Diagnosing breakouts is not just our hobby—it's not just our job—it's our obsession. Whenever we experience an acne flare-up, we love nothing more than to analyze every little skincare ingredient, environmental factor, and dietary change that might be to blame.
What we often overlook, however, is how the ingredients in our makeup can affect our skin. "There are more potential problematic ingredients in skincare than there are in makeup products," explains esthetician Renée Rouleau. "They’ve come a long way with makeup formulas." That said, there do exist several breakout-causing ingredients that the makeup industry hasn't yet phased out of its formulas, and estheticians say to beware.
"Make sure your products are noncomedogenic, which means it was developed not to clog pores or cause breakouts," advises Bella Schneider, CEO and founder of Bella Schneider Beauty. When choosing foundation, look for water-based formulas, acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, and mineral makeup that protects the skin against free radicals and UV exposure, adds Erin Wassum, formerly an esthetician at the Zo Skin Center by Zein Obagi.
Esthetician-approved makeup brands include Jane Iredale and Glo Skin Beauty, which are formulated with skin-loving ingredients like vitamins and antioxidants. As for what to avoid, that's where this list comes in. Keep scrolling to find nine sneaky makeup ingredients that might be breaking you out!
Alcohols can be drying and irritating. If you have existing breakouts, alcohol may inflame pimples or make them temporarily worse.
Acrylics help ingredients stick together, but "it's the same as putting plastic on your skin," says Schneider. "Anything underneath will get trapped and clog your pores." Avoid the negative effects with 14e Cosmetics's Aloe Nourish Foundation ($46), which is 100% natural and formulated specifically for breakout-prone skin.
This chemical gives powders their shimmery, lacquered finish, but it may cause irritation, potentially leading to acne as well. So if you see these two words on a product's ingredient list, proceed with caution. Instead, choose Alima Pure's skin-benefiting Pressed Foundation with Rosehip Antioxidant Complex ($38).
Mica, Silica, and Talc
Our estheticians say that these light-reflecting particles, found in everything from foundation and powder to bronzer, can all cause irritation and dehydration, potentially leading to breakouts. These ingredients do give the skin a glowy, youthful appearance, but if you're acne-prone, they might not be your best bet.
Perfumes and Dyes
Artificial fragrances and colors certainly help make a product look and smell appealing, but our experts agree they can be extremely irritating, exacerbating skin sensitivity and clogging pores. Instead go the natural route with 100% Pure's Fruit Dyed Makeup, which looks and smells delicious, all thanks to plant-based ingredients.
"Better known as paraffin wax, mineral oil, and petrolatum, these chemicals are used in makeup as a preservative and to lock in moisture," says Schneider. "But they just clog pores and help other bad ingredients to seep deep into your skin to wreck havoc as well."
Our estheticians acknowledge that silicones make products like primers and foundations feel silky and smooth (and they can have the same effect on the skin). Because of silicones' occlusive properties, on certain skin types, they may be dehydrating and clog pores. Opt for a silicone-free primer and foundation instead, like Ish's Face Primer ($15) and Oxygenetix’s Oxygenating Foundation ($66).
Read on for the full list of recommended products for glowing coverage that won't cause breakouts!
Chularojanamontri L, Tuchinda P, Kulthanan K, Pongparit K. Moisturizers for acne: what are their constituents? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(5):36-44.
National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem compound summary for CID 6328152, Bismuth oxychloride. Updated January 29, 2022.