Can Makeup Make Acne Worse?
It’s quite natural to want to even skin out with foundation or concealer—and if done properly, it can be a great way to cover up your acne and dark spots while you’re treating it. But a few missteps could have the opposite effect, leading your makeup to cause breakouts and compromise your complexion’s clarity. This is the advice I give my patients who want to wear makeup and keep skin looking its best.
Does foundation cause acne?
A lot of times I’ll have my patients bring in their products and show them to me (now that we’re doing more tele-dermatology, more and more patients have even been doing virtual show and tells). When we try to figure out if your makeup is making you break out, the first thing that needs to be considered is the consistency of the product. There are different forms of foundations; they can be light and water-based or thick and opaque. There are also powder and mineral-based products. Knowing where your formula falls within this range of options will tell you a lot (more on that below).
When we try to figure out if your makeup is making you break out, the first thing that needs to be considered is the consistency of the product.
Oil based makeup can cause acne
If someone is experiencing acne, discoloration, or scarring, I can understand why thick, opaque oil-based makeup is preferred—it provides better coverage. But the oils in these makeup formulas are often comedogenic and can actually block pores and hair follicles, creating acne. It becomes a vicious cycle, really: The more you apply the makeup to cover up the acne, the more acne you get. And then the more acne you get, the greater the chance you’ll also experience discoloration and scarring. Something has to give in order to solve the problem.
Use these foundations to avoid acne
I’d never discourage a makeup lover from wearing foundation—you just have to find a base layer that works for your skin. The key is to use mineral or water-based products. Doing so makes it much less likely that you’ll experience additional breakouts caused by the makeup you’re using. And consider giving your skin periodic breaks from wearing foundation altogether.
Even lip gloss can cause acne
There may be occlusive, pore-clogging ingredients in those sticky formulas that can lead to breakouts around the mouth. If a patient’s lipstick is causing acne, such as blackheads or whiteheads along their upper or lower lip or both, I may suggest matte lipstick as it tends to be less irritating.
Thoroughly remove makeup and cleanse to avoid breakouts
Removing your makeup at the end of the day before you go to sleep is so important—for everyone, not just acne patients. Think about everything that’s in the environment—pollution, smoke, pollen, bacteria. Those things shouldn’t be on your skin when you lay your head down on your pillow at night. That’s why proper cleansing is crucial to remove acne-causing makeup and bacteria. Plus, post-cleanse is the best time to add your acne or anti-aging treatment—they’re more effective on skin that’s been freshly washed.
In terms of how to wash your face and remove makeup, I recommend being systematic about it. Make sure you wet your face first and apply a gentle liquid cleanser in circular motions. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry. Avoid using the same towel you use on your body and stick to a white hand towel (that way, you know that you’ve gotten everything off). I also love the idea of using wipes or a cleansing cloth at night. Consider wiping the cloth over your skin first to remove makeup and then using a foaming or gentle cleanser afterward as a double cleanse. This is especially effective for those who have very oily skin.
Wash your makeup brushes and sponges to avoid breakouts, too
It’s important to use applicators that are hygienic and won’t worsen acne. I think brushes or sponges should be cleaned at least weekly depending on how often they are being used. And it’s also so economical to go disposable these days—you can get a big bag of makeup sponges at the beauty supply store and then toss them away.
Valerie D. Callender, M.D., F.A.A.D.
Dr. Valerie Callender is a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists and an internationally recognized Board-Certified Dermatologist known for her sensitive and innovative approach to the treatment of pigmentation disorders. Dr. Callender is a prolific contributor to the dermatology literature and has co-edited a textbook on Treatment for Skin of Color. Dr. Callender has conducted and participated in over 60 research studies and clinical trials for both therapeutic and cosmetic products and is a consultant for some of the world’s leading cosmetic and consumer brands. She is a Past President of the Women’s Dermatologic Society and Skin of Color Society and has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Dermatology. She is the Founder of the Callender Dermatology & Cosmetic Center and Callender Center for Clinical Research, which are located in the Washington, DC metropolitan region. Dr. Callender received her medical degree from Howard University, where she also did her residency and currently serves as a Professor of Dermatology at the College of Medicine.
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