Does Makeup Make You Break Out? Here's Why!

If you love makeup but suffer from acne or you wear makeup because of acne, you might find yourself in one vicious circle - you want to cover up your blemishes but you're making them worse by doing so. However, you don't need to get rid of your makeup - instead, avoid the most common makeup mistakes that might break you out.

May 23, 2022 6 minutes read
Women applying makeup

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Makeup is definitely there to improve our mood and self-confidence. It's an effective and fun way to express our artsy side and cover imperfections. But what happens when makeup stops being fun and begins to cause acne and other skin issues?

Although most foundations, concealers, and blushers are designed to moisturize and protect the skin, certain formulas could potentially lead to irritation, dry skin, and even pimples. Derms call these acne cosmetica, which usually appear on your cheeks, jawline, forehead, and chin. And it's not only about the products themselves but also about your makeup habits and application methods.

However, the good news is you don't have to give up on the fun just yet and ditch your makeup – avoiding some (if not all) of these makeup mistakes can save you (and your skin) a lot of trouble.

Mistake #1: Not Prepping Your Skin

woman cleansing her skin

Admittedly, it's pretty inviting to snooze 15 minutes more in the morning and skip cleansing your face. So, you might wake up, brush your teeth, put some makeup on and be out the door as quickly as you can. However, not cleansing the skin before applying your foundation will surely break you out as oils and bacteria piled up overnight get trapped on your skin.

It's a recipe for disaster, and if you want to avoid makeup-caused acne and blemishes, washing your face in the morning should be your No.1 skincare step. Go for salicylic acid-based cleansers that gently exfoliate the skin and unclog pores while removing all the excess dirt and oil at the same time.

Mistake #2: Avoiding Moisturizer

woman applying a moisturizer

If you have oily, acne-prone skin, applying moisturizer before foundation might sound like too much. However, skipping your moisturizer will only exacerbate the problem, drying out the surface layer of the skin and triggering the sebaceous glands to produce even more oil.

Of course, you shouldn't use heavy and rich creams that'll make your shiny complexion even shinier. But rather, go for water-based, lightweight, and velvety formulas with hydrating and anti-inflammatory ingredients, such as glycerin, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, Centella Asiatica, green tea, and others.

Mistake #3: Choosing the Wrong Formulas

liquid foundation texture

If you're using products that contain comedogenic ingredients, you're bound to break out no matter your skin type. So, make sure to avoid heavy foundations with red dyes and coconut oil as well as fragrances and alcohols. The former will clog your pores, causing the buildup of bacteria and, therefore, acne. While the latter will irritate and dry your skin, worsening the problem even more.

Therefore, try to pick foundations and concealers labeled oil-free and non-comedogenic, or, specifically, products designed for acne-prone skin. These will give you just enough coverage but will also let your skin breathe and provide it with everything it needs.

Mistake #4: Wearing Makeup Everyday

woman applying makeup with a makeup sponge

If you're doing everything else right but still wear a lot of foundation every single day, you'll cause acne flare-ups. Instead, try to give your skin a break and go 'bare' several times a week.

But, if you're feeling uncomfortable going to work without makeup on, the least you could do for your skin then is to wash the makeup off as soon as you get home. This will give your skin several hours each day to catch some break. However, on the weekends or those days you just want to chill at home, stay away from your vanity table and let your skin draw breath.

Mistake #5: Not Washing Your Brushes Often Enough

dirty makeup brushes

Dirty makeup brushes, beauty blenders, and other makeup applicators are perfect for thriving bacteria that then get transferred onto the skin, causing acne and blemishes. If you already have acne-prone and problematic skin, dirty makeup brushes will only contribute to your problem.

Ideally, you would want to wash your makeup applicators after every use, but we all understand it's not super practical. So, try to wash them at least once a week, but wash them thoroughly. Use hot water and a gentle soap or shampoo (or a designated brush cleanser if you have one).

Mistake #6: Sharing Your Makeup Brushes

three girlfriends using each others makeup brushes

Getting ready for a night out with your friends is a perfect opportunity for some fun and giggles but also for sharing makeup products and applicators. Whether you give your makeup brushes to your bestie or take theirs, you're exposing your skin to whatever is brewing on theirs.

This way, you're irritating your skin, exacerbating your breakouts, and spawning future acne. In addition, you're risking various infections, like pink eye or worse, making acne the least of your problems. The only way to safely share your makeup brushes and sponges with your friends is to use only those freshly cleaned or disinfected with alcohol.

Mistake #7: Not Storing Your Makeup Applicators Properly

clean makeup brushes in a clean makeup bag

Giving your makeup tools and applicators a proper cleanse is all in vain if you don't store them later properly. After washing, you should let your makeup brushes dry before putting them back into your makeup bag, drawer, or brush holder.

Be mindful to keep them protected from dust, so keep them in a container with a lid or zip when not used. Besides cleaning your brushes, it's also important to keep the bags you store them in clean. In addition, when traveling, store them in a small separate container away from your other makeup.

Mistake #8: Going to Bed With Your Makeup On

woman sleeping with her makeup on

Another big no-no if you're trying to avoid makeup-caused acne is sleeping without removing your makeup and cleansing your face first. Actually, it's a big no, generally, no matter if you have makeup on or not.

Cleansing your face in the evening and removing all the excess dirt, makeup, oils, and sunscreen is a prerequisite for healthy skin and a clear complexion. To make sure you get even the tiniest particles of dirt out of your pores in the evening, do a double cleanse – dissolve all the makeup with an oil cleanser or micellar water first and finish off with your regular gentle face wash and toner.

It might sound like overkill, especially if you're so tired that you barely keep your eyes open. But there's no way around it if you want acne-free skin.

Mistake #9: Applying Makeup With Your Fingers

woman applying makeup with her fingers

Using your fingers to apply makeup is the easiest way to perfect your look – apply just enough product and have a seamless blend. However, if you first use a keyboard or your cell and then go into full-on foundation application with your fingers, without washing your hands first, is the quickest way to ensure future breakouts.

Similar to using dirty brushes or makeup sponges, your fingers are also full of germs. So wash your hands right before starting to put makeup on your face to avoid transferring grime and acne-causing bacteria.

Mistake #10: Applying Makeup Too Aggressively

woman applying makeup with a brush

Having acne that's sore, swollen, and oozing is essentially wounded skin. Adding makeup on top is quite irritating, especially if you're not gentle with your skin. This sort of mechanical irritation can disrupt your skin's natural barrier, cause inflammation in your skin, and eventually lead to acne. So try to be really delicate when applying your makeup with a brush or beauty blender because people tend to get especially carried away with these.

Mistake #11: Wearing Too Much Foundation

woman having a lot of foundation on her hand

If you want your skin to heal as fast as possible, you need to allow it to breathe. Applying too much foundation or concealer to cover up your pimples will do the contrary, plus it will only make them look bigger.

Too much foundation will settle in your fine lines and pores, clogging them and allowing bacteria to grow. It inevitably leads to skin irritation, inflammation, and, eventually, breakouts. So besides choosing lighter and oil-free formulas, it's essential not to apply too much of the product to your face.

Mistake #12: Using Expired Products

makeup products

Like your skincare, makeup products also have a certain shelf life – and it's much shorter than you would expect. And so the main culprits for acne flare-ups, your foundation and concealer, usually have a shelf life of no longer than 12 to 18 months. This is pretty short, especially if you're not wearing your makeup that often and have to toss your favorite foundation half-full.

However, if you've noticed your acne is getting worse recently, check the expiration date on your products – it might just be the reason. Makeup products, especially cream products, tend to harbor acne-causing bacteria when expired. So, you might not notice your skin condition worsening immediately after 12 months, but rather after weeks or even months of using an expired product as it has an accumulative effect.

Therefore, while it's a shame to throw them away if there's still a lot of product left, you should still do it – your skin will be grateful. Instead, if you're not such a frequent makeup wearer, try to buy mini-sized foundations and concealers that you'll likely spend in one year's time.


All in all, covering acne with makeup will not solve your problem – it's only a temporary fix. On the other hand, if it's the makeup that's causing your acne, try applying some of our tips and see where it gets you. If nothing helps, you could maybe try changing your makeup and opt for a different brand.

But, in the end, having acne is a skin condition that requires treatment. So whether your skin issues are caused by makeup or not, it's always best to talk to your dermatologist and ask for advice and adequate medication.

makeup mistakes that cause acne infographic


How do you prevent acne from makeup?

If your makeup is causing your skin to break out, try following these tips: choose non-comedogenic products, wash your makeup brushes regularly, don't share your makeup brushes, remove your makeup before bed, and prep your skin by cleansing and moisturizing.

Which makeup product causes acne?

If you have oily skin and use a heavy foundation with highly comedogenic ingredients, it will likely cause acne. Also, make sure not to use expired products, as these can also irritate your skin and cause breakouts.

How do you know if makeup is causing acne?

If your skin starts breaking out shortly after wearing a certain makeup product, most likely face makeup like foundation, primer, or setting powder, it's probably to blame.

Can wearing makeup every day cause acne?

If you wear face makeup that contains comedogenic ingredients that tend to clog pores, it might cause acne. So, it's best not to wear it every day or to wash it off as soon as you get home.

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