The Proper Way to Cover Up Cystic Acne, According to a Makeup Artist

State of Skin is our monthlong exploration of what women love, hate, and need to know about their skin — from the most common concerns to the best kept secrets in beauty.

How to Cover Cystic Acne
Photo: Leandro Crespi/Stocksy

I never thought I would still be dealing with cystic acne in my 30s, but here I am, with a cluster of painful, swollen red bumps on my jawline. But the only thing harder than getting rid of cystic pimples is covering them up with makeup, especially when you use the wrong products. They'll get cakey and settle into the blemish, drawing even more attention to it.

"The texture of acne and active breakouts are what makes concealing it tough," says New York City-based makeup artist Neil Scibelli. "Also, when you're treating your acne, often times the side effects can dry out and/or irritate your skin causing flakiness or redness. Those conditions can be tricky to layer makeup over."

Basically, successfully covering up cystic acne comes down to picking the right makeup products, along with how you use them. That's why I turned to Scibelli for his tips on how to properly camouflage even the most killer cystic breakouts.

Moisturize First

Speaking from firsthand experience, acne treatments can dry the hell out of your skin. This can make the area around the pimple you want to cover flaky, even before you add foundation or concealer into the mix. That's why it's important to prep your skin by moisturizing it before you going in with any makeup products.

"I know that the idea of moisturizing can seem deceiving if you have a breakout, but it will actually help your foundation glide on a lot smoother," says Scibelli. He recommends a lightweight, dermatologist-approved moisturizer that contains calming ingredients like chamomile or oats such as Aveeno Ultra Calming Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15.

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Aveeno Ultra-Calming Daily Facial Moisturizer with SPF 15

Color Correct

A green color corrector is like a primer for pimples. "This will neutralize and cancel out the red tone before applying your foundation and/or concealer," says Scibelli. Urban Decay makes a great creamy liquid color corrector that goes on smooth with a brush, or you can tap it on with your fingers.

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Urban Decay Naked Skin Color Correcting Fluid

Use an Acne-Friendly Concealer

If you're a minimalist when it comes to your skincare and makeup routine, Scibelli suggests using a concealer with built-in acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. Bareminerals Blemish Rescue Spot Concealer is a full-coverage stick that's formulated to heal pimples and minimize redness.

When applying concealer, Scibelli says to use a synthetic concealer brush or your clean ring finger to tap the product onto the area. "I've found that a patting motion builds the product on the specific area and keeps it in place," he explains. "To finish, add a light sweep of powder over the area to mattify and minimize the pimple's shape and texture."

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Bareminerals Blemish Rescue Spot Concealer

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Don't Wear a Shimmery Foundation

If you want full coverage, go with a foundation formula that doesn't contain any shimmer because it will accentuate the texture of the pimple. "It's also important to assess your skin's sensitivity and perhaps shop for products that are oil-free and acne-friendly," says Scibelli.

He likes Neutrogena's Healthy Skin Liquid Makeup Foundation with SPF 20 because it has a soft, demi-matte finish, plus SPF coverage. "Sunscreen is important to wear during the day — especially if you're using topical acne treatments, because they can make skin extra sensitive to sun exposure," Scibelli says.

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Neutrogena Healthy Skin Liquid Makeup Foundation, Broad Spectrum SPF 20

Swap Blush for Bronzer

"Adding a sweep of matte bronzer as a blush instead of a red-toned blush is something I do on clients when I don't want their cheeks to look too red," says Scibelli. Fenty Beauty's Sun Stalk'r Instant Warmth Bronzer comes in eight matte shades that match a vast range of skin tones and their corresponding undertones.

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Fenty Beauty Sun Stalk'r Instant Warmth Bronzer
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