Terrible Tutorials: How to Cover Your Acne and Scarring

I get a fair number of tutorial requests, despite the VAST, VAST, VAST number of people on the internet who are way better at instruction-giving than I am. The two requests that I get most frequently are contouring and eyeshadow-related stuff. I’m a difficult person, though, so I’m going to do a completely different tutorial: I’m going to show you how I cover up my awful skin.

Despite that fact that I constantly tell you all how much makeup I am wearing, I mysteriously get compliments about my skin in the comments of some of my posts. I love you all, and you are very sweet, but my skin is not beautiful. (Thanks to all the makeup, for contouring, I could probably just carve hunks out of my foundation to simulate cheekbones.)

It’s relatively uncommon to see tutorials for acne-covering that involve people who actually have significant amounts of acne, since it is not joy-inducing to show everyone your scarred-up face, but I’m going to go ahead and let you see mine.

Here’s what I wake up to every morning:

As you can see, most of my acne and scarring is around my cheek and jaw area.

Start by washing your hands so you don’t exacerbate any acne problems you have already. The first step of any makeup routine, of course, is to take care of your skin. Next, I put on a sunscreen and a moisturizer.

After that, I want to give myself a really even canvas to work on. My scars make my skin bumpy and uneven, so I want to fix that as much as possible. I’m using a Smashbox primer, but you can use any primer that is advertised to fill pores. Some people break out when they use silicone-based products, so if you are one of those people, obviously don’t use one. If you don’t have a reaction to silicone, though, I find that silicone-based primers are the most effective at smoothing out skin with any sort of unpleasant texture.

I use a pea-sized amount of primer and focus my application on the areas where my acne and scarring is the worst. (If you are using the primer to fill pores, on the other hand, you’d probably need less on your cheeks.)

At this point, your skin is going to look exactly the same.
Next, I get out my beloved Tarte Amazonian Clay Foundation and its accompanying brush. You obviously can use any foundation you like. (Indeed, if you want, you’re welcome to choose a more sheer foundation and fix the acne that is left exposed with a concealer.)

I usually stick a glob of foundation on my hand and dip my brush in that. This is how much I need to do my whole face:

I start at my cheeks and, using short downward strokes, I blend my foundation into my skin, eventually covering my entire face.

I take pains to blend under my chin and into my neck.

At this point, my skin looks something like this:

Using my same brush and foundation, I add an additional thin layer over the particularly problematic areas.

Next, I break out the concealer. I’m using theBalm’s Time Bomb; you can you whatever concealer you like, as long as it is full-coverage.

I use my finger to apply.

I just pat the concealer in, bouncing my finger up and down over any place that I see redness.

My skin now looks like this

I’m looking pretty good, but I want to set all the crap I have layered onto my face. Any powder product is fine. I’m using the ELF Powdered Sunscreen and the EcoTools Powder Brush.

I tap some powder in the cap and swirl my brush…

…and then lightly cover my face.

I look the same, but… now it’s less likely to melt off my face in a flesh-covered heap.

Now you can do the rest of your makeup! Mine didn’t turn out super awesome today, but I was in a rush, so you get to deal with it.

If you’re me, you finish off by taking pictures from the front because I don’t have a lot of acne there, so it looks better.

Ta-da! Time to get dressed and brush my hair.


1. omg.. that is an amazing foundation. must get my hands on a sample! I get breakouts on my chin mainly and its a huge pain in the ass 🙁

2. It’s a good foundation. Highly recommended.

3. I bow down to your willingness to show us your bare skin. I always put on my concealer before my foundation, but I definitely see the worthiness of doing it this way — and I DEFINITELY need to check out that Tarte foundation.

4. I like being able to fix places where I didn’t get perfect coverage after I know where they are, but as long as you like your results, it doesn’t matter.

5. This is definitely the most helpful foundation tutorial I’ve ever seen! You’ve totally convinced me to switch to Tarte for my foundation, because while I don’t have acne issues I have the deepest darkest undereye circles on the planet and I feel like this stuff might actually cover them up.

6. You may want to get a sample first! I don’t know how well it will work on the undereye area.

7. I think you’re the hardest but loveliest person I ever know! I have lots of redness on my cheek, cupid bow and jaw, and I use sonia kashuk concealer over revlon colorstay foundation. I kinda like the result but not really satisfied, I might pick tarte’s in their next 30% sale 🙂

8. Let me know what you think!

9. Nice one hellocampcomfort.com. On a related note, do you have any tips for smoothing and covering spots that are quite… open? I feel like I get those more often than I’d like, possibly because I basically have to sit on my hands so as not to unconsciously pick at my face when I have a zit. I find it really hard to balance healing with covering, where the best thing would be to just leave it the fuck alone or maybe put some liquid band-aid over it for a couple of days, but that looks TERRIBLE. So I always try to make it up, it never works very well, and then I prolong the life of my horrible spot. So I think I need to find some kind of lath-and-plaster primer that smooths it all out and lets the healing happen underneath better than it would with me throwing layer upon layer of powder and stuff on it.

Also, fwiw, another goodie for this topic: http://www.lisaeldridge.com/video/12764/acneblemish-covering-make-up/

10. It might be worth it to at stick some acne medication on the wound before you cover it up?

11. oh, I’ve been on that one for years. i find they don’t really promote damage repair, which is unfortunate. some kind of primer + artificial band-aid would be ideal, but i haven’t found if anyone has invented that yet. if i find something, i will make a ton of noise about it though.

12. Hey, try a styptic stick (also called a styptic pencil). You get it wet, rub it on any open wounds, cry a little as it burns, but then it totally stops any bleeding or “weeping” of open skin. Let it dry (within a minute) and then you can cover over it. It leaves a white film, but if you wear something on top it’s not noticeable. Except, you know, the crater itself. Maybe between the smashbox and tarte foundation that would cure the rest of the issues.

13. I am totally getting one of these things.

14, I’ve also found that tea tree oil (if you get the 100% pure stuff) does a pretty good job of drying things up while doing its antibacterial thing at the same time. Probably not quite as good as a styptic stick, but surprisingly impressive.

15. La Roche Posay has an acne treatment cream that leaves a siliconey layer/film over the spot while it treats it and it’s easier to apply makeup over.

16. I wish we could be best friends! Fellow bio/chem/physics nerd here and I appreciate your bullshit-busting blog posts. Do you ever feel self conscious wearing so much makeup? I never feel awkward wearing tons of eye makeup but, even with near-perfect application, I feel very uncomfortable wearing a full face. Unfortunately, my acne is on par with yours and I wish I had the confidence to wear it all. I imagine people know I’m covering up my acne and judge me for it. My anxiety has improved a lot with improving the quality of my skin (cerave and stridex convert) since makeup simply looks better on healthy skin, but I can’t get past my hangup. Any thoughts?

17. People aren’t very observant. I doubt they notice…

You might consider applying with a lighted/magnifying mirror so you know that it’s not evident?

18. awesome tutorial! what really drives me nuts is going to all this trouble to conceal my scarring and then basically ruining it as soon as i do my blush/bronzer/contour. any time i take a brush to my face, no matter what prods i used, no matter how long it’s been, i end up disturbing the base and uncovering what i covered. :-/ very frustrating. does this happen to you?

19. Certain foundations give me this problem. You might consider trying cream products over your foundation and see if that helps. You can just pat them on, so it won’t smear anything you’ve got going on.

20. Bit of a random questions, but have you ever tried the Sephora brand brushes, or the brush set from Kat Von D?

21. I have one Sephora brush that I have no strong feelings about, and I’ve never tried the Kat Von D ones.

22. I have pretty bad scarring (though my acne isn’t near as bad as it used to be) and there are some fairly large pits in my face…I try to cover any hyper pigmentation and I use some Benefit Porefessional and that seems to help a bit but I find when I’m contouring, it looks good from far away but getting closer, it seems to exaggerate the scars. Ideas? Excellent tutorial by the way 🙂

23. Hm… I’ll think on it…

24. I wish they sold Tarte here, that coverage looks amazing!

25. Looks great. Spot concealing is a total wonder if you have time to do it but who the hell does? I love the lip shade you have here too.