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Do Skin-Care Ingredients in Makeup Actually Do Anything?

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Skin-care goals and makeup don’t always get along. For example, you might want a thick layer of foundation to cover up a bad breakout, but ingredients in your full-coverage foundation may actually lead to more acne. So what about makeup that promises to make your skin look better — and improve it at the same time? While dermatologists say that you can get some skin-care benefits from makeup, they caution that you shouldn’t rely entirely on it for treating your skin. “Makeup is not meant to penetrate deep enough into the skin where the active ingredients can really be effective and shine,” says dermatologist Corey Hartman, founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology. “Not only that, but active ingredients in makeup rarely reach therapeutic levels that will render them completely sufficient to treat any skin condition on their own.”

Still, dermatologists say there are several options that are worthy of consideration, especially when it comes to acne treatment and sunscreen. Perhaps the biggest benefit of these two-in-one products is convenience. “A skin-care product won’t work if you forget to use it,” says Caroline Chang, a dermatologist and the founder of Rhode Island Dermatology Institute. “Combination makeup/skin-care products help to reduce the time spent getting ready and make it easy to take good care of your skin.” If that sounds appealing, we’ve rounded up some of the best makeup with skin-care benefits, according to dermatologists. Just remember, “it’s important that the products do not replace your morning and nightly skin-care routines,” says Howard Sobel, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital and founder of Sobel Skin. “Actual skincare routines will always be more effective in achieving clear, toned and moisturized skin.”

Best makeup for acne

Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are the most common ingredients you’ll find in makeup designed to treat pimples. Adeline Kikam, dermatologist and founder of @brownskinderm, explains that both have been shown to help acne, but cautions that, because foundations and concealers with these ingredients are relatively new, we don’t know know exactly how effective they are in these formulations when compared to traditional acne medications. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are FDA-regulated, though, so if you see them on the label, at least you’ll know the product contains a sufficient percentage of the active ingredient to have some effect. “If a product is labeled with the word ‘acne,’ it means that it is actually considered an OTC drug, with ingredients that comply with the FDA as safe and effective,” explains Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. Acne sufferers who tend to break out from other foundations and concealers may benefit from using makeup products specifically meant for acne. Jenny Liu, a dermatologist and writer of the DermTalk blog, likes this affordable, oil-free foundation with salicylic acid.

Liu also recommends this Clinique foundation that’s designed specifically for acne sufferers. Like all of the acne makeup on this list, this formula contains 0.5% salicylic acid, the lowest percentage deemed effective by the FDA. Zeichner points out that while this low dosage “may offer some therapeutic benefit, it is often too low of a concentration to truly clear the skin.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, especially if you’re using another salicylic acid product in your skincare routine (which may contain up to 2 percent of the ingredient) as doubling up can overly dry out your skin.

This liquid foundation, one of Chang’s top picks, pairs salicylic acid with witch hazel, an astringent that works to dry out pimples, and tea tree oil, which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. As Chang says, “I’m not even sure if there’s a skin-care product with all these ingredients in one.”

Because acne-prone skin is often oily, a powder foundation may be preferable if you’re looking for something that’ll cut down on shininess. This mineral-based powder, recommended by Liu, includes salicylic acid, zinc and sulfur for fighting acne, along with kaolin clay, which Liu says absorbs oil, and oat protein that she says helps soothe the skin.

Best makeup with sunscreen

Sunscreen is another feature you’ll often see in makeup, especially foundations and tinted moisturizers. Still, as Sobel notes, “even if a product has SPF in it, for the best sun protection you should always be wearing a regular sunscreen too.” A tinted sunscreen like this one gives you some light coverage along with your sun protection. Hartman says ISDIN’s sunscreen “combines DNA repair enzymes to treat photo-aging, mineral sun protection factor and iron oxides that provide a bit of color and fight high energy visible light or blue light that we are subject to every time we pick up a device.”

Liu and Kikam agree that iron oxide, a pigment added to tinted sunscreen to counteract the white cast common in regular sunscreen, actually provides additional protection from visible light — especially helpful for people with darker skin tones or those prone to melasma or hyperpigmentation. These are often found in products called CC creams. “CC creams are color-correcting products that incorporate shade coverage and sun protection via sunscreen,” says Caroline Robinson, a dermatologist and founder of Tone Dermatology. “I often recommend CC creams layered on top of sunscreen to improve persistent hyperpigmentation.” This CC cream comes recommended by Liu, who says “it contains niacinamide to soothe, peptides,” which firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles, “and hyaluronic acid to help hydrate.”

For more coverage, Robinson likes this foundation that offers high SPF, comes in a wide range of shades, and features other ingredients typically seen in moisturizing and brightening serums. “It’s lightweight with just enough ‘skin-like’ coverage and has mineral SPF to protect against the harmful effects of UV rays,” she says. “The addition of squalene for hydration and niacinamide to support the skin barrier are great choices in this product.”

If you have dry skin and are looking for a foundation that provides sunscreen, helps even out skin tone, and hydrates the skin, Robinson recommends this formula from Estée Lauder. She says, “It provides buildable coverage with built-in SPF and probiotic technology to hydrate and soothe the skin.”

“It’s hard to find a foundation that contains a high SPF,” says Chang, who recommends this mineral-based powder that, along with preventing sun damage, features other ingredients traditionally found in skin-care products. “It contains some great anti-aging ingredients such as licorice root extract, which lightens brown spots and retinyl palmitate, a derivative of retinol, that helps to ward off wrinkles,” she says.

Here’s another powder option that Robinson likes, especially for those with sensitive skin. She likes that it has “iron oxides to protect against visible light, and antioxidants for repair.”

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Do Skin-Care Ingredients in Makeup Actually Do Anything?