I started stippling concealer beneath my eyes around middle school. That was also when I began suffering from insomnia, which wrote itself across my face in half-moons the color of storm clouds.
I bought little plastic tubes with built-in applicators, and as I brushed the wands across that crevice between my lids and cheekbones, I imagined that I was restoring my face to some baseline state.
The hallmark of a good concealer is that it hides itself. Unlike lipstick, which announces its presence with a shriek, concealer aspires to muteness. It cloaks “blemishes,” then disappears into the skin. So as I dabbed it on, I imagined that I was vanishing the trace of sleepless nights, returning myself to neutral.
This was some 50 years after Max Factor debuted the first concealer stick, a little gold tube called Erace. Early on, the packaging seemed to speak in a conspiratorial whisper, hailing the product as “the secret cover-up.” It promised to “blend perfectly with your complexion,” leaving no trace of itself.
Centuries before mass-manufactured concealer, women were hunting for DIY ways to look more awake. They consulted Victorian-era beauty manuals, which championed a liberal dollop of face creams laden with arsenic and lead. A wide-eyed look was also achieved with squirts of citrus juice.