Concealer is the great equalizer of makeup products: men and women alike use it to hide pimples, acne scars, dark spots, and more. If you deal with dark circles under your eyes, your concealer is probably your hero—the one product you’ve always got in your bag, even if you’re a true makeup minimalist. But there are so many concealers out there, how do you choose the best one for your skin? It’s especially tricky once you learn how many of the ingredients commonly found in cosmetic products can actually clog your pores or irritate sensitive skin.
As skincare obsessives, we’re always on the lookout for the best breakout-free makeup. So many Curology members come to us for help with acne, so we’d never recommend makeup or skincare products that are known to cause breakouts! This guide will give you plenty of concealers to choose from, all with the peace of mind that someone has done the work of ingredient-screening for you.
The best concealer to use for your skin type will depend on what you’re using it for—you’ll want a different consistency for covering pimples or red spots than, for example, covering dark under-eye circles. To start, here are some general guidelines for how to choose the right concealer for your skin type based on texture and color.
Liquid: best for oily to normal skin. Can make dry skin look drier. Best for light coverage, such as undereye circles.
Cream: best for normal to dry skin. More hydrating.
Stick: best for normal to dry skin, for touching up on the go, hiding blemishes/dark spots. They don’t spread easily so will unlikely give you good full face coverage. Better for “spot treatments.”
Whichever texture you go for, you’ll also want to consider the finish: whether the concealer will give your skin a “dewy,” hydrated look, or a matte finish. Matte concealers are a good choice for oily/combination skin. You can find matte concealers in liquid, mousse, or matte powder formulas. To get the best results, use a primer first, then apply your concealer with a blending sponge or fine-tip makeup brush to avoid transferring oil.
Concealers with a glowy, dewy finish should be more creamy. An oil-based concealer is fine to use—just make sure it’s non-comedogenic! For example, coconut oil clogs pores, so avoid coconut oil-based concealers if your skin is acne-prone. You wouldn’t want to cause more breakouts in the process of covering up your existing pimples!
Just like with foundations, concealers come in a variety of textures to achieve the desired finish. Some are designed not to crease when used around your eyes, while others are designed to provide full coverage of pimples or red spots. Here’s a quick guideline to choosing the right consistency.
Concealers for under-eye dark circles: Go for a creamy concealer, liquid concealer, hydrating concealer, or tinted eye cream. These can vary from light to medium coverage, but you can always build up product on certain spots that need a little extra. When applying concealer under the eye, it’s best to go one shade lighter than your usual concealer color.
To avoid concealer getting into fine lines or creases near your eyes, start with a primer or eye cream before you apply concealer. Some concealers also have brightening properties, but these work best on the inner corners of the eyes. You don’t necessarily want to add too much brightness, shine, or sparkle directly to dark under-eye circles—it’ll draw more attention to them!
Concealers for pimples and redness: Cover spots with full-coverage, highly pigmented, matte finish concealers. A thicker consistency makes it easier to blend it in for a seamless finish with the rest of your skin or foundation.
Concealer sticks have a drier, solid consistency, and they’re good for precision—not really meant for blending out as one does around the eyes. Another option: concealers with balm-like consistencies, which are thicker than liquid or creamy concealers. Apply it just to the precise spot with a concealer brush, the tip of a BeautyBlender, or with your finger tip (just make sure to wash your hands with soap first to avoid getting germs on your face that might make acne worse!). You can blend it in a little around the spot you’re trying to cover, but it’s thick enough that you’ll want to use it sparingly.
Certain brands offer many different options, so if you’re stumped, it can be helpful (and fun) to go try some on in your local store. Certain stores that sell makeup, like Sephora, offer color-matching services, and allow you to try on different products until you find the right color and texture for you.
Test concealer shades on your chest rather than your forearm since the skin on the chest is generally closer to that of the face.
When in doubt, opt for a lighter color: concealers can turn darker over the course of the day when they are exposed to air and skin oils.
Know if your skin tone is “warm” or “cool,” two common ways that makeup brands distinguish their range of shades. Warm complexions are ones that are more “golden,” whereas cooler complexions tend to be more “pink/rosy.”
Another interesting way to determine complexion type is to look at the color of the veins in your arms: bluish/purple indicate a cooler complexion while veins with a greenish color indicate warmer undertones.
Depending on what you’re trying to cover up, you’ll need a different color concealer. A concealer with yellow or pink undertones is best for covering up under-eye dark circles, veins, or dark spots. An orange or peach based concealer is good for hiding brown or yellowish areas. To cover acne or redness, use a concealer that matches your skin tone. You can also use a green primer (like IPKN’s) because green cancels out red. Check out our guide to primers on the Curology blog for more product recommendations.
Provides medium to full coverage with a natural finish and lightweight feel
Ultra-blendable and highly pigmented
Covers acne, pigmentation, redness, and dark circles
Covers blemishes and uneven skin tone
Brightening, radiant finish without any shimmer or glitter
Medium, buildable coverage with a lightweight feel
Vitamin E and hyaluronic acid help keep skin hydrated
Good for normal to dry and/or aging skin
Highly pigmented, long-lasting, waterproof coverage
Offered in 48 shades for a closer match to your skin tone and undertone
Infused with “anti-aging” peptides, hydrolyzed collagen, hyaluronic acid and antioxidants
Great for dry and/or mature skin and those who are out and about for long periods
Effectively conceals the appearance of dark circles, redness, hyperpigmentation, and broken capillaries
Designed not to crease or settle into wrinkles and fine lines
Creamy, moisturizing feel
Offers full coverage with a natural finish
Evens skin tone and covers dark circles
Long-wear, waterproof formula
Soft, matte finish
Full-coverage, crease-proof, long-lasting waterproof wear
Formulated with antioxidant-rich raspberry seed oil, blackcurrant seed oil, and sea lavender
Creamy stick formulation is convenient to apply
Non-comedogenic and fragrance-free
Offers natural, medium coverage with a lightweight feeling
Affordable drugstore option
Recommended for normal to oily skin
Offers buildable, natural cover with a lightweight feeling
Caters to both skin tone and undertone (cool vs. warm) for a closer match
Infused with vitamin E and vitamin B5 to nourish the skin
Recommended for all skin types, but especially normal to dry skin
Highly pigmented with a glowy finish to cover up under-eye dark circles
Infused with goji berry and haloxyl
Some ingredients found in makeup, including concealers, can clog pores or irritate the skin—both of which can lead to acne breakouts. If you’re using concealer to cover up pimples, the last thing you want is for that concealer to cause more pimples!
Here are some common makeup ingredients that cause acne or irritate sensitive skin. Keep an eye out for them!
Coconut oil, aka cocos nucifera oil (pore-clogging)
Isopropyl myristate (pore-clogging)
Sodium laureth sulfate (pore-clogging)
Myristyl myristate (pore-clogging)
Ethylhexyl palmitate (pore-clogging)
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) (drying and pore-clogging)
Potassium chloride (pore-clogging)
Fragrance (can cause irritation)
One rule of thumb: avoid foundations and any product that contains alcohol, denatured alcohol (aka “alcohol denat.”), or isopropyl alcohol. Alcohol doesn’t clog pores, but it can be very irritating and drying—and it can exacerbate any pimples that are already red and inflamed. Some products have very small amounts of alcohol (found towards the end of the ingredients list) which might not irritate skin, but it’s best to err on the side of caution if you’re particularly sensitive.
The exceptions: alcohols that are okay for your skin Other types of alcohols, including cetyl, stearyl, and cetearyl alcohol, are non-irritating, and are used to give a pleasing texture and help keep ingredients stable in products. Stearyl alcohol has a long history of safe use in personal care products, with no evidence of comedogenicity.
Coconut alcohol is another kind found in skincare and cosmetic products that is an exception to the “no alcohol” rule. Derived from coconut oil, coconut alcohol is an emulsifier with emollient properties. It’s considered a non-comedogenic (i.e., won’t clog pores), non-irritating, safe and effective ingredient.
Some common ingredients in makeup can clog your pores—even if the product is labeled “non-comedogenic”! Because that term isn’t regulated by the FDA, beauty products can (and often do) claim their products won’t clog pores, even if they do contain pore-clogging ingredients. When you know how to check the ingredients list yourself, you can make better choices when choosing which makeup to use. Luckily, there’s a (free!) tool that makes it easy to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s called CosDNA.com, and it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!
We know it isn’t easy to find a concealer with the right texture, color, finish, and ingredients that won’t clog pores or irritate your skin—but now, you’ve got plenty to choose from that we’ve checked out for you. Each and every one of the products we recommend here has a unique look and feel, so you’ll probably want to try out a few to find what works best for you. But take it from the experts: a product’s ingredients should be your #1 concern before putting anything on your skin.
The cruel irony of makeup is that acne-free, smooth skin actually wears makeup better, so getting any skin condition under control should be priority numero uno. If you’re using concealer to cover up acne, post-acne red spots, hyperpigmentation, or age spots—why not let us help you get rid of them? Become a Curology member and you’ll get your very own customized skin treatment (subject to medical consultation) from one of our dermatology providers. Start with a free 1-month trial (you only pay $4.95 for shipping and handling) and give it a try.
If you’ve gotten this far and you feel ready to break up with makeup altogether, we salute you! Even if you’ve got pimples, there’s absolutely no shame in owning it while your acne heals. It can be beneficial to give your skin a break from makeup (even non-comedogenic makeup). For a truly minimalist approach, just apply a non-comedogenic face sunscreen in the morning to protect your skin from sun damage, and you’re golden. Your skin will thank you—and you’ll have more time to hit the snooze button.