Instagram has spoken: Color-correcting is the big thing in makeup right now, and beauty brands are answering the call with green, purple, peach, red and yellow creams that promise to cancel out ruddiness, brighten under-eye circles, hide veins and generally erase all signs that your skin isn't as flawless a cyborg's.
Of course, this isn't a new concept — not only have makeup artists been using color-correcting tactics on set for years, but beauty companies also tried to make them a must-have for the everywoman back in the '90s. It was a time when you could find pastel shades everywhere, and a lot of poor, unsuspecting makeup-wearers took the bait, ending up with green pimples and weirdly yellow orbital areas. A good number of them went off the market quickly, and the ones that stuck around were mostly there for the professionals. As a person who lived through it, you can imagine why I eyed this new crop with skepticism.
Not that they shouldn't work in theory. The whole thing is based on the color wheel, canceling out unwanted hues in your skin by using makeup in tones that sit directly opposite them on the ring. Then, depending on the formula, you either add concealer and/or foundation on top or just go on with your day.
Here are the major colors you'll find and what they address:
- Green: redness and broken capillaries
- Blue/Lavender: sallowness
- Pink/Peach: darkness, dullness and blue veins, particularly in fair skin
- Yellow: dullness, particularly in olive skin tones
- Orange/Red: darkness on skin tones deeper than medium
To find out if the strategy would really work this time around, I reached out to three makeup artists I trust — Andrew Sotomayor, Jamie Greenberg and Quinn Murphy — to get their thoughts. The verdict was a little hard to suss out. They ranged from fairly enthusiastic (Sotomayer: "Color correcting is one of the most effective solutions for solving tough makeup challenges") to positive with reservations (Greenberg's first: "Honestly, if used correctly they're great") to weary but not totally anti (Quinn: "I'm not a huge fan of color correctors in general. I like to use them sparingly and strategically."). But they all agreed on two things: First, the new formulas are more blend-able and have higher quality pigments that disappear on the skin. Second, they can be tricky to make look natural, so you must factor in some practice time before you wear them out in the world.
Beyond that, here are their tips:
— Color-correcting isn't for everyone. If you're happy with the job your makeup does now, you don't really need to mess with this whole thing. The only people who might want to use the strategy daily are those who are bothered by their skin discoloration. For everyone else, it's one of those things you can save for life's most photograph-worthy moments.
— Think of them as an assist to concealer and foundation. For example, when covering under-eye circles, corrector "allows you to use less product due to its counterbalancing the darkness, so you can avoid piling on the concealer," explains Murphy. That's particularly good when you want to look great in high-res photos, because, as Greenberg explains, a thick application of concealer can appear heavy and cakey through a camera lens.
— Use them to make the most of your natural complexion. They're good for addressing patches of redness, veins on your eyelids or just boosting radiance, rather than switching your skin tone family from warm to cool or vice versa. "Using them to change the undertone is outdated and looks bizarre," Murphy explains.
— Don't get overzealous. "You just have to start lightly and build," says Greenberg. It might be tempting to pile on makeup on a particularly pigmented spot, but if you blend as you go, you're more likely to get a natural-looking result.
— There are different rules for under-eye circles when it comes to light/medium and dark skin tones. For light skin, a yellow, peach or purple-based concealer will cancel out the gray tones created when concealer is layered over the shadowy areas. On deeper skin, use bright orange or red first, followed by a neutral or yellow-toned concealer. Either way, Sotomayor says, "Tap the concealer on with your finger or a brush to prevent it from smudging the corrector."
Keeping all that in mind, I called in a slew of newer formulas to test drive the deep-complexion products on a dark-skinned volunteer and the products for lighter folks on my notoriously tricky, fair Middle-Eastern skin tone (picture a complexion which reads sallow in some light and under-eye circles that make you wonder if there's a raccoon in my family tree). After painting our faces like a beach ball, here are the ones I think are worth the fuss.
Best in All Lighting
Lancôme Miracle CC Cushion Color-Correcting Primer, $39.50, available at Sephora: This stuff doesn't seem like much when you first open it — it's a liquid so thin you wonder if it's going to do anything. But all four versions manage to pack a punch without leaving much evidence behind. I can go without even a BB cream on top of the brightening pink shade. Bottom line: It softens more than it full-on covers, kind of like a camera filter for real life.
Best Multitasker/ Best for Making You Feel Proactive
Algenist Reveal Concentrated Color Correcting Drops, $38, available at sephora.com: These pretty little bottles of fluid partially owe their tints to microalgae, which are added to treat the source of discoloration while canceling it out. You can use the drops alone or mix them with moisturizer or foundation, which I preferred — I found the formula looked like a film sitting on top of my face when used solo. So far I can only vouch for the instant brightening results of the blue and peach shades, but in a test of 65 women done by the brand, users of all four colors reported seeing good results. But the star may be the green-hued one — 95 percent said it improved redness.
Most Foolproof Brightener
Physician's Formula Super CC Color-Correction + Care All-Over Blur CC Cream and Primer Stick, $14.99 for the cream and $12.99 for the stick, available at Ulta: This brand was one of the worst offenders in the '90s, so I approached this stuff with caution. But, in truth, they were very user-friendly. They're both made of a blend of three color-correcting pigments mixed for you so you can just swipe on for overall brightness. There's no spot-correcting option here, but either one is a good place to start if you feel like you're all thumbs when it comes to makeup. A gripe: The cream only comes in one shade (Light/Medium) and the stick comes in two (Light and Light/Medium), which works for folks on the fair end of the spectrum, but not so much for everyone else.
Most Intagrammable/Biggest Pay-Off
Essence Cosmetics Say No to Redness and Say No to Dark Circles, $2.99, available at Ulta: The most opaque and makeup-like of all the ones I tried, these redness- and shadow-canceling sticks covered the most intense discoloration the best. Plus, the fat pencil tip lets you target only the spots that need correcting. These are really best kept to the more seasoned makeup user, however, because if you don't cover them well you risk ending up with Green-Zit Syndrome.
Best for Under-eye Circles
Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Concealer, $27, available at Sephora: The idea behind this two-step formula is that you smear a color-correcting peach-based under-eye concealer around your eyes before layering a skin-tone one overtop (each available in five shades). The results were dramatic. Together they got rid of my shadows almost entirely and, thanks to the plumping hyaluronic spheres, they didn't highlight all my fine lines in the process. The only caveat here: This whole line is meant to make skin photogenic. That means it's noticeable, so wear in sunlight with caution.
Best Brightening Effect/Best Blur-er
Urban Decay Naked Skin Color Correcting Fluid, $28, available at Sephora: No tricks here, just pick your poison from green, lavender, pink, yellow and peach and use the wand applicator to blend on before applying your tinted moisturizer or concealer. The most noteworthy effect was the job the purple one did brightening my skin when smeared across my forehead and cheekbones like a highlighter under tinted moisturizer. I've never looked so refreshed in my life. As for the consistency, it's sheer so you don't think it’s going to cover, but trust, it does. That said, I found all of them better for softening the effect of mild discoloration than completely erasing a red pimple or a dark sunspot.
Magic for Dark Skin
Black|Up Concealer Magic Quad, $30.50, available at Sephora.com: As mentioned, I had to outsource the testing of this one (read: I smeared it on a darker-than-me friend in a restaurant bathroom one night), but I had high hopes for it since this brand is specifically developed to address the needs of dark skin. And that it did. The palette contains concealers and color correctors to brighten darkness and smooth scars and flaws without making the complexion look washed out. The red shade in the one we had (there are three versions) was impressive — it made patchy areas around her mouth and eyes completely disappear under concealer. The popular Paris-based makeup line officially debuted in the U.S. in the fall, but now that it's easily available here, you can expect to hear a lot more about it.