Acne-friendly makeup

How to separate the good from the bad

4 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.

If you have acne, makeup can be your best friend and worst enemy. The right makeup hides your pimples and gives you confidence. But the wrong makeup can irritate your skin and make underlying acne worse. Some people find themselves trapped in cycles — acne, makeup, more acne, more makeup! Before you give in to despair, read this guide to learn what makeup ingredients cause acne, and how to find a makeup routine that promotes clear, healthy skin.

• • •

Is my makeup causing breakouts?

Technically, most makeup doesn’t cause acne — but certain ingredients can clog pores, which helps acne-causing bacteria grow.

The good — look for makeup labeled:

  • Non-comedogenic

    This cool scientific term roughly translates to “not clogging your pores.” Unfortunately, there is no regulation around the use of this word, meaning any product could potentially claim to be non-comedogenic, so use with caution!

  • Non-greasy

  • Hypoallergenic

  • Non-irritation

  • Mineral-based

    This type of makeup carries less risk of irritation and is less likely to clog pores. Look for zinc oxide on the label. This ingredient supplements your sunscreen (but doesn’t replace it!)

The bad — beware!

Scan your makeup for the following chemicals. CosDNA is a user-submitted database of products that uses data from comedogenicity studies to rank ingredients in terms of their comedogenicity potential. The scale ranges from 0-5, and 5’s are believed to be the worst offenders in terms of clogging pores. Try to avoid anything that rates a 3 or higher! For a more extensive list, visit CosDNA.

Getting makeup on...

  1. Moisturizer with SPF

    If you have oily skin, skip this step! Don’t forget about sunscreen though!

  2. Acne-Fighting Foundation

    Most acne-fighting foundations contain salicylic acid, also known as beta hydroxy acid or BHA. This helps shed and peel the outermost layers of skin. It’s great for oily skin, but stay away if your skin is sensitive or dry.

    A tip: if you’re already using a dedicated acne treatment, you don’t need salicylic acid in your foundation. Too much can lead to irritation and redness.

  3. Good makeup (see above list)

...and getting makeup off

At the end of the day, your makeup should be gone like it was never there. Choose the right makeup remover for your skin type to avoid irritation.

Dry Skin

  • Micellar water

  • Oils

  • Cleansing creams and milks

  • The Cleanser by Curology

Oily Skin

  • Micellar water

  • Oils

  • Foaming cleansers

  • The Cleanser by Curology

The Cleanser by Curology is a light-foaming everyday cleanser that also works great as a makeup remover. It’s gentle and non-irritating enough for all skin types and leaves skin clean, hydrated, and smooth.

Micellar water is the Swiss army knife of makeup removal: it cleanses, remove makeup, and moisturizes all in one step by using tiny molecules — micelles — that pull the dirt and oil out of your skin. They’re good for all skin types (though people with oiler skin may want to use The Cleanser as well).

Mineral oil and some other oils such as olive oil are cheaper alternatives for makeup removal and are generally well-tolerated. But that’s a whole other topic.

Face wipes may sound like the most convenient things in the world, but they often contain ingredients (hello, alcohol) that can irritate the skin. If that’s all you have on you, gently splash your face with water after using a face wipe.

Other best practices

  • Clean your brushes and tools regularly.

  • Looks matter! Makeup bottles with pumps are more hygienic than screw tops.

  • Patch test new product samples from beauty stores, but remember that unless you test a product for weeks or sometimes months, you won’t know for sure how your skin reacts to it.

  • Always remove your makeup before exercise and going to bed.

• • •

Last but not least, put your skin on a diet

If you’ve removed obvious offenders from your makeup routine but you’re still breaking out, it might be time to try a skin diet. Remove one makeup product from your routine for a week or two, and see how your skin reacts. Listen to your skin. Respect it. There is no one-size-fits-all — do right by yourself.

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