How to

How to Cover Acne With Makeup Without Looking Cakey

What’s worse—having a doozy of a breakout shining bright red on your face or a bunch of caked up concealer showing how hard you tried to cover it?

Chances are you’re looking for some middle ground. And no worries. You’ll find it here, and we’ll get right to it.

In this article, we’ll go over some tips for to covering acne without looking cakey. Here’s a preview of those tips:

  1. Use a flat shader, not your finger.
  2. Use a powder concealer, or
  3. Use a hydrating, medium coverage concealer.
  4. Have realistic expectations and know when to stop.

With that, let’s discuss all of these tips in more detail!

Picture of a doll with red spots on his face
Source: @scottwebb on Unsplash.

1. Use a Flat Shader, Not Your Finger

This is my first and best tip. To make the application as precise as possible, don’t use a finger to blend out your concealer. Concealer texture is different than that of your skin or your foundation, and it shows even if you blend it way out.

After all, the texture of your skin is already different where your acne spot is. You don’t want to make it worse by changing the texture all around the spot, too!

You want to put your concealer on the acne and the acne only, blending only by dabbing.

To do that, you’ll need a very small, flat shader. Think the 207 Detailer in Real Techniques’ Flawless Base Set or the #9 detailing brush found in BH Cosmetics’ Rose Quartz brush set.

A picture of a small flat shader
BH’s #9 brush. Source.

Apply the product to the your flat shader, and then dab—don’t blend—it just where the acne spot is. Push that concealer right on there and blend only by dabbing.

This technique has been a lifesaver for me.

2. Use a Powder Concealer

If you haven’t tried using powder to conceal, you haven’t seen how beautifully you can cover up acne.

To do this, you’d want to pick up a powder concealer like the Bare Minerals’ Broad Spectrum Concealer. (I use this personally and love it, but I hesitate to recommend a company with this bad of a shade range. If you want to support a company that pays at least a little more attention to diversity, check out Clinique’s Beyond Perfecting Powder Foundation + Concealer.)

Try to get one that’s exactly a match for your skin. Don’t try to go lighter.

Beyond Perfecting in the deepest shade, Amber
Clinique’s Beyond Perfecting Powder in Amber. Source.

Next, get some product on your flat shader and use the technique I described in tip 1. You can go heavy with powder concealer, but don’t start blending it out into your surrounding non-acne-plagued skin. You’ll lose coverage the moment you try to blend it traditionally, by working it into the surrounding skin with sweeping motions or by using your fingers.

If you truly need to brush off extra powder, take the fluffiest brush you have. Then use the lightest hand to dust it off.

One last hint: on days when I need to spot conceal like this, I also make sure I’m applying a light coverage foundation. When you have a breakout, it’s tempting to go for your fullest coverage foundation, but that in itself will look cakey over acne. Powder on top of that isn’t going help.

Trust that a good powder concealer is going to do the job on its own. My Bare Minerals one has never failed me.

It’s usually liquid concealers, specifically full coverage ones, that make a coverup job look cakey. But if liquid is your jam, I have tips for you, too! That’s coming up next.

3. Or Use a Hydrating, Medium Coverage Concealer

If you find that powder concealers (or their shade ranges 🙄) aren’t a fit for you, the next best thing is a creamy, medium coverage concealer.

That’s right: medium coverage. For the love of all that’s holy, don’t use your Shape Tape if you’re trying to avoid the cakeage. Full coverage concealers are often dry-looking, and that’s not going to help with the texture you already have from the acne. Plus, full coverage concealers often look quite obvious on the face, with a clear delineation between where you started and stopped blending.

Instead, think concealers like First Aid Beauty’s Hello Fab Bendy Avocado Concealer or Nars’ Radiant Creamy Concealer. Try to get your exact shade match, not a brightening shade.

The hydrating aspect of these products means they won’t enhance your texture, and fighting the cake battle will be easier.

A picture of medium shade First Aid Beauty Bendy Avocado concealer
First Aid Beauty’s Hello Fab Bendy Avocado Concealer. Source.

Use the same technique as described in step 1—get a tiny flat shader and pat it on, bending only by dabbing and trying to keep it as confined as possible to the acne spot.

If you’re not happy with the coverage you get from a first application, you can cautiously try applying a second layer.

But if you’re truly looking to avoid the cakey look, you may have to accept tradeoffs. Let’s chat about some of those now.

4. Have Realistic Expectations and Know When to Stop

My last tip is this: girlfriend/boyfriend, use less.

Because acne is raised and often a bit flaky (especially if you couldn’t help but poke and prod at it—no shade), it’s going to have texture. When you’re covering acne, you’re only able to address the color, turning a red bump into a skintone bump. But it’s still a bump, and you’ll never make it truly invisible.

Cakey applications over acne happen when you’re determined to make the thing disappear. However, you can’t ever make it truly go away. And the more concealer you add, the more obvious it will be that you tried to do something you couldn’t.

So learn to trade the idea of “complete coverage” for letting a little of your skin show through. That’s the true way to make your application less cakey: knowing when to stop, before things start to bulk up and look unnatural.

Picture of carrot cake
Cake: good for in some cases, bad in others. Source: @caities_cakes_amsterdam on Unsplash

Embrace the fact that you’ll never make acne invisible. And we’re all human; acne is part of almost everyone’s life at some point. People understand and sympathize. Go ahead: you can release yourself from the pressure to be flawless.

But you still want to feel confident in yourself. That’s normal too! So, with that in mind, here’s the final takeaway.

If you want to avoid the cake, you have a mindset to work towards:

  • Only add enough concealer to make you feel confident…
  • AND learn to feel confident with partial coverage.

Summing Up

So, wrapping up, we’ve covered a few tips for avoiding cakey-looking makeup over acne.

First, you want to use a detailing flat shader brush, not your fingers. Next, you want to pack on some powder concealer.

If powder concealer doesn’t work for you, my second choice would be a hydrating, medium coverage concealer.

And lastly, you’ll want to know when to stop. If you aim for complete invisibility, you’ll likely wind up with cakiness. Let go of the concept of flawless and embrace the fact that you can’t cover texture.

Hope some of these tips work for you! They’re things I haven’t often seen discussed, and they’ve done miracles for me.