Breakouts are the worst. If your thought process is anything like mine when a zit manifests on your face, your first instinct might be to disguise it before anyone else notices. Usually, the quickest way to make a breakout disappear is by reaching for a tube of foundation and/or concealer, but is that really what’s best for your skin in the long run? As an avid makeup wearer, I’ve heard mixed answers over the years, so I asked a few experts to weigh in and get the real scoop.
“It is hard because makeup is used to conceal breakouts, but it actually can also stoke the fire,” Yale School of Medicine dermatologist Mona Gohara, M.D., tells SELF
That’s why the derms I spoke to suggest not wearing makeup on the affected area until the blemish or breakout goes away. Shereene Idriss, M.D., dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City, says that certain ingredients in makeup can further clog pores, which can lead to a worsening of any inflammation as well as lengthen the duration of a breakout.
“When you have an active breakout, your skin may be more prone to developing sensitivities and irritations,” she tells SELF. “Therefore, if you’re brave enough to go makeup free for the short term in order to gain better skin in the long term, then I would encourage it.”
Dr. Gohara agrees, explaining, “Acne is caused by hormones, oil production, and inflammatory bacteria. If you are already predisposed to breakouts, makeup can make it worse—particularly oil- or liquid-based foundations.”
Sometimes makeup can actually be causing the breakout, Dr. Gohara explains, referring to a condition called acne cosmetica.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne cosmetica occurs when makeup is the main source of an acne issue. Even women who would not otherwise have acne can develop it. Acne cosmetica usually appears as many tiny bumps on the cheeks, chin, and/or forehead, and can take anywhere from a few days to six months to develop. Since timing varies on when the acne cosmetica appears, it can be difficult to determine a connection between existing acne and the specific product causing it to occur. As new blemishes form, you may treat pimples and then cover them with the very same makeup that caused them to appear in the first place—leading to an ongoing, frustrating cycle of pesky breakouts that are ultimately untreated.
However, even when makeup is causing your breakout, you can still wear it and eventually clear your skin—as long as you choose your products wisely. New York City cosmetic dermatologist Kenneth Howe, M.D., says that while dermatologists often advise against makeup use by acne patients, he believes that using a lightweight, oil-free foundation can work with breakouts, instead of against them.
“Acne is upsetting enough without my taking away a patient’s ability to cover it up,” he explains. “I do suggest that patients select a foundation that’s as light as possible—the less liquid-y, the better. I also remind patients that they should dial down their makeup use as their acne clears.”
Foundation isn’t the only makeup product to choose wisely. Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center, advises her acne-prone patients to avoid primers and powders when looking to clear their breakouts. She explains that powders may increase pore clogging, and primers can often increase acne inflammation. She also suggests wearing tinted, oil-free moisturizers over full-coverage concealers, as they tend to clog pores less often.
That being said, zits that are open, oozing or crusted should be left alone. In that situation, experts recommending waiting until the pimple is healed over with fresh new skin before covering it with makeup. “When you cover up an open zit, you are essentially blocking it from ‘breathing’ by limiting its exposure to oxygen,” explains Dr. Idriss. She calls it “an essential process” for healing, because without it “you are indirectly creating an environment prone to irritations, inflammation and even infections.”
Dr. Howe explains that when pimples are open, the skin barrier has been disrupted. Any makeup applied to the area can then get into deeper levels of exposed tissue than the product is designed to reach. The result can be added irritation with increased redness and swelling of the pimple.
Whether or not you decide to cover your zits with makeup, experts strongly suggest treating the breakout first, including washing your makeup off before hitting the hay. “It all starts with good habits, and treating your skin like it’s a priority,” says Dr. Idriss. “Wash your face before sleeping and if you notice your skin is beginning to act up, then take a step back and use less makeup.”
While in some cases it is fine to cover up bad breakouts with makeup, it’s also important to remember to prioritize the skin underneath first.