Got Acne? 4 Ways to Improve Your Makeup Routine During a Breakout

Updated 09/11/17
makeup routine for acne

There are big things that make us happy (such as Instagram-worthy beach vacations and pricey spa treatments), but it’s the small things that keep us sane and smiling on a daily basis. We’re partnering with Clinique on a new series to help you look and feel your best every day. Check back each week for ways to take your life from good to great, whether that means finding a foundation that boosts your confidence (try Clinique’s Even Better Glow™ Light Reflecting Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15) or learning how to eat more mindfully. This week, we're sharing how to have a better makeup routine when breaking out. 

Yes, there are plenty of things in life that are worse than having a pimple. But if we’re strictly talking beauty emergencies, breakouts are code red. From waking up with a cluster of bumps to having just one large, inflamed blemish, acne of any kind can make anyone panic. But before you start slathering on every skincare product in sight (who, us?) and following up with layers of makeup (guilty again), save your energy and focus on the real issue: Your routine in times of stress might be causing you more harm than good.

“Applying multiple formulas with different active ingredients can increase the risk of irritation,” says Melissa Levin, MD, board-certified New York City-based dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai. “While each ingredient can be effective and gentle on the skin, mixing them incorrectly can cause irritation, burning, redness, and swelling.” The same philosophy holds true for makeup: Be aware of what ingredients you’re slathering onto your face and how much you’re using. Layering too much of any product will result in a caked-on texture, which never looks good.

Don’t get confused: There’s no universal cure for acne, just ways to manage your breakouts better. So we tapped top skincare and beauty experts to break down all the need-to-know details.

skincare routine for acne

“Prepping skin is important because it creates a canvas for your application,” says celebrity makeup artist Afton Williams. “Without it, you may have dry patches or areas where [makeup] settles [unevenly].” And you don’t need a dozen products. A bare essential routine includes a cleanser to wash away dirt and grime, a toner to remove anything left lingering and to balance your skin’s pH, and a moisturizer to hydrate.

“The idea of moisturizing often strikes fear into my patients with acne-prone skin because they believe that moisturizer will contribute to breakouts,” explains Diana Antonovich, MD, assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina. “That’s just not true. Moisturizing can calm inflamed skin and smooth out the texture, [as well as] combat dryness." Plus, skipping moisturizer will only cause your makeup to build up on flaky, dry skin.

If you’re dealing with one particular pimple, “gently dab a spot treatment [like a topical steroid] onto the [area] with a cotton swab and let it absorb,” says board-certified cosmetic medical dermatologist Margarita Lolis, MD. Moisturize the area, then start on your makeup application.

makeup routine for acne

“I like to use a foundation before trying to conceal breakouts,” explains Williams. “This way, you won’t end up going overboard with the amount of product you use.” Think about it: Foundation conceals a lot of imperfections on its own which cuts down how much you have to go back and spot-conceal. Right now, we’re all about Clinique’s Even Better Glow™ Light Reflecting Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15 ($29) for its subtle luminous pigments. Infused with vitamin C, this moisturizing foundation will give your complexion instant radiance while improving your natural glow over time. Having trouble getting your makeup to cover acne? Williams recommends applying it with a sponge because you can really press it into the skin. “With breakouts, makeup never seems to really stick, so it’s important to dab and press product on, rather than swipe,” she says.

Williams admits that the most difficult part about covering up breakouts is texture. One way to smooth blemishes and get a product to stick is to prime the spot before applying concealer, just like you would your eyelids before applying a smoky eye look. An eye primer makes the skin’s texture velvety which allows the concealer to stick. And if concealer alone won’t cut it, turn to color correctors. “Color-correct your red spots with a green-tinted concealer. Then go in and use your regular concealer (not a shade lighter) and blend,” Williams advises.

After you cleanse, apply your base, conceal, and set your makeup to ensure that all the work you’ve put into getting your look just right actually stays put. Dip a brush into setting powder, tap any excess off, and press and roll the brush into your skin. This will ensure that you’re not moving any of your foundation or concealer around. Once you’re finished, Williams has one more piece of advice: “Leave your face alone—the more you touch your skin, the harder it’ll be to keep spots concealed.”

Ready to make your life even better? Check back next week for more tips—and in the meantime, shop the Clinique products that'll improve your makeup routine every time.

Clinique Acne Solutions™ Cleansing Foam $21
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Clinique Acne Solutions™ Clarifying Lotion $17
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Acne Solutions Clinical Clearing Gel
Clinique Acne Solutions™ Clinical Clearing Gel $27
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Clinique Even Better Glow™ Light Reflecting Makeup Broad Spectrum SPF 15 $28
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Clinique Beyond Perfecting Super Concealer Camouflage + 24-Hour Wear $20
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Clinique Blended Face Powder and Brush $27
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