How to Choose a Face Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin

What to Look For (and What to Avoid) in a Healthy Moisturizer

People tend to think that sun exposure helps "dry out" acne or that having a tan helps acne blend in better, but these results are only temporary, says Karcher. In fact, too much sun exposure or sunburn can irritate the skin and make acne even worse in the long run. That's why it's also important to also wear a moisturizer with built-in sunscreen every day, throughout the year, or to use a separate sunscreen over your salicylic acid moisturizer if it does not contain its own. (It's important to note, as well, that acne treatments like salicylic acid products can make the skin even more sensitive to sunburn, so sunscreen is even more important for people who use them!) Look for an SPF of at least 30, recommends the American Academy of Dermatology.

Whether you have acne or not, there are a few general rules you should follow when choosing a moisturizer. Look for products that are unscented, and that uses the term noncomedogenic, meaning that it won't clog pores. Avoid moisturizers with any of the following ingredients, which are used as emulsifiers that can leave a drying, soapy film on your face: polysorbate, stearate, steareth, cetearyl, ceteareth, and emulsifying wax. Also stay away from the ingredients polyethylene, polyethylene glycol (or PEG), polyoxyethylene and any words ending in "oxynol" or "eth," which signify the presence of 1,4-dioxane, a chemical that's been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a carcinogen. [Tabor]

Always apply your moisturizer as soon as you get out of the shower or towel off your face after washing it. (If you're using a separate acne treatment, apply that first and then put moisturizer over top.) For most people, washing your face and applying moisturizer twice a day -- first thing in the morning and again before you go to bed -- is all you need; washing more often can dry your face out, and applying lotion more often can upset your skin's natural oil balance and cause more breakouts -- no matter how good your moisturizer is.

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  • Karcher, Cheryl, MD. Personal interview. September 13, 2013.
  • Libov, Charlotte. "Adult Acne: Why You Get It, How to Fight It." WebMD. March 31, 2010. (October 15, 2013)
  • MacMillan, Amanda. "Winter Skin Annoyances, Solved." (October 15, 2013),,20739780,00.html
  • McMullen, Laura. "How to Choose the Best Moisturizer for You." U.S. News & World Report. February 5, 2013.
  • Suszynski, Marie. "How to Find the Right Skin Moisturizer." Everyday Health. June 25, 2010. (October 13, 2013)
  • Tabor, Aaron, MD. "Dangerous Skin-Care Ingredients to Avoid." May 15, 2012. (October 13, 2013)

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