How To Do Your Makeup When You Have Melasma, According To A Professional Makeup Artist

If you have hyperpigmentation, chances are that the following scene sounds familiar: You visit Sephora®, Ulta Beauty®, or other makeup-selling retailers regularly. Your explicit goal every time is to test the newest, fullest coverage foundation and concealer formulas — yet you typically leave disappointed. You’re not alone in your struggle to hide these frustrating darker spots. Hyperpigmentation is an extremely common skin condition, and one of the most prevalent forms of it is melasma.

According to Dr. Michael Kaminer, founding partner at SkinCare PhysiciansTM in Boston, Massachusetts, the three main drivers that exacerbate melasma are sun exposure, hormonal changes, and heat; harsh, irritating skincare products can also be culprits. However, once you find yourself suffering from it, it’s likely that you’re up for a lifelong challenge. “Melasma tends to come and go, and you are always going to battle it — no matter how good you are at avoiding these factors,” Dr. Kaminer explains. “I view melasma treatment as less curative and more controlling. We can custom fit solutions for people to keep the condition as under control as possible.” 

That being said, people who find themselves in the difficult position of hiding their discoloration often purchase numerous foundations and concealers on a constant search for a solution. As a professional makeup artist, I see it quite frequently, and I warn against it. That’s because in an effort to hide the dark areas, many spackle their skin with too much heavy makeup. While  thick foundation can help create an even skin tone, it also typically results in a cakey, made-up look. If that’s not the error being made, it’s that some choose formulas that match their melasma, resulting in the entire face appearing three to four shades too dark.

Shade matching errors aside, it’s essential to find products that work and to learn how to best conceal your discoloration without overdoing it. (Remember — you don’t have to apply heavy coverage to your entire face just because you have a few areas with dark spots!) Keep reading for my four simple steps to flawless, even skin.

Step 1: Prime

I always recommend using a primer, no matter what makeup you plan on applying over it. For those that want high coverage, primer is especially important to ensure the wearability of your makeup and create smooth, even skin. Beyond helping your look last longer, it can also help diffuse the look of discoloration and melasma on its own, before you even put on concealer. 

For those with fair complexions, consider Smashbox® 24-Hour Photo Finish® Even Tone Primer ($39). This apricot-toned primer helps color-correct dark spots and discoloration while simultaneously smoothing out fine lines and pores. Similarly, the tinted beautyblender® The Leveler® Primer in Tan-Deep ($32) can help correct shade discrepancies on deeper complexions before foundation is applied. Note that when a primer is labeled “Even Tone,” you should avoid it if it’s a shade of green. Those are meant to neutralize redness (such as when its caused by rosacea or breakouts), not dark patches. This is all a precursor to targeted color correcting, which we’ll focus on in the next step.

Step 2: Correct

Color correctors are the major piece of the puzzle when covering melasma. Some may believe that correctors and concealers are interchangeable, but this is not the case. Instead of hiding a skin concern like a concealer does, correctors are designed to neutralize the hue of a trouble spot using color theory. For example, the aforementioned green primers counteract red skin concerns. 

Think back to the color wheel in your elementary art school class: green and red are opposite colors. When green-tinted makeup is slicked over red skin, the blue tones cancel out the redness, effectively neutralizing the severity of the red tones. In order to counteract the look of dark areas on your skin, seek out deep orange and peach tones. They can cover and balance the spots to make them look more like a natural, flesh-like hue. 

Though this seems like an unnecessary addition to your morning routine, it’s completely worth it: the chances that you’ll find a concealer or foundation that can work as effectively as a corrector are slim to none. It is an easy step — you simply apply it like concealer and let it dry. Plus, you don’t have to spend much money on this new product:: my favorite correctors can be found in the drugstore for under $5. L.A. Girl Pro.Conceal® Orange ($5, best for deeper skin tones) and Peach ($5, for lighter complexions) correctors work like a dream, and do not crease or wear off throughout the day. Once the spots are corrected, a full-coverage foundation can be applied seamlessly.

Step 3: Cover

Full-coverage foundation is always the best bet when it comes to evening out skin discoloration. “Longwear” and/or “waterproof” are two words to look for on packaging when you have melasma. After all, you don’t want your makeup to fade after you’ve spent time carefully covering your dark spots. Consider looking for matte coverage — it is typically the longest wearing type of foundation.  

For those that have been wary of matte formulas in the past, we understand — many of these foundations can appear thick or cakey, which is as equally undesirable as dark spots. Thankfully, there are plenty of options these days that offer a high level of pigment without sacrificing a smooth complexion. The industry standard is Estee Lauder® Double Wear® Stay in Place Makeup ($42). This nontransferable liquid foundation promises 24-hour wear, and is oil free and waterproof. If you have naturally dry skin, you can avoid a flat look by applying a luminous setting powder or highlighter like Laura Mercier® Translucent Loose Setting Powder — Glow ($39) on top.  

Step 4: Set

As always, setting your makeup is key. Although a translucent powder will do the trick as far as keeping your makeup in place, setting with a foundation powder is always my choice when it comes to covering discoloration. The IT Cosmetics® Celebration Foundation® Powder ($36) is my go-to as it provides amazing full-coverage with a hydrating formula that won’t crack or crease.  

Melasma can be a difficult skin challenge for women who aim for a flawless skin look. Using strategic methods to cover your skin imperfections will always work best with a proper in-office treatment plan. Dr. Kaminer recommends a series of low density fractional microablative treatments in combination with topical lightening creams for the best results. He also recommends utilizing topical vitamin C treatments and sunscreen to help prevent further damage to the skin. (That said, be sure to consult with your dermatologist to see what’s right for you and your skin.) In the meantime, utilize these four makeup steps to ensure that as you get treated, you can hide your dark spots without hiding the rest of your gorgeous skin.

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