13 Skin-Clearing Foundations for Acne-Prone Skin

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Acne-prone skin is a tricky thing at the best of times, let alone when it comes to foundation. Of course, coverage is important, but you also need a base product that’s not going to clog pores or contribute to oil production or irritation. The trick then is to find a light, matte option that will deliver on the promise of coverage while caring for troubled skin. 

We’re here to help! Below, we’ve curated an edit of foundation for acne-prone skin—some tested by us and others recommended by makeup artist and beauty expert Michael Brown.

Keep scrolling to discover the best foundation for acne-prone skin—and hopefully, find your new go-to formula.

Best Overall: Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation

4.5
Luminous Silk Foundation

Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Long-wearing

  • Great coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

This hero foundation often gets a good wrap for all skin types and concerns, but the long-wearing, high coverage pigments actually lend themselves incredibly well to cover up breakouts. It also wears really well—especially when paired with a powder. Try dusting powder over any areas that are prone to shine. 

Key Ingredients: Micro–fil technology | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 40 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Runner-Up, Best Overall: NARS Sheer Glow Foundation

4
NARS Sheer Glow Foundation

 Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Natural, radiant finish

  • Oil-free formula

  • Great coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

While the words "sheer" and "glow" might not exactly translate to a foundation that suits acne-prone skin, this formula is impressive in terms of coverage, finish, and longevity. It's oil-free, has a naturally radiant finish, and has buildable coverage that conceals blemishes. Try applying it with your fingers, as the warmth will help it really melt into the skin. 

Key Ingredients: Vitamin C, turmeric | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 40 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Budget: Neutrogena SkinClearing Liquid Makeup

What We Like
  • Contains salicylic acid

  • Oil-free formula

What We Don't Like
  • Limited shade range

This medicated drugstore foundation contains salicylic acid to treat, exfoliate, and reduce congestion in the skin. The fluid consistency is light and breathable but still provides ample coverage in the context of breakouts. It's also oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it won't clog pores or cause any irritation. Try swapping out your regular foundation for this one when you have a significant breakout. 

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, chamomile | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 14 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Oily Skin: Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation

FENTY BEAUTY BY RIHANNA Pro Filt'r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation

Courtesy of Sephora

What We Like
  • Long-wearing

  • Matte finish

  • Controls shine

What We Don't Like
  • Not hydrating enough for dehydrated skin

If you want full coverage and excellent shine control (plus an extensive shade range), you really can't beat the Fenty Beauty Matte Longwear Pro Filt'r. A best-seller for a reason, the formula boasts buildable coverage, infallible shine control, and resistance to heat, sweat, and humidity. It's also weightless, so it doesn't feel heavy or uncomfortable on top of active breakouts. 

Key Ingredients: Papaya, glycerin | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 50 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Dehydrated Skin: ROSE INC Softlight Clean Dewy Hydrating Concealer

ROSE INC Softlight Clean Dewy Hydrating Concealer

Courtesy of ROSE INC

What We Like
  • Non-comedogenic

  • Doubles as an all-over foundation

  • Hydrating

What We Don't Like
  • Small tube size

If your skin is both pimple-prone and dehydrated, you need a creamy formula that will conceal and minimize redness without congesting the skin. The Rose Inc Softlight Concealer is formulated with no pore-clogging ingredients (it was actually made in partnership with esthetician Biba de Sousa), but it’s very hydrating, so it glides over the skin with ease. And while it’s a concealer, the large flocked applicator can be used all over as a foundation. 

Key Ingredients: Squalane, vitamin E, fig extract | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 20 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: Oxygenetix Oxygenating Foundation

What We Like
  • Contains salicylic acid

  • Great for sensitive skin

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be better

Made specifically for acneic, sensitive, or post-procedure skin, Brown loves this light foundation and often uses it on clients experiencing breakouts. It contains salicylic acid, a BHA that works to dissolve oil and clear pores, decreasing the incidence of breakouts. What's more, there’s also aloe vera to soothe and prevent the skin from drying out. 

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 12 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Shade Range: Estee Lauder Double Wear Stay-In-Place Foundation

Estee Lauder DoubleWear Stay In Place Makeup SPF 10

 Courtesy of Nordstrom

What We Like
  • Large, inclusive shade range

  • Long-wearing

  • Matte finish

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Arguably one of the most iconic foundations of all time, this pick is especially great for acne-prone skin thanks to its long-wearing coverage (up to 24 hours!), matte finish, and oil-controlling prowess. With an impressive 56 shades in the lineup, you’re also guaranteed to find the right match. 

Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 56 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Stick: Merit The Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick

MERIT The Minimalist Perfecting Complexion Stick

Courtesy of MERIT

What We Like
  • Non-comedogenic

  • Doubles as a concealer

What We Don't Like
  • May be too creamy for oily skin

What's unique about this stick foundation is that it has a lovely creamy consistency, but it's made without any pore-clogging ingredients. (Like ROSE INC, founder Katherine Power worked with esthetician Biba De Sousa to eliminate any potentially acne-causing ingredients). It's quite hydrating, so it works well for balanced or dehydrated skin that's also acne-prone. Use it either all over the face or to spot conceal areas of concern. 

Key Ingredients: Sea daffodil, fatty acids | Size: 0.13 ounces | Shades: 20 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Powder: Inika Loose Mineral Powder Foundation SPF 25

Inika Loose Mineral Powder Foundation SPF 25

Courtesy of Inika

What We Like
  • Great for sensitive skin

  • Light, natural-looking coverage

  • Contains SPF

What We Don't Like
  • Can be messy

  • Limited shade range

Brown loves this lightweight mineral powder for acneic skin as it provides a light, natural-looking look without causing any irritation. It buffs in easily and can be built up to your desired coverage. Plus, it boasts chemical-free SPF protection thanks to titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

Key Ingredients: Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide | Size: 8 grams | Shades: 12 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Mineral: Bare Minerals Original Loose Powder Mineral Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15

Bare Minerals Original Foundation

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Great for sensitive skin

  • 5-ingredient formula

  • Contains SPF

What We Don't Like
  • Can be messy

This best-selling mineral powder is an amazing option for acne-prone skin as it’s extremely light, gentle, and made using only five ingredients. The powder formula has a delightfully luminous finish yet still works to control oil overproduction. With continued use, it should help improve overall skin health. 

Key Ingredients: Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide | Size: 0.28 ounces | Shades: 30 | Byrdie Clean: Yes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Fair Skin: Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup Foundation

Clinique Acne Solutions Liquid Makeup

 Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Contains salicylic acid

  • Color-correcting formula

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be better

Designed specifically for breakout-prone skin, the oil-free formula is boosted with salicylic acid to work on reducing clogged pores and controlling excess oil for a clearer complexion. The color-correcting formula aims to correct redness and even out uneven skin tone, too. 

Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 16 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Dark Skin: Uoma Beauty Say What?! Foundation

4
UOMA Beauty Say What?! Foundation
What We Like
  • Large, inclusive shade range

  • Matte finish

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

This liquid formula utilizes biomimicry pigments to create a second-skin-like finish that’s seamless and natural-looking. The soft matte texture is great on acne-prone skin, while hydrating properties ensure there’s minimal flaking, catching, or creasing. Not to mention, it boasts a very impressive shade range, with plenty of options for medium-to-dark skin tones.

Key Ingredients: Tomato extract, berry extract | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 51 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

What Our Testers Say

No matter your skin tone or type, the Uoma Beauty foundation can give you the customizable matte finish you've been looking for, all while wearing nicely throughout the day.” —Celeste Polanco, Product Tester

Best Waterproof: MAC Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation

MAC Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation

 Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Waterproof

  • Full-coverage

  • Long-wearing

What We Don't Like
  • Difficult to remove

Oil-free and almost completely waterproof, this formula from MAC is infallible as far as coverage goes. If you want something to withstand sweat, humidity, tears—even swimming—this is your best bet. Coverage-wise, it’s definitely full; however, be warned it takes a little effort to remove. Use an oil-based cleanser first, then follow up with a gel. 

Key Ingredients: Sodium hyaluronate | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Shades: 29 | Byrdie Clean: No | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Final Verdict

Based on the above edit, we’ve crowned the NARS Sheer Glow Foundation the best foundation for acne-prone skin. The coverage is excellent, the finish is a nice natural matte, but it still looks fresh and healthy. The Bare Minerals Original Loose Powder Mineral Foundation SPF 15 is our runner-up, thanks to its minimalist formulation, natural coverage, and the fact it contains no irritating ingredients.

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. 

Ingredients

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 skincare research and 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 breakouts. Oil-free products are generally preferable as well, but be sure to read the ingredients listing. 

FAQ
  • What makes a foundation great for acne-prone skin?

    “Foundation for acne-prone skin definitely needs to be oil-free to avoid irritating or congesting the skin, but can still have water-based hydrating properties to prevent catching on dry areas where blemishes are present,” explains Brown. “I try always to choose a matte finish that will smooth skin and diffuse light, not drawing extra attention to the area.”

    “Powder foundations of today are also a great option as they are less cakey and dry looking as in previous years,” he adds.

  • How do you apply foundations for acne-prone skin?

    “Whether you’re using a liquid or powder foundation, my advice would be to stipple, press, roll, or dab on your product as it’s less likely to disturb or irritate the skin. Try not to sweep or paint on the product, as it won’t give you an even base,” says Brown. 

    As for tools, he suggests a beauty blender; just be sure to wash it between uses. Otherwise, clean fingers are fine.

  • How often should you wear foundations for acne-prone skin?

    This really is up to you! Apply your foundation any time you want to; just be sure to cleanse it off thoroughly before going to bed.

Why Trust Byrdie?

To arrive at this roundup, we asked a leading makeup artist for his best recommendations. We also tested a few in-house (fun fact: This writer has very, very easily congested skin).

Meet the Expert

  • Michael Brown is a celebrity makeup artist and expert based in Sydney, Australia, who has worked on countless photoshoots, campaigns, red carpet looks, and magazine covers throughout his 20-year career.
  • Desiree Stordahl is the skincare research and education manager at Paula’s Choice.
Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Decker A, Graber EM. Over-the-counter acne treatments: a reviewJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(5):32-40.

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