The Best Way to Conceal Dark Spots and Blemishes

If there’s one makeup technique that separates pros from amateurs, it’s complexion work. Convincingly faking perfect skin with makeup requires a working knowledge of color theory, lighting, skin types, and cosmetic formulations—not to mention lots of experience.

I’ve never had great skin, but after years and years of dermatologist-guided trial and error, my acne is finally starting to chill out. Even though I still have some hyperpigmentation spots and the odd zit, I only wear foundation to big events. The most I’ll do on a daily basis is some spot concealing, which is the single best technique for hiding dark spots while maintaining an overall realistic appearance.

If you struggle with foundation—whether it’s color match woes, ingredient sensitivity, or mid-day cake-face syndrome—or just plain don’t like it, spot concealing can even out your skin tone without looking like a mask. Here’s how to do it.

Protect Your Skin

Makeup can’t magically flatten raised bumps or smooth out flakes, so if you need to conceal zits, scabs, or other rough texture, preparation is everything. I’m a huge believer in Vaseline, which I apply to my still-wet face right after cleansing. This keeps my skin moisturized all day and protects it from potential acne triggers in sunscreen and/or makeup. Any active pimples or flaky areas get a generous extra glob, which I allow to sit for at least five minutes; I remove the excess with a Q-tip just before applying concealer.

For hygiene reasons, I don’t recommend attempting to cover open wounds with makeup, but if you have a juicy zit to deal with, here’s what to do. Just after removing the Vaseline with a Q-Tip, press some translucent powder on top of the zit with a powder puff or sponge and let it sit for a minute; repeat if needed. This should give you a canvas that’s moisturized enough to not look flaky, but dry enough to hold onto concealer.

Choose The Right Color

Most people wear concealer that’s way too light for them. It’s easy to see why: if you need to cover a dark spot, reaching for something super-light to counteract that darkness makes intuitive sense.

Unfortunately, that’s not how pigment works. White pigment turns dark spots gray rather than fully concealing them, so your concealer needs to be roughly as dark as whatever you’re trying to cover up. Most people need, at most, two concealer shades: an orange-based color for blue or purple shadows and a yellow-based one for redness.

Here are four concealers applied heavily just below my jawline (L-R: Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in Sx09, Kevyn Aucoin SSE in Sx06, NYX Dark Circle Concealer in Fair, Tarte Shape Tape concealer in Light Sand).

The lighter shades closely match my skin tone, but they have way too much white to cover my post-acne spots, undereye circles, or even the redness on my cheeks—so the darker shades are actually perfect.

Let’s start where most concealers do: dark circles. On my right eye (your left), I used the NYX Dark Circle Concealer in Fair; on my left (your right), I used the Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in Sx09. (I applied and blended both with my finger.) The white pigments in the NYX concealer leave a grey cast, but my left eye looks great; the difference is especially noticeable in natural light.

Next, let’s talk about redness. Everyone knows that green cancels red, so green concealer is a seemingly logical choice for redness. However, skin redness isn’t pure red; it’s a combination of visibly engorged blood vessels (red) and assorted levels of melanins (mostly brown and black, with some red). Those brown and black pigments are what make the ubiquitous mint green concealer stick useless for most people: adding green and white to dark, reddish-purple brown just makes a lighter, grayer brown.

Yellow concealers work better on redness for the vast majority of people—but again, too much white is bad news. On my right cheek (your left), I applied Tarte Shape Tape concealer in Light Sand; on my left, Kevyn Aucoin Sensual Skin Enhancer in Sx06. (I applied the Tarte with my finger and the Kevyn Aucoin with a tiny brush; I blended both with fingers.) The lighter concealer knocked back the redness, but left behind a definite grey cast.

The same thing happens with zits and hyperpigmentation marks. I used Shape Tape to cover the zit on the right side of my chin, and it did okay—but check out how much better the darker, yellow concealer handled things.

Use The Tiniest Brush You Can Find

Dispensing small amounts of super opaque formulas allows you to build up coverage gradually, which is always better than slapping too much on at once and trying to blend it away. To do this, you need a truly itsy-bitsy brush.

You probably won’t find the perfect brush for detail work at Sephora or Ulta, but your local art supply store has your back. My spot concealer brush is a 10/0 synthetic-bristle spotter from a set designed for painting miniature figurines.

If you don’t have an art supply store nearby, order an inexpensive set of brushes from your online retailer of choice. Sets are packaged much more securely than individual brushes, and you’re more likely to find a favorite if you have a few to choose from. (Plus, any extras are great for eyeliner.)

To conceal wide areas—like my cheek redness and undereye circles—I dip the end of my brush into the concealer, apply it in a crosshatch pattern across the area, and tap with a finger to blend.

For dark spots, I apply two or three individual dots of concealer directly on the darkest area, then press and tap with the tip of a finger to distribute the pigment. If it’s still showing through, I’ll repeat this process and/or add a dot of the orange concealer to knock back any residual darkness.

Don’t Skip Powder

Base makeup is kind of like a brick wall: powder particles are the bricks that give it structure, and creams and liquids are the mortar that holds it together. (I guess fixing sprays are weatherproof sealants in this analogy, which is pretty apt.)

If you don’t set your meticulously-applied spot concealer with powder, it’ll melt off your face right away—ruining all your hard work. My love for puffs and sponges is well-documented, and they’re especially important here. No other tool can lay down the solid sheet of powder that you need to lock concealer in place. I like a pointed velour puff for precise powder application.

Once you’ve powdered over your painstaking concealer work, you’re ready to apply the rest of your makeup. Whether it’s a mascara-and-lip balm day or you’re in the mood for a lot of color, an flawlessly spot-concealed base will ensure you look your best.

Use Soap to Shape and Tame Your Brows.

Thick, fluffy brows—you know, the ones you plucked into submission in the 90s that refuse to regrow—are making a serious comeback. For those of us with naturally “meh” brows, the deluge of readily available tinted eyebrow gels in recent years has been a godsend: a good gel emphasizes the hairs you already have, making it that much easier to pretend your brows are naturally luscious.

I love a tinted fiber-gel, but they tend to smear all over my skin and make a mess—and they just don’t hold my brows in place all that well. Enter “soap brows,” a technique that’s been enjoying a resurgence in popularity since Sam Chapman of Pixiwoo published a video about the technique in June 2016. I tried it around that time and remember feeling underwhelmed—my eyebrow hairs are wiry and long enough to go a bit curly when brushed straight up, which is too much of a Look for daily wear. Recently, though, I ran out of the tinted eyebrow gel I like, and decided to give good ol’ soap another shot. After a bit of fiddling, I’ve got my technique down pat, and it’s now an indispensable part of my makeup routine. If you’re curious about soap brows, or have been disappointed by them before, here’s how to set yourself up for success.

First things first, you need the right equipment: a bar of translucent glycerin soap, a spoolie brush (I buy mine in big packs because they’re useful as hell), and a small dish of water.

Start with a bare face; since it literally washes away pigments, soap needs to be the first step of your entire makeup application. Brushing your brows into place also makes sparse areas super obvious, so you’ll probably end up needing less color through your brows than you’d think. Speaking of which, use a powder or pomade with this method; pencils don’t play nicely with dried soap.

Brush through your brows with your spoolie to get the hairs pointing roughly the same direction. Swish the brush around in the water, tap it several times on the edge of the glass to knock off the excess, and gently rub the tip on soap just until you see some suds. (Keeping the suds confined to the tip of the brush makes it much harder to over-apply, so resist the urge to mash the whole thing around on the soap.)

Use just the tip of the brush to deposit soap through the unruliest part of your eyebrows first—for me, that’s the wiry ones right around my arch—and then move onto other areas. Keep brushing the hairs as you go, coaxing them into the shape you’re after. Folks with really sparse brows should comb their hairs straight up towards the hairline, but if you start getting a wild, curly-brow effect, brush straight across the craziest hairs to nudge them back into shape.

Repeat the process until you’re stoked on the shape, then let the soap dry while you do the rest of your makeup. If it turns white as it dries, you used too much soap; wet your brush again, tap it off, and brush through gently to remove any excess dried soap.

When the soap has fully dried, use a very small, thin brush—I use this $2 Essence brush—to sparingly apply powder or pomade in soft, hairlike strokes just where you need it. Powder is subtle and forgiving and really adheres to the soap residue, so that’s usually what I use, but if I need something truly bulletproof, I use Make Up For Ever Aqua Brow. It’s also liquid-y enough that I can get a super fine point on my brush, which makes for incredibly realistic hairlike strokes.

Very few makeup techniques are truly universal, but this is as close as it gets. Whether your brows are incredibly sparse or thick to the point of being unruly, a bit of soap allows you to manipulate them into any shape you like—and hold them there all day.

Use a Spoon to Help Shape Your Eyebrow Arch

The cool thing about eyebrows is they come in all different shapes and you can hone that shape by plucking or filling them in. A simple tool can help with this and you probably have it lying around the house: a spoon.

Refinery29 shows you how it’s done, but it’s a pretty simple process. You just use the curved edge of the spoon as a guideline, then fill in your brows as normal. Or, if you’re trying to pluck them into shape, you can use the spoon to draw a line, then pluck below the line.

The idea isn’t to use the spoon as a template for your brows, just as a guideline to make sure your arch follows an even curve. It’s an easy way to ensure you don’t pluck or fill in too high or low above your natural arch. The spoon’s gentle curve gives your brows a soft arch and works well to make sure both brows are even, too. For more detail, head to their full post at the link below.

How to Make Highlighter Look Like Your Own Beautiful Skin

Most people who wear makeup do so to look like a better version of themselves; “better” translates roughly to “prettier,” which is almost invariably code for “younger.” A fresh, youthful glow has long been the desired outcome of makeup application, and the recent explosion of highlighting means it’s easier to achieve than ever.

Well, sort of—the vast majority of highlighters on the market are developed with smooth, young, perfectly lit skin in mind. If you’re older than 25, experimenting with highlighter can be frustrating. Fine lines and wrinkles are so thoroughly stigmatized that even people who aren’t self-conscious about theirs are unlikely to intentionally emphasize them with something shiny—which is exactly what super-intense highlighters marketed towards The Youths will do.

I’m only 29, but I apply highlighter very differently than I did even two years ago. It’s not impossible to make heavy highlighter look great—even up close in natural lighting!—but it does take a bit of finesse.

Choose the Best Formula for You

The difference between “Wow, your skin is amazing” and “Is there eyeshadow on your cheek?” is in the formula. Ideally, a shimmery highlighter is invisible until it catches the light—and then it beams.

This is much easier to find in liquid or cream formulas. Liquid highlighters evenly suspend shimmery pigment particles in a translucent base that evaporates as it’s blended out, leaving behind nothing but a beautiful sheen. If you need your highlighter to smooth over textured skin, go for a cream or liquid.

Powder highlighters tend to be much more opaque, and thus less forgiving. Sheer, harder-pressed formulas work best; these all look pretty unimpressive in swatches, but dynamite on my face.

Reflective eyeshadows with translucent base pigments make great highlighters too.

Soft, dense powders look beautiful when swatched, but can emphasize skin texture like crazy. Check out how much more Tin Man-esque my fingers look here!

You might be wondering why I haven’t discussed color. To be honest, color matters nowhere near as much as texture: huge shade mismatches aside (too-light highlighters look ashy on dark skin, and too-dark highlighters look muddy on light skin), subtle color variations in highlighters are imperceptible once applied. As long as the non-reflective parts of the formula are translucent, any highlighter color—from champagne to bronze to green to icy pink—can look surprisingly natural.

Use the Right Brush for Powders

I applied and blended powder highlighters with my fingers for years. Fingers are the perfect tool for liquid and cream highlighter, but if you’re working with an opaque powder, they can make for a really harsh application—especially on skin with any trace of uneven texture.

These days, I apply powder highlighter with a brush. The right highlighter brush should be dense enough to pick up powder and stiff enough to buff it in, but anything too dense and too stiff runs the risk of depositing too much at once. I find that this tapered, fluffy-ish brush from (the incredibly named) BS-MALL and a Real Techniques Base Shadow brush do everything I need. Both have a tapered shape, which I prefer, and the synthetic bristles are exactly dense and stiff enough. I use the bigger brush for broad, diffuse applications of sheerer formulas, and the smaller one when I want more intensity and/or precision.

If none of your brushes do a great job with powder highlighter, I wholeheartedly endorse buying a cheap set of synthetic-fiber brushes on AliExpress or Amazon—that’s where the bigger brush came from. Always do your research, but thanks to private labeling, many of those sets are shockingly good: soft, easy-to-use, and plenty durable to stand up to regular washing.

Think Outside the Cheekbone

Reflective makeup emphasizes the area it’s applied to, which can dramatically alter bone structure—in well-lit, heavily edited photos. In real life, packing shimmery pigment on an area that recedes into shadow results in nothing but a very fancy, sparkly shadow. If you don’t have naturally prominent cheekbones, highlighting them aggressively can quickly veer into “fancy shadow” territory, but there are plenty of other options.

The easiest way to figure out where to apply highlighter is to look at your bare face head-on in a mirror, a few steps back from a window that receives indirect sunlight. Smile a few times, tilt your head—basically, pull some faces. Where—and when—do you see the darkest shadows? Highlighter will look the most natural when applied directly above those shadows, so choose spots that emphasize your favorite feature(s) and go from there.

My cheeks are my favorite feature; they’re cute, chubby, and provide some truly primo blush real estate. They also cast a serious shadow when I smile, and I’ve found that blending a bit of highlighter directly on the apples of my cheeks catches the light whenever they move—so a smile literally lights up my face. I also like my eyes, which are deep-set and fairly close together. Highlighting my brow bone emphasizes my deep crease rather than fighting it, and adding a bit to the bridge of my nose draws attention to my eyes in a flattering way.

Everyone’s face is different, so these specific suggestions may or may not work for you. The important thing to keep in mind is that even if you love a shiny cheekbone—I certainly do—highlighting a few additional features makes for a more diffuse glow, which always looks more realistic. (Have you ever seen someone sweat only from their cheekbones? Me neither.) Oily-skinned folks are cautioned against taking a more-is-more approach to highlighter, but I’m constantly surprised at how great I look when I recklessly dust it all over my face. It’s counterintuitive, but it really works.


When it comes to highlighter, and makeup in general, there’s one final thing to keep in mind: Instagram is an endless pit of lies. Photos of beautiful people with shiny cheekbones are the product of expensive continuous-source lights, even more expensive cameras, careful posing, heavy post-processing, and (usually) an undisclosed sum of sponsorship cash from at least one cosmetic brand. This is what the highlighter looked like in natural lighting, but I still had to mess with the highlights/shadows and whites/blacks in Lightroom for it to really show up.

What looks good on camera usually looks pretty wacky in daylight. Apply your makeup as close to a window as possible, and give yourself a break if you don’t look airbrushed. In natural light, nobody does—not even the beautiful people on Instagram.

A Beginner’s Guide to Makeup for Men.

Who says men can’t use makeup and other beauty products marketed toward women? With the help of some nice people at a local makeup store (and my girlfriend), I found some items that even the manliest of men can use discreetly and comfortably. Trust me, the only thing people will notice is how good you look.

Exfoliating Scrubs

Nothing looks worse than a bunch of crusty, flaky skin on your face. No, don’t pick at it. And don’t drench your skin in lotion hoping it will make it go away. That skin is dead and needs to be removed! Exfoliating scrubs will do the trick so your moisturizers will actually do something. A good scrub also gives your skin a nice glow to counteract any dullness in your skin tone.

I tried two exfoliating scrubs, both primarily made with natural ingredients. For my face, I used Fresh Sugar Face Polish that’s a mix of brown sugar and strawberry seeds (it smells good enough to eat). For my lips, I went with Bite’s Agave Sugar Lip Scrub. They’re both pretty similar, so you could probably get away with having just one really good exfoliating scrub. Wash your face, use the scrub, wash it off.

Facial Moisturizer and Lip Balm

Dudes, moisturize your face. It’s scientifically proven that moisturizers make your skin look better and help it do a better job serving as a barrier to the outside world. Moisturize at least once a day, but make it twice a day if you’re more active or spend a lot of time outdoors. I have pretty fair skin, so I use a moisturizer that includes broad spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen as well, like Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisturizer with Sunscreen. And after you use a lip scrub to get rid of all that dead skin, don’t forget to use a good moisturizing lip balm that will make sure your lips stay looking nice.

Primer or Finishing Powder

If you tend to have a shiny face, or your moisturizer seems to amp up the shininess for you, a primer can help even you out. This magical liquid smoothes out your skin and reduces shininess by giving your skin a matte finish. It also reduces the appearance of pores if they tend to draw too much attention. I went with Smashbox’s super popular Photo Finish Foundation Primer and it works pretty great. Apply to your T-zone and anywhere else that needs a little evening out.

Translucent finishing powder is similar to primer in how it gives your skin a matte finish, hides pores, and reduces shininess. The downside is that it can be the most visible of the products here if you’re not careful. Over-powdering will make it apparent that you’re wearing makeup, especially if you have facial hair. I gave Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Blotting Powder a go and it was fine and light. Could barely tell I’d put any on.

Color Corrector

I first learned about the magic of color corrector on Netflix’s new version of Queer Eye. Grooming expert Jonathan Van Ness recommended something called a “green stick” to help improve the skin tone of one of the shows makeover subjects. This man had harsh red undertones in his skin, and a little green color corrector reduced the redness drastically. I also have red undertones in my skin, so I gave Sephora’s store brand of green color corrector a try and it helped even my skin out quite a bit.

If you don’t have red undertones, yellow color corrector can help hide purple or other darker tones on tan skin, orange hides dark spits on dark skin tones, peach hides blue or purple on light tan skin, lavender hides yellow tones, and pink hides blue tones on fair skin. Talk to someone at a makeup store if you’re not sure what your skin tones are. When you’ve got the right color, lightly apply anywhere you have tones that need to be evened out, like under your eyes or around your nose, then blend with your finger or a pad.

Concealer

Concealer is the most makeup-y item on this list. It completely hides your blemishes, evens out dark circles under your eyes, and gives your skin tone an even finish in areas where your coloring is a little different. The hard part is identifying your skin tone to a specific brand’s coloring options. There’s only one way to do that and it involves going into the store and trying them all out on the back of your hand.

I eventually landed on Kat Von D’s Lock-it Concealer Creme because it’s not too thick, it lasts a long time, and it doesn’t act like paint and crease (making it obvious that you’re wearing concealer). It did a bang up job of hiding one of my blemishes. You just apply a tiny bit, then use your finger to gently blend.

10 Cleaning Hacks For Parents

Children create a big mess. There’s no getting around it. Sometimes the spills and scuffs and scratches can be stressful and exasperating. Here are a few cleaning hacks that can help you combat the ever-increasing number of oops moments your kids wreak on your house & home.

1. Lemons + salt

This simple combo is great at getting out sweat stains from kids’ shirts. Wet the stain with lemon juice and then cover in salt and rub away. Afterwards, wash as usual.

2. Dust buster

Dryer sheets easily attract and grab up dust lurking in corners and hard-to-reach spots.

3. Thank god for baking soda

You can remove crayon markings form your walls by using a paste mixture of baking soda and water. Similarly, this paste can be used to remove smelly urine or poo stains from clothing. Baking soda can also be piled into vomit stains, and then vacuumed up, easily removing stains and pieces.

4. Toothpaste 

Who knew that it cleans marker stains and dirty sneaker soles?!

5. Baby wipes clean everything

You know that industrial size box of baby wipes you bought at Costco? Well, the good news is that they can clean almost anything: kitchen surfaces, bathrooms, household objects, and even awkward spills on your clothes.

6. Vinegar + dish soap  + salt 

This mixture can destroy lots of hardcore carpet stains.

7. Vinegar

You can use vinegar to disinfect and deodorize kids’ sippy cups and bottles.

8. WD-40

This garage freezing agent can also freeze crayon stains on a kid’s t-shirt, making them easy to then scrape off with a knife.

9. Hydrogen peroxide + dish soap + baking soda

Another miracle mixture that will eliminate heavy-duty stains around the house. Just be careful of the peroxide’s bleaching power.

10. Toys minus germs

Plastic toys can be easily cleaned and disinfected with a go in the dishwasher. Dolls and teddy bears, however, should be washed using a delicate cycle in the washing machine.