Finding the Best Makeup for Acne: Top 10 Acne-Friendly Makeup Products

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

The best makeup for acne has three main qualities: first, it doesn’t irritate skin; second, it doesn’t clog pores; and third, it either moisturizes the skin or treats acne with acne-fighting ingredients (or both!). This may sound like a tall order, but we’ve found several foundations, concealers, primers, and BB creams that fit the bill. If you haven’t used makeup much before, don’t worry, we’ve also included a section on how to cover up acne using these products. Contrary to popular belief, you can still use makeup if you have acne, you just need to use the right kind of makeup and make sure to take care of your skin with a good acne treatment routine.

woman with make up
Finding the best makeup for acne that won’t clog your pores or irritate your skin can be difficult, but we’re here to make it a little easier.

Should I Cover My Acne With Makeup?

It’s a common myth that makeup automatically makes acne worse. This myth likely originated back in the day when makeup was made with heavy, pore-clogging ingredients that could easily make acne worse. Nowadays, there are still plenty of heavy, pore-clogging makeups out there, but there are also a wide variety of non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) makeup products, and even makeup formulated specifically for acne prone skin.

That being said, you don’t need to apply makeup to cover your acne just because it’s possible to do so now without causing more breakouts. The skin care industry often portrays acne as “ugly,” “embarrassing,” or “dirty,” but none of these are true. Acne is the most common skin condition in the world, affecting approximately 80% of people between ages 11 and 30. The idea that it is shameful in any way is simply a lie perpetuated by many skin care companies in order to make money. At Exposed Skin Care, we actively fight against this mindset because no one should feel out of place in their own skin. There’s nothing wrong with trying to decrease acne or cover it with makeup, but we believe people would feel less pressured to do these things if acne were accepted as completely normal—because it is normal. If you don’t want to cover your acne with makeup, we hope you won’t feel pressured to. This article is simply a guide for those who are looking for the best makeup for acne prone skin.

How to Find the Best Makeup for Acne

Okay, so you’ve decided you’d like to wear makeup, whether that means using one or two products or applying a full-face of makeup each morning. Now, how do you find the right products?

It’s important to avoid any product that can irritate your skin, from makeup to acne treatment products themselves. This is because when the skin is irritated, it tries to protect itself by triggering the inflammation response, which causes the skin to swell slightly and the pores to constrict. This is at the root of all acne. Although oil and bacteria can also contribute, we always have a fine layer of oil on our skin to protect it, and acne-causing bacteria are part of our skin’s natural bacterial biome. Generally these factors don’t cause issues until they are trapped in a pore, which often happens because of inflammation. Because of this, we strongly encourage people to use gentle products that won’t irritate or inflame the skin.

Although oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria typically get trapped in a pore due to inflammation, they can also get trapped if you apply products to your skin that clog the pores. Many makeup products contain comedogenic ingredients, which are ingredients that are likely to clog pores to some degree, which prevents oil and bacteria from escaping pores. Instead, they remain in the pore and cause blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples. Even though these comedogenic ingredients are often moisturizing, it’s best to avoid them whenever possible.

Finally, the best makeup for acne is makeup that is specifically designed for acne, meaning it includes ingredients that help fight it. There are a wide variety of ingredients that can do this. Most makeup for acne prone skin uses salicylic acid, glycerin, and other ingredients you’ll see outlined below in the top 10 acne-friendly makeup products.

Best Foundation for Acne Prone Skin

For makeup newbies, foundation is a color-tinted form of makeup meant to be applied all over the face and often times down the neck slightly in order to even out skin tone and diminish the appearance of blemishes. It’s a very versatile makeup that comes in many forms and prices. To make this article as accessible as possible, we’ll keep all our recommended products under $40. Additionally, we will only recommend products that are available in a wide range of skin tones because we do not advocate for companies willing to ignore people of color.

There are many types of foundation, so we’ve decided to present the best foundation for acne prone skin in three forms: one liquid foundation, one powder foundation, and one cream foundation.

Best Liquid Foundation for Acne: NYX Professional Makeup Total Control Drop Foundation

The NYX Total Control Drop Foundation comes in 30 varied shades and costs $14.

This liquid foundation is a silicone- and water-based product that we recommend for people with dry skin and acne that is primarily made up of blackheads and whiteheads, rather than pimples. This foundation does not contain traditional acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, but it has the power to be deeply hydrating due to its primary ingredients. The first three ingredients on the ingredient list are cyclopentasiloxane, water, and glycerin. Obviously water is a hydrating ingredient, but what about the other two? Glycerin is a plant-based product and it’s also something called a humectant, meaning it draws more moisture into the skin. Cyclopentasiloxane is a silicone-based product that helps the skin retain the moisture provided by the water and glycerin, and it provides a fine layer of protection without clogging pores. Together, these ingredients can’t get rid of acne you already have, but they can greatly decrease your likelihood of developing irritation/inflammation-based acne.

Best Powder Foundation for Acne: BareMinerals Blemish RescueTM Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation

BareMinerals Blemish RescueTM Skin-Clearing Loose Poweder Foundation product
This BareMinerals Blemish RescueTM Skin-Clearing Loose Powder Foundation is the best foundation for oily skin, and costs $29.

We recommend this powder foundation for anyone with oily skin. Unlike the NYX foundation, this BareMinerals powder foundation contains salicylic acid, which can help remove the oil clogged in the pores causing blackheads and whiteheads. It has a salicylic acid concentration of just 0.5%, which is in the perfect range: high enough to decrease acne, but low enough to prevent irritation. It also contains ingredients like silica and kaolin which can help absorb excess oil. Because of all these oil-absorbing ingredients, we suggest that if you have dry skin, you only use this product if you’re also using a moisturizer.

Best Cream Foundation for Acne: PÜR 4-in-1 Foundation Stick

PUR 4-in-1 Foundation Stick
The PÜR 4-in-1 Foundation Stick costs $34 and is perfect for people with acne and sensitive skin.

Although this one is a bit pricier, we recommend it because it can hydrate the skin while absorbing excess oil at the same time, which is the best of both worlds for most people with acne, especially those with sensitive skin.

People with sensitive skin may notice that their acne either gets drastically worse or significantly improves with the application of makeup. That’s because sensitive skin is particularly susceptible to irritants, and makeup can either contribute to that irritation or it can provide a sheer layer of protection from other irritating factors. It might seem like sensitive skin is a lot like dry skin and needs a foundation that focuses on moisturization, but this isn’t always the case. Many people with sensitive skin also have oily skin, so they need both moisturizing ingredients and drying ingredients. This is a unique combination, and the PÜR 4-in-1 Foundation Stick is exactly that.

It contains both a mixture of hydrating waxes (all of which have a very low comedogenicity rating, meaning they are very unlikely to clog pores) and oil-absorbing ingredients like retinol and lactic acid. These ingredients make us inclined to believe that this creamy foundation could be the best foundation for acne prone skin, especially if your skin is sensitive.

Best Concealer for Acne

Concealer is the second-most popular makeup product for acne after foundation, but the best concealer for acne really depends on your skin type because some concealers marketed for acne prone skin are far too harsh for dry or sensitive skin. So we’ve found two concealers for you: one for oily or non-sensitive skin, and one for dry or sensitive skin.

Best Concealer for Oily or Non-Sensitive Skin: It Cosmetics Bye-Bye BreakoutTM Full Coverage Treatment Concealer

This concealer is not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for sensitive skin. If you have a pimple (or eight) and you need to combine spot treatment and concealer into one, Bye-Bye BreakoutTM is the perfect solution for you. It contains tea tree oil, which is an antibacterial agent that has been proven to kill acne-causing bacteria associated with pimples specifically. It should work well on other breakouts as well, considering it also contains trace amounts of salicylic acid and witch hazel (a natural ingredient similar to salicylic acid that helps get rid of oil). Best of all? It comes in seven shades that actually span a decent range of the color spectrum.

Best Concealer for Dry or Sensitive Skin: Tarte Creaseless Concealer


Creaseless Concealer from Tarte Cosmetics
This Creaseless Concealer from Tarte Cosmetics costs $26 and includes all kinds of hydrating ingredients.

This concealer comes in 22 shades from porcelain sand to mahogany, with a great variety in between, and it contains so many hydrating ingredients, we almost wish it was a foundation. If you have dry or sensitive skin, spot treatments may leave behind an itchy, dry patch, and this concealer is the ideal makeup to help with that. It contains maracuja oil, vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E; combined, these ingredients help the skin absorb more moisture, lock in that moisture, and brighten skin. It is definitely the best concealer for acne if you have dry or sensitive skin (and don’t worry, the maracuja oil has a low comedogenicity rating, so it shouldn’t clog pores.

Best Primer for Acne Prone Skin

Primer typically goes on before foundation, but it’s a much less popular product because many people find that foundation can do the same job primer does. Primer is a type of makeup that smooths the skin before applying foundation. If you are new to makeup, we recommend trying a foundation on its own first, and if you find that your skin tone is still uneven, then adding a primer to the mix. If you’re a makeup pro and looking for the best primer for acne prone skin, you’ve come to the right place. Primer typically has an aspect of color correction, which comes in really handy for those of us with acne, because acne tends to cause redness or dark spots. Which color primer you use really depends on your skin tone and what kind of discoloration you’re experiencing, so we’ve found three acne-friendly primers, one green, one purple, and one orange.

Best Green Primer for Acne Prone Skin: E.L.F. Cosmetics Blemish Control Face Primer

E.L.F. Blemish Control Face Primer contains 2% salicylic acid and is our most affordable product yet, at only $10.

Green primer is the best option for anyone experiencing unwanted redness. Although this color primer is often marketed toward fair skin, it can also come in handy for dark skin, though it’s usually best to use it as a spot treatment rather than an all-over product. This makes the list for best primer for acne prone skin because it contains 2% salicylic acid, making it a powerful tool against blackheads and whiteheads as well as a great color correcting makeup product. On top of that, it’s water-based and it contains a small amount of tea tree oil to help combat pimples too. Our only reservation about this product is how it might affect sensitive skin. We recommend those with sensitive skin use this product only a few times a week at first and slowly increase use to see if it can be used daily.

Best Purple Primer for Acne Prone Skin: BECCA First Light Priming Filter Face Primer

BECCA’s $38 First Light purple primer helps color correct yellow tones.

Purple primer is generally not recommended for olive skin tones, which have a lovely natural green/yellow undertone, because purple primer typically reduces yellow tones. Instead, we recommend purple primer for fair or dark skin tones that have unwanted yellow undertones, or as a spot treatment for cystic acne, which often has yellow tones. This particular primer from BECCA cosmetics is highly recommended because it is water-based and contains glycerin to hydrate the skin, it contains silica to help absorb excess oil, and it contains mica, which reflects light to hide blemishes and make skin luminous.

Best Orange Primer for Acne Prone Skin: Clinique SuperprimerTM Face Primer

This $29 SuperprimerTM contains a unique ingredient that uses more than orange pigment to reduce purple discoloration related to acne.

Orange primer is often considered the best color primer for dark skin, though yellow primer can work well too. Orange and yellow primers balance out purple and blue tones, making it perfect for covering acne discoloration in dark skin. The orange hue in this product can help reduce the dark marks left behind by post-acne discoloration, but it also contains another ingredient which can help reduce the purple-ish color of an angry, inflamed pimple: caffeine. Caffeine is a great ingredient in acne-fighting products because it reduces inflammation by constricting the blood vessels slightly. Reducing blood flow to the pimple can also decrease the purple hue that sometimes occurs around pimples. This primer is also water-based, contains silica to absorb oil, and includes green tea extract, which can help soothe the skin and reduce inflammation, making it a helpful acne prevention tool as well.

Best BB Cream for Acne

The B’s in BB cream stand for blemish balm (or beauty balm, depending on your source). This makeup is sort of like primer in that many people don’t find it to be a necessary part of their routine. BB cream is similar to foundation in that it’s a tinted cream to be applied all over the face, but BB cream is typically much lighter (in feel, not color) than foundation, though this will differ by brand. There are a lot of different BB creams out there, but we found the best BB cream for acne on a budget and the best BB cream for acne if you’ve got some cash to spend.

Best Budget BB Cream for Acne: E.L.F. BB Cream SPF 20

At only $6, this E.L.F. BB cream is ideal for those of us with acne and a tight budget.

Yep, E.L.F. is back again. As one of the best budget beauty brands, we were impressed but not surprised by the high quality ingredients in many of their products. This BB cream contains hydrating ingredients like jojoba oil, glycerin, aloe vera extract and cucumber fruit extract, but it also contains silica to absorb oil and mica to hide blemishes. Although the name says it’s also SPF 20, we don’t recommend wearing it as a sunscreen. BB creams are typically applied very thinly and not enough product is applied to really protect your skin. Still, for only $6, this BB cream for acne is a great deal.

Best Expensive BB Cream for Acne: Iman Cosmetics Skin Tone Evener BB Crème

This BB cream from Iman Cosmetics comes in six well spread-out shades and only costs $16.

It’s definitely not the most expensive item on this list, or the most expensive BB cream out there, but it’s not $6 either. If you’ve got more money to spend, this BB cream is full of amazing ingredients. It contains hydrating ingredients like almond oil, grapeseed oil, and glycerin, oil-balancing ingredients like licorice extract, and blemish-reducing ingredients like talc. Talc works just like mica, attracting and scattering light to diminish the appearance of blemishes. Overall, this is a great option for BB cream if you have acne, and unlike many BB creams, this one (and the E.L.F. one) comes many shades.

Tips for How to Cover Up Acne

Okay, so you have all the makeup recommendations you could ever want, but now you need to know how to cover up acne using all those products. To help, we’ve included our five best makeup tips below.

  1. Don’t feel obligated to use all the products, but if you want to, make sure you use them in the right order. It’s absolutely not necessary to use a primer, BB cream, foundation, and concealer. Oftentimes, people will use just concealer, just foundation, or a mix of two or three products. Still, there are plenty of people who do use all four products, but the most important thing is for you to feel comfortable. If this is your first foray into makeup, we recommend starting with BB cream. It will provide the all-over coverage you’re probably envisioning, but it won’t feel quite as heavy as foundation. If you are ready to use all four products, apply them in this order: primer, BB cream, foundation, concealer.
  2. If you have sensitive skin, apply your makeup using your fingers. Brushes, beauty blenders, and other tools are fine for many skin types, but they can aggravate sensitive skin and cause unwanted redness and inflammation. If your acne is primarily made up of pimples or cysts, do not use your fingers to apply makeup unless you thoroughly wash your hands first. Your fingers can carry bacteria that may not cause an issue for some people, but if you are already prone to pimples, you don’t want to introduce more bacteria to your skin.
  3. Pay attention to how your skin reacts to the makeup, especially if you have sensitive skin. Although these products in particular should not clog pores or cause inflammation, everyone is different. If you notice an increase in breakouts after starting your new makeup routine, we recommend sticking with it for a week or two to see if your skin will adjust. However, if your acne continues to worsen, you should try a different product.
  4. Make sure you always remove your makeup before going to bed. If you notice breakouts after starting this new makeup routine but you haven’t been removing your makeup at night, try doing that first before switching products. Simply using your nightly facewash likely won’t do the trick, though that’s better than nothing. We recommend using makeup removing wipes first, then washing your face as normal. Which brings us to our last tip…
  5. Keep up with a consistent skin care routine. If you are looking for the best makeup to cover up acne, then it only makes sense that you should also be looking for the best skin care system to prevent acne. If you can prevent acne in the first place, then you won’t need makeup to cover it up. We recommend our 3-step system that cleanses, tones, and treats your skin using both natural and scientific ingredients. Our products include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, aloe vera extract, green tea extract, and more great acne-fighting ingredients. Using our system each morning before applying your makeup and each night after removing it is guaranteed to help reduce your acne.
The Exposed Skin Care Basic Kit contains everything you need to prevent and treat your acne.