not a professional. just crazy.

The Best Makeup for Broken-Out Skin

Photo: Rio Viera-Newton

Whenever I’m breaking out, I find myself seriously weighing the cost versus benefit of putting on makeup. On one hand, using makeup tends to be psychologically beneficial when I’m having skin issues: Concealing a blemish ensures that I won’t touch it throughout the day, and helps me straight-up forget it’s there when I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. This allows me to think about it less and lets my skin’s healing process run its course. Benefit!

But on the other hand, I’m putting makeup over an active breakout, which then raises the question of whether I’m clogging my pores and making my skin worse. Cost.

So, I decided I’d try a small, unscientific experiment: The next time I broke out, I would go totally makeup free to see if it expedited the healing process. The results: Honestly, I really couldn’t tell the difference. Which led me to the decision that hormonal breakouts are hormonal breakouts, and I may as well use makeup as a sort of mental salve. I reached a compromise with myself: Now, when my skin is going through a moody phase, I more diligently research the ingredients of the cosmetics I use during that time, so I can ensure that they don’t contain anything that will make them worse. And after reading articles on what ingredients to include and avoid (namely, parabens, alcohols, and silicones), a bit of at-home trial and error, and some crowdsourcing from my trusted, sensitive-skinned peers, I present to you a collective list of products that never ever make me break out, and never ever make my preexisting breakouts worse.

As a blemish-prone but also very dry-skinned girl, I’ve always been hesitant to try out any foundations that have salicylic acid in them. I figured it would immediately turn my skin into the Sahara Desert and ultimately cause my makeup to look crusty and weird as the day went on. So I was really surprised by how much I liked this product. It’s a sheer, light foundation that’s not cakey at all and does a nice job of providing some soft coverage while also actively treating blemishes.

While this product doesn’t advertise itself as particularly good for breakouts, I honestly don’t know where my acne and I would be without this concealer from Tarte. It’s dewy and blendable so that blemishes never look dry or crusty, and is also extremely full coverage — a little goes a long way. I can vouch that this concealer has never ever made me break out or made a blemish worse, and has completely erased zits in emergency situations.

If you’ve found that stick concealers work better for you, look into this quick-fix concealer from Dermablend. This paraben- and fragrance-free concealer is made for those with acne-prone skin who just want to conceal and correct in certain areas. It’s full coverage, but it also blends out really easily — perfect for the no-makeup-makeup-oh-wait-I-have-to-conceal-this-zit girl. This has helped me conceal even the worst of the worst.

I saw Lisa Eldridge use this foundation in one of her videos on a more acne-prone client. And, as I often do with products she recommends, I sprinted to buy it. I am so, so glad I bought this product. It’s not full coverage, but it’s also not one of those no-coverage foundations — it’s nice and buildable and does a great job at canceling out redness while also providing you with nice, even skin and a subtle glow. Again, a little goes a long way, and I like applying it with my fingers first, then using a buffing brush to smooth it into my skin.

One of my friends would not stop raving about this BB cream from Klairs from the moment she tried it out. And I must admit, I’ve been pretty pleased myself. It does a really great job at canceling out redness, providing the perfect amount of light but effective coverage, while also keeping your skin hydrated. But, and this is a big but, there’s only one damn shade of this. Initially, I was hesitant to even write about this product because I find that just so ridiculous, but hopefully saying this on New York Magazine’s website will motivate them to take action. Klairs, try harder. Make more shades.

A friend of mine was complaining that while she loves throwing on some bronzer before nights out, it typically makes her breakout. I went into a few Reddit and YouTube holes before stumbling across this product — a buildable liquid bronzing tint from Dr. Hauschka that has witch hazel and anthyllis that actually soothes inflammation. So not only will this not break you out, it’s actually preventing breakouts! Mix it with your moisturizer for a more subtle effect or apply straight for a more striking contour.


I’ve always been really hesitant to try new primers due to the constant fear that they’ll make me break out. I tested this one at a friend’s house before going out one night and I was so stoked about the results. This gives the appearance of shrunken-down pores in a way I’ve never seen before, and also provides a really nice, clean base for makeup. My friend says she sometimes even wears it alone with no makeup on top!

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The Best Makeup for Acne-Prone Skin