Is foundation bad for acne? We investigate the age-old question

It's time to get to the bottom of it, once and for all

foundation for acne
(Image credit: REX/Shutterstock)

It's time to get to the bottom of it, once and for all

Words – Fiona Embleton

We know it's wrong to pick and prod at our spots, but does that mean we have to avoid foundation like the plague?

The short answer? No.

Of course, if you’re not removing your make-up at night or cleansing properly then that’s another story, but foundation itself won’t clog pores or cause spots to rear their ugly heads.

You do, however, need to exercise caution when it comes to the type of foundation you choose. The texture and ingredients’ list at the back of your foundation bottle can mean the difference between clear skin and a face covered in blackheads, whiteheads and seriously angry spots.

So if you're looking for the best foundation for blemish prone, wise up on the below and invest in one of the best foundations for oily skin.


Pancake or stick foundation

While it’s tempting to use heavy or solid foundations to make those breakouts look less visible, your skin needs to be able to breathe and heal while covering up bumps and red patches.

'As a general rule, thick, long-wear foundations are more likely to be pore-clogging,' says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist at Cedars Dermatology, London.

Stick foundations fare no better as acrylics are often used as a binding agent.

'This is one ingredient you definitely want to avoid as acrylics can potentially block pores and aggravate oily, blemish-prone skin,' warns Mahto.

This quiz can match you with the perfect foundation for acne-prone skin – try it out here!

Shimmery formulas

Their high-sheen finish is likely to be the result of Bismuth Oxychloride, a pigment that comes in a pearlescent finish, so is often found in bronzers, blush and eye shadows. '

In certain individuals it may potentially worsen cystic acne,' explains Mahto.

'If you do want a more shimmery make-up finish, make sure you cleanse the skin thoroughly twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, to help clear the pores of any Bismuth Oxychloride residue.'

Alcohol and fragrances

Alcohol is often used in foundation as a carrier to help other ingredients sink into the skin or for its astringent properties as a treatment for oily types.

But the trouble is, some boozy ingredients can be extremely drying and irritating – which in turn causes oil glands to go into overdrive and spots to appear.

'The alcohols to be concerned about are ethanol or ethyl alcohol, denatured alcohol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and benzyl alcohol,' says Mahto.

'When one or more of these are found at the top of the ingredients’ list, they are of a high enough concentration to be problematic for acne-prone skin.'

And while a good-smelling product is always appealing, the irritation and sensitivity fragrance can cause definitely isn’t. 

Look for

Mattifying textures

Choose foundation formulas that are oil-free and tout water as their first ingredient. 'Adding excess oil and grease to problem skin is counterintuitive,' says Mahto. 'The result is blackheads, which in turn develop into acne spots.

Even more beneficial are foundations that contain water as this ingredient causes minimal irritation.' Another clue? Look for the words ‘non-comedogenic’ on the packaging.

Acne-preventing ingredients

It's also good if your foundation is armed with spot-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, Mahto says. 'This anti-inflammatory beta hydroxy acid removes excess oil and dead cells from the skin’s surface, which is perfect for skin prone to blocked pores and blemishes.'

Foundations containing dimethicone are also great, as they absorb excess oil and minimise the appearance of enlarged pores.

'As a silicon-based polymer, dimethicone can even help reduce skin redness and minimise irritation,' adds Mahto. Win-win.

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