Zit happens. When it does, you might reach for makeup as your go-to camouflage, whether you’re dealing with one monster pimple or an acne breakout.
Many people use makeup to conceal acne. Just know that while makeup can help cover up acne, it can’t fix it. And according to some dermatologists, including Jeffrey Hsu, MD, FAAD, Founder of Oak Dermatology, makeup could potentially make acne worse, depending on what you use and how you go about using it.
Read on to take a deep dive into how to conceal acne with makeup — the right way.
If you want to hide acne with makeup, you’ll want to add a few key products to your makeup kit:
- setting powder
But before you hightail it to the beauty counter, keep in mind that you’ll want to avoid certain ingredients if you’re prone to breakouts.
“For my patients with acne-prone skin, I advise them to avoid potentially comedogenic ingredients when looking for foundations and make-up. These ingredients can trigger acne flares or breakouts,” says Hsu.
Hsu recommends avoiding these ingredients when choosing makeup:
- Silicone. According to Hsu, primers and skin care products often include silicone to help smooth skin. Silicone achieves this by sinking into your pores and filling them so your foundation looks smoother. The downside? Silicone can stay in your pores after washing and exfoliating, says Hsu, which can lead to clogged pores.
- Any and all oils. “This includes natural oils like avocado or coconut oil. Oil is oil — you can’t change the state of the matter — and oils clog pores,” says Hsu.
- Lanolin. Lanolin, or sheep skin oil, is highly comedogenic and something to stay far away from, says Hsu.
- Talc. “Talc, a low cost powder filler commonly used in make-up products, isn’t only comedogenic. It can potentially cause dryness and irritation for those with more sensitive skin,” says Hsu.
Hsu emphasizes that silicone and other ingredients can be hard to spot on product labels. They may appear as another chemical name or slightly different variation.
Your best bet in this case? Mineral makeup, which is made from, well, minerals, found in the earth.
According to Hsu, mineral makeup, including foundation, is generally noncomedogenic and gentler than other options. Since it allows the skin to breathe and won’t clog pores, it can offer a good option to conceal breakouts and inflamed spots.
You’ll want to clean your skin with a gentle wash first, before you apply makeup, Hsu says. He goes on to explain that any over-the-counter or prescription topical treatments for acne should also be applied before any sunscreen or makeup.
Make sure to cleanse inflamed or irritated spots, too. Just use extra care when washing to avoid making those spots any angrier. Avoid rubbing your skin too hard, especially with a washcloth, and avoid using cleansers containing potentially irritating or drying ingredients, like alcohol.
Need help choosing a cleanser? Check out our picks for the best acne face washes.
Speaking of clean, always apply makeup using your clean fingers or a clean sponge to avoid introducing bacteria into irritated pimples or your pores.
Primer does as the name implies — it primes your skin for makeup.
In short, it helps create a more even surface so you need less foundation. It also extends the wear of your foundation and helps keep the rest of your makeup from caking around blemishes.
Here’s how to apply it:
- Add a small amount of primer to a clean finger or makeup sponge. Half a pump, or a pea-size dollop, should be enough.
- Use your fingers or sponge to spread the primer evenly over your skin, avoiding your eyes.
- Let it set for a few minutes before applying makeup.
Concealer plays an important part in covering up acne. A concealer’s job is to conceal, after all.
Applying concealer before foundation can help give your makeup a more even appearance. If you apply concealer after foundation, you run the risk of rubbing off parts of your foundation when you blend your concealer.
If your acne is noticeably dark, pink, or red, you might benefit from a color-correcting concealer.
Green concealers can help cover red blemishes or acne scars. If you have brown or Black skin, opt for peach, orange, or red concealer to help conceal dark blemishes and scars.
Color-correcting concealer comes in the form of sticks, crayons, or liquid you can pour or apply with a built-in wand applicator.
- Dot each blemish or scar with concealer.
- Use your clean finger or a sponge to gently dab the concealer until blended.
- Avoid rubbing the concealer into your skin.
If you have spots or areas of acne that could use a little extra coverage, you can then apply a noncomedogenic concealer in a color similar to your skin tone.
Blending concealer well is a key step to getting a flawless (not cakey) look. Creamier concealers tend to blend better than stick versions.
- Dot the areas that need extra coverage with concealer.
- Use a clean finger or sponge to gently pat the concealer until blended.
Foundation helps even out your skin tone and brings all the other products together.
It comes in different forms, including liquid, cream, and pressed or loose powder. The one you choose generally comes down to personal preference, but it’s worth considering the following:
- Liquid foundation tends to offer a better option for dry skin.
- Powder may settle into fine lines and wrinkles more visibly.
- Powder or cream-to-powder foundations may work well for oily skin.
To apply foundation:
- Start with a small amount.
- Blend using your clean fingers, a sponge, or brush until you have a light, even layer.
- Build up your coverage by applying another light layer or layers as needed.
If you used a loose powder or pressed powder base for foundation, you’re all, er, set.
If you used a liquid cream foundation, applying setting powder isn’t strictly necessary, but it can help prevent shine and extend your coverage as you go about your day.
You can buy translucent and loose powders made specifically for the purpose of setting your makeup, but mineral powder makes a great acne-friendly alternative.
If you prefer setting powder, choose one that’s noncomedogenic.
To apply setting powder:
- Swirl a brush around in the powder until the bristles are lightly coated.
- Tap off any excess.
- Dust your face with the powder in a light circular motion.
So, now you know how to conceal acne with makeup. But knowing how to remove it effectively also matters quite a bit, when it comes to avoiding worsened acne breakouts.
Keeping these tips in mind can help.
1. Use face wash with enzymes or acids
When it comes to acne, some types of cleansers do a better job keeping your pores clean than others.
2. Wash your face twice
Even non-comedogenic or mineral makeup can contribute to clogged pores if they stay on your skin for too long.
According to Hsu, most makeup leaves debris and film behind that remains after just one wash. That’s why he recommends double cleansing, or washing your face twice.
3. Use a new washcloth daily
“If you use a washcloth to wash your face, do not use the same one twice or a couple of nights in a row. Once a towel is wet and then air-dried, it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria — something you don’t want on your face,” Hsu says.
A helpful way to remember? Keep a stack of washcloths by your sink, tub, or shower. Grab a fresh one each time you wash your face and stick it straight into the washer or laundry hamper when you finish.
Makeup can help conceal acne blemishes and scars, but it won’t treat your acne. Sometimes, it might even make it worse.
It’s always worth reaching out to a dermatologist for some professional guidance if acne causes distress. A dermatologist can offer more guidance when your current acne treatment or skin care routine, from cleansing to makeup, doesn’t seem to help ease breakouts or acne severity.
You can also connect with a dermatologist for more guidance on caring for your skin and choosing acne-friendly makeup products.
Adrienne Santos-Longhurst is a Canada-based freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and lifestyle for more than a decade. When she’s not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board.