Moisturizers for acne-prone skin

The complete guide to moisturizers that don’t clog pores

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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.

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If you’ve got breakouts on the brain, choosing the right moisturizer for your skin can feel like floating in an ocean of options. To make life easier, we recommend taking it easy and sticking with a simple, gentle, non-clogging moisturizer. We want to help you find what’s right for your unique skin. So, we’ve whipped up this handy guide with moisturizers that our dermatology providers consider safe and non-clogging to help you narrow down your options.

How to determine your skin type

The best moisturizer for your skin can depend on your skin type, and acne-prone isn’t a skin type. Your skin might be dry, oily, sensitive, or “normal,” and also prone to acne. Your skin may be dry one day, oily or combination the next. What makes it change its mind? It could be hormones, your diet, or the time of the year. Your skin type may even be different on different parts on your face—you might have an oily T-zone, for example, but dry skin on your forehead. Luckily it’s not hard to figure out what your skin type is on any given day.

STEP 1 Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror. STEP 2 Pat a blotting paper (gently) on each area of your face: T-zone, forehead, chin, and cheeks. It can be hard to tell whether what you’re seeing on your skin is oil, shine, or just glowiness, so check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face was oilier. STEP 3 Wait an hour. If oil has reappeared on your face, your skin type is likely oily skin or combination skin (if you’re only oily in certain places). “Normal” skin isn’t dry nor oily, but smooth and balanced. Normal: Smooth, no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil Oily: Slick and shiny, larger pores Dry: Dry flakes, tight-feeling Combination: Oily T-zone, with normal-to-dry skin everywhere else (fun fact: most people actually have combination skin!)

Curology Moisturizer

Best face moisturizer for acne-prone skin

Whatever your skin type, our advice is: keep it simple. Curology's in-house dermatologists developed two moisturizers with this advice in mind, so they're great for acne-prone and sensitive skin, formulated to be non-comedogenic and free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common skin-irritating ingredients.

  • The moisturizer is a gel texture that hydrates with hyaluronic acid, yet it feels soft and lightweight on the skin.

  • The rich moisturizer doubles down on moisture with 6 hydrating heroes—hyaluronic acid, shea butter, aloe, glycerin, plant-based squalane, and allantoin—to nourish and protect your skin, without clogging pores.

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. Here are some more moisturizers whose ingredients pass our test for non-pore-clogging and non-skin-irritating ingredients.

FIRST AID BEAUTY Skin Rescue Oil-Free Mattifying Gel

  • Lightweight gel formula helps reduce the appearance of oiliness

  • Ceramides replenish and fortify the skin’s moisture barrier

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Rosehip oil nourishes the skin with omega 3, 6, 7 and 9

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

Derma-e Sensitive Skin Oil-Free Moisturizer

  • Oil-free moisturizer featuring potent antioxidants and soothing hydration

  • Aloe vera cools and soothes the skin

Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer

  • Contains salicylic acid with gentle moisturizing ingredients (note: if your skin is adjusting to your Curology or other acne medication, you may want to wait a few weeks before adding a salicylic acid product)

A pair of hands, covered in honey and rubbing together

Best face moisturizer for oily acne-prone skin

The moisturizer by Curology The Curology gel moisturizer works great for oily, acne-prone skin because it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and locks in hydration all day long. Our derms designed it to be non-pore-clogging (aka non-comedogenic) for those with acne-prone skin, and it’s also free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common skin-irritating ingredients. It’s vegan and cruelty-free, too, like all of our products.

If you’d like to check out some more options, here are a few that pass our test for no pore-clogging or irritating ingredients.

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Oil-based formula nourishes the skin without clogging pores

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Contains omega 3, 6, 7 and 9 from rosehip oil

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Fluide Oil-Free Moisturizer

  • Fast-absorbing and oil-free

  • Lightweight hydration with a matte finish

No moisturizer required, tbh!

You might not need to moisturize 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 face wash that won’t over-dry your skin, strip it of its natural oils, or weaken its protective barrier — something gentle, like our cleanser! Check out our in-depth cleanser guides for many more recommendations.

A bird's eye view of a small cactus next a bottle of Curology custom cream

Best moisturizer for dry acne-prone skin

The rich moisturizer by Curology If you’ve got dry skin, aging skin, or your skin just need some extra help to get through cold or dry weather—we’ve got the creamy moisturizer of your dreams. Our dermatologists formulated this creamy moisturizer to work twice as hard: first it adds moisture to the skin, then it traps that moisture in. Your skin will stay soft and protected all day (or night) long, thanks to 6 hydrating ingredients including hyaluronic acid and shea butter.

Layer up as much as you’d like—this won’t clog pores. It’s designed to pair perfectly with your custom Curology formula and Curology cleanser as part of the 3-step set. So sit back, relax, and let the rich moisturizer work its magic on your thirsty skin.

The moisturizer by Curology Our gel moisturizer works well for dry, acne-prone skin, too! But it is lightweight, so your skin might want an extra boost of moisture along with it. 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 on 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.

We hope you’ll give our moisturizers a try! But because we love you, and we want you to be happy no matter what, here are a few other options for moisturizers and face oils that’ll cut the mustard.

Pai Skincare Chamomile & Rosehip Calming Day Cream

  • Oil-based formula nourishes the skin without clogging pores

  • Chamomile, matricine, and chamazulene help soothe the skin

  • Contains omega 3, 6, 7 and 9 from rosehip oil

  • Nut allergy alert: contains sweet almond oil

L’Occitane Aqua Réotier Ultra Thirst-Quenching Gel

  • Lightweight moisturizer, rich with minerals and hyaluronic acid

  • Fast-absorbing formulation locks in moisture all day long without the oily finish that a heavier moisturizer might leave

Boscia Cactus Water Moisturizer

  • Hydrating ingredients with a barely-there finish

  • Lightweight enough to layer under makeup

Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel with Hyaluronic Acid

  • Water-gel consistency

  • Deeply hydrating hyaluronic acid

  • Fast-absorbing formula

Extreme close-up of a woman's face, partially covered in powder

Face oils for acne-prone dry skin

Rosehip seed oil Packed with omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, rose hip oil provides anti-inflammatory effects, which can help improve acne. It’s found in many face oils, but you can get it on its own and add a drop or two to your everyday moisturizer for extra hydration. Pai Skincare Rosehip BioRegenerate Oil is a popular option with great reviews!

Meadowfoam seed oil 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 oil as well, used in moisturizers such as Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40 and Sangre de Fruta Solis balancing serum.

Sea buckthorn oil 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.

See more face oils we recommend for acne-prone skin 👉

The Curology set sitting on top of a boogie board with sunglasses. A swimming pool is in the background.

Moisturizing face sunscreens for acne-prone skin

Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture Broad Spectrum SPF 35

  • Formulated for oily skin and offers broad-spectrum SPF (broad-spectrum sun protection is always essential, but it’s especially important when using acne medications, as these tend to contain ingredients that increase the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight!)

Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 40

  • Contains meadowfoam seed oil: a lightweight, non-comedogenic oil that sinks right into the skin and locks in moisture, leaving skin supple, glowy, and hydrated

CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30

  • Moisturizes with hyaluronic acid and ceramides for deep hydration that’s oil-free

  • Niacinamide helps reinforce the skin’s protective barrier, calm irritation, and evens skin tone

  • On top of all these benefits, it protects your skin with SPF 30!

Ingredients to avoid

Some ingredients found in moisturizers can clog pores or irritate the skin — here are the key ones to avoid, plus how to double-check the ingredients of any product to make extra sure!

Avoid…

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.

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 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!

An animation of the product search function on CosDNA.com

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

Some ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can actually make acne worse, even if the label says “non-comedogenic”! 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!

We recommend using CosDNA.com to research your skincare products (including body washes and lotions) in their product database. Pull up and run the ingredient list through the “Analyze Cosmetics” section of their website. Once you click “Analyze”, look in the “acne” column — if there are any 3’s, 4’s, or 5’s, consider stopping using that product. Of course, these ratings are a guide; your (sk)individual reaction may vary.

Hands with nail polish stacked on top of each other, next to the Curology set

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about

If you’re struggling with acne-prone skin, try a custom formula of prescription ingredients from Curology. Sign up for a free trial today to get your very own custom acne-fighting cream, plus our must-have moisturizer and gentle cleanser when you sign up for the full set!* While we’ve gone over a lot of moisturizers here that can be safe for acne-prone skin, the Curology moisturizer is the only one designed just for Curology members of any skin type who’re on an acne-clearing journey. But whatever works best for you and your unique skin — we’ve got your back.

• • •

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.

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).

*Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Trial is 30 days + $4.95 shipping and handling.

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