When you’re dealing with breakouts, choosing moisturizer can be tricky. Of course, you don’t want to clog your pores or leave your skin looking oily or shiny. However, a moisturizer or face oil with the right ingredients can actually help your skin defend against breakouts! Acne has been associated in some studies with low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. If your skin’s protective barrier needs replenishing, that could be a part of the problem, too.
We’ve researched many of the best face moisturizers on the market and analyzed their ingredients to make sure they don’t have pore-clogging or skin-irritating ingredients.
Use less, unless your skin is seriously dry or dehydrated. If you’ve got normal to oily skin, a thin layer of a lightweight moisturizer should do.
Consider skipping moisturizer on your nose if you tend to get blackheads or pimples, or if your nose looks shiny and oily. The oil-producers in your skin (known in derm-speak as the sebaceous glands) are more concentrated on/around your nose. Since your nose might get oilier than other parts of your face, you might not need to apply moisturizer as much there.
Check the ingredients before you use a new moisturizer. Some ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can actually make acne worse, even if the label says “non-comedogenic”! You can use CosDNA.com to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!
Avoid coconut oil. It’s common in moisturizers and cosmetics, but it can clog pores!
Keep an eye on products that include alcohol in ingredients. Alcohol is a common ingredient in skincare and beauty products that can irritate the skin. It’s usually found as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat” on ingredients lists. Alcohol can cause irritation, which can lead to inflammation and breakouts.
Whatever your skin type, our advice is: keep it simple, smartypants. Whether you’ve got sensitive, combination, or “normal” skin, a gentle moisturizer will do the trick. You can’t go wrong with a simple, gentle, non-comedogenic moisturizer that’s suitable for every skin type.
Our in-house dermatologists developed two moisturizers to give your skin the extra love it needs: our gel moisturizer for a lightweight, cloud-like texture or our rich moisturizer for thick, creamy hydration. Both are daily moisturizers designed with Curology members in mind, so they’re great for acne-prone, sensitive, dry, and aging skin. Both moisturizers are formulated to be non-comedogenic and free of parabens, allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common skin-irritating ingredients.
Broad-spectrum sun protection is especially important when using some acne medications that can increase your skin’s sun sensitivity, so a combination moisturizer and sunscreen is always a good idea.
Gives skin a matte appearance and helps reduce the appearance of pores
Hydrates and replenishes the skin with ceramides and antioxidant-rich botanical extracts
Formulated with oil-absorbing ingredients to help reduce excess sebum
Lightweight enough for oily or combination skin
Gel formula with hydration-locking hyaluronic acid and soothing aloe
Mineral-rich clay to help control oil and shine
Vitamins C and E plus green tea extract for antioxidant protection against free radicals
Includes algae, cucumber, and lavender to soothe
You might not need one if your skin produces more than enough oil on its own. If you’d rather not use a moisturizer at all, we recommend using a gentle face wash that won’t over-dry your skin, like our Curology cleanser. You can always remove excess oil from your skin throughout the day if needed with oil blotting sheets or with a cotton pad soaked with micellar water.
If you have another favorite moisturizer that your skin likes (especially if it’s labeled non-comedogenic or formulated for sensitive skin), feel free to keep on using it!
The moisturizer by Curology works for dry, acne-prone skin, too, but it’s lightweight, so your skin might want an extra boost of moisture. We recommend starting with a face oil or serum before your Curology moisturizer if your skin’s feeling thirsty. Contrary to popular belief, many oils are well-tolerated by acne-prone skin! In fact, acne has been associated with low levels of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in some studies, and many oils used in skincare are loaded with skin-nourishers such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. So smoothing the right oil on your face can benefit your skin in multiple ways. On the other hand, the wrong oils can clog pores — or just sit on top of your skin, leaving you with more of an oil-slick look than that dewy glow you’re going for. (Avoid coconut oil, for sure.)
Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, rose hip oil provides anti-inflammatory effects, which might help improve acne. It’s found in many face oil blends, but you can get it on its own and add a drop or two to your everyday moisturizer for extra hydration.
Made from a flower native to Northern California and Oregon, meadowfoam seed oil is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and sinks right into the skin. It’s great at locking in moisture, leaving skin supple, glowy, and hydrated. It’s an effective carrier oils as well.
Sea buckthorn has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties: it’s rich in anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids, including omega-3, -6, -9, and -7. A 2010 study of sea buckthorn fruit extract applied as a cream showed a decline in sebum (oil) production — this may point to some anti-acne benefit separate from fighting inflammation. It may be helpful for inflammatory skin conditions like acne, rosacea, and eczema.
Now that we’ve got you covered with a list of moisturizers that are generally safe to try for acne-prone skin, you’ll want to treat your skin to prevent pimples from popping up in the first place!
You tell us about your skin, and we’ll have one of our in-house dermatology providers evaluate your situation and come up with a treatment plan made to work for you. If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a Custom Formula, plus any of our recommended skincare products, for free* (just pay $4.95 + tax to cover shipping/handling). Sign up now!
This article was originally published in June, 2019 and updated in May, 2021.
Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
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Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C