Dermatologist Answers: Can Makeup Cause Acne Breakouts?

Written by Kellie Reed, MD, Board Certified Dermatologist on August 23, 2022 One Comment

women applying makeup

It’s common to cover your breakouts with makeup, but using makeup may be making your acne worse. Certain types of makeup, and bad makeup habits, can clog pores, irritate skin and lead to inflammation. Learn how to wear makeup without causing acne breakouts.

Yes, MakeUp Can Worsen Acne

There are several factors that contribute to acne, including genetics, hormones and the skin’s physical environment. Ultimately, each of these factors causes acne by clogging pores.

  • Blackheads (open comedones) form when clogged pores remain open. The impurities inside interact with oxygen and turn black.
  • Whiteheads (closed comedones) form when clogged pores remain closed.
  • Papules form when clogged pores grow and rupture, infecting surrounding skin with bacteria, leading to inflammation.

Pores can get clogged with sebum (the oil your skin produces), dead skin cells, or other impurities like dirt and makeup particles.

Acne Cosmetica is the term for acne caused by products applied to the skin. Any product that can potentially clog pores may trigger a breakout. Acne cosmetica typically leads to a rash-like breakout that manifests as small red or pink bumps. Acne cosmetica can lead to whiteheads, blackheads and pustules, too.

Is There Makeup That Won’t Cause Acne?

Certain types of makeup are more prone to causing breakouts than others. Makeup that contains fragrances, dyes, acrylics, parabens and silicones are most triggering. To select makeup that won’t lead to acne, consider the following:

  • DO Read the Labels: Choose makeup that is labeled as non-comedogenic. This means the product is less likely to clog pores. Other terms may include non-acnegenic, or the label may simply say, ‘won’t clog pores.’
  • DO Choose Mineral-Based Formulas: Mineral-based makeup is often lighter, powder-based and made from larger, natural particles that are less likely to clog pores.
  • DO Select Acne-Fighting Ingredients: Some foundations include exfoliating ingredients such as salicylic acid, which can help treat clogged pores. Just beware these ingredients may be too drying for some, causing excess oil production.


  • AVOID Irritating Ingredients: Avoid fragrances, essential oils, dyes, acrylics, parabens and surfactants such as sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • AVOID Silicone: Silicone is a pore-clogging ingredient often found in primers. It may be listed as dimethicone or as another ingredient ending in -cone.
  • AVOID Alcohols: Alcohols are drying, which triggers skin to produce more oil. Alcohols in makeup may be listed as myristyl myristate, isopropyl myristate or laureth-4.

Additional Tips to Minimize Makeup Related Acne

In addition to selecting makeup that’s more suitable for acne-prone skin, the following tips can help prevent makeup-related breakouts.

Always Apply Makeup To A Freshly Cleansed Face

Cleaning your face before applying makeup removes excess oil, dead skin cells, dirt and other impurities from the skin’s surface. If you start fresh in this way, your makeup is less likely to mix with these impurities, keeping them trapped in your pores.

Prep Your Skin Before Applying Makeup

Before applying makeup, consider prepping your skin with an acne-fighting toner or serum such as lactic acid or glycolic acid. To avoid over-drying your skin, keep it well moisturized. Well-moisturized skin produces less oil.

Always Remove Your Makeup Before Bed

At the end of the day, always remove your makeup with a thorough cleansing. Leaving makeup on your skin not only clogs pores, but can interfere with your skin’s natural exfoliation process, leading to the buildup of more dead skin cells.

Never Apply Makeup with Your Fingers

If you must use your hands, wash them well before touching your face. Anytime you bring your hands to your face, you’re risking the transfer of bacteria, dirt, and oils, the combination of which leads to breakouts.

Never Share Makeup with Others

Avoid sharing and makeup brushes with others as doing so can transfer harmful bacteria to your skin. Not only can this cause acne, but may put you at risk for a more serious infection.

Never Use Expired Products

Using makeup beyond the expiration date can transfer built-up bacteria from the product to your skin. This is especially true for mascara, foundation and other liquid formulas. When in doubt, never keep makeup for longer than 12-18 months.

Wash Your Makeup Brushes Regularly

Clean your makeup brushes and applicators regularly, every 1-2 weeks. Use a product specifically for brush-cleansing, or wash brushes with a mild shampoo and warm water. Brushes should be stored separately from your makeup, in an upright position that allows for plenty of airflow.

Give Your Skin a Break

When possible, give your skin a break from wearing makeup. Either wash your face earlier in the day once you’ve returned home, or choose 1-2 days each week to go makeup free. The more time you give your pores to ‘breathe,’ the less potential for clogging.

See Your Dermatologist For Professional Acne Treatments!

Makeup is not the only factor that contributes to breakouts. If you have acne-prone skin, regular visits to your dermatologist can reduce the frequency and duration of your breakouts.

A dermatologist has access to treatments that are often stronger and more effective than over-the-counter solutions. Ask about prescription strength cleansers, serums and creams as well as acne-fighting treatments such as chemical peels, Blu-U laser and more.

Kellie Reed, MD

Dr. Kellie Reed specializes in aesthetic skin care, general medical dermatology, pediatric, and rheumatologic dermatology. She is passionate about her patient care and attention to detail, and her positive attitude provides a sense of comfort for her patients. Dr. Reed is a member of the Travis County Medical Society, Texas Medical Association, Texas Dermatological Society, Austin Dermatological Society, Women’s Dermatologic Society, Rheumatologic Dermatology Society, and the American Academy of Dermatology.

One Response to “Dermatologist Answers: Can Makeup Cause Acne Breakouts?”

  1. That’s why we always tell patients to see the label to check the ingredients before buying makeup and alwasy make sure to completely remove makeup before bed.

Leave a Reply