Foundation makeup for acne-prone skin

The complete guide to choosing the right foundation for your skin

9 minute read

We’re here to tell you what we know, but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider about your specific health concerns.

Table of Contents

Anyone who’s dealt with acne is probably familiar with the catch-22 of makeup: you wear it to cover up pimples, but it can cause even more pimples. Well, we’ve got good news: it doesn’t have to be this way. Since so many Curology members come to us for help with acne, we’re always on the lookout for the best products for acne-prone skin, including breakout-free makeup. We get that dealing with acne is tough, and we’ve got your back!

The most important thing to avoid the vicious breakout cycle is to pay attention to the ingredients in your makeup. So, to make it easier to find the right foundation for you, we’ve researched the best foundations for every skin type and analyzed their ingredients — because we’ll only ever recommend products that are unlikely to clog pores or irritate your skin.

We aren’t affiliated with any of these brands, FYI. We just want to offer you all of the best options on the market that won’t clog your pores or irritate your skin!

How to choose the best foundation for your skin type

This is one of the trickiest things about choosing a foundation: knowing your skin type and which formulas work best for it. It really depends on the person, on the product, and even how you apply the product—if you use a primer first, your foundation will go on smoother and stay on longer. But we’ll leave primers for another guide.

As for foundations, it’s actually pretty intuitive: if you’ve got oily or combination skin, a lightweight foundation with a matte finish is likely your best bet; if you’ve got dry skin, either a tinted moisturizer or foundation with a natural, glowy, or dewy finish (i.e., one with moisturizing properties) would be a good place to start. If you want to cover up any skin issues such as acne or redness, opt for a foundation with buildable, medium, or full coverage. The better coverage and finish your foundation has, the less concealer you’ll need to use to achieve your desired result. And, since concealer typically has a thicker or cakier texture, less is always more.

Finding a foundation with the right texture, coverage, and finish for your skin can help you get whatever look you’re going for, whether it’s a natural, “no-makeup makeup” look or a super-polished, porcelain-like flawless finish. You do you! Without further ado, here are our favorite skin-forgiving foundations (so far).

Best foundation makeup

These are your best bets for buildable coverage: they’ve got a decent amount of coverage with just one layer, but you can add on as needed in areas where you want more.

We recommend…

Fenty Beauty PRO FILT’R Soft Matte Longwear Foundation

  • Buildable, medium coverage

  • Oil-free, matte formulation

  • Comes in 50 shades

Make Up For Ever Ultra HD Invisible Cover Foundation

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Buildable, medium-to-full coverage

  • Natural finish

NARS Sheer Glow Foundation

  • Sheer, buildable coverage to create a natural finish

  • Contains vitamin C for antioxidant protection

BECCA Ever-Matte Shine Proof Foundation

  • Creamy formula with medium coverage

  • Formulated for combination to oily skin

  • Features a microfine powder to deliver a matte, soft-focus effect

Best lightweight foundation

For those who don’t want to feel like they’re wearing foundation but want to conceal acne, make skin texture look smoother, or cover up redness: these foundations are for you. Some of them even double as tinted moisturizers with beneficial skincare ingredients, all while leaving your skin looking smooth and polished with a weightless finish.

We recommend…

ILIA True Skin Serum Foundation

  • Contains vitamin C to help protect the skin from sun damage

  • Aloe leaf, rosehip, jojoba and marula oils soothe and hydrate the skin

Urban Decay Naked Skin Weightless Ultra Definition Liquid Makeup

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Lightweight feel, per its name!

Lancôme Dual Finish Multi-Tasking Powder Foundation

  • Can be applied wet or dry, depending on desired effect

  • Buildable, sheer-to-full coverage with a weightless feel

  • Convenient compact for on-the-go touch-ups

  • 35 shades

Clinique Even Better Glow Light Reflecting Makeup SPF 15

  • Lightweight formula delivers a luminous, flawless finish

  • Includes SPF 15, plus vitamins C and E for antioxidant protection

Best full-coverage foundations

For those who want full-on coverage that hides pores, pimples and more, these foundations are right up your proverbial alley. Full-coverage foundations tend to be thicker or richer, so it’s important to make sure yours doesn’t contain pore-clogging ingredients! We’ve reviewed all of these to make sure they’re okay to try, but your (sk)individual results may vary.

Kat Von D Lock-It Foundation

  • Long-wearing, matte finish with buildable full coverage

  • Comes in 47 shades to find your perfect fit

  • Cruelty-free, vegan

MAC Studio Fix Fluid SPF 15

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Medium-to-full coverage

  • Matte finish

Urban Decay All Nighter Liquid Foundation

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Full coverage with a matte finish

Lancôme Teint Idole 24H Ultra Long Wear Foundation

  • Oil-free formulation

  • Buildable, natural-looking coverage stays matte for up to 24 hours

  • Available in 45 shades

Hourglass Vanish Seamless Finish Foundation Stick

  • Combines the coverage of a concealer with the blendability of a liquid

  • Long-wearing, waterproof coverage that blends seamlessly with skin

  • Convenient stick formula for travel and on-the-go touch-ups

Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation Mattifying Oil-Free

  • Liquid-to-powder formula blends easily before drying to a long-wearing, velvet-matte finish

  • Contains kaolinite clay to benefit oily, acne-prone skin

Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra Longwear Foundation Stick SPF 21

  • High coverage with a weightless texture for comfortable, all-day wear

  • Powder-cream texture glides onto skin and leaves a matte finish

  • Convenient stick formula for quick application and touch-ups

  • SPF 21

Don’t forget the sunscreen!

It’s important to wear sunscreen every day, no matter the weather or the season. It’s one of the best things to protect your skin from damage, premature aging (wrinkles are fine, but who wants them ahead of time?) and, of course, skin cancer. Especially if you use acne-fighting products with active ingredients that can sensitize your skin to the sun, you should be wearing at least SPF 30 (ideally, SPF 50) during the daytime.

There exist a variety of foundations on the market with built-in sunscreen, which is great. But if your foundation doesn’t have SPF 30 or higher, you’ll definitely want to add additional sunscreen — and don’t forget the essential step: reapplying.

How to reapply sunscreen over your makeup Powder sunscreens like ILIA Radiant Translucent Powder SPF 20 are a great, easy way to re-up your sun protection throughout the day without messing up your makeup. Bonus: a little powder will also get rid of any oiliness that’s accumulated on your skin, making your makeup look fresh again!

Best foundations with sunscreen

Although these foundations contain SPF, remember: that alone might not be enough sun protection, especially if you don’t want to reapply your foundation throughout the day. You could start with a layer of face sunscreen underneath your makeup, or reapply sunscreen on top of your makeup throughout the day (we recommend reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours at least). We recommend SPF 30, at minimum. Remember, even if your foundation does have SPF 30 or higher, SPF isn’t a one-and-done deal: you need to reapply sunscreen throughout the day for it to keep working.

IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC Cream with SPF 50+

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Great built-in sun protection

  • Long ingredient list, so maybe avoid if you have sensitive skin (or if you’re a minimalist)

Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 20

  • NOT the oil-free version—it contains ethylhexyl palmitate, a comedogenic ingredient

  • Blends skincare with makeup to hydrate while providing sheer coverage

  • Contains vitamins C and E to protect skin from free radical damage

  • Contains sodium hyaluronate to hydrate skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and dry skin

  • Protects with SPF 20

NARS Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30

  • Lightweight tinted moisturizer that imparts a natural, glowing finish

  • Contains a vitamin C derivative to reduce the appearance of dark spots

  • Combines hydration with SPF 30

Supergoop! CC Cream Daily Correct Broad Spectrum SPF 35 Sunscreen

  • Corrects uneven pigmentation and softens the look of fine lines and pores

  • Contains sodium hyaluronate to maintain long-lasting hydration, plus vitamins and minerals to protect from free radical damage

  • 100% mineral-based SPF 35

Dermablend Smooth Liquid Camo Hydrating Foundation

  • Seamless coverage with hydration for dry skin

  • Added bonus of SPF 25

  • High-performance pigments allow you to build from medium to full coverage

YSL Touche Éclat All-in-One Glow Tinted Moisturizer

  • Eliminates dullness, evens complexion, and smooths fine lines

  • Protects with SPF 23

  • Includes hyaluronic acid and vitamin E to hydrate and protect skin

Physicians Formula Mineral Wear Talc-Free All-in-1 Cushion Foundation

  • Mineral-based liquid foundation formulated without talc

  • SPF 50 to protect skin from sun damage

  • Hydrates and brightens to leave a luminous finish

Best powder foundations

What’s the deal with mineral makeup? It typically contains ingredients like titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, mica, and iron oxides, which serve different purposes from giving the skin a matte finish, to hiding the appearance of pores, to blocking the sun’s harmful rays. Mineral foundation tends to have fewer ingredients, which is a good thing for people with sensitive skin. But if you have oily skin, sometimes the mineral powder combines with oil and can appear caked or clumpy.

Alima Pure Satin Matte Mineral Foundation

  • Light to medium coverage

  • 45 shades

  • Vegan, nut-free, gluten free, cruelty free

bareMinerals Blemish Rescue Loose Powder Foundation

  • Contains acne-fighting salicylic acid and soothing oat protein

  • Buildable formula allows for breathable, natural-matte finish

bareMinerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15

  • Contains only 5 ingredients

  • Lightweight, luminous coverage

  • Built-in SPF 15; loose powder formulation makes it easy to reapply throughout the day for continuous sun protection

Cover FX Pressed Mineral Foundation

  • Offers buildable, sheer-to-full coverage

  • Comes in 40 shades

  • Contains kaolin clay to absorb oil and maintain an all-day matte finish

Glo Skin Beauty Pressed Base Foundation

  • Safe even for sensitive skin

  • Contains vitamin C and vitamin E to provide antioxidant protection

  • Delivers customizable, sheer-to-full coverage with a semi-matte finish

MAC Studio Fix Powder Plus Foundation

  • Delivers 12-hour, velvety matte coverage

  • Reduces the appearance of pores and controls oil

PÜR 4-in-1 Pressed Mineral Powder Foundation SPF 15

  • Long-lasting, matte finish

  • Contains vitamin B3 to treat uneven skin tone

  • Built-in SPF

Mineral Fusion Pressed Powder Foundation

  • Vitamins C and E for antioxidant protection against free radical damage

  • Aloe vera and cucumber to soothe irritated skin

  • Triple-milled minerals for silky, blendable coverage

Tarte Amazonian Clay Airbrush Foundation

  • 12-hour, full-coverage formula with a weightless feel

  • Includes Amazonian clay to deliver matte coverage that fights redness and diffuses light to create an even finish

Best drugstore foundations

These are foundations you can buy at the drugstore (or online, but for drugstore prices) as opposed to “high-end” foundations with higher price tags—which some consider totally worth it, which is fine! We just want to make sure you can find the right product for you, whatever your preferred price point. Whether or not high-end foundations are worth the premium is totally up to your personal preference; as always, the quality of the foundation depends on the ingredients in each product. High-end makeup products aren’t necessarily “better,” and these foundations prove it.

Maybelline Fit Me Dewy + Smooth Foundation

  • Protects with SPF 18 (for better sun protection, remember to layer sunscreen beneath)

  • Hydrates and leaves a luminous finish

  • Formulated specifically for normal to dry skin

Wet n Wild MegaCushion Foundation SPF 15

  • Lightweight, yet highly pigmented formulation

  • Easily layers to customize coverage

  • No-mess application with built-in sponge, making it easy to touch up while reapplying SPF

L’Oreal Infallible Pro-Matte Foundation

  • Long-wearing, semi-matte texture with a natural-looking finish

  • Lightweight formulation won’t feel heavy on skin

e.l.f. Acne Fighting Foundation

  • Lightweight formula provides coverage to even skin tone and reduce redness from acne

  • Contains salicylic acid to combat acne while wearing makeup

  • Vegan and cruelty-free

Physicians Formula The Healthy Foundation SPF 20

  • Lightweight feeling with medium coverage

  • Satin finish that mimics the look of skin

  • SPF 20 with an antioxidant blend of vitamins C and E

e.l.f. BB Cream SPF 20

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • It does leave a sheen/glow, so it’s probably not ideal for oily skin

e.l.f. Flawless Finish Foundation

  • Comes in 40 shades

  • Lightweight formula delivers an all-day, semi-matte finish

La Roche-Posay Effaclar BB Blur

  • Non-comedogenic (good for acne-prone skin)

  • Only has 10 ingredients (most foundations have 20-30!)

  • Protects skin from sun damage with SPF 20

L’Oreal True Match Super Blendable Makeup

  • Wide range of shades to match skin color and undertone (cool vs. warm)

  • SPF 17 (you’ll want to wear a higher-SPF face sunscreen underneath for full protection)

NYX Stay Matte But Not Flat Powder Foundation

  • Matte, flawless finish

  • Lightweight formula that’s buildable to your preferences

  • Powder compact ideal for travel and touch-ups

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Tint

  • Oil-free formula

  • Contains hyaluronic acid for intense, 24-hour moisture

  • Natural finish that won’t settle into fine lines due to hydrating formula

How to check if a product has pore-clogging or skin-irritating ingredients

Some common ingredients in makeup can clog your pores—even if the product is labeled “non-comedogenic”! Because that term isn’t regulated by the FDA, beauty products can (and often do) claim their products won’t clog pores, even if they do contain pore-clogging ingredients. When you know how to check the ingredients list yourself, you can make better choices when choosing which makeup to use. Luckily, there’s a (free!) tool that makes it easy to check any product for ingredients that can clog pores or irritate your skin. It’s called CosDNA.com, and it’s a must-have for your Bookmarks. Check out our quick-and-easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

How to find out if a foundation is safe for your skin

STEP 1 Head on over to CosDNA.com and search the product name. STEP 2 If it isn’t on there, have the ingredients list handy. The manufacturer’s website should have an ingredients list. Alternatively, you can check makeup resources like MakeupAlley or websites that sell the product, such as Ulta or Sephora. STEP 3 Copy the ingredients, then paste them into the text box under “Analyze Cosmetics,” and click “Analysis.” Look in the “acne” column — if there are any 3’s, 4’s, or 5’s, we’d recommend avoiding it if you have acne-prone skin. If there are only 0’s, 1’s, or 2’s, the product can be used on acne-prone skin, and is considered likely fine. We’d also recommend avoiding any products with 3’s, 4’s or 5’s in the irritant column if you have acne (or sensitive skin).

Irritation can lead to acne

One rule of thumb: avoid foundations and any product that contains denatured alcohol. Denatured alcohol actually doesn’t clog pores (it’s non-comedogenic), but it can be very irritating and drying — especially to pimples that are already red and inflamed. Denatured alcohol is rated a “5” under the irritant column on CosDNA.com. As with the acne column, we’d recommend avoiding any products with 3’s, 4’s or 5’s in the irritant column if your skin is acne-prone or sensitive.

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients found in foundation makeup can irritate the skin or clog pores, so here are the key ones to avoid.

Avoid…

Coconut oil Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredients lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely for some, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts: it gets in those pores and clogs up the works!

Alcohol If you’ve got dry skin, take care to avoid ingredients that can dry it out even more! Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. However, some products have alcohol at the end of the ingredients list, likely meaning there’s not too much of it—in that case, it may not irritate the skin as much. But it’s best to avoid it whenever possible.

The exception: coconut alcohol Even though coconut oil is not good for acne-prone skin, and alcohol (usually labelled denatured alcohol) can be irritating, coconut alcohol is actually fine. Coconut alcohol is a gentle surfactant (i.e., emulsifier) that the skin tolerates just fine (unlike sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant which can cause breakouts). Coconut alcohol comes from coconut acid, which is derived from coconut oil; but unlike coconut oil, coconut alcohol doesn’t clog pores, because it’s a smaller molecule. It’s so safe, in fact, that we use coconut alcohol in our Curology cleanser—it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!

More ingredients to avoid:

  • Isopropyl myristate (pore-clogging)

  • Sodium laureth sulfate (pore-clogging)

  • Myristyl myristate (pore-clogging)

  • Laureth-4 (pore-clogging)

  • Ethylhexyl palmitate (pore-clogging)

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) (drying and pore-clogging)

Products not labeled with terms "non-comedogenic", "non-acnegenic", "does not clog pores", or "won’t cause breakouts." The label "non-comedogenic" (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. It’s no guarantee of safety, but it can be a useful guideline! We still recommend checking products labeled “non-comedogenic” for pore-clogging or irritating ingredients, since they can still contain potentially pore-clogging ingredients.

Don’t be afraid to break up with your makeup

We know it isn’t easy to choose a foundation that checks all the boxes: the right texture, color, consistency, finish (matte or glowy?), and ingredients that won’t clog your pores or irritate your skin. Each and every one of the foundations we recommend here has a unique look and feel, so you’ll probably want to try out a few to find what works best for you. But take it from the experts: a product’s ingredients should be your #1 concern before putting anything on your skin.

Of course, if your acne clears up, you probably won’t have as much need for foundation. That’s where we come in! You’ll get your own customized skin treatment prescribed by one of our dermatology providers when you sign up for a free 1-month trial of Curology (you only pay $4.95 for shipping and handling). The cruel irony of makeup is that acne-free, smooth skin actually wears makeup better — so getting any skin condition under control should be priority numero uno.

If you’ve gotten this far and you feel ready to break up with makeup altogether, we salute you! Even if you’ve got pimples, there’s absolutely no shame in owning it while your acne heals. It can be beneficial to give your skin a break from makeup (even non-comedogenic makeup). You could always use a little concealer here and there, just to cover up any spots. Or use a tinted sunscreen for a one-and-done daytime makeup routine that will even out your skin’s appearance while protecting it from the sun at the same time. For a truly minimalist approach, just slap on a non-comedogenic sunscreen in the AM, and you’re golden. Your skin will thank you (and you’ll have more time to hit the snooze button).

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