How Do You Know If Your Makeup is Causing Breakouts?

How Do You Know If Your Makeup is Causing Breakouts?

 Learn about the most common signs that your makeup is causing breakouts from the experts at CLEARSTEM. Shop acne-safe skincare today.
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Makeup and acne have a rather stormy relationship: On one hand, makeup—from mineral powder to foundation—has the power to conceal acne and sometimes help it if it has the right ingredients. On the other hand, most makeup is pore-clogging and can trigger breakouts.

But how do you know if your makeup is causing breakouts—or if there’s another culprit behind your pimple problems?

Let’s start at the top and work our way through the connection between acne and makeup—and what you can do to nourish a clear, radiant complexion.

Understanding Common Causes of Breakouts

Breakouts may seem uniquely timed to occur immediately before major events or during a week that’s especially daunting. While there’s truth to this—stress does have a hand in provoking acne—the causes of acne are as varied as the types of makeup on the market.

First, though, let’s peer at the root of acne itself. Technically known as acne vulgaris, the most common skin condition in the US is medically defined as a disorder of the pilosebaceous unit, an internal network that’s composed of your:,

  • Pores
  • Oil (or sebaceous) glands
  • Sebaceous ducts

Your pores are constantly at work behind the scenes to keep your skin healthy. But since they’re a primary part of your body’s first line of defense against pathogens and other foreign invaders, they’re also prone to becoming blocked with the very dirt, dead skin cells, makeup, and other impurities they’re responsible for casting aside. When this occurs, your body sparks off an inflammatory response that results in an acne breakout. 

Factors Contributing to Skin Issues

Environmental pollutants like dirt and acne-causing bacteria are only a sliver of the problem.

Acne is primarily caused by a combination of these issues:

  • Abnormal/ Excess keratin function – Keratin may be a blessing for skin—it’s one of the leading proteins that give skin (and hair) its structure and elasticity—but atypical formation of it can provoke the overproduction of oil, clogged pores, and inflammation that’s behind acne. This is called retention hyperkeratosis and is a huge genetic cause of acne.
  • Hormonal imbalances – Acne breakouts are most commonly associated with adolescence—a dynamic time when fluctuating hormone levels can amplify oil production. But adult acne is real, affecting roughly half of women in their 20s and a quarter of women between the ages of 40 and 49. This, too, is caused by vacillating hormones that may be due to:
      • Pregnancy
      • Stress/ cortisol
      • Sugar & refined carbs without protein
      • Vitamins that spike testosterone
      • Menstruation /PMS
      • Drainage / detox  issues
      • Perimenopause
      • Menopause
      • Abnormal levels of the hormone androgen (typically testosterone)
      • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
      • Stress, which can alter hormone production and affect skin’s immune function,
  • Excess bacteria – Acne-prone skin may also be the result of propionibacterium acnes (or p. acnes)—a naturally occurring bacteria that “lives” on the skin and feeds off of the oil that’s generated by dead skin cells and other pore-trapping impurities.

  • Additional Factors That Cause Acne

    Other factors, such as genetics, high-glycemic diets, smoking, heavy sweating, high humidity, and certain medications (such as hormonal birth control) can also have a hand in acne, as well as, yes, makeup. To be more precise, it’s known as acne cosmetica, and it’s characterized by the persistent appearance of small, rough, non-inflammatory bumps brought on by skin care products.

    Yet, this still begs the question, how do you know if your makeup is causing acne, specifically? 

    First, you may want to attempt a systematic process of elimination when assessing your recent acne breakout. This might look different for everyone: Some may choose to go without makeup completely for a day or two (or longer). Others might elect to scrutinize any new makeup or skincare product they’ve recently started using. And others still might look closely at the ingredients in their cosmetics—and heed the advice below.

    Makeup Ingredients to Avoid

    From blush to mascara, you may have a number of go-to cosmetics you’ve been relying on for years. But recurring breakouts may be caused by certain irritants or pore-clogging ingredients that are often found in makeup:

  • Alcohol – Alcohol is frequently added to cosmetics and skincare products to enhance absorption and their overall feel. But alcohol is also notorious for causing skin irritation. In a strange twist of nature, dry skin can also ramp up sebum production (in the body’s organic attempt to heal itself) and lead to, or worsen, acne. While some makeup may need alcohol to do its job properly, ensure that it’s listed near the bottom of your product’s list of ingredients.

  • Bismuth oxychloride – Synthetic bismuth oxychloride may be a boon when it comes to achieving that luminescent look that’s all the rage these days. However, the ingredient, which is prevalent in mineral makeup, can also result in irritation and provoke inflammation at the root of acne. 

  • Petrochemicals – You might see petrochemicals listed on your makeup’s ingredient list as paraffin wax, benzene, toluene, mineral, or butanol. While they’ve long been a mainstay in cosmetics for their capacity to preserve products (and seal in moisture), they can also—as their name suggests—inflame the skin and prompt breakouts.

  • Talc – Talc may seem innocuous enough, but, along with its cousins mica and silica, it may spur dehydration, irritation, and, consequently, acne. 

  • Additionally, be sure to keep an eye out for other irritants like dyes, perfumes, lanolin, and isopropyl palmitate. Keep in mind that any makeup product can cause acne. Even a light mist of a setting spray can be bad for your skin. That’s why it’s always important to check for comedogenic ingredients to ensure you’re only using safe and clean products on your face.

    How to Check if Your Makeup is Non-Comedogenic

    All of this underscores the importance of ensuring that your cosmetics qualify as “non-comedogenic.”

    What does this mean?

    Non-comedogenic indicates that a product has been made with ingredients that were specially crafted to not block or clog pores.

    That may sound simple enough, but the FDA doesn’t regulate makeup products that assert they fall into this category—and marketing language can be a gray area. Instead, you may want to opt for reputable brands and search for cosmetic products that contain beneficial skincare ingredients like salicylic acid and non-comedogenic oils (such as grapeseed oil). 

    Proper Makeup Removal Techniques

    There’s truth in the adage that you should never go to sleep with your makeup on, as it creates the perfect breeding ground for old makeup, dirt, dead skin cells, and other impurities to flourish.

    But even if you’re consistently loyal to your nighttime cleansing and skincare routine, bear in mind that how you remove your makeup can make all the difference between a clear complexion and blemished skin. Scrubbing, over-exfoliating, using scalding hot water: All can disturb your skin’s natural barrier, strip it of the natural oils it needs to thrive, and give rise to inflammation and the acne that may follow.


    • Gently remove lipstick and eye makeup with a cotton ball soaked in micellar water
    • Follow with an oil-based cleanser or cleansing balm
    • Double cleanse with a water-based cleanser
    • Softly pat your skin dry rather than rubbing it vigorously (this, too, may cause irritation) 

    Skincare Routine for Acne-Prone Skin

    In addition to removing your makeup and cleansing your skin with care, you may want to follow these top tips:,

    • Use an alcohol-free toner
    • Apply treatments specifically designed to treat and curb acne—either your derm’s prescribed treatment or OTC remedies that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or alpha- hydroxy acids (AHAs)
    • Moisturize before applying a broad-spectrum SPF 
    • Be consistent with your selected treatments and avoid switching makeup products on a regular basis: new ingredients may “alarm” your skin and cause breakouts
    • Avoid excessive time in the sun (and never without SPF protection), which can harm skin and exacerbate breakouts
    • Resist the temptation to touch your face

    When to Consult a Dermatologist

    If the advice here doesn’t seem to be making a dent in your pimple problems, it may be time to book an appointment with a dermatologist—even if you don’t have what might be classified as severe acne. Other signs that you may benefit from a professional’s expertise include:

    • Your breakouts are worsening despite the use of OTC acne products
    • You have not just pimples but also nodules and cysts
    • Your acne is taking a considerable toll on your emotional health

    What’s more, a dermatologist can guide you toward skin-smart practices personally attuned to your individual complexion.

    Encouragement for Healthy Makeup Habits

    Makeup isn’t just meant to veil breakouts when they happen. Rather, it’s a terrifically fun form of self-expression. To maintain a radiant complexion while still enjoying the perks of cosmetics, prioritize:

    • Cleaning your makeup brushes, sponges, and other makeup applicators regularly 
    • Replacing your liquid eyeliner and mascara every three months (or less) to ward off bacteria, swapping out your blush every one to two years, and renewing your foundation and concealer once a year
    • Refraining from sharing your makeup—especially your eye makeup—with others
    • Going bare on occasion

    Last but not least, be sure to practice sleep hygiene: Your skin performs the majority of its repairs, including staving off acne, as you rest at night. 

    Revel in Radiant Skin with CLEARSTEM

    Accurately answering “How do you know if your makeup is causing breakouts?” is one part experimentation and three parts following tried-and-true skincare advice. When it comes to skincare solutions, one of the savviest ways to work toward a lustrous complexion is by selecting quality products crafted for your specific needs and goals.

    CLEARSTEM was designed with this in mind. From our suite of skincare for acne-prone skin to our ultra-powerful hormonal acne supplement, our products are informed by the most cutting-edge dermatological science. They’re also free of the irritants, contaminants, and hormone disruptors that may precipitate acne—all so that you can glow from the inside out.


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