Is makeup bad for acne?

You use makeup to cover up blemishes, but can it also aggravate acne-prone skin? See pictures of makeup tips.
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Whether you're a teenager enduring the trials of puberty or an adult dealing with a surprise onslaught of wonky hormones, acne can make you want to pull a paper bag over your head. Although the desire to disappear is understandable, it's definitely not practical. Whether you like or not, you have to face the world while you're waiting for your pimples to clear. Hiding those blemishes is easier than hiding your head, but using makeup to cover them can pose their own set of challenges as well.

First, you need to understand what causes acne. Contrary to popular opinion, you don't get acne because you don't wash your face enough or eat too much fried food. Dirty skin and a greasy diet don't cause acne; your glands do [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Sebaceous glands in your skin produce oil designed to keep your tissues moist and protected. Acne results when your sebaceous glands make too much oil; that oil clogs your pores and encourages bacteria to grow. The inflamed bumps we know as acne appear not only on your face, but also on areas like your chest and back [source: WebMD].

Once you know why you have acne, you can work to hide and eventually heal it. If you're going to use makeup to conceal your acne, make sure that you're not creating new pimples by covering up the ones you already have. To avoid increasing oil production and clogging your pores, you need to know what's in your cosmetic products.

In addition to concealing pimples, you need to treat the acne so it will go away while you're hiding it. Treatment options include the following:

  • over-the-counter and prescription topical treatments
  • topical and oral antibiotics
  • hormonal therapy
  • skin treatments like dermabrasion, chemical peels and photodynamic therapy [source: American Academy of Dermatology]

To find the best treatment plan for your skin, you may want to consult a dermatologist. Once you get your acne treatment plan in place, you can use makeup to conceal your pimples while you're waiting for them to heal. Read on to find out how to use makeup without worsening your breakouts.




Makeup and Breakouts

This morning, you woke up to a mountainous zit on your face. As much as you might like to, you can't stay home and hide in bed. Fear not! You can hide the volcanic nightmare with some thoughtfully applied makeup.

When camouflaging acne, you want to make sure you conceal unsightly bumps and scars without growing new ones. To that end, here are some tips to get the most out of your makeup routine:

  • Start fresh. Wash your face gently before applying your makeup. Too much scouring, scrubbing and abrasive cleanser can hurt your skin and cause it to produce more oil, increasing acne growth.
  • Go light. Skip heavy, thick foundations that increase the grease on your face. Try using an oil-free or water-based foundation [source: WebMD].
  • Remember that less is more. Rather than layering on too much makeup, use the smallest amount necessary to camouflage any imperfections.
  • Read the label. Look for noncomedogenic makeup that won't clog pores or nonacnegenic products that won't create more acne [source: American Academy of Dermatology].
  • Stay loose. You may want to avoid products that are pressed or caked because these cosmetics often contain comedogenic ingredients.
  • Go easy on the powder. Although powder is great for soaking up oil, you don't want to glob so much on that you suffocate and clog your pores. When using a powder, remember that you only need a light dusting and that loose is better than pressed [source: Cleveland Clinic].
  • Sleep naked. Make sure you thoroughly wash off all your makeup before you go to sleep. Clean skin is healthy skin [source: Cleveland Clinic].

Now that you know the rules for hiding breakouts, continue reading to learn how to get additional benefit out of your makeup by using products with acne-fighting ingredients.

Acne-Fighting Makeup

If you're covering up your pimples, you might as well get the most out of what you're using to conceal them. Many cosmetics are taking the value-added approach by adding acne-fighting ingredients to their formulas. Good acne fighters include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil and alpha-hydroxy acid [source: WebMD]. Topical retinoids, as opposed to oral retinoids like Accutane, also help treat acne [source: Cleveland Clinic]. Look for makeup containing these ingredients if you want to use your makeup as an acne fighter.

Before you run out and buy a large stock of medicated makeup, you should take a few facts into consideration. Many acne-fighting ingredients cite dryness as a side effect, so using too many acne-fighting products at the same time can dry out your skin [source: Monroe]. Overly dry skin will try to repair itself by making new oil, and the last thing you need is more oil clogging your pores [source: Syrett].

As an alternative to makeup with added acne-fighting ingredients, you might want to try mineral-based cosmetics. Mineral makeup products not only are noncomedogenic but also use titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which have anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the irritation associated with acne breakouts. However, you should be wary of products that contain bismuth oxychloride, because it can increase irritation and trigger cystic acne, a painful form of acne in which pus-filled cysts form on the surface of the skin [source: Bouchez].

Another alternative to acne-fighting makeup is tinted acne medication. Instead of using makeup to treat acne, you're using medicine to treat and cover up pimples and other blemishes. The medication provides the camouflage [source: American Academy of Dermatology].

No matter what type of makeup you choose, one of the more challenging aspects of makeup application comes with trying to cover acne scars. Keep reading to learn some ways to hide scars resulting from acne.

Makeup and Acne Scars

Acne is like having a bad houseguest; even after it leaves, you're stuck dealing with the wreckage left behind. Acne scars are the unfortunate souvenirs of acne's visit. Although you can seek dermatological procedures and surgical options to treat your acne scars, you might want to try using makeup to cover the scars first.

Acne scars come in two basic types -- depressed and raised [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Scars also present in different colors, including red, purple, pink, brown and white, depending on their age and type [sources:, The Patient's Guide].

Unfortunately, makeup can't fill in depressions or flatten raised scars, but it can balance colors so scars blend in better with the rest of your skin. Your best bet for covering red scars is to use a green concealer that counteracts the color [source: Cleveland Clinic]. Then, you can apply foundation on top of the concealer and blend. With pink and white scars, try camouflaging them with natural toned cover-up or foundation so that they match the rest of your skin.

If makeup fails to adequately cover your scars, consider talking to your doctor about other options. A dermatologist should consider the severity of your scars as well as their impact on your mental and emotional state when recommending treatment options. Possible options to discuss with your dermatologist include dermabrasion, chemical peels and photodynamic therapy. Dermabrasion techniques remove the top layer of skin while chemical peels unclog pores and surgery removes actual pimples, such as whitehead and blackheads [source: American Academy of Dermatology]. Photodynamic therapy uses a special type of light combined with a drug that together destroy certain skin cells, enabling doctors to remove blemishes [source: Alai].

Makeup is just one tool for dealing with the challenges of acne. If you use makeup wisely, you can throw away your paper bag for good.

For more information, follow the links on the next page.

Related Articles


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  • American Academy of Dermatology. "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatment." (Accessed 8/17/09)
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