Foundation vs Concealer: What's the Difference?

If you’ve ever wondered if foundation and concealer are the same thing (kind of like moisturizer and eye cream) then you’ve come to the right place. To put it simply, they’re different. The two go hand in hand, though, each having their own specific benefits. Generally, you would apply foundation all over the face as a base, then you apply concealer as more of a spot treatment on areas of concern such as discoloration under the eyes or redness around the nose. Of course, you can use the formulas however you wish and in whichever order works best for you, but here are some pointers that can help improve your foundation and concealer routine.

What Is Foundation and What Does It Do?

As its name implies, foundation is a complexion product that is used as a base for the rest of your makeup. It is meant to even out your skin and create a smooth canvas for the rest of the makeup that will follow. There are varying levels of foundation coverage; light, medium, and full, each referring to how much of your natural skin will show through. Light coverage foundation is a step up from tinted moisturizer and shouldn’t feel too heavy while full coverage foundation is going to completely cover up everything from breakouts and acne scars to melasma and enlarged pores.

Foundation also comes in different finishes, so you can choose a more glowy and natural vibe from Maybelline’s Fit Me Dewy and Smooth or Dream Radiant Liquid. But, if you prefer something sans shine, you would go for Super Stay Longwear Foundation or Fit Me Shine-Free and Balance. And we can’t talk about foundation without mentioning the importance of using the perfect shade. To find your foundation match, there are a few things to consider like your undertones and your desired finished look. Maybelline also offers a shade-matching quiz called Foundation Finder that will take some of the guesswork out.

What Is Concealer and How Is It Used?

Concealer tends to come in a much smaller size for a few reasons. One, because it’s meant to spot-treat smaller areas, and two, because a little bit goes a long way. Many concealers will feel thicker than foundation and they need to be blended well to go undetected. A few areas that are prone to discoloration are the t-zone– the forehead, nose, and chin– along with the under eyes. Concealer is also great for camouflaging active breakouts or the post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that’s left after a blemish has flattened. You’ll notice that concealers are often packaged in a way that makes it easier to treat smaller areas whether that means it comes with a strategic sponge applicator like Age Rewind Eraser or a flexible, tapered wand like SuperStay Longwear Liquid Concealer.

Concealer can also be used as a highlight or contour product. You can use a shade lighter than your natural skin tone on areas that you want to brighten and a shade or two darker on areas that you want to contour like the sides of the nose, cheekbones, and jawline.

What Is the Difference Between Concealer and Foundation?

Concealer is usually more concentrated because its job is to literally conceal certain areas while foundation has a thinner consistency so that it’s able to spread across the entire face. Depending on the formula of each that you use, this can vary, but concealer having a thicker feel is typically the norm. Foundation is meant to even everything out at once and then concealer can be used as extra coverage on any spots that foundation didn’t completely cover. This approach allows your skin to still appear somewhat natural because the heavier formula isn’t covering your entire face, just the areas that needed a little extra TLC.

Foundation vs Concealer: Which Should You Apply First?

Ultimately, whether you apply your foundation or concealer first is a matter of preference, but typically foundation is the first step. (Technically, you would do your skincare, then use a primer, and then you would go in with your foundation, but in terms of foundation and concealer, foundation would go first). Using it in this order may also show you that you don’t need as much concealer if your foundation is already laying an even base.

Should you have some serious areas of discoloration that you’re looking to cover, though, it may be more beneficial to use concealer first to neutralize darkness or discoloration and then apply your foundation on top. You might even choose to apply your foundation around the areas with concealer rather than directly on top so as not to disturb it.

If you’re having a no-makeup makeup day, though, you may want to skip foundation altogether, instead focusing on really good skincare and then using your concealer to cover certain spots. In this case, it’s even more important to blend so that you can sheer out the thickness of the concealer, allowing it to appear more natural and skin-like.