The great cover up: psoriasis makeup

| Heather Durocher

I tell myself it doesn't matter I'm leaving the house without a trace of makeup on, that I'm only taking kids to school and won't be seeing anyone since my 9- and 7-year-olds walk to their classrooms while I remain in the car.

And yet, there's that chance I could come face to face with another parent, someone who stops me to chat as I start to drive away. The thought prompts me to head to the bathroom and apply, at the very least, concealer and likely a bit of foundation to cover the patches of dry skin on my cheeks, nose and forehead.

I don't like thinking I'm vain, which is sometimes how I feel when worrying about putting on makeup when I have no important place to go. I like a natural face because that look suits my laid-back personality and active lifestyle. I'd prefer to save makeup for work meetings and nights out.

But when you've got psoriasis on your face, as I have on and off throughout 20-plus years, knowing the red, flaky spots aren't the first thing people notice about you is reassuring. So, even if I'm doing something as inconsequential as dropping off kids or stopping at the grocery store, makeup pretty much is a must before heading out the door.

I realize I'm far from alone in my fear and in feeling the effects psoriasis has on my emotional well-being. A recent National Psoriasis Foundation survey of nearly 5,000 patients showed that 20 percent of women said psoriasis is a very large problem in their everyday lives, compared with 12 percent of men. Sociology and psychology experts say that's because psoriasis taps into complex realities about how women are perceived in society and how they perceive themselves.

Makeup, then, can provide some reprieve. Problem is, finding the right kind of coverage for very sensitive skin is tough. Same goes for many other over-the-counter beauty products like moisturizers and cleansers.  Through trial and error, you may find a certain brand that works especially well. But even then, given this disease's finicky nature, you just might have to switch to something altogether different after a while.

Having dealt with several especially stubborn patches on my face and along my hairline, and feeling frustrated with a seemingly unending quest for makeup with just the right coverage, I spoke with experts about shopping for over-the-counter beauty products. My search included a one-hour makeup session with Susan Ruoff, owner of a bath, body, cosmetics and fragrance boutique in my hometown of Traverse City, Mich.

How I finally found my perfect shade

First, I spoke with Lee Graff, longtime corrective makeup specialist and founder of makeup company Cover FX. When she told me she's "such a stickler for getting the right shade," I knew I'd found a great resource. I've never liked the "caked-on" look, but have at times felt that's exactly how I appear as I attempt to cover my psoriasis. I think this is in part due to the fact that I've searched for years for that just-right foundation that not only matched my skin tone but also magically and minimally covered my patches.

Drugstore makeup is tricky: You may be lucky to find a great product match, and there are great items available, but you can't try on the foundation. And even if there happens to be a sample of some kind, the store lighting is less than ideal. I haven't had much luck with department store counters because I feel they're too sales-driven and push only their brands, which may or may not be right for my skin.

It's for these reasons that Graff and other experts I spoke with suggest visiting a beauty-products store, such as Sephora, an international chain with locations throughout the country. Sephora carries a number of product lines and has knowledgeable people to assist in your search. The nearest Sephora is several hours away from Traverse City, though, and I chose to visit Ruoff, whose store is known in my area for products unavailable anywhere else in the region.

Something I learned, not only from Susan Ruoff but also from Lee Graff and New York dermatologist Dr. Francesca Fusco, is the importance of using a "primer" after applying moisturizer but before applying any makeup.

"Moisturizers are often designed to be absorbed into the skin, but the function of the primer is to prepare the skin. It stays higher on the skin and is designed not to be absorbed," said Graff, a "camouflage specialist" at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto. Graff has helped create similar clinics at NYU Medical Center in New York, Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and Howard University in Washington, D.C. "Then, when you put on the foundation, it goes on much more smoothly."

I noticed a significant difference when makeup artist Ruoff applied a pea-sized amount of primer to my face on top of my everyday moisturizer. She then applied a sheer foundation that matched my fair skin—she tested it along my cheek and jawbone—and I was amazed at how even the shade appeared across my entire face.

Ruoff equated the moisturizer-plus-primer application with creating a smooth canvas. From there, your makeup will appear even, not blotchy, as you cover patches, she told me. She was right. Most exciting was that by the time she'd applied eye makeup and lip color, those became the areas that drew the most attention—and not my psoriasis, which was nicely hidden beneath the sheer foundation and the concealer that she'd dabbed on with a makeup brush after applying the foundation. A quick, brushed-on application of pressed powder sealed the look.

I walked away from my makeup session feeling fabulous. I definitely wanted to begin using primer on my skin, and I also was happy about finding a concealer shade that covered my psoriasis so well. Ruoff told me I could choose to use the sheer foundation for extra coverage, like when I have flares, but I could also go without.

Overall, I'd be spending a bit more than I would at a drugstore. But it was worth it to find products I knew how to use and that worked so well with my skin. I consider what Graff said of her work with women who have psoriasis and other serious skin issues that affect their self-esteem.

"It's a physical issue, but it's also a psychological issue," she said. "If you look good, you just feel better. If you can count on something every day—you put your makeup on to feel better and look your very best instead of feeling embarrassed—this can be such a fabulously positive thing in your life. So many of these products are not overly priced. It can be something you do for yourself every single day. It's such a good feeling."

I couldn't agree more.

Heather Johnson Durocher, a Traverse City, Mich., freelance writer, is a regular contributor to Psoriasis Advance. Her Web site is

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