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Finding the right foundation can be a daunting process in and of itself. Now add having acne-prone skin to the mix and you’re faced with a quest that can often feel impossible. After all, wearing a foundation when you’re battling blemishes is definitely somewhat of a double-edged sword. You want the coverage, for sure, but the last thing you want is a base that’s going to clog pores, cake up, or make your skin look greasy. The key is to find formulas specifically made for acne-prone skin—lighter-weight options that won’t exacerbate breakouts but will deliver on coverage without calling more attention to problem spots.
Ahead, the best foundations for acne-prone skin do exactly that.
Best Overall: BareMinerals Blemish Rescue Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation
Mineral-based foundations are a great option for acne-prone skin, given that they usually contain fewer total ingredients than their liquid or cream counterparts—and, as such, are less likely to inadvertently clog pores. You could definitely reach for the OG BareMinerals base, but this is even better for the breakout-prone set. It contains just a little bit of acne-fighting salicylic acid, a soothing oat protein to ward off irritation, and phytosphingosine, an ingredient that helps your skin fight off bacteria. Add to that a full-coverage mineral complex that helps purify pores and you’re good to go.
Best Drugstore: Neutrogena SkinClearing Liquid Makeup
We love this drugstore staple not only because it's a great foundation with a silky texture and flawless coverage, but also because it basically acts like skincare, too. It boasts the brand’s MicroClear Technology, which relies on salicylic acid, one of the best blemish-busting ingredients there is. So, while you cover up your pimples, this double-duty formula goes to work, unclogging pores, dissolving oil, and treating those pimples at the same time.
Best Budget: Maybelline New York Fit Me Matte + Poreless Liquid Foundation
True story, you don’t need to spend a ton of cash for a good foundation. This one, a go-to for beauty editors and makeup artists alike, is proof positive. The price is noteworthy, yes, but so is the formula. A dermatologist-tested, non-comedogenic liquid, it has a gorgeously matte finish that tamps down shine but never looks chalky—thanks, in large part, to micro-powders that both absorb oil and blur the look of pores and pimples. It comes in an impressive array of 40 shades, too.
Best for Fair Skin: Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup Foundation
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Oil-free and non-acnegenic, this is a surefire pick no matter if you’re trying to treat an existing breakout or ward off future ones. Like other formulas on this list, it relies on skin-clearing salicylic acid, along with caffeine, a choice ingredient for tamping down redness. The long-wear formula has a matte finish and medium coverage; it also comes in 11 shades, more than half of which are geared towards lighter skin tones.
Best for Medium Skin: Beauty Bakerie InstaBake Aqua Glass Foundation
A full-on full-coverage formula, you need only a little bit of this to cover everything you want to be covered—and then some. Still, it glides on seamlessly and doesn’t ever look cakey. Happy reviewers repeatedly talk about how well it works on their acne-prone, combination, and oily skin, and while there’s a nice lineup of 30 shades, there are especially great options for medium complexions.
Best for Olive Skin: Uoma Beauty Say What?! Foundation
There are so many cool things about this breakthrough base, we don’t really know where to start. Yes, it comes in 51 shades, helpfully separated among six skin tone categories. But it’s not just the colors that are unique—the formula is, too, tweaked to specially address the issues most common to skin of that color. Take, for example, the olive skin category, which has an added antioxidant that both protects and regulates oil production, a major win if you’re dealing with a problematic complexion.
Best for Dark Skin: Flesh Pure Flesh Liquid Foundation
Not all dark skin is the same, which is why we so appreciate that this base comes in 40 shades (with plenty of good options for dark and deep skin) and that those shades for dark and deep skin have a range of different undertones, from pink to yellow. Water-based, it feels nice and light and delivers medium coverage with a perfectly natural finish. It’s also made without potentially pore-clogging mineral oil and silicones.
Best Shade Range: Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation
Byrdie Social Media Editor Star Donaldson vouches for this choice, which comes in—wait for it—a jaw-dropping 56 shades. That’s cause for applause on its own, but the oil-free, oil-controlling prowess is also noteworthy, as is the 24-hour staying power, always a boon when you’re trying to hide blemishes. And while it’s definitely full coverage, that coverage is also buildable, and can easily be sheered out if you so choose.
Best for Oily Skin: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation
Although this pick from RiRi’s line promises medium to full coverage (a promise it most definitely delivers on), it’s not the least bit thick or cakey. It does offer plenty of pigment to hide those pimples you want to hide but still has an airy consistency that feels nearly undetectable on the skin. Also, as a bonus, it's super long-wearing and humidity-resistant. While it goes on like a liquid, it dries down to a powder with a beautiful matte finish. Plus, in true brand fashion, it’s available in 50 different shades.
Best for Dry Skin: Tarte SEA Water Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15
We know what you’re thinking—acne-prone skin that’s dry? It may not be common, but it can happen. And when it does, this is the base for you. As the name suggests, it’s water-based, delivering lots of moisture without the oils that can make breakouts worse. Marine plants offer plenty of antioxidant protection (always a good thing), and we also like that the SPF it relies on is mineral, rather than the chemical variant that can exacerbate breakouts for some.
Best Water-Based: Dior Diorskin Forever Undercover Foundation
Just like water-based moisturizers (AKA gels) are an awesome pick for anyone with oily or problematic skin, so too are water-based foundations. This one, in particular, is a standout choice—it's a lightweight formula that doesn’t mix with sweat or clog pores, but stays put even in hot or humid weather. It’s super fluid so feels nice and weightless (make sure to give it a good shake before using), but contains twice the amount of pigments as the brand’s OG foundation, ensuring you still get plenty of coverage.
Best Oil-Free: Laura Mercier Silk Crème Oil Free Foundation
Not only is this non-comedogenic and oil-free, but it also goes one step further, touting a silk powder blend to absorb excess oil as you wear it. In other words, it will render blotting papers and midday powder touch-ups obsolete. The full coverage both conceals and magically smooths out texture, making it a great pick to use both over raised blemishes and bumps, as well as depressed acne scars.
Best Natural: Exa High Fidelity Foundation
We had yet to find a clean foundation that we could fully get behind—until this came across our desk. From Credo’s first private label, you know that the formula will be squeaky clean, free of more than 2,700 questionable chemicals. We like it for all skin types, acne-prone skin included, thanks to the addition of all kinds of good-for-you ingredients. (Think: soothing aloe and maqui berry, plus tons of different antioxidants that ward off pollution-induced damage.) The coverage is also buildable from sheer to full. On top of all of that, the semi-stain finish is a nice alternative for those who don’t love matte formulas, leaving your complexion looking healthy and fresh but never shiny.
The BareMinerals Blemish Rescue Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation is definitely a unanimous team Byrdie favorite. It’s lightweight, provides ample coverage, and contains a small amount of salicylic acid to fight bacteria and unclog pores. When it comes to shade range and a matte, long-wearing finish though, Fenty Beauty Pro Filt’r takes the cake. It’s got great coverage without feeling heavy, and you won’t have to worry about midday shine creeping in. Plus, the line boasts 50 shades in a variety of undertones, so you’re sure to find your perfect match.
What to Look For When Buying Foundation for Acne-Prone Skin
Coverage and Finish
This is essentially a personal choice, but when it comes to oily, acne-prone skin, a fuller coverage, matte foundation formula is going to be your best bet in terms of staying power. Our advice is to use a little bit of product, focusing on the center of the face and working outwards. If you want more coverage in places, spot-apply using your finger or a precision blending brush. This way, you won’t end up with a thick, heavy base all over.
It’s difficult to make blanket statements about pore-clogging ingredients because the reality is that everyone’s skin is different. Terms like non-comedogenic and oil-free are great starting points, but as Desiree Stordahl, the Education Manager at Paula’s Choice points out, these claims aren’t regulated, so it’s important to do further research and understand your personal acne triggers.
Her advice for those looking for a foundation that won’t contribute to acne is to avoid fragrance and denatured alcohol at all costs. Both of these can trigger reactions in the skin that exacerbate blemishes and oiliness. She also suggests steering clear of sticks and creams, as the ingredients commonly used to keep them solid can worsen the incidence of breakouts. Oil-free products are generally preferable as well, but be sure to read the ingredients listing.