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Can Makeup Cause Acne?

Yes, Be Sure to Select and Use Makeup Wisely

Last updated: September 04, 2018

Article Summary

Dermatologists refer to acne caused by makeup as acne cosmetica. It can take months to form and can be a stubborn problem to treat. Some things you can do to help the situation include: going makeup-free whenever possible, selecting non-comedogenic (will not clog pores) products, and applying and removing makeup correctly.

Can makeup cause acne? The answer is yes. 45% of women in a recent Brazilian study had dermatoses (skin disease) associated with the cosmetics they were using. 14% had active skin lesions due to cosmetics.1Cosmetic-induced acne is so widespread that it has its own name, acne cosmetica. People typically experience cosmetic-induced acne on the chin and cheeks more than than on the forehead.2It presents as small, whitish bumps, sometimes referred to as "grains," which are more noticeable when the skin is stretched. It can also show up as red, garden variety pimples. Cosmetic-induced acne tends to be stubborn, sometimes lasting for years as the person using makeup enters into a vicious cycle of covering the breakouts, which lead to further breakouts. Cosmetic-induced acne can take months to form which can lead to confusion as a breakout seems to come out of nowhere, when in fact, cosmetics slowly caused the acne to form over time. Applying makeup too roughly can lead to irritation which can also aggravate acne.

So what do I do about it? Go bare when you can. When applying makeup, use it as sparingly as you can. Choose sheer, water-based, non-comedogenic (won't clog pores) products. And finally, apply these products using a featherlight touch and only for a few seconds to minimize irritation.

Acne Cosmetica

What Are the Best Makeup Choices?

There is no consensus on any "safe" makeup products. Almay® brand may be a safer choice since the company has a track record of dedication to fragrance-free, non-comedogenic (non pore-clogging) formulas. Regardless of brand, try to choose sheer or light coverage varieties which specifically claim to be non-comedogenic and are fragrance-free. Large, drugstore brands which are made for a younger, more acne-prone audience tend to be a safer choice than department store varieties, and less expensive to boot. "Acne-fighting" makeup, while not necessarily a poor choice, is largely a marketing idea and does not provide for real acne fighting. "Acne-fighting" makeups tend to have .5% salicylic acid as an active ingredient. Even 2% salicylic acid (the legal limit over-the-counter) does little for acne. Mineral makeup is fine as long as it does not cause itchiness, which is a sign of irritation and can lead to scratching (further irritation).

Woman Reading Makeup Ingredient List

Instructions for Applying Makeup


  • Gently tap on a primer with your bare hands and a featherlight touch.
  • Avoid “massaging“ the primer in. This can cause unnecessary irritation.
  • Avoid fragrance.
Applying Primer to Acne-prone Skin


  • Apply a sheer or light coverage foundation with your bare hands using a featherlight touch. If applying a powder or mineral foundation gently brush it on your skin for only a few seconds.
  • Avoid full or heavy coverage foundations, “all day” or long wearing foundations, thick cream type foundations.
  • Avoid sponges or other applicators. These can be irritating.
  • Avoid fragrance.
Applying Foundation to Acne-prone Skin

Pressed Powder:

  • Apply pressed powder as gently and quickly as possible using a clean dry powder puff.
  • Avoid applying for longer than a few seconds.
  • Avoid fragrance.
Applying Pressed Powder to Acne-prone Skin


  • If you still need to conceal some spots, apply a concealer with your bare hands using a featherlight touch.
  • Avoid heavy, greasy concealers.
Applying Concealer to Acne-prone Skin


  • Gently brush on powder blush for only a few seconds using a featherlight touch.
  • Avoid applying for longer than a few seconds.
  • Avoid liquid blush – these can be greasy.
  • Avoid fragrance.
Applying Blush to Acne-prone Skin


  • Gently brush on bronzer quickly and gently.
  • Many people implicate bizmuth oxychloride as an itch promoter and skin irritant. It may be best to avoid this ingredient.
  • Avoid any bronzer which causes your skin to itch. Scratching at the skin is very irritating.
Applying Bronzer to Acne-prone Skin

Tinted Moisturizer:

  • Apply tinted moisturizer with your bare hands using a featherlight touch. You may add 5-6 drops of jojoba oil into the tinted moisturizer before applying.
  • Avoid applying multiple moisturizers on top of one another. If you are using a tinted moisturizer, use only it as your only moisturizer.
  • Avoid fragrance.
Applying Tinted Moisturizer to Acne-prone Skin

Instructions for Removing Makeup

Eye makeup:

  • Dispense mineral oil (baby oil) or jojoba oil on a cotton pad or cotton ball. Use pad or ball to remove makeup.
  • To avoid irritation, do not scrub other areas of the face with the cotton ball or pad.

Foundation, powder, concealer, and blush:

  • Wash off using facial cleanser very gently for 10 seconds or less using your bare hands, just as you would if you were on The Acne.org Regimen without makeup. See Step 1 above. Note: If your makeup does not come off easily by washing this way, switch brands to a lighter, more sheer variety. If on occasion you need something stronger, try using moisturizer and your bare hands to gently remove makeup.
  • Avoid using towelettes, wipes, washcloths, scrubbers, and anything other than bare hands.

Removing Makeup from the Face

Removing Makeup from the Eyes

Ingredients to Avoid

The table below lists ingredients which score a 3 or above on the 0-5 comedogenicity scale. If any of these are within the first seven ingredients on the ingredient list of a makeup product you are choosing, you may want to reconsider. If, however, any of these ingredients are far down on the list, this means the manufacturer may have included it in a very small amount and the product may still be safe to use.


  • Isopropyl isostearate
  • Isopropyl myristate
  • Myristyl myristate
  • Laureth-4
  • Oleth-3
  • Coconut butter
  • Acetylated lanolin
  • Acetylated lanolin alcohol
  • Lauric acid
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Isostearyl isostearate
  • Myristyl lactate
  • Stearyl heptanoate
  • Cetearyl alcohol + ceteareth 20
  • Cocoa butter
  • Mink oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Shark liver oil
  • D&C red #30
  • Stearic acid: TEA
  • Myristic acid
  • Buytl stearate
  • Decyl oleate
  • Isostearyl neopentanoate
  • Glyceryl stearate SE
  • Wheat germ glyceride
  • Laureth-23

Avoid Makeup Containing Fragrance

Avoid Makeup Containing Comedogenic Ingredients


When it comes to acne management, going bare-faced is preferable to wearing makeup since makeup itself can be a cause of acne. However, many people enjoy wearing makeup. Therefore, it is important to make good makeup choices for acne-prone skin. You can lessen the negative effects of makeup by: (1) selecting sheer, water-based, non-comedogenic formulas, and (2) applying and removing makeup correctly.

The Experts at Acne.org

Our team of medical doctors, biology & chemistry PhDs, and acne experts work hand-in-hand with Dan (Acne.org founder) to provide the most complete information on all things acne. If you find any errors in this article, kindly use this Feedback Form and let us know.


  1. Duarte, I., Campos Lage, A. C. Frequency of dermatoses associated with cosmetics. Contact Dermatitis. 56, 211-213 (2007).
  2. Kligman, A. M., Mills, O. H. Jr. "Acne cosmetica". Arch. Dermatol. 106, 843-850 (1972).



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