The desire to cover our "imperfections" goes back a long way. In 18th-century England, men and women caked their faces in toxic lead-based makeup, preferring to risk death over letting their smallpox scars show; as far back as Ancient Egypt, King Tut was found to have been buried with his anti-acne treatments. You'd think even the most persistent breakouts wouldn't be able to follow you into the afterlife.
But with the sheer variety of concealers on the market — liquids, creams, even powders — it can be hard to tell which ones are for blemishes, and which ones are for dark circles, and which ones are for redness, and which of them even do anything in the first place. "There are a lot of misconceptions about concealer, especially what's actually best to use under the eyes or for blemish coverage," makeup artist Keeley Wilson confirms. And when it comes to the under-eye area in particular, a lot of people are doing it wrong.
"Everyone seems to think that you need to buy a lighter shade to help 'brighten,' but in reality that will only make any darkness look ashier," Wilson says — and if your under-eye concealer still isn't working out for you, there's one big step that you're probably missing, too. "Think about it this way: If you had a purple wall in your bedroom you wanted to paint white, you wouldn't just go straight in with the white," she explains. "The darkness of the purple would show through, so you'd use a primer first to knock the color out. It's the same principle here; if you have a lot of darkness under the eye, use a corrector to take the worst out of it first."
Aside from ashiness, creasing under the eyes is enough to make you want to just put on sunglasses and forget about it. "I can’t recommend using an eye cream first enough. It’ll help to keep the area hydrated, so the concealer will feel and look less caky," Wilson says. "The other thing is to use the right tools. I like to use a brush to apply my concealer, and then use my ring finger to pat over the top to take off any excess. The warmth from your finger will help to blend the product, making it look more like skin."
If your under-eye area is particularly dry, Wilson has some additional advice: "Use a concealer that has a slightly thinner texture. Apply a small amount of eye cream to prep first, then use a brush to apply the concealer under the eye in an inverted triangle shape, making sure to blend the product out so that it’s not too thick. Then once you’re happy with how it’s looking, take a translucent powder and dust some over to keep creasing at bay."
You'll be relieved to know that the battle to hide blemishes is considerably easier than the one against stubborn dark circles. As a rule of thumb, Wilson says to opt for a cream or liquid concealer the same shade as your foundation — you can even choose one with salicylic acid or other zit-busting ingredients — and start by picking up your brush. "Fingers aren't best for these thicker textures, as you'll only end up removing a lot of the concealer as you go," Wilson says. "I always do foundation first, then use a small brush to dab concealer on, and then finish with loose powder. You really can't afford to skip powder if you want it to stay."
But covering up blemishes and dark circles isn't the only thing concealer is good for. Heavy-duty formulas can hide everything from uneven skin texture to tattoos and surgery scars, and Wilson uses it on her clients to highlight brow bones, tidy up lip lines, and even create a base before lipstick to achieve truer tones. Her handiest hack? "Use it to mask any newly-grown hairs when you're in between brow appointments," she says. Really, what can't concealer do?