Skin with Special Needs: How to Apply Corrective Makeup


Corrective makeup for skin with special needs—a bad case of acne, rosacea, blotchy pigmentation or other conditions—calls for fine-tuned techniques. Here’s how to help your clients treat and conceal their concerns

By Tracey Ho Lung

“My dad used to say makeup was a shallow girl’s sport, but it’s not. It’s armor,” author Courtney Summers writes in her new young adult novel, All the Rage. She couldn’t be more right. For many, makeup recoups self-confidence, especially for those wanting to conceal conditions like rosacea, vitiligo or the after-effects of medical treatments. Dealing with these “can be mentally challenging for people—it’s always worse in their own mind,” says Toronto makeup artist Sheri Stroh, a cancer survivor who, through Rethink Breast Cancer, shares her beauty know-how with other women affected by the disease. We asked Stroh and other camouflage pros for their best advice on working with tricky skin concerns.


Apply product sparingly, no matter how glaring the breakouts: “The last thing you want people to see is the makeup,” says Stroh. To avoid creating a mask-like effect, she prefers evening the skin with a tinted moisturizer, sheer foundation or BB cream.

Chronic acne sufferers who prefer medium to heavy coverage can find plenty of matte foundation options. But to avoid clogging pores, look for oil-free, noncomedogenic formulas, with antibacterial ingredients (such as tea tree oil) or blemish fighters like salicylic acid (a gentle exfoliator).

For the flare-up itself, choose a medium- to heavy-coverage concealer that matches the skin tone. Anything that’s illuminating, or made for under-eye circles, will generally be too light and draw attention to the pimple. Use a clean fingertip or small firm brush to pat concealer on top of the area, feathering it around the edges to blend. Set with matte powder to help it last. 

For colour cosmetics, avoid dark rosy blushes with shimmer. “Raised pimples pick up pigment and create a shadow, emphasizing the bump,” says Stroh. Instead, use a pale blush or a highlighter on tops of cheekbones—as long as the area is acne-free.

Remember, makeup can only go so far; for best results, the skin must get proper treatment, so acne sufferers should head to a derm if over-the-counter products fail to work.

Above, from left: Salicylic acid–infused BB: Vichy Normaderm BB Clear, $20, at drugstores.
Long-wear concealer: Smashbox 24 Hour CC Spot Concealer, $29, at Shoppers Drug Mart, Pharmaprix, Murale and Sephora.


With her Spring 2015 ad for Diesel, Canadian model Chantelle Winnie has helped bring vitiligo—a condition where patches of skin lose pigment—into the spotlight. “She’s made it more acceptable to forgo cover-up,” says Derek Selby, Cover FX global ambassador. Still, many with vitiligo may prefer to conceal.

To avoid ashiness, he suggests using a highly pigmented foundation with golden undertones, like Cover FX Total Cover Cream. Starting with the lighter areas (hypopigmentation), use a concealer brush to stipple on foundation a few shades deeper than the unaffected skin. Next, use the same technique to go over the same areas with a foundation matching the unaffected skin. Similarly, for port-wine stains (a purplish-red birthmark), follow the same steps, but start with the lighter base; continue with one matching the natural skin tone. To set the makeup, apply powder to a brush or puff and use a “press and roll” motion. 

Above, from left: Flawless foundation: Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Foundation, $50, at Sephora. Soft-focus powder: Nars Soft Velvet Loose Powder, $44, at Sephora, Hudson’s Bay, Murale, Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom.


People recovering from cancer treatment often experience major dryness, so switching to better moisturizing skincare (such as a cream-based or oil cleanser) is key before even considering makeup. Paleness or loss of colour in the face is also common, so Stroh swears by blush, highlighter and a bit of bronzer. If eyebrows have dwindled due to treatment, amp them up with a waxy brow pencil, then blend using a clean mascara wand.

For skin that has undergone in-office cosmetic treatments (such as microdermabrasion), dryness and sensitivity can also be a factor. One solution is to blend a bit of foundation into any gentle, ultra-hydrating moisturizer. Concentrated makeup pigments such as Cover FX Custom Cover Drops are designed specifically for mixing with skincare; add one drop for a see-through finish, or up to four for total coverage.

Above, from left: Made-to-measure foundation: Cover FX Custom Cover Drops, $44, at Sephora. Lipid-rich moisturizer: Marcelle Ultra Gentle Moisturizing Cream, $19, at drugstores.


“Problems that affect the texture of skin cannot easily be camouflaged,” says cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Suzanne Gagnon, co-founder of Dermatologie Face Au Temps in Laval, QC. So for those suffering from severe, uncontrolled eczema, it’s best to nix all cosmetics and go straight to a derm. But if the eczema is mild and not inflamed, Selby’s trick is to create a barrier between skin and makeup with a hydrating primer. Use a sponge to gently massage primer into the skin. Then apply liquid foundation in long strokes with a brush. If more coverage is needed, pat concealer onto the area with a clean sponge. “Do this slowly; the more you manipulate the skin, the more it’ll become lifted and irritated,” says Selby. Set the foundation with a finely milled matte powder.

The rule of thumb when covering a scar is to use a light concealer on a darker scar, or vice versa. After patting on a matte product (scars are usually shiny), finish with a softly tinted powder.

Above, from left: Hydrating primer: Marc Jacobs Under(Cover) Perfecting Coconut Face Primer, $55, at Sephora. Full-cover concealer: Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Complete Coverage Concealer, $34, at Sephora and select Shoppers Drug Mart stores.


Using unsuitable skincare or makeup is a common rosacea trigger, so mindful product choice is a must. Since rosacea = deficient skin barrier = dry skin, opt for a calming moisturizer with anti inflammatory ingredients like niacinamide (vitamin B3). Avoid formulas with fragrance and other potentially irritating ingredients like witch hazel and salicylic acid.

As with eczema, use of a calming primer will create a protective barrier against makeup. To keep skin aggravation at a minimum, dab on a liquid foundation with a damp Beauty Blender sponge (this minimizes pulling of the skin), then gently press with a talc-free powder to set. Similar to acne-prone skin, skip blush or anything rosy-hued, and instead draw attention away from facial redness by playing up eyes with smoky shadow.

Above, from left: Calming moisturizer: Reversa Anti-Redness Soothing Care, $34, at drugstores. Hyaluronic acid–boosted base: Too Faced Born This Way Foundation, $49, at Sephora.

This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Cosmetics magazine.