You all have asked me for some time to talk about makeup and makeup ingredients that are good for the skin and bad for the skin. So, that’s what I’m going to cover in this article.

For people with acne, makeup can cause many problems, and it’s generally recommended that if you have acne, at least during an active acne breakout, you avoid makeup.

During Active Acne Breakouts

The reason is that makeup forms a film on the skin’s surface. This can impair the ability of healing acne to recover, the skin to heal, and the barrier to repair itself. These occlusive films can further clog pores and the ingredients in makeup. The pigments, some of the thickeners, other inactive ingredients mixed with the sebum, and the oils on your skin, can create this minor irritation that can further worsen your acne.

So, you should avoid makeup during an active acne breakout. Also, when you have a pimple, an actively inflamed lesion, you have to appreciate that that is skin that is injured, and the skin barrier there is wholly impaired.

So if you put makeup on that, the ingredients in the makeup now can penetrate the skin even more deeply than if you put it on unaffected skin and have even more of a chance of irritating. Now, if you’re somebody who does not have acne ever, you can also get a specific type of acne solely related to cosmetics.

It’s called acne cosmetica.

Acne Cosmetica

It occurs most often on the cheeks, the forehead, the chin, and around the jaw area. This happens in people who don’t necessarily have a background of acne, and it’s explicitly related to the use of makeup. And the tricky thing about acne cosmetica is that it can happen anywhere from a few days after using makeup to outwards to six weeks.

So it’s tough to dial down what product or ingredient is causing the acne. Also, when they develop this, people may not make the association that it is their makeup causing the acne. And they continue to use makeup to camouflage the acne.

And in doing so, they create this vicious cycle of worsening acne. It’s going to be a problem. But for people with acne, the use of makeup also can exacerbate their existing acne and lead to breakouts. And if they have an active breakout and use makeup, it can get in the way of healing and lead to more breakouts and irritation.

So that’s why the overriding recommendation from dermatologists is to avoid makeup, particularly on actively blemished skin, inflamed skin, and inflamed lesions. You never want to put makeup, for example, on a pimple that is oozing or weeping, or crusted because that is wounded skin and just putting irritating ingredients on that.

I don’t wear makeup, but if you’ve ever tried putting it on that, it’s tough to camouflage it elegantly. It often ends up being more noticeable and then becomes more inflamed. So try to resist the temptation to cover up pimples and actively inflamed lesions with makeup.

Does this mean that everybody should always avoid makeup and that makeup will clog pores and lead to acne-like rashes? No, absolutely. Plenty of women, men, and women wear makeup and have no issues with acne.

Acne & Self-Esteem

Just because it can cause these problems doesn’t mean it causes them for everyone. Studies show that using cosmetics and makeups to camouflage acne improves acne quality of life for patients and their overall self-esteem, which is essential.

Acne is a disease. I’ve said this before, and I think it catches many people off guard when I say this, but it is a disease with an underlying pathophysiology. It’s related to things like hormones, sebum, and genetics. It can have a profound impact, not only on the health of your skin, it can lead to scarring, but it also has a dramatic effect on the individual’s self-esteem and overall sense of wellness.

So much so that individuals with acne are at an increased risk for depression and, unfortunately, suicide. So, we take that very seriously, and if makeup can help, then all is in favor. As I said, not every makeup is going to be problematic for every person, and not every person will have an issue with cosmetics.

Comedogenicity in Ingredients

So then the follow-up to that is what ingredients we should look for in terms of good versus bad. And to be frank, there is no magic ingredient list out there that is foolproof. I can give tips on what to look for and avoid, but they’re just starting points.

There are no specific pointers in choosing makeup other than not wearing makeup. But as I said, if it improves your self-esteem and quality of life, let’s consider using makeup. So, regarding the ingredient list, many people want to know about comedogenic ratings.

It’s based on old studies done on rabbit ear models. We later learned that those rabbit ear models that told us that certain ingredients were poor clogging were not reproducible in humans because our skin is very different from that of a rabbit, and our pores are very different from that of a rabbit.

So it doesn’t necessarily translate to reality for humans. So we have some studies and assays on humans, but they also have limitations. They’re usually done under occlusion, meaning they put the ingredient on the skin and then cover it up, or they’re usually done with a very high concentration.

And so those kinds of things set that ingredient up for failure in the comedogenic assay. And then, when we look at the component at a glance, clinical experience as a whole, it doesn’t hold up as largely problematic. And many people have acne and wear makeup, and while they’re on treatment for their acne, their acne still gets better

Not only does their acne get better despite makeup, but their quality of life gets better, and their self-esteem improves, related mainly to not having to walk around with noticeable acne lesions because they’re able to cover it up comfortably. So, it’s not necessarily the devil.

And it can help people in their journey to getting better with acne. It doesn’t necessarily seem to interfere with treatment, but it will be an exacerbating factor for some people. It’s going to be a contributing factor to acne—what ingredients, hard to say.

We don’t have a magic list like that. But some pointers and tips regarding the makeup you choose and how you put it on can be helpful. A starting point is to choose makeup that is labeled oil-free and non-comedogenic.

This applies to skincare and makeup.

Non-comedogenic moisturizers will not contain occlusives that tends to clog pores.

Non-comedogenic sunscreens will tend to be mineral, not chemical.

Non-comedogenic primers can protect your skin from pollutants.

Non-comedogenic foundations will be void of irritating pigments.

Now, I say that as a starting point because that statement is not rooted in anything scientific. And so, don’t think that non-comedogenic makeup is foolproof.  It’s merely a starting point. So choose the makeup labeled non-comedogenic and oil-free.

Coconut Oil

In the medical literature, ingredients that, in my experience, tend to be most problematic for people with acne, for whatever reason, are coconut oil.

Coconut oil is excellent for hair but can lead to acne-like breakouts. So be conscientious of that. It will often appear in some vegan makeup, so if you’re looking for vegan cosmetics, look out for coconut oil. It definitely can cause a problem.

Yellow & Red Dyes

Red dyes can also cause problems. And we think this is because red and yellow pigments are derived from coal tar.

Coal tar is something that causes a type of acne. It disrupts the pores and causes true acne, acne for what’s called an acneiform eruption.

Coal tar is not present in cosmetics and makeup, but red and yellow dye derivatives are still comedogenic. They tend to be most problematic in blush. Women, in particular, get little acne-like breakouts on their cheeks related to blush.

If you look at many over-the-counter acne products that are great and seem to help many people, they have red and yellow dyes, like the Neutrogena oil-free acne wash with salicylic acid. I think it has red or yellow dye and is probably labeled non-comedogenic.

So, it’s not foolproof. It’s merely experiential experience, clinical experience that a lot of times blushes with red and yellow dye can lead to acting like breakouts. But again, it’s going to be one of those things it’s hard to be so black and white about. There are shades of gray in there. We don’t know why this isn’t always an issue.  

The Process of Putting on Makeup

I think it is important how you put the makeup on. You want to be gentle and delicate with the application. Believe it or not, I watch many makeup tutorials even though I don’t wear makeup.

Because I may resonate with the makeup artist’s personality and enjoy hearing the sound of their voice and chatting, I think they’re a pleasure to watch. Still, sometimes when I’m watching them, they beat the daylights out of their face without brush or beauty blunder, going aggressive.

And for someone with acne, that mechanical irritation can drive inflammation and irritation in the skin, disrupt the skin barrier, and lead to acting like breakouts. So be delicate with those makeup brushes and beauty blenders. This type of movement can be pretty harsh on the skin barrier.

Pounding on your face can be harsh on your skin. Generally, I see a beauty blender as an excellent tool. It doesn’t have to be the brand name, beauty blender, but those kinds of soft and delicately pressing sponges. Just gentle, gentle movement is critical.

So much so that we have studies showing that people with acne could go through their acne journey without any issues with makeup.

Makeup Brushes

Regarding the brushes you use, you never want to your brushes or the makeup you wear with other people. I don’t care if they’re your best friend or your relative because we all have bacteria and oils on our skin. They can form films on things and transfer them from person to person.

It appears as foreign material on your skin. It just gives your immune system too much to do and can lead to an acne-like rash. Also, if that person happens to have something on their skin, another cosmetic product mixes and, it’s just further, further irritation. 

So don’t share makeup brushes or makeup with people, other people, or pets.  Don’t use makeup on your pets.

Wash the makeup brushes very thoroughly, at least once a week. Because the oils, sebum, makeup, and bacteria from your skin collect on the brushes.

These all form a film on the surface of those brushes and applicators that will be very irritating and drive further inflammation into the skin and cause acne-like eruptions and skin problems. Be conscientious of cleaning the makeup brushes at least once a week.

Wash of Makeup Every Night

And then definitely take your makeup off every day. No excuses. I don’t care how tired you are. Always take your makeup off. You don’t want to go to bed with that film of ingredients. It’s a film of ingredients, pigments, et cetera, mixed with oils from throughout the day combined with dust, pollen, or pollutants that may have settled on your skin, mixed with the bacteria from your skin.

It just gives your immune system way too much to take care of. It would be best if you washed it off thoroughly and completely. So be very thorough in washing off the makeup.

Facial Brushes

When you wash the makeup off, though, don’t scrub your face. Don’t use a facial, spin, or sonic cleansing brush. These can be very abrasive, disrupt the skin barrier and drive more irritation and inflammation. This was the critical part of how people were instructed in makeup application: taking the makeup off and being very gentle and thorough.

Double Cleansing

Many dermatologists will recommend using micellar water to remove your makeup and then washing your face with a gentle, non-soap cleanser. I find that using an oil-based cleanser is a great first step. 

First, break up the film of cosmetics, dirt, oil, and sebum. Just break it all up and lift it off your skin. That is an excellent way to remove your makeup. And then you come in with a gentle cleanser. It’s a double cleanse approach.

Fragrance

Another ingredient that will likely be a problem for many people, whether they appreciate it directly or not, will be fragrance. The fragrance is in the form of things labeled fragrance or items labeled essence, any type of essential oil like rose or ylang-ylang. These are essential oils that are essentially fragrances.

Fragrance compounds are irritants. They are sensitizing, meaning they make it more likely for your immune system to appear because they are there. And when your immune system occurs, you can form allergies to things sensitivities to things.

Avoid fragrance in your cosmetics.  

The other problem with fragrance is that it’s a vasodilator, dilating the blood vessels in your skin. This then just opens the floodgate for more inflammation to come into the skin and cause problems.

Even if you use fragrance and don’t have a problem with it, These things occur on a microscopic level that you can’t see or appreciate. They ultimately lead to issues for your skin that you may not be immediately aware of.

So avoid fragrance in makeup for sure.

Alcohols

Also, cosmetics that have alcohol in them can be very dry on the skin. And that drying can worsen inflammation in the skin and exacerbate acne. I see this a lot of the time with the makeup setting sprays. Not only do they have the alcohol in them as drying, but they also have fragrance, so those can be an issue for acne exacerbations.

I recommend avoiding the drying alcohol in your makeup and whatnot.

Mineral Makeup

The other thing, there are some actual ingredients in makeup that you might want to choose because they can potentially be helpful for acne and rosacea. Another skin condition that, many times, people will want to cover up with makeup,  ingredients that are helpful in both situations.

They will be mineral-based makeups and mineral-based cosmetics with zinc, titanium dioxide, or silica. These ingredients can help mop up a bit of grease and sebum that can drive acne when it sits on the skin’s surface. So it helps kind of wick that up.  Mop it up without drying out your skin barrier as alcohol would.

 In ingredients, they’re also anti-inflammatory, and a lot of times, depending on how the product is formulated, they are sunscreen for the product.

If they’re in sufficient quantity, and the product is formulated as a whole and functions to some degree as an SPF, it protects you against UV. These ingredients can also help to camouflage redness. Those are good things to choose.

Choosing products with color in them can impart color correction to camouflage red. So that’s something to look for that can help.

Antioxidants

And selecting products that have antioxidants in them. Polyphenols, potentially. I say potentially because there are limitations to what antioxidants can do in topical products, but they can help calm down some inflammation.

One polyphenol that is good to consider is green tea, polyphenols, or EGCG. The reason for this is not only is green tea an antioxidant that can calm down redness, but we have some small studies showing that topical green topical application of green tea can help diminish the appearance of pores and improve oiliness.

So that’s an excellent polyphenol to consider in your makeup.

Lactic Acid

And then another ingredient that you’ll find in a lot of makeup that can be helpful for acne and acne, cosmetica, and skin is lactic acid.

Lactic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that is pretty large and doesn’t penetrate too deeply into the skin.

It, for the most part, functions as a humectant, which means it brings and holds onto water in the skin, keeps the skin hydrated, and can gently exfoliate. So as an ingredient in makeup, it helps in the journey against clogging of pores. So it’s a good ingredient in cosmetics.

So those are ingredients, tips, and tricks related to makeup.

Acne is a Medical Condition

But remember, acne is a disease. Don’t give topicals too much credit. Don’t give cosmetics too much credit for causing your disease.  I find people will fixate on makeup ingredients and try to claim that a product is responsible for their acne.

People with acne, you’re going to experience breakouts related to hormones. You’ll experience breakouts related to just, maybe, your diet for whatever reason. You’re not eating particularly well, and foods that have been associated with acne include skim milk. Like many processed sugary foods, high glycemic foods can contribute to sebum production.

It might lead to breakouts, and changes in the weather, when the humidity drops, and we turn the heater on in the winter. That’s a classic time for acne to appear. Also, medications you might take if you are sick, your immune system is down for a while. That’s a pivotal time when acne can flare.

B12 Supplements

Also, high doses of B12 supplements can contribute to acne exacerbations. Specifically, as a vegan, I take a B12 supplement. Still, I had to pay attention to the presence of B12 and other things to ensure I’m not overdosing. I have experienced small breakouts related to accidentally causing a bit of being too overzealous with B12 consumption.

B12 will be added to a lot of things. So if you’re not conscientious of that, that could also contribute. And it tends to go away very quickly when you dial back down to whatever the recommended amount for you is.

Whey Protein

If you’re a vegan, you need to supplement. And then the other supplement that has been linked to acne is going to be whey protein. Whey Protein Supplements also have been linked to acne exacerbations. Perhaps through upregulation of insulin-like growth factors that can lead to increased sebum output and hormonal acne breakouts.

So, I say that because acne’s a disease. So, if you’re having breakouts, it could be the makeup, but it could just be the disease. So always check in with your dermatologist, see your dermatologist, and find out the root of what’s happening. Makeup could be responsible.

Hopefully, these tips will help you out. My message to you invariably encourages you to consider going makeup free. It can free up a lot of worry in your life. As far as ingredients, it can be helpful for the skin. It saves you a lot of money.

I don’t wear makeup, but I recognize and appreciate the profound effect wearing makeup can have on someone’s day-to-day quality of life.

It brings people a lot of enjoyment. It’s a creative outlet for many people. It is their career. And I respect that, appreciate that. And I’m, so, I’m very supportive of that. So I’m telling you guys that cause I never want you to feel as though, just because I don’t wear makeup, and I encourage you to consider giving it up I am dismissing you for wearing makeup.

I want to do everything I can to help you make the best choices regarding products and ingredients. And it can be tricky in the realm of makeup because it’s rather an unknown. But I do recognize that it is constructive and can not interfere with getting better with acne.

Dermablend

I would say one makeup brand that I recommend to people trying to camouflage skin diseases is Dermablend.

This is for things like acne, rosacea, or vitiligo, for example, is a disease where you lose the pigment in your skin, in patches in certain areas, and people will want to cover that up. It can occur on the face in particular.  

Dermablend is a company, and a brand that makes cosmetics makes makeup specifically with people in mind who have skin diseases. They make beautiful products that are free of fragrance or nonirritating.

They have many, many mineral-based cosmetics. Also, most of their cosmetics offer some degree of UV protection, which is excellent mineral based. And they also have a broad spectrum of shade ranges such that, for a patient, for example, with vitiligo, Who is a darker skin type, who has patches on their skin that go completely bone white.

They can find a foundation and cosmetic makeup that will cover the white bone patches and appear as their unaffected background skin.

Dermablend is the one brand that I genuinely do recommend. Neutrogena has some great makeup as well, from the drugstore.  Dermablend, though, is cruelty-free.

I think a lot of their products are vegan. Many of you out there, I think, will like it.

But anyway, those are all the makeup tips I have for you all. Do know that nothing is foolproof.

So I hope this helped you in navigating makeup and acne.


References:

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  11. Dessinioti, Clio, Christina Antoniou, and Andreas Katsambas. “Acneiform eruptions.” Clinics in Dermatology 32.1 (2014): 24-34.
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  13. Leung, Janice. “Microbiome of Your Makeup Brush.”
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  15. Sharmeen, Jugreet B., et al. “Essential oils as natural sources of fragrance compounds for cosmetics and cosmeceuticals.” Molecules 26.3 (2021): 666.
  16. Saric, Suzana, Manisha Notay, and Raja K. Sivamani. “Green tea and other tea polyphenols: Effects on sebum production and acne vulgaris.” Antioxidants 6.1 (2016): 2.
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