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Concealer vs Foundation: The Difference & What Goes First

by Sandy Taylor

Foundations and Concealers can be similar and different. I always view these 2 products as a pair and I would never use one without the other. They are both used to cover up impurities in the skin but their purpose and the order you use them is what makes them unique.

Concealers are thicker and are designed for spot coverage on troubled areas. Foundations are mainly used all over the face to even out your complexion. 

To hide skin impurities, it’s better to use a concealer first because they are heavier and can provide better coverage than a foundation.

For details on how to apply a concealer or foundation, check out my Complete Foundation, Primer, and Concealer Application Guide


Concealer vs Foundation – What’s The Difference?

Let’s look in detail at the difference between a concealer and foundation:

What Are Foundations?

Foundations are used to create an even tone on your skin. Next time you go to the washroom, study your face in the mirror without makeup on. Look closely at the skin tone on your forehead, nose, and cheeks.  Did you notice that they all have different shades? The truth is that no one has one color on their skin. One may have dark eye circles, blemishes, acne, fine lines, or other skin impurities. Foundations fix this by covering the impurities, giving your face an even, natural look.

Foundations are also used to create a base for other makeup, protect your skin from outside impurities and some foundations even have moisturizers and sunblock mixed in!

Types of Foundation Makeup Coverages

Depending on the coverage you need, foundations come in sheer, light, medium, or full coverage.  Your foundation choice depends on the amount of coverage you need.

Here is a list of the common types of coverages and an explanation for each:

Sheer Coverage – This is very light and transparent. Only hides minor and light skin impurities.

Light Coverage – Cannot cover acne or freckles. It helps to correct slight unevenness.

Medium Coverage – Covers acne, freckles, light eye circles, light blemishes

Full Coverage –  Thicker and most heavy. Pretty much covers everything. Certain types of full coverage foundations may make your skin look cakey.

Different Types of Foundations and How to Apply Them

There are 4 main types of foundation. They are liquid, powder, cream, and stick.

Liquid Foundations

Liquid foundations have a fluid consistency and are the most popular type of foundation because they are offered in a variety of different coverage options including light to full coverage. Liquid foundations are also easy to apply and blend.

Liquid foundations are a great choice for people with dry or oily skin. For people with dry skin, the water content within the liquid foundation provides great hydration to the skin. For people with oily skin, the water content provides enough hydration so that the product of oil (sebum) is controlled.

There are different types of liquid foundations including water-based, silicone-based, and hyaluronic acid-based. I have written a guide on each of these types of liquid foundations. Check them out using the links below:

How To Apply Liquid Foundations

Liquid Foundations can be applied using your fingers, makeup brush, or beauty blender. To apply them, dab a pea-sized amount on your forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin. Spread the foundation on your face with your fingers, makeup brush, or beauty blender.

Apply a light layer initially then add on additional layers to build coverage. If you have chosen the right type of coverage, you should be able to cover your trouble areas with no more than 3 layers.

If you find that you needed more than 3 layers to cover the areas that you want, you will need to look for a foundation with more coverage, like a full-coverage foundation.

Too many layers can make your skin feel heavy and cakey, therefore, I recommend not using more than 3 layers.

Powder Foundations

Powder foundations come in loose or pressed powder forms. They are available in a wide range of coverage options including light to full.

A special type of loose powder foundation, called the mineral powder foundation, contains natural minerals. These natural minerals provide sun protection and are lightweight and non-comedogenic, which means they won’t clog your skin.

Powder foundations are popular amongst people with oily skin because they do a great job of soaking up oil and providing a matte finish for the skin. They can be used as base makeup to help provide coverage and oil control at the beginning of makeup routines. They can also be used after makeup routines to help set makeup in place.

As oil and sebum build up on the face throughout the day, powder foundation can be used as touch-up makeup to soak up excess oil and fix coverage that’s been washed down by the sebum.

How To Apply Powder Foundations

To apply powder foundations, dab a cotton pad or makeup brush into the powder and gently brush and bluff the powder on your face. For touch-ups, lightly dab (not drag) the cotton pad over the areas you want to add coverage.

For setting liquid makeup, wait for the layer of makeup to dry first, and then gently tap a cotton pad with powder foundation all over the face. If you are using a brush, lightly buff and blend the powder into the skin.

Cream Foundations

Cream foundations have a thicker consistency than liquid foundations. They offer excellent skincare features and are often used alone or with a primer. Common cream foundations include BB Creams and CC Creams.

BB Creams

“BB” stands for “beauty balm” or “blemish balm”. BB creams offer sheer coverage and are formulated with great skincare ingredients.

Here are some guides to help you understand more about BB Creams:

CC Creams

“CC” stands for “color control”. CC creams are designed to correct minor discoloration on the face like blemishes and redness.

Here is a guide to help you understand more about CC Creams:

Note that BB creams and CC creams are technically not “foundations” because foundations are designed for coverage while BB creams and CC creams are designed with a focus on skincare with added skin coverage.

However, in the modern makeup world, the line between foundations and tinted moisturizers is thin. It’s easy to find foundations with skincare benefits and tinted moisturizers with great coverage options. Therefore, it’s widely accepted that tinted moisturizers, such as BB creams and CC creams can be considered foundations.

To find out more, check out my post: Foundations vs BB Creams: What’s the Difference? 

How To Apply Cream Foundations

To apply cream foundations, simply dab a pea-sized amount on your forehead, cheeks, or chin, and then blend it into your skin with your fingers, makeup brush, and beauty blender.

If you find that the cream settles into fine lines and wrinkles. Apply a hydrating primer to your skin first before applying the cream foundation. Find out more in my guide: Primer or Coverage Cream: Which is Better? Which One First?

Stick Foundations

Stick foundations have a waxy, slightly creamy consistency that is tinted to match different skin tones.  They are commonly used for coverage, contouring, and highlighting. They are popular because they are small in size, easy to use, and leave no mess. Some stick foundations can be used as a concealer.

How To Apply Stick Foundations

To apply stick foundations, simply rub the product on your face in areas that you want to cover. Use your fingers, makeup brush, or beauty blender to blend the foundation into the surrounding areas.

What Are Concealers?

Concealers are thicker than foundation. As its name suggests, concealers are meant to “conceal” a concentrated area on your skin. Usually, it’s just one spot on your skin that is hard to cover. Concealers let you wear a lighter coverage foundation while allowing you to cover the spots that need to be covered the most.

You can use concealers for everything, like black spots, acne, blemishes, and blotches. Usually, people put concealers on their problem areas first, then use foundation to blend and even out the skin tone.

Different Types of Concealers and Their Uses

The 3 main types of concealers are liquid, cream, and stick

Liquid Concealers

Liquid concealers have a fluid-like consistency and are the most common type of concealer. They are thicker than liquid foundations and usually come with fewer shade options.  Some liquid concealers come with basic skincare ingredients like vitamin C and collagen-boosting peptides to help defend the skin against free radical damage and signs of aging.

Liquid concealers are best used for spot coverages in areas that cannot be covered by your foundation. I recommend applying concealers first before applying foundation, especially for thought to hide areas.

Cream Concealers

Cream concealers often come in the form of color correctors. Unlike cc creams, color correctors are often used for canceling or neutralizing colors. To understand this, let’s look at the color wheel:


The colors opposite each other on the color wheel will neutralize each other. For example, using a green color corrector on red acne will make the red color less noticeable since the red and the green colors cancel each other out.

It’s good practice to use a color-correcting cream concealer to cancel harsh shades on your face before applying your foundation to even out the coverage.

Stick Concealers

Stick concealers and very similar to stick foundations. They have a waxy consistency that is tinted to most skin shades. Like stick foundations, stick concealers can be used for contouring and highlighting.

Is It Better to Use Concealer or Foundation?

It is better to use a concealer if you can find one that has a good match to your skin tone and that your overall complexion is even. 

It is better to use a foundation if different areas of your face have a slightly different tone. This is because a foundation can help you even out your entire complexion.

In most cases, you will need to use both. Use a concealer first to cover tough areas like acne and moles and then blend in a foundation to even out your overall complexion. Set the liquid foundation with a powder foundation for better oil control and to help it last longer.

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