Acne is the WORST. And the more you have, the more inclined you feel to layer on heavy foundation to cover it up. But sometimes your makeup can lead to new breakouts, and you become trapped in a vicious cycle of wanting to hide your blemishes while the product you’re using creates more of them. Before you reach for the concealer, it’s worth taking a moment to understand what’s going on with your skin: “The development of acne requires the presence of several contributory factors including oil production, certain bacteria, and occlusion of pores,” says Arielle Nagler, MD, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. Any of these factors can make you more likely to break out when you add makeup to the mix. But, she explains, not all makeup is created equal. The trick is to choose a foundation that’s right for your skin.
“The main mechanism by which cosmetic ingredients cause acne is through occlusion of pores,”
Avoid comedogenic products
“The main mechanism by which cosmetic ingredients cause acne is through occlusion of pores,” says Dr. Nagler, and the following are all known pore-cloggers.
Alcohols: Cetearyl alcohol, oleyl alcohol, and other types can trigger the development of white heads and blackheads, the first lesions in acne. Even worse, alcohols are irritants and can dry out the skin. That irritation can trigger flare-ups, which make it more difficult to use acne-fighting medications, since those too can be drying, explains Melisa Piliang, MD, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
VanishLanolin: Used as an emollient to soften the skin, lanolin and its derivatives (like acetylated lanolin) can also lead to breakouts.
Silicones: Cyclopentasiloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, and other forms of silicone such as dimethicone, phenyl, and trimethicone are a no-no for acne-prone skin, according to Debra Jaliman, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City and author of Skin Rules ($13; amazon.com).
Another substance to avoid: petrolatum, which is sometimes found in moisturizing foundations, she says.
Oils: Some foundations include oil, such as mineral oil, coconut oil, and cocoa butter. But oils are not recommended for anyone with acne, cautions Dr. Piliang. Adding extra oil to already oily skin can clog your pores even more.
Fatty acids: The ingredient ehylhexyl palmitate, a derivative of palm oil, may also be responsible for makeup-induced acne woes. “Keep in mind that ‘natural ingredients’ can be comedogenic as well,” says Dr. Piliang.
Be wary of the claims on labels
A few companies have begun labeling their foundation and concealer as “acne-fighting.” But that may not mean what you think: Acne-fighting typically indicates that a product contains over-the-counter medication like salicylic acid. While salicylic acid does have properties that can help unclog pores, it also has the potential to be drying, notes Dr. Piliang.
Look for these four ingredients
There are foundations out there that can actually help your skin, says Dr. Jaliman. When you’re shopping, she recommends scanning labels for ingredients such as aloe and antimicrobial peptide 10. Retinols and vitamin A derivatives are plusses as well, says Dr. Nagler: Both are thought to “improve the rate of turn over of your skin to help prevent the development of those pesky zits,” she explains. “In addition, retinols stimulate collagen helping to counter the effects of aging and sun.
The best makeup for acne
Dr. Jaliman has no problem recommending these noncomedogenic foundations that are free of oil and heavy moisturizers.
CoverGirl Clean foundation ($11, amazon.com)
Physicians Formula Organic Wear ($15, amazon.com)
Almay Smart Shade Skintone Matching Makeup ($11, target.com)
Laura Mercier Oil Free Supreme Foundation ($57, amazon.com).