Foundation vs concealer: which to use and what order to apply them in

We explain the differences and benefits of foundation vs concealer in your routine

Several makeup bottles of two types of product, foundation vs concealer a pink backdrop
(Image credit: Future/Getty)

Are you confused about the foundation vs concealer debate? According to the experts, there is a time to use each and an order you should be applying them in for beautiful-looking skin. 

A flawless complexion is the goal for most of us, but it’s not always possible. Blemishes, wrinkles, and pigmentation can happen to anyone and the best way to blur these imperfections is with makeup. More specifically, with one of the best foundations and concealer where you need it. But many of us confuse these two skin-perfecting products or apply them in the wrong order. 

Makeup is a creative medium, so by all means experiment with bold '90s makeup trends or try your hand at more natural makeup looks. It's completely up to you. The same goes with your base, apply it however you like, but getting it right will stand you in good stead. If you've ever wondered whether foundation vs concealer should come first, you're not alone. To get to the bottom of it, we asked celebrity makeup artist and Max Factor Makeup Artist Ambassador Caroline Barnes and No7 Makeup Ambassador Joy Adenuga for their expert opinions. 


When should I use foundation vs concealer?

"Foundation and concealer are quite similar makeup products but there are a few fundamental differences," explains Adenuga. "A concealer is designed to provide maximum coverage for prominent marks like dark circles, pigmentation, and blemishes. Your foundation is created to camouflage imperfections too, but in a way that’s a lot more natural-looking, so ideally your foundation should blend in naturally with your skin tone."

Barnes agrees, "Foundation gives a specific finish to the complexion e.g. matte, dewy, whereas concealer can be used to brighten and hide imperfections." Foundation is applied all over the face to gently even out the skin tone, as well as other finishes and effects. For example, the best lightweight foundations can give some coverage as well as glow, or soft-focus elements. 

Another key difference between foundation vs concealer is pigment. Foundations tend to be buildable and give you the option of sheer, medium, or full coverage. Whereas concealers, be that luxury or your best drugstore concealer, pretty much always offer maximum cover, so if you need more pigment (often to cover things like blemishes, scars, or dark spots) concealer is your man.

Foundation vs concealer: Key differences

  • Coverage: Concealer offers full coverage for maximum concealing power. Foundation is available in sheer, medium, and full coverage with buildable formulas.
  • Texture: Concealer mostly comes in thicker creams for blemishes and thinner fluids for under eyes and brightening. Foundation is available in sticks, creams, liquids, and powders.
  • Shade: Concealer matches your skin tone for blemishes or can be a lighter shade to brighten under eyes or highlight. Foundation should exactly match your natural skin tone.
  • Application: Concealer is best applied with a small fluffy brush or fingers. Foundation is applied with a damp beauty sponge, foundation brush, large stippling brush or fingers. 
  • Skincare ingredients: Foundations frequently include extra skin boosters, such as sun protection in the best foundation with SPF. Whereas the majority of concealer is primarily formulated with coverage in mind.

Should you apply foundation or concealer first?

foundation vs concealer

(Image credit: Getty)

Wondering which order to apply makeup in is always a subjective matter. Although this decision is completely personal, you might find that which you apply first depends on what coverage you need. If you have extremely dark circles under your eyes, a color-correcting concealer should be the first step before foundation application. If you don't have this concern, you might find foundation is enough or just a little concealing afterward is needed. 

“I’d say there is no fixed order," explains Adenuga. "Everyone will have a method that works best for them but for me personally, I like to do the correcting first. I tend to apply the concealer and corrector before going onto the foundation application." 

Barnes prefers to apply foundation first and conceal imperfections afterward, "I prefer foundation first. It's always better not to overload the skin—this will help you achieve the most flawless, natural finish. See what your foundation can do first then add concealer to areas where you feel it is needed. Mastering how to apply concealer is fairly simple, you can either dab with a finger, or dot onto the skin with a fine brush."

Foundation vs concealer: w&h verdict

Much like foundation vs BB cream, and so much else in beauty, the choice is yours. Whether you want to pick between foundation vs concealer or use both, as well as which order you apply them in is completely up to you. Take a look at your skin, assess how much pigment you need and what you want to cover, then experiment.

If you have severe acne or want your makeup to cover scars, applying both, with your concealer first is probably best. This allows maximum coverage and you can always apply more concealer on top of the foundation. "Applying the concealer allows you to correct specific areas first," says Adenuga. "This gives the skin a uniform and even tone, so you know exactly what needs to be done to match the rest of the complexion, and can apply the remaining makeup products proficiently."

If you have fairly clear skin to start with, you might find that a concealer is all you need. "If a client’s skin is very good we would use just a dab of concealer in areas where needed and skip the foundation altogether," agrees Barnes. The best foundations for mature skin can sometimes be no foundation, and smothering your skin in base isn't always necessary so if you're having a good skin day, skip it and embrace a more natural you. 

woman&home thanks Caroline Barnes and Joy Adenuga for their time and expertise

Emma North

Emma North is a Beauty Writer who works for digital titles including woman&home, Woman, Woman’s Weekly, Woman’s Own, Chat and GoodtoKnow. Emma’s career in beauty journalism began with internships at publications including Vogue, Elle, The Telegraph and Glamour. She was then taken under the wing of Funmi Fetto, Contributing Beauty Editor at Vogue where Emma assisted with Funmi’s debut beauty book, Palette.