Is Makeup Causing Your Acne? Acne Cosmetica Explained

22 June 2022

If you wear makeup and struggle with acne, this post is for you.


With the recent relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore, going mask free means less of maskne and more opportunities to wear makeup again. But will this mean we’re going to trade maskne for acne induced pimples or acne cosmetica?


Related blogpost:

Maskne: How to Avoid Acne from Wearing Surgical Face Masks?


For many of us, wearing makeup is an important aspect of self care. Wearing makeup may not be a necessity, but the act of putting ourselves together shapes our identity and confidence- such as concealing acne and blemishes. After all, what’s one to do with these unwelcome eruptions on your face and neck?


You might also have also been told that wearing makeup can cause or worsen acne. So here’s a guide to understanding whether makeup causes acne and a few tips for using makeup with pimples.

The pathogenesis of acne vulgaris


Acne is a multi-step disease characterised by the sebaceous glands becoming more oily and the skin cells more sticky. These cause the pilosebaceous units to get blocked up. Bacteria on the skin called C.acnes proliferates and increases inflammation on the skin. You can learn about the pathogenesis of pimples in detail in this post Acne: Types, Causes, Treatments & Tips for Prevention.


Can Makeup Be Used Over Pimples? Does Makeup Worsen Acne


Some of the ingredients in cosmetics are comedogenic; meaning that they can delay the duration of the acne flare and worsen the pimples. Makeup bases such as foundations can also form an occlusive layer on the skin; which worsens the occlusion of pores on the skin. If you already have pimples or acne prone skin; using makeup is not a good idea for your skin.


Secondly, when you are having an acne flare; your skin barrier is transiently disrupted. This means that the risk of irritant contact dermatitis is higher. When this happens, makeup can cause increased redness, hypersensitivity, pain and even scarring. You can learn more about the skin barrier in How to Repair Your Skin Barrier.


Because of these reasons, doctors would advise avoiding makeup (if possible) over pimples. If possible get your doctor’s help for products and treatments directed for treating breakouts such as retinoids, chemical peels and Q-switched lasers– these treatments have been evaluated and well studied for treating acne.


Related blogposts:

The Truth About Chemical Peels

10 Things to Know About Q-switch lasers

Retinoids for Beginners

5 Affordable & Popular Retinoid Serums Reviewed


Giorgio Armani’s To Go Cushion Foundation is a lightweight cushion foundatioin that gives skin a dewy finish without causing comedones for me. 


Can Makeup Cause Acne?


On its own, makeup can also cause acne. This is known as acne cosmetica. Acne cosmetica was first described by dermatologists in 1976. It refers to a specific type of acne that is caused by the use of makeup; as opposed to the more common, multifactorial causes of acne.


What is acne cosmetica?


In acne cosmetica, the outbreak is caused mainly by the use of cosmetics. Women who do not have oily skin or a predisposition to acne can develop acne cosmetica. In acne cosmetica, women develop comedonal acne exclusively on the face after using makeup. Papules and pustules; usually present in more severe forms of acne vulgaris, are rare. The outbreak in acne cosmetica was also more common on the chin; and less common on the cheeks


What makes acne cosmetica perplexing to diagnose is its timing. The appearance of the outbreak following use of the offending cosmetic product(s) is highly variable- often it can appear after days to months. The acne can also fluctuate in its severity during these periods. This pattern of acne cosmetica makes it hard for the user to identify the cause of acne and the product cause; as people often associate outbreaks related to products occurring a few days after use.



A guide to drugstore picks for acne and oily skin on my Instagram @drrachelho. Follow for more educational tips on skincare.



How can acne cosmetica be treated?


• Stop the makeup product(s) that is causing the pimples in you. It may not be easy to identify the culprit; but based on the location of acne cosmetica for you- you can make a guess. If in doubt- skip makeup completely if you can.

• Treat the pimples- over the counter active ingredients in skincare can reduce the comedones. Examples of these ingredients are benzoyl peroxide, retinoids and acids. Do note, that it can take at least 6-8 weeks to see some improvements.

• Consult your doctor if the above two steps are not working or if the acne is causing scarring. Prescription strength products, medications and other treatments such as chemical peels, Q-switched lasers and LED light therapy can be performed to reduce the pimples.


Related blogposts:

The Truth About Chemical Peels

10 Things to Know About Q-switch lasers

LED Light Therapy Explained


Can makeup be used over acne or pimples?


In short- yes, you can use makeup to conceal your pimples. Acne definitely affects a person’s self confidence in their appearance, so if you need makeup go ahead. Acne cosmetica in itself is not common; but if you already have pimples; or acne prone skin; makeup may worsen acne or cause contact dermatitis. The safest option is to avoid makeup; but if this cannot be done- here are some tips to avoid acne flare ups from makeup:


 Using expired makeup can cause contact dermatitis- learn more in this Instagram post


How can acne flare ups from makeup or acne cosmetica be avoided?


• Use clean makeup brushes. Makeup brushes can collect dirt and dust, so remember to wash them every week.

• Use clean brushes and sponges to apply makeup instead of fingers, which may be dirty.

• Avoid sharing makeup brushes.

• Check the expiration date of your makeup products. Expired products may be infected or cause irritant contact dermatitis.

• Look for hybrid cosmetics. Makeup products that contain acne fighting ingredients can help reduce comedone formation.



Makeup tips for acne prone skin


In this blogpost, Skincare & Makeup Tips for Wearing Face Masks, my friend and makeup artist, Airin Lee shares these tips to prevent mask related acne (and still look stunning). For all her expertise and product recommendations, please refer to the blogpost.


I hope that you found this blogpost on acne and cosmetics to be useful. You might also enjoy this blogpost on some of my favourite makeup products in Burberry Beauty Makeup Review: Worth the Splurge?



1. Acne cosmetica revisited: a case-control study shows a dose-dependent inverse association between overall cosmetic use and post-adolescent acne. Singh et al. Dermatology. 2013;226(4):337-41.

2. Acne Cosmetica. Kligman and Mills Jr. Arch Dermatol. 1972;106(6):843-850Acneiform eruptions after facial beauty treatment.

3. Acneiform eruptions after facial beauty treatment. Khanna and Gupta. Int J Dermatol. 1999 Mar;38(3):196-9.




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