How to Cover Up Stubborn Acne Without Making It Worse

Updated 09/08/17
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Whether you’ve been dealing with acne your entire life, or you woke up this morning with a rare but annoying breakout, the feelings of helplessness still exist. How does one cover up their zits without making them worse? We asked makeup artists, dermatologists, and estheticians to find out the ever-elusive answer to that very question.

Priceless skincare advice for the acne-prone, right this way…

Don’t squeeze it.

The worst mistake you can make while trying to cover up a pimple is to try and pop it first, advises Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care. It’s better to let it run its course and use acne-fighting products containing salicylic acid to spot treat. Moreover, Dr. Hadley King, MD, board certified dermatologist at Skinney Medspa points out, “This usually increases the inflammation, which will only make it more difficult to cover, plus it will now be oozing, and that's impossible to cover.

Picking also increases the risk of infection, hyperpigmentation, and scarring, and it will make the pimple take longer to heal.” “When you’re in a bind, though, make sure to use oil-free and noncomedogenic makeup to cover,” says Susan Posnick, makeup artist and founder of Susan Posnick Cosmetics.

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Don’t use too much product.

Other than excoriations—which is the fancy term for picked pimples—the most common mistake is applying a ton of product to camouflage a breakout. “This makes your makeup look cakey and the acne more noticeable,” Posnick asserts. She also cites skipping moisturizer as a faux pas. “Your skin needs moisture and hydration, even if it’s acne prone. Just look for an oil-free option that won’t clog your pores.”

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Do strive for precise coverage.

Posnick suggests, “Dip a small, clean brush into a good mineral foundation like Susan Posnick’s Colorflo Foundation ($68). The small brush allows for concentrated, precise coverage. In this case, it’s best to use the same shade as your foundation.” Tanzi adds, “If your breakout is especially red, using a green color-correcting concealer can best cover those bumps.” Dab a little concealer then apply pressed powder to set.

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Do change your products for your skin type.

​Posnick recommends the transparent Clean & Clear Advantage Mark Treatment ($8) as an acne spot treatment. “When I don't have it handy,” she says, “toothpaste works, as does baking soda. They help clear up the acne, without drying the skin.” ​Tanzi adds, “I like concealers that are medicated with either sulfur or resorcinol to help conceal and heal at the same time.” King agrees: “Aczone ($10) is a great anti-inflammatory acne gel that is easy to layer under makeup. It works on clearing up the pimple while also providing a matte priming layer so you can apply concealer and foundation over it.

Elta MD Clear ($27) is a sunblock designed for acne-prone skin that I think is great—the tinted version provides enough coverage to disguise acne while shielding your skin from UV rays. Erasa ($160) has anti-inflammatory properties and neuropeptide technology to help to reduce inflammatory acne, decrease hyperpigmentation, and minimize scarring.”

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Dermalogica Concealing Spot Treatment $26
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Do make sure your daily routine isn’t making it worse.

“Most most oils will make your acne worse, so use oil in moderation. Sodium lauryl sulfate (in cleansing products including shampoos) clogs pores, as well as chemical sunscreens, wheat germ (especially if you have celiac disease), lanolin, dairy (primarily from cow's milk), coffee, sugar, and gluten,” advises Posnick. She adds, “Make sure your hands, brushes, and sponges are clean whenever they’re touching your face. Only wash your face with cleanser once a day—too much washing can dry out the skin and overstimulate the oil glands.

Keep exfoliation to once a week. Also, using Visine (life hack!) can help reduce the redness in zits.” Her best advice? “Smile! That's what people will see when they look at you.”

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