When you’re in the middle of an acne breakout, makeup can feel like a lifesaver. Unfortunately, while products like concealer are fantastic for hiding pimples and other blemishes, makeup can also contribute to acne and, in some cases, make your breakouts worse.
Acne caused by makeup is often referred to as acne cosmetica. It generally develops over the course of days to months and can affect any part of your face where you apply makeup.
Like other forms of acne, acne cosmetica is treatable by changing your habits and using certain types of medication.
Below, we’ve talked about the link between makeup and acne breakouts, as well as the basics of how acne develops in the first place.
We’ve also shared a variety of tips and techniques that you can use to control makeup-related acne and keep your skin clear.
Before we get into the specific details of how makeup can cause acne, it’s important to go over the basics of how and why acne breakouts happen in the first place.
Acne lesions form when the hair follicles in your skin (commonly referred to as pores) become clogged with sebum and/or dead, leftover skin cells.
Sebum is a type of oil that’s secreted by your sebaceous glands. It plays an important role in your skin’s health and natural defenses. As part of your skin’s protective barrier, sebum traps moisture in your skin and protects it from injury and infection.
Although sebum is an essential component of health skin, when your body produces too much sebum, the excess can become stuck inside your hair follicles.
Dead skin cells, the other major component in acne breakouts, develop as a byproduct of your skin’s natural renewal process.
Like other parts of your body, your skin constantly renews itself by producing new cells. These cells form in the lower layers of your epidermis, then travel upwards towards the surface layer over the course of several weeks.
This process is referred to as epidermal turnover. It’s estimated that it takes 40 to 56 days for your skin to turn itself over by replacing old cells with new ones.
As your skin replaces old cells with new ones, dead cells can gradually build up on the surface layer of your skin. Over time, the debris from these cells can mix with sebum and contribute to clogged hair follicles.
Many clogged hair follicles develop into comedonal acne, such as whiteheads (also referred to as closed comedones) or blackheads (open comedones).
As well as sebum and dead skin cells, bacterial growth plays a role in the development of some types of acne.
Some forms of bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), can grow inside clogged hair follicles, causing infections to develop. This bacterial growth causes acne to become red, inflamed and painful to the touch.
When acne becomes infected, it can develop into papules, pustules and, in some cases, even nodular or cystic acne.
So, how does makeup fit into this process? Although makeup isn’t responsible for all acne breakouts, the oils and other ingredients used in many popular cosmetic products can contribute to clogged hair follicles and acne breakouts.
Now, it’s important to put this statement in context. While some cosmetics can cause acne, you aren’t guaranteed to develop pimples just because you wear makeup regularly.
Acne caused by makeup is called acne cosmetica. It usually develops as many small bumps on your face. If you wear makeup often, you may notice acne cosmetica developing on your chin, cheeks, forehead and other prominent parts of your face.
Acne cosmetica can also affect your lips. In fact, the oils and other ingredients in many lip balms and lipsticks can trigger acne breakouts on the skin close to your lips.
Like other forms of acne, acne cosmetica usually doesn’t develop immediately. It’s common for breakouts of acne cosmetica to start several weeks, or even several months, after you begin to use makeup regularly.
Dealing with acne cosmetica can be a frustrating experience, especially if you develop severe or recurring breakouts. Luckily, like other common forms of acne, acne cosmetica is treatable.
In many cases, acne cosmetica can be treated by changing your makeup habits. When makeup is one of several factors causing your acne breakouts, you might also need to use medication to control your acne and clear up your skin.
Small changes to your makeup and skin care habits can often have a big impact on your skin, especially if you’re prone to acne cosmetica. Try the following techniques:
If you have mild to moderate acne that often flares up when you use makeup, you may notice improvements by using an over-the-counter acne treatment.
These products can be found online or from your local drugstore. Many contain science-based ingredients that treat and prevent acne by getting rid of dead skin cells, cleansing away sebum or controlling bacteria. Popular options include:
Several prescription medications are available for treating acne. Although these aren’t designed specifically for cosmetics-related acne, they may help to prevent acne breakouts and keep your skin clear throughout the year. Popular prescription medications for acne include:
While certain types of makeup are great for concealing acne, makeup can contribute to a form of acne called acne cosmetica.
If you’re already prone to acne, the oils in some cosmetics may also worsen your existing acne breakouts and make your skin worse.
To avoid makeup-related acne breakouts, try to practice skin-friendly habits and replace greasy or oily makeup with non-comedogenic products. For moderate or severe acne, it’s also helpful to talk to your healthcare provider about using a science-based, proven acne medication.