Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that causes dryness, itchiness, rashes, and blisters.
Living with facial eczema tends to require some special considerations when buying beauty and skin care products — something you might already know for yourself.
If you have eczema, it’s generally safe to wear makeup, except during a flare-up, says Emily Wood, MD, board certified dermatologist at Westlake Dermatology. When your skin is actively inflamed, you’ll want to lay off the makeup until symptoms subside.
That said, not all makeup is well suited to eczema-prone skin.
Some makeup, for instance, contains irritants that can trigger or worsen flare-ups. That’s why most dermatologists emphasize the importance of always checking ingredient labels before investing in a new foundation, blush, eyeshadow, or other makeup product.
“Most people with eczema are more prone to skin sensitivity and allergies,” says Tiffany Link, MD, a medical and cosmetic dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. “So, try to choose brands and products made for sensitive skin, which generally means they have minimal ingredients, no fragrance, and fewer chemicals.”
Below, dermatologists share some helpful tips on how to choose non-irritating, eczema-friendly makeup.
As a general rule, make it a point to seek out makeup labeled as hypoallergenic or formulated for sensitive skin. These products tend to have fewer of the most common allergens that can worsen eczema.
Also, try to avoid gel-based products, Link recommends. Their alcohol-based formulas can strip skin of all its moisture and potentially aggravate eczema symptoms like dryness and itchiness.
You might opt for cream and mousse formulas instead, as these tend to be much less drying to eczema-prone skin than powders. Makeup powders can worsen or draw attention to any texture issues.
If you have an allergy or sensitivity to a particular ingredient, makeup with that ingredient can make your eczema worse, Link explains.
So, if you find your eczema flares up frequently on your cheeks, eyelids, or other areas where you apply makeup, a good next step involves connecting with a dermatologist. They can help you identify exactly which ingredients to avoid and offer more guidance on choosing eczema-friendly ingredients.
What about sunscreen?
Sunscreen is a daily necessity. Still, you might have trouble finding a product that offers the right protection and also doesn’t trigger an eczema flare.
Wood highly recommends sticking to physical, or mineral-based sunscreen, which is far less likely to cause burning, redness, and irritation than chemical sunscreen.
Learn more about the difference between chemical and physical sunscreen.
“If you have eczema, you need to check ingredients on any products that touch your skin,” says Link. This includes:
- moisturizers and lotions
- hair care products, which can transfer to your hairline around your face and neck
Some beneficial ingredients that could help soothe eczema — or at least prevent it from worsening — include:
- Hyaluronic acid. Adam Elshafei, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist and owner of Aesthetica Rejuvenation Clinic, recommends looking for products with this ingredient. Many people with eczema tend to have a low skin water content due to a weakened skin barrier. But hyaluronic acid can help keep your skin supple and hydrated by attracting moisture.
- Glycerin. This natural compound can also help your skin attract and retain moisture, Elshafei says, which can help stave off flakiness and dryness.
- Ceramides. These fatty acids can help promote a strong and healthy skin barrier and shield your skin from environmental stressors like pollution and dry air, Elshafei explains.
- Niacinamide. This B vitamin can help strengthen your skin barrier so it better retains moisture. Research from 2019 also suggests that niacinamide may help reduce inflammation and minimize eczema flare-ups and symptoms.
You may want to avoid using makeup products with the following common irritants. These ingredients could trigger an eczema flare-up or make your symptoms worse.
- fragrances, which up to 15 percent of people with eczema are allergic to, according to the National Eczema Association (NEA)
- essentials oils
- preservatives, including parabens, benzyl alcohol, methylchloroisothiazolinone, diazolidinyl urea, propylene glycol, cocamidopropyl betaine, and formaldehyde
- chemical sunscreens, including oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and octocrylene
- salicylic acid
“Try to pick products that say fragrance-free rather than unscented,” Link recommends, going on to explain that “unscented” products often use a masking fragrance to cover up an unpleasant smell. In short, they’re not completely free of fragrance.
The importance of patch testing
Whenever you want to try a new product, dermatologists say it’s crucial to do a patch test first to check how your skin reacts.
To do a patch test for makeup or other products you apply to your face, Wood recommends:
- Applying a small amount of the product to an area of skin near your face that’s not super visible, such as a corner of your forehead, the side of your neck, or the underside of your jaw.
- Patch test the product daily for a full week before using it all over your face, since you may not notice a negative reaction immediately.
- If you don’t experience any adverse effects after a week, you can try using the product on your face.
Patch testing a facial product on your face is always a good option, since the delicate skin on your face and neck may react differently to a product than, say, the skin on your wrist.
You may not always notice a reaction when patch testing a product on your wrist and inner elbow. But your face could still react, since the skin there is more sensitive.
In addition to paying attention to the ingredients in your makeup products, the following tips may help you avoid eczema flare-ups.
Choose the right tools
You can use sponges, gentle brushes, or even your fingertips to apply makeup without irritating and inflaming the skin.
Make sure you always clean your tools, says Link, since bacteria on brushes or your hands may aggravate the skin. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your brushes with gentle shampoo and water every 7 to 10 days to kill any harmful bacteria.
Apply products gently, with as little friction and pressure as possible.
Using a primer before applying foundation may help to provide a buffer between your skin and the makeup.
While you may want to layer makeup to cover up any eczema rashes, skin discoloration, or scaly patches, Wood emphasizes that less is more.
“Thick layers of makeup are not helpful for maintaining a healthy skin barrier,” says Wood. “Plus, thicker layers are more difficult to remove without using harsh chemicals or rubbing the skin.”
Take care with your eyes
As far as eye makeup is concerned, Wood advises staying away from the following:
- False lashes. The adhesive glue can be irritating to dry or sensitive skin.
- Purple eyeliner. Carmine and manganese violet, the pigments used to color purple liner, can sometimes cause contact dermatitis.
- Waterproof eye makeup. Removing any waterproof makeup may require you to scrub your skin harder to wash it completely clean. Plus, some eye makeup removers contain harsh, irritating ingredients. Wood recommends using adding water to a gentle, washable cloth to get rid of any stubborn makeup.
The following makeup products are free of many common irritants and may be a good option for eczema-prone skin:
- Clinique Redness Solutions Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15. This lightweight color-correcting foundation can help conceal redness, though it only comes in fair to moderately fair shades. It contains calming and hydrating ingredients that aim to help treat inflammation. Formulated with mineral sunscreen (zinc oxide), it’s also free of fragrances, parabens, and phthalates.
- Omiana Loose Powder Matte Eyeshadow. This shadow contains no fragrances, parabens, sulfates, phthalates, titanium dioxide, or mica, a common irritant often found in eyeshadow. In fact, it contains just four ingredients, making it an excellent pick if you have sensitive skin.
- RMS Beauty UnCoverup Concealer. You can use this three-in-one product as a concealer, tinted moisturizer, and color corrector. It contains nourishing ingredients like jojoba oil, cocoa seed butter, and anti-inflammatory castor seed oil and comes in 16 shades to match a range of skin tones. It also happens to be 91 percent allergen-free, according to SkinSAFE.
- Rare Beauty Stay Vulnerable Melting Blush. This cream blush contains no parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, mineral oil, or sulfates. It also features a blend of nourishing plant-based extracts and oils, so it may be a good option if you have dry, sensitive skin.
- Tower 28 SuperDew Shimmer Free Highlighter. Want that on-trend “glass skin” look? Try this shimmer-free, ultra-moisturizing highlighter balm, which you can tap onto any high points of your face for an instant glow. This particular product, which contains chamomile and green tea extract, is safe for all skin types. It even received the NEA’s Seal of Acceptance.
Just remember that everyone’s skin is different, so what works for someone else with eczema may not be the right match for you.
Working with a dermatologist will enable you to craft a skin care and makeup routine that helps rather than worsens your eczema, Link emphasizes.
Interested in more product recommendations? It may be worth checking out the NEA’s Eczema Product Directory, which features a list of skin care products that have received the NEA Seal of Acceptance, meaning they’re formulated specifically for people with eczema or very sensitive skin.
You can still wear makeup if you have eczema, but you’ll mostly want to opt for products without potential irritants and common allergens. Experts also recommend avoiding makeup during an eczema flare.
Remember, too, that it’s always wise to do a patch test when trying new products. Patch testing can help you check your skin’s reaction before fully applying the product to your face.
Having trouble finding makeup or other beauty products that don’t worsen your eczema symptoms? You may want to consider working with a dermatologist who can offer more guidance on treatment options and eczema-safe products.
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance writer covering health and wellness, fitness, food, lifestyle, and beauty. Her work has also appeared in Insider, Bustle, StyleCaster, Eat This Not That, AskMen, and Elite Daily.