lip.)

Anyway, poor Lynne—I think what was supposed to be a 15-minute makeup job turned into 45 because of all the questions I asked. And OBVIOUSLY I had to inquire when she started doing things I've never seen before with foundation. Here's the intel I walked out with...

Most of us are in denial about how much coverage we need.

Let me just clarify that I do NOT advocate going around with a full face of foundation. Not at all. I still maintain that you only need to apply "skin makeup" where you need it, whether it be foundation OR concealer.

But the thing is, a lot of us are in denial about whether we need foundation or not. I know I am. Lynne started applying it on my cheeks, which I usually leave au naturel. WELL. As I lamented on Thursday, I actually have tons of freckles starting to surface, and so Lynne gently suggested I needed some extra coverage there. (No, they're not the cute kind of freckles that look good if you leave them bare.)

And this brings me to my next point...

Concealer kinda sucks for covering up larger areas of discolouration and redness.

Besides the pigmentation issue, my other problem areas are around the nose and chin, where my Scottish inheritance has blessed me with patches of blotchy redness. Now sure, you can cover these up with concealer—but it's not really the idea thing to be using on such large surface areas. First of all, concealer is WAY heavier than foundation, so you're probably going to use more product than you need and have a cakier, less natural finish. Second, you just don't get the same colour choices with concealers that you have with foundation. You know how so many of them leave a too-pale, whitish cast? It's easier to get away with that on under-eye circles or what have you than the entire circumference of your chin.

So the better option, clearly, is to do a sheer application of foundation on any large problem areas, and then go in with concealer on top for any detail work.

But then again...

If you build up the coverage, your foundation might just be able to double as a concealer.

This is what REALLY blew my mind. Lynne didn't use a stitch of concealer on me. Said I didn't need it.

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Say what?!?

Because of said aforementioned Scottishness, I've just assumed, for my entire life, that I was one of those unfortunate folk who could not live without concealer. Apparently not—with the right foundation (one that goes on sheer but is buildable), it can perform double duty. This is what Lynne used on me:

But the next tip is also important...

Try applying your foundation with a brush. A tiny brush!

We've had the brush vs. sponge debate here before, and even though I tried to listen to Carmindy, I really do think I prefer brushes, at least for the initial application. (Sponges are great for going over your work.)

But what's neat about Lynne's technique is that she didn't use the typical foundation brush... she actually had a smaller, concealer-type brush.

And ever-so-carefully, she went all over my face with a sheer application of foundation, blending, blending, blending. Not just when she was applying it as a foundation, but also the second round when she was building it up in the "problem areas" as a concealer.

Just something you might want to think about trying. I've definitely found that large foundation brushes deposit too much product and make blending a bit difficile. This would give you tons more control (and ideally a sheerer application), although it'll take you longer of course.

Set it with a translucent powder, of course.

I can't remember what product Lynne used, but my preference (as you know) is one of the HD kind. (I'm actually using one from It Cosmetics right now that's pretty fab.) Also, do I not always say to use a domed eyeshadow brush to apply it, and sparingly? Well, Lynne did this too, really carefully all around the areas where shine tends to surface so that the products "stuck" to the skin. And this obviously helps prevent it from smearing off on your collar or boyfriend.

And ALWAYS choose a foundation formula that matches your skin tone exactly.

I won't go into detail on this one here, but if you need tips, watch this vid. Also, I know we all shared our favourite foundation recos here (mine in the post, yours in the comments), but I have a brand new love. Here she is:

I recently attended a Make Up For Ever seminar on HD makeup (so more tips to come!) and they kindly colour-matched me to my exact shade. Mind officially blown. Because my skin is this weird neutral colour that can go either way, I usually end up with a shade that's a fraction darker (and yellower), as per the advice I shared here. But hooray! Finally I have one that's absolutely seamless. (It's shade #115, which has pink undertones yet isn't obviously pink. YAY!)

Tell me:

Are you a daily foundation wearer or do you try to get away with just concealer?

Have you ever tried to use foundation instead of concealer?

What are your favourite foundations?

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