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Does Wearing Makeup Cause Acne?

does makeup cause acne

Does wearing makeup cause acne? Yes, well sometimes, not always, but probably, or it depends.  Is that confusing enough for you?  Seems there are opinions all across the board in answer to this question, but why?  Shouldn’t it just be ‘yes’ or ‘no’?  The problem is there are so many factors that may or may not be contributing to your breakout; the type of makeup you use could just be one of them.  And when Americans are spending about $9 billion a year for cosmetics, creams, concealers, scrubs and so on, in an attempt to achieve that perfect complexion – there may be some other products you’re using that can lead to breakouts, not just makeup. 

makeup brushes can cause acne

Understanding what is causing your skin to breakout is important because acne can have many contributing factors: stress, diet, poor hygiene, sometimes more serious issues that can be discussed with your dermatologist, or the products you use on your skin.  The acne that occurs because of something you use on your skin is called acne cosmetica.

Acne Cosmetica

Where is it found?

Most commonly found on the neck, hairline and face, acne cosmetica looks like small bumps all across the surface of the skin or in certain areas of the skin you may be applying a particular product.  

What does it look like?  

The skin can look and feel rough and may even be difficult to hide with make-up.  So while you may be doing your best to mask the small bumps with concealer, foundation and/or powder, they may actually be making it worse.  

What causes it?

Excess oil builds up as a result of various hair and skin care products; the pores become clogged and irritated, creating a blemish.  The most common acne-causing products are makeup, eye creams, moisturizers and hair pomades.  

How do you determine which products may be contributing to your breakouts?

Identify where the breakout is.  If you are experiencing frequent breakouts on your hairline or forehead, your hair products are likely to blame.  If you find small bumps around the eyes or upper area of your cheeks, the eye cream you are you using may be the culprit.  If the majority of your face is rough with small bumps, the source is most likely going to be products you use all over like moisturizer or foundation, even powder.

If you are able to identify your causes of acne cosmetica, change habits and discontinue use of the product, your skin is likely to improve revealing smooth, clearer skin.  

Where do I start?

woman with cosmetics and beauty products

1. Give your skin some time to breathe.

Even though you’re changing up the products you use or the way you use them, your skin needs to heal.  In order for it to heal, it needs a break.  Try to go make-up free at least 2 days a week to start.  If that seems like a lot, try only wearing makeup for crucial parts of the day like a meeting or photoshoot.  If you really feel up to the challenge, go makeup free for a whole week.  You’ll be amazed at how much your complexion has improved; your skin will thank you.  

2.Treat the problem that is already there.

If you’re not already, try using an acne treatment medication you can buy over the counter like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.  There are face washes, toners, topical treatments, lotions and spot concealers containing these ingredients that are effective at killing bacteria and restoring skins health.  Be sure to test a small area of skin first to ensure you won’t have a reaction to either of these treatments.

If you’re absolutely sure you cannot skip wearing makeup or if you have a favorite hair care product that is the only thing you feel works for your hair, some of these simple changes may help make some improvements:

  • Try switching to an oil-free moisturizer
  • Look for gentle skin care products labeled noncomedogenic, which is a term used to describe certain products specially formulated to avoid clogging pores and causing breakouts.
  • Use hair products including pomade, hair spray, gel, mousse, oil or conditioners at least one inch from the hairline or use it only on the ends of your hair.
  • Remove all traces of makeup at the end of the day before going to bed.  There is a new trend called double washing, once to remove the makeup and once to clean the skin.  This method is endorsed by skin care specialists, dermatologists, and skin care trendsetters all over the world.  

If you feel like you have made all the necessary improvements you have identified and are still not seeing an improvement in your overall complexion, consult with a doctor or skin care specialist to identify if a more serious issue is going on.

Makeup Mistakes That Cause Acne

Consider these 8 common makeup mistakes that people make contributing to breakouts and discover how to fix them…

mascara brush over cosmetics

1. Using dirty brushes and applicators. 

Reduce the amount of acne causing bacteria on your face by cleansing your bushes and applicators.  A gently cleanser and washcloth are the only things you’ll need.  Drop a small amount of soap into each brush or applicator and scrub gently.  Rinse until the water runs clear.

2. Choosing liquid based products.  

While most liquid makeup products offer more coverage, many of them have an oil base which makes them more likely to cause a breakout, especially if you have acne prone skin.  Look for a powder based makeup that will help to absorb excess oil.  If you insist on only using a liquid makeup formula, look for one that is oil-free and noncomedogenic.

3. Sleeping in your makeup.  

You’ve always heard the saying “Never go to bed without washing your face.” Not washing your face, especially at night, and allowing your skin to breathe increases the chance of the makeup settling in to your pores causing a breakout.  It also contributes to larger pores.  Gently cleanse your skin and apply your over the counter acne treatment medication, followed by an oil-free moisturizer.

4. Storing brushes in your makeup bag.  

There are bacteria lurking in the corners of your makeup bag. By keeping your tools, brushes and sponges in a bag full of makeup and other hygiene items, you are exposing those brushes to acne causing bacteria.  The best way to store makeup brushes is upside down.  It prevents the cosmetic tools from acquiring additional forms of bacteria which can lead to future breakouts.

5. Picking at your skin.  

We all know it’s difficult not to do, but don’t do it!  There are specially designed tools available for you to properly and carefully treat your skin that is ready to be treated.  Waiting for a zit or blackhead to be above the surface means it’s ready to be removed using proper tools and proper technique.  Doing so incorrectly could lead to future infection, increased breakouts, acne scars, and skin irritation.

6. Applying makeup with dirty hands.  

If you don’t want dirty makeup, don’t apply it with dirty hands.  Always wash your hands before applying any skincare product or cosmetic.  It’s also a good idea to wash your hands following using any hair care products to remove all additional oils that may be still lurking there.

7. Using too much makeup or too many products.  

With hundreds of thousands of products on the market, it’s easy to be hunting for your next favorite.  But when it comes to caring for your skin, stick with what works.  You take a lot of risks by introducing a new product just for fun or for a special event.  Not to say it can’t be done, just be prepared for the consequences if it’s not a good compliment to your skin’s characteristics. Remember, oftentimes, less is more!

8. Not trying new things.  

If you haven’t found a product you really love or one that works with your skin type, don’t be afraid to try new things.  Talk to your friends, family or read blogs of skin care experts and see what works for them.  Be willing to try a new type of tinted moisturizer or brand of foundation in an effort to find the product that will give you the look you want without causing a breakout.  

eyeshadow palettes

Key Ingredients to Avoid

If you’re shopping for a new cosmetic or skin care product, here are several ingredients you should stay away from, especially if you have sensitive or acne prone skin. Read more makeup tips for acne prone skin here.


Silicones are designed to make your skin feel silky smooth. However, silicones actually contribute to dry skin and clogged pores, which causes redness, acne and scarring.

Other names include cyclomethicone, siloxane, cyclohexasiloxane, methylpolysiloxane, stearoxytrimethylsilane, trimethylsiloxysilicate, methicone, trimethicone, dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, silsesquioxane, cyclotetrasiloxane.


Parabens extend a product's shelf life and inhibits the growth of mold. Parabens are actually disruptive to the endocrine system or interfere with our hormones.  

Other names include propylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, methylparaben.


Alcohol is designed to maximize the products' penetration into the skin. Alcohol causes irritation and dehydration.

Other names include isopropyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, cetyl alcohol, SD alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, acetylated lanolin alcohol, oleyl alcohol, hexadecyl alcohol, isocetyl alcohol.

hungover man with empty bottle


    Acrylics are designed to bind ingredients together. Acrylics actually are plastic.  They will get in to your pores and lead to clogging them, irritation and breakouts.

    Other names include acrylic/acrylate, acrylic/acrylates copolymer, crosspolymer, acrylic acid, methacrylic acid.


    Phthalates are an ingredients used to make solid ingredients dissolve. Phthalates actually interfere with your bodies overall hormone function.

    Other names include DBP or di-n-butyl phthalate, DEP or diethyl phthalate, BzBP or benzylbutyl phthalate.

    Perfumes and Dyes

      Perfumes and dyes are designed to make the product smell and look nice. Perfumes and dyes actually can be highly irritating to many people who develop a reaction such as a rash or swelling. If a product contains perfumes and dyes, they are required to disclose it, but the 200 different chemicals they use to produce it, doesn’t have to be released.

      Other names include fragrance parfum, D&C or FD&C.


      Petrochemicals are generally used to increase moisture or preserve the products longevity. Petrochemicals actually act as a delivery agent allowing other dirt and bacteria to get into the pores deeper.

      Other names include paraffin wax, mineral oil, benzene, petrolatum, mineral oil.

      chemical free makeup for good skin

      Other ingredients that are likely to be contributing to your acne are:




      bismuth oxychloride


      Additional irritating skin care ingredients (in alphabetical order):

      Acetylated lanolin

      Algea extract


      Benzoic acid

      Cetyl acetate

      Colloidal sulfer

      Corn oil

      Cottonseed oil


      Decyl oleate

      Dioctyl succinate

      Hydrogenated vegetable oil

      Lanolic acid

      Lauric acid

      Linseed oil

      Mink oil

      Myristic acid

      Octyl palmitate

      Oleic acid

      Oleth – 3

      Potassium chloride

      Sodium chloride

      Sorbitan sesquinoleate

      Soybean oil

      Stearic acid

      Stearyl heptanoate

      Sulfated castor oil

      Sulfated jojoba oil

      Wheat germ glyceride


      Applying Makeup Correctly

      When you’ve found the right products with the right ingredients, what is the best way to apply makeup to avoid irritating existing acne or causing future breakouts?

      1. Apply primer with clean fingers and light touch all over face surface
      2. Apply sheer foundation, tinted moisturizer or powder coverage all over face for an even, smooth finish
      3. Apply pressed powder using a brush gently sweeping across the face
      4. Add concealer as necessary using your finger, dab lightly.  
      5. Sweep powder blush across the cheek (liquid or cream blush are more likely to clog pores)
      6. Sweep bronzer across cheekbones to accentuate cheeks

      Don’t forget to remove your makeup before you go to bed.  

      • Try using oil on a cotton ball to remove eye makeup, such as coconut oil.  
      • Wash your face with a gentle cleanser using clean hands.
      • If you’re interested in trying the double wash technique, start with a disposable makeup removing wipe.  Gently wipe and remove makeup, dirt and grime.
      • Follow with gentle facial cleanser and warm water to remove dead skin cells and oil from your face.
      • Complete your bedtime routine with an oil-free moisturizer.

      woman with flawless makeup

      While makeup may not be the only thing contributing to your skin issues, it can definitely be a factor.  Find out what is the cause of your breakout and implement necessary changes to see results and enjoy your healthy, smoother looking skin.

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