Unsure of whether to apply concealer or foundation first? Here's a make-up artist's answer

This is one make-up rule you don't want to break

woman with glowing skin
(Image credit: Getty Images)

There are make-up rules which are made to be broken. Use your lipstick as a blush, sure. Eyeshadow as brow filler? Go for it. Eye cream all over your face? Why not, if the occasion calls for it. But even if you're wearing the best foundation in the world, you really don't want to use it in the wrong part of your routine. In fact, whether or not to apply concealer or foundation first has been a highly debated topic in beauty for years—and I've got the answer.

As a make-up artist myself, I know all too well the importance of artful foundation application and the key foundation mistakes to avoid, particularly if you want a seamless, natural-looking finish.

Madeleine Spencer
Madeleine Spencer

Madeleine’s make-up style is informed by classic techniques combined with a modern, fresh aesthetic. She is known for creating beautiful skin, and as a former acne-sufferer fully understands how a glowing base can really boost confidence. 

Madeleine has worked with Nike, Space NK, The Outnet, and Elle UK among others, has had her work and make-up tips featured in publications like Vogue UK, The Telegraph, and Get The Gloss. 

Before I tell you how precisely which order to apply your foundation and concealer in, I'm going to tell you a secret we make-up artists have been privy to for years: the best tinted moisturisers, best dewy foundations, and best concealers can all be used in different ways to do one another's jobs, at a pinch. It's all down to the formula you pick, and how you apply it. 

If you find yourself with only enough budget for one or the other, or you've run out of one and haven't replaced it yet, the trick is to sheer out a concealer (you could do this by buffing it in or by mixing it with a tiny bit of moisturiser), and to tap tap tap your foundation on until you build up the coverage.

That said, picking up a foundation and separate concealer is going to make your life easier - here's a rough guide of the job of foundation and concealer when used traditionally:


Foundation is designed to be spread over a wider area than concealer, and rather than intensively cover, think of it more as a unifying wash to add a nice filtered effect, a bit of a blur, and a degree of coverage, depending on the formula.

My go-to foundation:


The name concealer is apt: it conceals. Redness, dark circles, bruises all require cracking out the concealer. You can apply the tiniest dash of it to pinpoint conceal (a technique championed by the make-up artist Lisa Eldridge), or stipple it over larger areas of acne with a good concealer brush

My go-to concealer:

What goes first: foundation or concealer?

While heavily debated, unequivocally, the best habit to be in is to apply foundation first, and concealer second. 

There are three important reasons for this:

  1. Foundation, if applied all over skin, will make skin appear more even and smooth all over - but it won't cover each little bit of redness or discolouration. 
  2. If you apply concealer first, putting the foundation on will move it, so all your work will be undone, and you'll have just wasted the product.
  3. More often than not, if you have a soft-blur effect foundation, you don't need half as much concealer as you think, and can apply it quite discriminately.

Remember that a thin dusting of powder will lock things in place for longer, so try applying a little to get the most out of your foundation and concealer.

Madeleine Spencer

Madeleine Spencer is a journalist and broadcaster who has contributed to titles including Grazia, Glamour, InStyle, The Independent, The Evening Standard, and Stylist, as well as offering commentary for the BBC, Sky News, and ITV.

She is keen on exploring the significance beauty rituals, products, and memories have on people from different walks of life, and enters into conversation on the topic with guests on her podcast, Beauty Full Lives.