Makeup and Skin Care for Acne

We put a lot of time, effort, and money into looking beautiful (or handsome, depending on your gender). Americans fork over nearly $9 billion annually for creams, scrubs, concealers, and a drawerful of other cosmetics that claim to keep our skin looking clean, clear, and more youthful.

Ironically, the very same products you rely on to keep your skin looking its best could be doing your pores a big disservice. Using the wrong makeup or cream could actually accentuate the pimples you're trying so hard to hide.

Caring for acne-prone skin requires some careful cosmetic sleuthing -- reading labels to find products that won't clog your pores and lead to more breakouts. WebMD has made the process a little easier by compiling a checklist of must-have makeup and grooming ingredients for people with acne.

Use this acne skin-care checklist when navigating the aisles of cosmetics and makeup at your local supermarket or drug store.

Moisturizers and Acne

Somehow, the idea that moisturizers are a no-no for pimple-prone skin started circulating many years back, and now a lot of people with acne avoid them like the plague. In reality, moisturizers are an essential part of the acne skin care routine. The acne treatment your dermatologist prescribed or recommended probably contains drying ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, which can suck the moisture out of your skin and leave it looking red and irritated. A good moisturizer will keep the water in your skin and help avoid unsightly drying and peeling.

What to look for : Choose a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer labeled "non-comedogenic" -- which is just a fancy way of saying that it won't clog your pores. Also look for ingredients like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, which hold moisture in the skin. What to avoid? Heavy, greasy products that contain pimple-producing ingredients such as cocoa butter, mineral oil, or cold cream.

Should You Use Scrubs and Masks for Acne?

There's no need to slather your face in day-glo green or mud and scare off all the neighborhood kids. Experts say masks and scrubs do little, if anything, to improve acne. A gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that's formulated for your skin type (oily, dry, or combination) will do a lot more to keep your face pimple-free.

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Acne-Friendly Aftershave Lotions

Men with acne need to pay attention to their skin care regimen, too. Shaving can be both a plus and minus for a man's skin. The plus is that shaving each day acts as a natural exfoliant, opening your pores so the excess oil can drain out. But if you shave the wrong way or use the wrong products, you could wind up with more acne. Or, you could get razor bumps, which aren't acne but look a lot like them. Razor bumps pop up when newly cut, sharp-ended hairs turn back into the skin and make the skin swell up.

What to look for : Use a non-irritating, lubricating shaving gel, or a prescription shaving foam containing benzoyl peroxide or a topical antibiotic that's designed for men with acne. When you shave, use a sharp razor so you don't pull on the hair or cut your skin. Shave downward, in the direction of growth of the hair follicles, to prevent irritation. After shaving, skip the splash of cologne or alcohol-based aftershave, which can irritate your skin -- not to mention leave you in agony if you have any open cuts or recently popped pimples. Use an oil-free moisturizer or a prescription topical antibiotic lotion or gel instead.

Wearing Makeup When You Have Acne

People have been covering up their blemishes for centuries. In the 1600s, women wore star-and moon-shaped silk patches to hide their smallpox scars. Today, we use makeup to camouflage our pimples, but applying layer after layer of cover-up when you have acne isn't necessarily the best approach. Makeup can be very good at hiding pimples, but it can also accentuate zits if you use the wrong kind of concealer or slather it on too thickly. The redness and peeling many acne treatments leave behind can look even worse when smeared with thick makeup.

What to look for: All of your makeup, from blush to eye shadow, should be non-greasy, non-comedogenic (or non-acnegenic), hypoallergenic, non-irritating, and oil-free. Read the ingredients -- the very first one should be water. Mineral-based cosmetics contain added ingredients like silica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide, which both absorb oil and hide redness without irritating skin and causing pimples. Another ingredient to look for is dimethicone, which also conceals redness while smoothing out uneven skin.

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Pick a makeup color that complements your skin tone. When applying foundation, a little goes a long way. Use about a quarter-sized amount, and blend it into your entire face. Allow your foundation to dry for a few minutes before putting on the rest of your makeup.

If you notice that your skin is red, itchy, or swollen after you apply a certain type of makeup, stop using it. Some ingredients in cosmetics cause an allergic irritation known as contact dermatitis in certain people.

Sunscreen for People With Acne

Contrary to popular belief, sunscreen doesn't cause acne. And while red, sunburned skin might temporarily hide your pimples, getting burned too many times can also leave you with premature lines and wrinkles, and increase your risk for skin cancer. You want to protect your skin when you're outside in the sun without slathering on gobs of greasy sunscreen.

What to look for: Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect against both UVA and UVB light. A water-based or light liquid-based gel or spray-on sunscreen is best for people who tend to get breakouts. You can also look for light lotions and powder sunscreens. Look for “noncomedogenic” on the label, which means it should not clog your skin’s pores. Watch out for chemicals such as PABA and benzophenone, which can irritate sensitive skin. Look for physical sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on November 22, 2015

Sources

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Pfenninger, J. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care, 3rd ed, Mosby Elsevier, 2010.

Goodman G. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, 2009.

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News release, American Academy of Dermatology.

Wolverton, S. Comprehensive Dermatologic Drug Therapy, 2nd ed, Saunders Elsevier, 2007.

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