How to cover acne with makeup: your expert guide for every type of breakout

From cystic spots to whiteheads, the pros explain how to cover acne with makeup

How to cover acne with makeup as shown by a model smiling with natural makeup on a blue background
(Image credit: Getty)

When learning how to cover acne with makeup, it’s worth noting that different spots require different products and tools. While certain formulas work well for whiteheads, others work best for raised blemishes and blackheads. To find out exactly how to conceal every type of breakout going, we’ve quizzed the pros.

Battling against a breakout? Do not fret. While the best foundation cannot treat acne at the source (following the right skincare routine for acne will help here), makeup can help boost our confidence by minimizing the appearance of angry blemishes. The key is knowing what products to use, and for what spots, in order to achieve a smooth, even base.  

“It’s important to make sure the products contain ingredients that are kind to skin,” says celebrity makeup artist and KVD ambassador, Nikki Wolff. “Hyaluronic acid, salicylic acid, and vitamin C can be found in everything from the best primers and foundations to blushers and even bronzers.” Want to know which is best for your specific skin situation? Keep scrolling to discover how to cover acne with makeup just as the professionals do. 

How to cover acne with makeup: your expert guide

How to cover whiteheads

Whiteheads are a mild (albeit stubborn) form of acne that occurs when dead skin cells and oil become trapped within the pore. In terms of their appearance, they look like tiny white bumps on the skin’s surface. 

“Whiteheads can cause texture on the skin,” says Bobbi Brown pro artist, Hollie Ellis, who has mastered the art of how to cover acne with makeup. “Because of this, it’s important to use a cushiony primer that will smooth your complexion as well as hydrating products.” Contrary to what we may think, applying a full coverage matte concealer can make matters worse. “It will highlight the area even more,” adds Hollie who recommends opting for lightweight formulas instead. 

It pays to read up on how to get rid of whiteheads with skincare. Then, what you can't eradicate, cover with makeup following Hollie’s step-by-step: 

  • Step 1: “Prep your skin with a good primer that will create a smooth canvas, ready for makeup.” Her go-to? “Bobbi Brown’s Vitamin Enriched Face Base is formulated with hyaluronic acid and shea butter to plump up and smooth skin.”
  • Step 2: “For best results, apply your foundation first before you conceal.” This way, you won't overdo it on the concealer and can avoid that caked on finish. The best foundation for acne-prone skin is something breathable and not as heavy as you might think. "Look for liquid formulas in medium coverage to create an even, not heavy, base."
  • Step 3: Next, add concealer to the areas that need more coverage. “Bounce and press your chosen concealer onto spots—go for hydrating and non-drying formulas.” This will help avoid that dreaded 'ring of flakes' we often see around whiteheads. 

Bobbi Brown Vitamin Enriched Face Base | RRP: $64/£46.50

Designed for normal and oily skin types, this moisturizing face base combines hyaluronic acid and shea butter with a blend of vitamins B5, C, and E for a softer, smoother surface. 


Givenchy Matissime Velvet Radiant Mat Fluid Foundation | RRP: $55/£36.50

A good foundation is an absolute cornerstone of how to cover acne with makeup. This lightweight liquid foundation blends in seamlessly for a smooth, luminous complexion. It’s super easy to build and will stay put all day long. 


Rose Inc SoftLight Luminous Hydrating Concealer | RRP: $30/£23

Non-comedogenic and blended with squalane and vitamin E, this complexion-perfecting concealer (available in 20 shades) hydrates and smooths skin while minimizing the appearance of blemishes.

How to cover blackheads

Blackheads consist of the same material as whiteheads, namely dead skin cells, oil, and sebum. The difference is that whiteheads are closed pores, while blackheads are open—hence why they’re dark in appearance, due to the oxidation of clogged build-up.

To learn how to get rid of blackheads properly, read our ultimate skincare guide. As for makeup, there are several ways to help disguise a breakout of blackheads. “The trick here is to use mattifying products,” says Hollie, “anything too oily or shiny will highlight open pores.” Follow her top tips: 

  • Step 1: “Start off by using skincare products that will target open pores and blackheads. Ingredients like the skincare acid salicylic acid help lift dirt and debris, creating a fresh canvas.” 
  • Step 2: A mattifying primer is a must when learning how to cover acne with makeup. “It will smooth the skin's texture and help minimize the appearance of pores. Apply this before foundation, in the areas where you see blackheads.”
  • Step 3: Next, use a foundation that won't further clog the pores. “I love Bobbi Brown’s Long-Wear Weightless Foundation as it contains naturally derived mineral powders that help keep excess oil in check while concealing blackheads.”
  • Step 4: “The challenge with blackheads is that you can occasionally still see the open pores through makeup. To smooth over those areas, look for the best setting powders that are sheer.” Powders with soft-focus elements are perfect for this, gently blurring over blackheads. 

CeraVe SA Smoothing Cleanser | RRP: $14.99/£12

Prep your skin with this non-comedogenic cleanser that works to swiftly remove oil with a 0.5% concentration of beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid. 


Bobbi Brown Skin Long-Wear Weightless Foundation SPF15 | RRP: $50/£35

Bridging the gap between skincare and makeup, this weightless liquid formula is laced with hydrating glycerin as well as marine sugar cane to help control oil. Expect a second-skin, natural matte finish.  


By Terry Hyaluronic Hydra Powder | RRP: $60/£42

Set your base in place with this loose translucent powder, formulated with hyaluronic acid to reduce the appearance of pores and fine lines. The silica microbeads create an invisible matte finish that’s far from cakey. 

How to cover cystic acne

Cystic acne is a more severe form of acne that occurs when bacteria (along with oil and dead skin cells) gets trapped in the pores, causing infection and inflammation. They’re often painful, pus-filled pimples that appear swollen and red. 

“This type of spot can cause a lot of redness so it’s important to use color correcting products that will help even skin tone,” says Hollie. Her top tip? “Avoid anything that’s comedogenic (pore blocking) or products containing alcohol as these will irritate the skin further.” Here’s her step-by-step to conceal cystic spots like a pro: 

  • Step 1: “Again, start with a good base. Look for the best face moisturizers that are hydrating but oil-free and will help balance skin.”
  • Step 2: “Then, use a green color corrector to help take down redness. Swipe or dab a concealer onto any areas of redness next, usually around the blemish, and press the product in with fingertips or one of the best makeup brushes.” 
  • Step 3: “Seal it all in with one of the best full coverage foundations using a stippling brush to create a seamless blend." 

Paula's Choice Clear Oil-Free Moisturiser | RRP: $29/£28

Post-cleanse, prep your skin for makeup with this oil-free moisturizer blended with niacinamide to even skin tone, ceramides to strengthen skin, and licorice root extract to soothe redness.


NYX Professional Makeup 3C Palette | RRP: $16/£12

This palette contains every shade you need to conceal cystic acne. Green will neutralize redness while the concealer shades will help cover up individual blemishes. 


Oxygenetix Acne Control Foundation | RRP: $66/£45

Ideal for acne-prone skin, this thick liquid foundation is antibacterial, ultra-soothing, and has 2% salicylic acid to prevent future breakouts. It’s also water-resistant, oil- and fragrance-free as well as being hypoallergenic.

woman&home thanks Nikki Wolff and Hollie Ellis for their time and expertise. 

Emma Stoddart

Emma Stoddart is a freelance beauty journalist and self-confessed skincare aficionado with over five years’ industry experience. Emma has worked for some of the UK’s top women’s titles including Net-A-Porter, Stylist and Grazia. Her experience spans online and print as well as producing editorial shoots with some of the industry’s biggest artists, including Val Garland. Asides from working with them behind the scenes, she’s also had the chance to interview the likes of Patrick Ta, Pat McGrath, and Sam McKnight for all their insider tips and tricks.