For years, I’ve had psoriasis on my body—typically my knees and elbows. It was usually easy enough to apply a topical treatment, cover it up, and forget about it. But two years ago, I started getting patches of psoriasis on my face, and it was a whole different story.
While I wanted to go makeup-free as much as possible to keep my skin clean and free from products, I knew I would feel more comfortable if I could conceal my psoriasis when I was going out. And a quick application of tinted moisturizer followed by my trusty concealer stick just didn’t cut it any more.
Psoriasis, a chronic skin condition, can cause red, scaly patches that may itch, crack, and bleed. And, if they’re on your face, those patches “can make applying makeup evenly a more difficult process,” Sarika Ramachandran, M.D., an assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine, tell SELF.
I don’t have all the answers and there are still days when my skin is really unpredictable. But here are four tips I’ve learned that make it a little easier to apply makeup when I have psoriasis on my face.
1. Properly prep the surface of your skin.
Psoriasis creates an uneven skin texture, so creating a solid base for makeup is crucial. Dr. Ramachandran recommends starting with a good moisturizer to treat dryness and gently soften scales. I’m currently using Vanicream Lite Lotion, $13, which absorbs quickly, is non-comedogenic and doesn’t contain any of the common chemical irritants, like dyes, preservatives, or fragrances.
The next step—once your moisturizer has had enough time to absorb, Dr. Ramachandran says—depends on your personal preferences. I try not to use prescribed topical treatments (like low-potency corticosteroids, retinoids, or synthetic vitamin D) on my face before makeup as they can cause irritation. Plus, they’re often in the form of an ointment, which might leave the skin surface greasy and make it difficult to apply the products. Instead, I put my treatments on before I go to bed.
If you are applying a topical treatment to your face in the morning, Dr. Ramachandran recommends leaving it to soak in before starting on your makeup. Or, like me, you can save your greasier treatments for the evenings before bed and use cream-based treatments in the mornings.
2. Pick your formulation carefully.
I’ve experimented with different types of foundation and a liquid formulation is the best option for my skin, by far. Makeup artist Mindy Green always uses liquid foundation on clients with psoriasis, applying them with a gentle “dabbing” or “stippling” technique. Think of it as dotting the product onto your face (as if you were applying small dots of paint onto a wall) rather than using broad, sweeping strokes, which can irritate psoriatic lesions and inflame the skin.
Green recommends a Beautyblender-type sponge for all liquid products (foundation, highlighter, and concealer) instead of a brush. But if you do prefer a brush, make sure it’s a super soft one because psoriasis-prone skin has to be treated with care.
On the other hand, powders tend to be tricky to apply. “In general, it may be helpful to avoid applying powders directly to psoriatic lesions,” Dr. Ramachandran agrees. “Their scaly nature makes it difficult to apply powder-based products directly.”
If you do want to use a powder, applying it on top of a cream or liquid foundation may make it easier. And try Green’s advice to ditch the brush: “Powder will be less likely to disturb the skin surface if it’s applied with a Beautyblender,” she says.
3. Pay attention to the pigment ratio in your products.
The phrase “pigment ratio” meant nothing to me before I got psoriasis on my face. Basically, it refers to the amount of coverage you can get for the amount of product you put on—and you want to get high coverage with the least amount of product possible to avoid aggravating the area.
“If you need four coats of concealer or foundation to successfully cover an area, it’s probably not good enough,” makeup artist Allison Depriestre tells SELF. “One or two thin coats should be pigmented enough to conceal your psoriasis.”
I’ve had great results with Vichy Dermablend 3D Correction Oil-Free Foundation, $29, which Depriestre also recommends highly. “It works amazingly with psoriasis,” she says. “It covers the most vibrant red or pigmented skin colorations but also resurfaces skin affected by psoriasis. It also contains anti-inflammatory ingredients, and makes skin looks smoother.” She suggests Dermacolor as another brand with a great pigment-to-thickness ratio.
If you don’t want a heavy makeup look on your whole face (I get small patches of psoriasis on my cheeks but the rest of my skin is blemish-free), take a two-pronged approach. “Keep in mind that you have two different skin textures on your face, which need different things,” Depriestre says. To keep makeup natural looking, she suggests using a light foundation on the entire face, including the areas with psoriasis, then applying a highly pigmented concealer on the psoriatic lesions. Blend the edges towards the rest of your face. Then blend some more. The idea is to conceal problem areas without creating a mask.
4. Be prepared for some trial and error.
Like anyone with psoriasis or any chronic skin condition, I’ve tried dozens of makeup and skin-care products over the years, getting excited about every “miracle” cream, foundation, or concealer that promises to restore my complexion to its former (pre-psoriasis) glory. Most of the time, these fall short and I end up frustrated.
The same goes for makeup techniques that often work better in theory than in practice, such as applying green color-correcting concealer to patches of psoriasis. Instead, Depriestre recommends picking a corrector in a color that is similar to or slightly darker than your natural skin color, then adding another layer of corrector in a shade lighter than your natural skin color. “This will do the trick and is much easier to master,” she says, although it does require owning two products in different shades.
Now and again, something just works. It’s not magic (there’s no cure for psoriasis, unfortunately), but it’s good enough. This is the time to stock up—the last thing you want is to find something that works really well for you only for it to go out of stock or get discontinued. “Skin that tends to react loves regularity. Once you’ve found something that works, stick to it,” Depriestre says.
Ultimately, I’d love to get to a place where I don’t feel like I need to cover up my psoriasis because it’s just another part of me. And I do have days when it doesn’t bother me to go fresh-faced. But on other days, being able to put on makeup effectively helps me feel more confident when I look in the mirror and step out into the world.