Question: What's the best way to cover up a pimple with makeup?


If you can't prevent a pimple from forming or are on your way to clear skin but still have visible acne, the best way to hide acne is to cover it up with makeup. Generally, if you are trying to get rid of acne, you should use fewer products on your skin, but if you have a big day coming up and need your skin to look good, then non-comedogenic makeup is the fastest way to get rid of acne, even if it's just temporary.

Covering up a pimple with makeup is more difficult than covering up flat, post-acne dark marks or scars. This is because when you try to cover up acne, you are usually dealing with three things:

  • Redness
  • Skin elevation
  • Dry skin flakes

To successfully conceal a zit, you have to minimize the redness from the spot, contour the bump so your pimple looks flat, and not enhance the dry skin flakes that tend to form around pimples.

Through trial and error with trying to cover up my own pimples, this is the best method I found for concealing a pimple with makeup (be prepared, this is quite a long and detailed read!):

  1. Prep your skin the night before. If you know you're going to use makeup to cover up acne, the night before, don't use any acne treatments on your skin. Acne treatments tend to dry out zits and that will make your pimples more difficult to cover up. Make sure you moisturize before you go to bed so your skin will be as smooth and supple as possible. If you have spots that are particularly dry and flaky, dip a q-tip in some Vaseline and dab it on the spot to keep it moisturized over night. Don't worry, this won't break you out.

  2. Give yourself plenty of time. Covering up a zit takes work. You might use too much concealer and have to start over or you might find that a certain makeup makes your pimple look worse. So, make sure you wake up early or give yourself an ample amount of time to cover up your acne before you need to be somewhere. I always end up spending more time than I expect when I am trying to cover up a pimple flawlessly. Also, if you really need your skin to look as perfect as possible, practice covering up your pimple a few times the day before so you'll know what works and what doesn't.

  3. Clean and moisturize. Before you start to put on makeup, prime your skin. Clean it with a gentle, non-drying cleanser and moisturize any dry spots. Not using acne treatments and moisturizing heavily the night before will help with any dryness. If you wear sunscreen, put it on after moisturizing (but if you are going to be taking pictures, don't use sunscreen). Wait 20-30 minutes for everything to sink in. I usually wait for an hour because I feel like after an hour, my skin starts to produce its own oil (which I smooth back into my skin) and that makes any makeup go on more naturally.

  4. Minimize dry skin flakes. Makeup primer can help improve your skin's texture, but if you are sensitive to silicones, they might not be the best product to use, so this is completely optional. Many people like to use Milk of Magnesia as a homemade primer, but when you are trying to cover up acne, it can dry out your skin too much. Store-bought makeup primer is usually silky, helps makeup last longer, and kind of sticks any dry skin flakes you have around a zit to your skin so makeup doesn't get under them and make them extra noticeable.

    If you have lots of dry skin flakes, take a tweezer and gently pluck some of them off. Be careful though! Sometimes you can peel off an entire flake of dry skin and expose raw, pink skin underneath. Be gentle with tweezing dry skin flakes and only peel off the ones that are sticking out a lot. If you have so many dry skin flakes that it seems impossible to get rid of them, take some unscented baby oil or olive oil and gently massage it on your skin. Wipe off the oil with a warm towel. The oil will re-hydrate any dry skin flakes and remove any flakes that are ready to come off.

    In general, exfoliating with a scrub will slough off dead skin cells, but when you are trying to cover up a pimple, exfoliating only makes your dry skin flakes disappear temporarily. Exfoliating can also irritate pimples, making them redder and causing your zits to flake later in the day, so the idea is not to rub off dry skin flakes but to keep them moisturized so they don't get dry and flake in the first place.

  5. Set the scene. Make sure your bathroom is well-lit. Sometimes when you put on makeup in incandescent or yellow light, your makeup can turn out different than what you expect it to be under fluorescent light. Natural sunlight is the best, but even without it, check your makeup after you apply it under different lighting to make sure it looks the way you want it to look. What I like to do is take a mirror stand to a window and try to cover up my pimple there. After I finish, I take a compact mirror and check out the spot under different lamps in my house.

  6. Reduce redness. Now it's time for makeup (finally)! Depending on your skin tone, get a yellow or green concealer to help hide the redness of your zit. If you have darker skin, you should probably get a concealer that is a shade lighter than your normal color. I like to use cream concealers because they make the texture of a covered up pimple look more natural. When you are using concealer to cover up a zit, the idea is to build layers of concealer onto the zit so you can hide it without making it look cakey. Use less concealer than you think you need because you can always add more later.

    I have fair skin, but I use both yellow and green concealers. I use green to reduce redness and yellow to make the spot look flatter (discussed next). First, I rub some green concealer on the outside of my hand to warm it up. I also like doing this because it helps me avoid putting on concealer too thickly from the get go. Second, using your ring or pinky finger, gently dab a tiny dot of green concealer in the middle of the pimple. Don't pat it out just yet because we'll get to that later.

    Green cancels out red, so the idea is to reduce the redness of only your pimple, without making the skin surrounding your pimple look a different color. I've found that when you dab green concealer all the way to the outside edges of a pimple, you can make your skin look lighter on the edges and end up giving your pimples these weird halos around them. Using too much green concealer can also give your skin an unwanted green tinge. Dabbing a very tiny amount (like a pinprick dot) in the center of a pimple is what you are looking to do.

    Note: Don't use Visine. Visine temporarily constricts your blood vessels so it can make a pimple look less red. However, the redness comes back. You also shouldn't use Visine on a pimple before you try to cover it up with makeup. When you do that and temporarily reduce the redness of a pimple, you end up trying to cover up that temporarily reduced redness rather than the real redness that will come back after the Visine wears off.

  7. Flatten the bump. Now that you have used some green concealer to minimize redness, it's time to make the entire pimple look like your normal skin color. I do this with a yellow-based concealer. Like in Step 6 with the green concealer, take some yellow concealer and rub it on the outside of your hand to warm it up. Using your ring or pinky finger, gently dab some yellow concealer over the entire pimple (and over the green you previously put on). Press down with your finger and gently pat out the yellow concealer until it looks even. A patting motion is better than a rubbing motion because when you try to rub in concealer, you end up emphasizing any dry skin flakes.

    Try to keep the concealer only on the pimple and not on the skin surrounding the pimple. The idea is to blend the pimple with your skin to make them all the same color, not circle them with a lighter colored ring (since concealer tends to be lighter than your skin). If any redness shows through, keep patting on more concealer on the spot until it looks blended. Focus on putting the concealer on the sides of the pimple to help create the illusion that the spot is flat even though it isn't.

    Think of your pimple like a mountain - green goes on the peak, a thin layer of yellow goes over the entire mountain, and then more yellow goes on the mountain sides but not off the mountain range itself. You won't be able to completely flatten a pimple that is a big bump on your skin, but yellow can help achieve that effect. I find that covering up the redness of a zit helps more than anything. Color trumps smoothness when it comes to covering up a pimple!

  8. Minimize dry skin flakes, again. This is where covering up a pimple can get really frustrating. Sometimes you can use concealer and hide the redness of a pimple, but the makeup you use ends up making your dry skin flakes more pronounced. Color-wise, everything might look fine, but your skin doesn't look great because it's all dry and flaky.

    If after applying concealer, your skin looks really dry and flaky, try using a tweezer to pick off some of the dry skin flakes. Sometimes this is all it takes for your skin to look better, but other times you'll have so many dry skin flakes that even tweezing them off won't help. In this situation, you should take a dab of Vaseline or facial oil of your choice and rub it into the spot. The oil will moisturize the dry skin to make the flaking less obvious. Massaging the oil into the spot will also help remove any dry skin flakes that are ready to come off.

    The downside is, oils are great makeup removers so if you use an oil to minimize the dry skin flakes, the oil will also take off the concealer you just meticulously applied. That's why you should give yourself lots of time to cover up a pimple! After using the oil, gently pat it off with a tissue. You want a very thin residue of oil left on your skin so it can prevent the dry skin flakes from showing up again, but not so much that the oil makes your face too slick so that the concealer doesn't stay on. If you use an oil under your concealer, you might want to set your concealer with some face powder afterwards so your concealer lasts longer.

  9. Pat in foundation. After you are done covering up the pimple with concealer and reducing dry skin flakes the best you can, cover up your skin with a final thin layer of foundation. I don't use a makeup brush or sponge to put on foundation because they can rub off or smudge the concealer. Instead, I use my fingertips to lightly pat on foundation. Patting foundation on both the concealed pimple and your non-concealed skin seems to smooth everything over nicely without ruining anything. The goal is to blend everything together so your skin looks the same all over. Sometimes it helps to put a final layer of yellow concealer on top of the foundation to round everything out.

  10. Blast with heat and set. After you are done with concealer and foundation, I like to take a blowdryer and blast my face with it set on medium. The heat from the blowdryer "melts" everything together so it looks more natural. You can set your makeup with powder, but I skip this step because 1) the powder brush can take off what you just put on and 2) power accentuates dryness and dry skin flakes. I also like to wait an hour or so after I'm done putting on concealer and makeup so I can make any final adjustments to my skin. Waiting for an hour is completely optional, but I just find that when I wait an hour after putting everything on, I know how the makeup will react on my skin. There have been way too many incidences when I spend a ton of time covering up a pimple with makeup, walk out the door after patting myself on the back for a job well done, only to have the covered spot look different 20 minutes later as my face starts to produce more oil or the humidity in the weather impacts how long the concealer stays on. So after I cover up a pimple, I like to wait awhile to see if the pimple stays covered the way I want it to be.

  11. Get a touch-up kit ready. Sometimes you can do a great job covering up a pimple and you look great in the mirror before you leave the house, but after a few hours, you catch a glimpse of your skin in a reflection and notice that the concealer has worn off. This is why it's important to make yourself a little touch-up kit! Keep a handheld mirror and some concealer in your purse so you can touch it up throughout the day.

  12. Have realistic expectations. Makeup and concealer can help minimize the appearance of a pimple, but they are not real-life Photoshop tools. Even with the best makeup skills, sometimes a pimple will still be noticeable. For example, if you cover it up and the zit isn't red anymore, you might still see its shadows if you stand under a light. If you can't cover up a pimple completely, so what? There are worse things that could happen so it's important not to beat yourself up about! At least you tried and you made it look better, even if it doesn't look perfect.

The above method works best for covering up individual zits. If you have mild, moderate, or severe acne over your entire face, this method might make your skin look a bit cakey. To try to cover up acne that's all over your face, you might be better off covering up larger pimples with the above method and then just using foundation for the smaller pimples so you don't look like you're wearing too much makeup.

A final word of advice: it's better to under cover than over cover your pimples. The honest truth is that when you have acne, especially a particularly bad pimple, people will notice. They may not notice as much as you do (since we are usually our own worse critic) or even care that you have acne, but if you have bad acne, people will most likely be able to tell. Just keep in mind that this is not the end of the world!

In my opinion, it's better for people to know that you have a pimple than for people to tell that you tried to cover up a pimple but failed miserably at it. At least that way, you come off as someone who feels natural and comfortable in your own skin. So don't beat yourself up about it if you can't make a pimple disappear on your face with makeup.

Last updated: November 14, 2012

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