The Nasty Thing About Makeup: Does Makeup Cause Acne?

The Nasty Thing About Makeup: Does Makeup Cause Acne

In the first place, should you even be wearing makeup?

If your face is already troubled with angry spots, the last thing you should probably be doing is applying layers and layers of makeup on your skin. Aside from that it can clog your pores, some makeup contains irritating ingredients that can further aggravate your acne (read: fragrances and oils).

But if your face is clear and smooth, can wearing makeup cause you blemishes? Does makeup cause acne?The answer is yes and it’s called Acne Cosmetica.

Acne Cosmetica: Have You Heard Of It?

Acne cosmetica looks a lot different from the angry red spots, or acne vulgaris for the experts, that you get on your face. Acne cosmetica typically appears as little bumps on your cheeks, eyes, or chin- basically on any area where you’re using a wrong makeup or product on.

And they don’t pop up right away. Usually, it takes weeks and even months for this reaction to occur.

By such a long time, you won’t even think it was caused by your makeup. In fact, you’ll probably use even more makeup to hide these annoying bumps.

Acne cosmetica is a type of reaction you develop to certain ingredients in your makeup products. To give you an idea, here are the most common makeup ingredients that can cause skin breakouts:


Oil is the most common makeup ingredient to cause acne. It is basically added to a product to give a smoother and finer finish.

Although it can help make you look flawless, oil can actually cause clogged pores by mixing with the already abundant sebum on your face. The excess oil, mixed with makeup, dirt and bacteria lead to acne.


Fragrance is typically added to makeup to mask the smell of chemicals and other synthetic ingredients it contains. Aside from masking, the additional scent also helps attract potential buyers.

And admit it, you probably wouldn’t buy a makeup product if it doesn’t smell good, right? Well, yes, it’s a trap.

Even products that are labeled “unscented” can contain a small amount of perfume. So while you can’t notice any distinct smell in that foundation you bought, it’s actually a nicer scent hiding a not-so-desirable scent.


Dyes are generally added to blushes and eye shadows to give them their extra color. Unfortunately, this ingredient can be irritating to the skin, particularly those who are extra sensitive.

Aside from acne cosmetica, using products with dyes can also cause allergic reactions that can make your skin feel itchy, stingy and even develop painful blisters.

So, How Should You Choose Your Makeup?

Although makeup has the potential to cause acne, it doesn’t mean you can’t wear it. It’s just that some products contain more harmful ingredients than the others, which means you really (and I mean really) have to be very careful in choosing them.

Here are some of the best tips when it comes to picking your makeup:

#1 Look for “non-comedogenic” products

Noncomedogenic simply means it won’t clog your pores. Most makeup products that have this property includes it in their packaging so you’ll know right away which products to pick.

Unfortunately, however, not all non-comedogenic makeup can save your skin from breaking out.

In fact, the earliest study about non-comedogenicity is actually not that conclusive. Aside from that the ingredients used in the study were applied to rabbit’s ears, the said ingredients were actually used in their pure amounts.

We all know that only a small number of makeup products use 100% of each ingredient, right?

As a guide, skip products that contain the following:

  • Isopropyl isostearate
  • Myristyl myristate
  • Lauric acid
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Laureth 23
  • Laureth 4
  • Oleth 3
  • Acetylated lanolin

#2 Skip the fragrance

It’s probably nice to apply a makeup that smells fancy. It can make you look and feel good.

But if you have particularly sensitive skin, it’s best to go fragrance-free. Now, this is a bit tricky.

Because not all brands are honest enough, make sure to read product labels very carefully. Sometimes, fragrances aren’t listed the way we expect them to be.

They can also be written as perfume, aroma or essential oils. Some brands write them as “parfum”.

#3 Avoid thick makeup products

If you’re acne prone, which you sure are, you should avoid products that go as sticks and creams. Bronzers and blushes are the most common examples to this.

They are often manufactured with polyethylene and other waxes to keep them in solid form.

#4 Be wary of acne-fighting cosmetic products

If a makeup product is marketed to help you fight acne, there’s a good chance that it can’t. Most of the time, the concentration of its anti-acne ingredient is far too low to even give you results.

#5 Watch out for the oils

A large number of cosmetic oils can cause acne and if you’re not very keen on reading labels, you might end up applying them on your skin.

Lanolin and isopropyl myristate are two penetrating oils you should avoid. They are typically added to foundations to give you a smoother and flawless finish.

How To Use Makeup Without Breaking Out

Makeup, whether you admit it or not, is an essential part of most women’s lives. And if you are one of these women, you want to make sure your makeup helps you look more beautiful and not the other way around, right?

To avoid breakouts, here’s how you should apply your makeup:

1. Always start with a clean face

Applying your makeup without removing the excess oil and dead skin cells that accumulated overnight can result to clogged pores. So, before you go straight to application, make sure you do your skincare routine first.

2. Don’t forget to clean your hands- and your brushes!

This is probably one of the worst mistakes you can do to your skin as your hands can harbor thousands of bacteria that can get transferred to your face. And take note, women’s hands have been found out to have more diverse bacteria than men (Oops!).

And it’s not just your hands. Even the bacteria in your makeup brushes can also cause acne.

So I highly suggest you go over your makeup brushes and clean them once in awhile. As a rule of thumb, if you use a brush often, you should also clean it more frequently.

For quick disinfecting, there are a lot of brush disinfectants you can use on a daily basis or at least every time you’ll be using a brush. Foundation brushes need to be cleaned at least twice a month and brushes for your eye shadows should be washed monthly.

3. Apply your makeup gently

There’s actually no need to tug your skin or massage the makeup hard on your skin. Not only will these actions introduce the products deeper into your pores, but they can also cause irritation that can further aggravate your acne.

Instead of massaging, try to apply a product using gentle strokes or with a dabbing motion. It will help you create a more natural finish without breaking your skin’s integrity.

4. Do not sleep with your makeup on

Hitting your bed with makeup on can seem harmless but in reality, it results to a dozen of different things. Seriously.

For one, it can speed up the aging process by exposing you to free radicals for a longer period of time. It can also cause dry skin and lips.

It can even cause eye infection and several red and angry zits on your face. Now, those won’t make you prettier, right?

About Double Cleansing

Removing your makeup is as important as applying it. And your regular cleansers may not just be enough to thoroughly get rid of all your makeup’s pigments and ingredients.

Double cleansing has been around for quite a while. It’s actually very popular in Asian countries, particularly in Korea and Japan.

As the name implies, this method requires you to wash your face twice in a single routine. It’s different from cleansing your face once in the morning and in the evening.

To get started with double cleansing, you need to have an oil-based cleanser. You can use either a cleansing oil or cleansing balm.

Oil-based cleansers work by dissolving oil-based products and sebum on your skin. Using your clean fingers, apply your oil-based cleanser on your face and start massaging slowly.

You need to pay more attention to your eye area, the sides of your nose and your forehead.

Once everything is melted, you can use lukewarm water to emulsify and rinse your face. Make sure you get everything out as you rinse.

The second cleansing, meanwhile, requires a foaming cleanser. You can also choose a water-based cleanser for this step.

Do the second cleansing as how you would regularly wash your face. It should be able to lift off the excess dirt and oil the first cleansing missed.

How often should you double cleanse?

I recommend doing it twice a day but if you don’t have enough time, you can do it just once at night and follow up with a good moisturizer after.


There’s no arguing about how makeup can cause acne. In fact, it’s one of the most common causes of breakouts known to man (err, woman).

However, it’s not the actual makeup that’s making you breakout, but your poor choices in products as well as how you take care of your skin.

If you know exactly what to look for and avoid in a makeup product, then there’s a way for you to safely wear cosmetics without compromising your skin. Partner it with the right cleansing method and you should be on your way to looking more fabulous.

Does makeup cause acne

Dr Kathleen May Eusebio-Alpapara

A board-certified dermatologist who practices both medical and cosmetic dermatology

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