The Best Makeup For Acne-Prone Skin

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Acne is a fact of life—one that usually passes after a lot of time and effort. Though there's something humanizing about seeing someone you admire with a zit on their face. It's nature's way of bringing everyone back down to a level playing field. I applaud the the revolving celebrity circuit of Proactiv because if they can admit to it, dammit so can I. Point is, acne is relatable. Still, a breakout can feel like the end of the world when you're in the heat of it—and it's those times when proficiency in makeup is a lucky little skill set to have. And having the best products to deal with it is also pretty damn useful.

But...before you get carried away, don't be fooled by those acne-eradicating, skin-clearing, miracle foundations and primers you see in commercials. Sure, two-for-one products in this arena seem like they'd be particularly effective—not to mention efficient when the last thing you want to do is spend more time poking and prodding you face. But contrary to all the miracle-sounding cures in the world, it's actually not a great idea to cover up with a foundation that's got salicylic acid in its formula. Especially because, chances are, you’re already using a salicylic acid-based cleanser, are on medication (topical or oral), or are experimenting with some combination of the two, which are designed to dry out your skin. Putting an “acne foundation” on top of skin that is undergoing treatment will add another layer of dehydration causing the makeup to look caked-on, flaked-off, and not like what you aim to achieve at all.

Instead, the dermatological approach is to not be clouded by false-promises of instant results, but instead, focus on what’s underneath. “The way I like to tell people to treat their skin, in terms of choosing a foundation or a tinted moisturizer, is to really try to attack dry skin by exfoliating and moisturizing,” Dr. Rita Linkner, dermatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, said. Then, when you want to move into makeup, be smart about your products.

Revision Skincare’s Intellishade Broad Spectrum SPF 45 is a tinted moisturizer that acts like a primer but isn’t. It’s got SPF and is moisturizing, which is key. The original formula is a classic tinted moisturizer, but the Matte variety acts more like a tinted moisturizer-primer combo using lysophosphatidic acid and lysolecithin instead of silicones to minimize the look of large pores.

If you’ve got acne, traditional primers can have a very allusive effect, Rita said. “It’s counterintuitive as you think you’re closing up the pores to give the visual effect that they’re smaller, but in essence, you’re actually promoting what can cause acne to begin with by closing off the pores.”

Elta MD’s Tinted Moisturizer Facial Sunscreen is another good daytime foundation alternative. It’s got hyaluronic acid, which will moisturize but also prevent wrinkles and photodamage. Non-comodogenic and zinc-based in terms of SPF, this tinted sunscreen acts as a humectant that is especially good after exfoliating dry skin. “I think it is the easiest to rub in,” Rita says—none of that “my foundation is just sitting on my skin begging to be cleansed off” effect, in other words.

For more full-coverage foundation, the best foundation for acne-prone skin falls, unsurprisingly, in the fan-favorite Giorgio Armani family. The Maestro Fusion Makeup in tandem with the Maestro Eraser (for spot concealing) blend nicely together, cover up redness, and conceal imperfections (not texture) to create a nice base for anything else. Unlike the other two, which come in a limited, light-blending universal shade because they’re tinted moisturizers, Maestro Fusion Makeup comes in 17 shades and is a clear foundation. It has a low SPF—15—so best used at night, unless you pair it with Revision Skincare's Intellishade as a primer underneath or another favorite sunscreen. And probably the best thing about it is that it’s not this ultra-medicated industrial tube of no-muss, no-fuss goop that works but never sees the light of day on your vanity. It’s your luxury, beautifully packaged standby to feel normal again. Ain't that a thing of beauty?

—Claudia Marina

Photographed by Tom Newton. Next up: Stacey Nishimoto chimes in with her pick for The Best Concealer For Acne-Prone Skin.