- Acne-prone skin can benefit from the use of moisturizer.
- If you have acne-prone skin, look for moisturizers with salicylic, glycerin, and hyaluronic acid.
- Stay clear of petrolatum and coconut oil as they can clog pores and cause breakouts.
It’s a myth that people with acne-prone skin shouldn’t moisturize. Although it can be difficult to find a hydrating moisturizer that doesn’t clog pores, in general, hydrated skin will have fewer breakouts.
In fact, Kathleen Cook Suozzi, MD, assistant professor at the Department of Dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, recommends using a moisturizer twice daily to counteract the drying effect of acne treatments.
INSIDER consulted with dermatologists and experts on the ingredients to look for, ingredients to avoid, and the “holy grail” moisturizers that they recommend to patients with acne.
Here’s what to look for when choosing a moisturizer for acne-prone skin.
Consider “the vehicle”
The difference between ointments, creams, and serums as vehicles for hydration can be major. Dr. Suozzi does not recommend ointments because they can leave your skin feeling greasy. Instead, she recommends you opt for creams and lotions but make sure they have beneficial and non-comedogenic ingredients.
If you’re using acne treatments, apply a moisturizer first
The order of which you apply products is especially important.
“When patients have severe issues with dryness, I will recommend an application of retinoid medication over the moisturizer… When the skin is dry, your body produces excess oil which can clog pores and can worsen breakouts,” said Dr. Suozzi.
Salicylic acid can help treat pimples
Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, recommends looking for a moisturizer that contains salicylic acid. Often found in acne spot treatments, salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid, can help keep pores clear and treat pimples, according to Zeichner.
He recommends Clean and Clear’s Dual Action Moisturizer which contains salicylic acid and “helps exfoliate dead cells from the surface of the skin to treat acne while it hydrates.”
If you have blackheads, he endorses Aveeno Clear Complexion Moisturizer, which he said is great at helping keep pores clear in the first place.
For extra-sensitive skin, he recommends Kamedis Acne Face Moisturizer for its addition of unique anti-inflammatory botanicals like purslane and Chinese rhubarb, Baikal skullcap, and Indian chrysanthemum. Another fan favorite of his is DR. JART+ Cicapair Tiger Grass Cream which contains resurrection plant, houttuynia cordata, and yarrow “to enhance the skin’s viability and help support strong skin.”
Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are amazing for keeping acne-prone skin hydrated
“Humectant property refers to the ability of the moisturizer to draw water from the dermis to the epidermis, increasing the water content and the ‘hydration’ of the epidermis,” said Suozzi. Glycerin and hyaluronic acid are both great for drawing out moisture without leading to acne.
Dr. Zeichner recommends Neutrogena Hydroboost Water-Gel, an “ultralight moisturizer that contains hyaluronic acid, which can bind 1000 times its weight in water. It does not leave the skin feeling heavy or greasy, making it ideal for people with oily or acne-prone skin.”
Zinc oxide in sunscreen won’t lead to acne
“For [a morning] moisturizer, I recommend a product that contains SPF,” said Suozzi. “In general, the physical sunblocks, such as zinc oxide, are better tolerated by patients with acne prone skin. A personal favorite for my acne patients is UV Clear by EltaMD.”
You may want to stay away from petrolatum
“The ‘oil’ in moisturizers is classically petrolatum …. Petrolatum can have a greasy, heavy feeling on the skin and is typically not preferred by patients with oily skin,” said Dr. Suozzi.
Instead, opt for moisturizers labeled “oil-free.”
“Dimethicone substitutes for petrolatum in most ‘oil-free’ moisturizers… and can be preferred by patients with acne,” added Dr. Suozzi.
Sodium lauryl sulfate can lead to irritation
Esthetician and owner of BodyBrite Med Spa, Elena Duque, doesn’t recommend using products with this lathering agent because it’s drying.
Although safe, it can cause “irritation and drying of the skin, resulting in more breakouts.”
Rosehip oil may reduce scarring
Rosehip oil, recommended by Duque, is pressed from the fruit and seeds of the rose plant, unlike rose oil which comes from the petals. The substance in high in vitamin C which may help boost collagen and aid in cell regeneration. This is what makes it great for reducing scarring and producing new cells.
Rosehip oil is also high in vitamin A, which is thought to “minimize the amount of sebum that your skin produces,” said Duque.
Coconut oil can be a big no
“Coconut oil is less like a pure plant oil and acts more like wax on the skin, much like jojoba oil,” said Annie Tevelin, creator of SkinOwl. “It’s very comedogenic which means that it can’t penetrate the pore. Because of this, it sits on top of the skin, leading to clogged pores, breakouts and without proper absorption, causes extreme dryness.”
Fragrances are out of the question
“Many products contain fragrance to mask bad smells of certain ingredients,” said Diane Elizabeth, founder of Skin Care Ox.
“If you have dry skin, fragrance-heavy products might result in blotchy and itchy skin. It’s best to avoid fragrances altogether, if possible, as many people with acne have different reactions to different fragrances.”
Her number one moisturizer recommendation for acne-prone skin is the Christina Moss Organic Facial Moisturizer, which comes either unscented or lightly scented with star anise oil for a completely natural licorice scent.
Niacinamide sounds scary but will do wonders for you
Niacinamide is a type of vitamin B3 which is responsible for skin health.
Jazmin Alvarez, founder of Pretty Well Beauty recommends it as a clean ingredient to look for when choosing a moisturizer. Her favorite moisturizers for acne-prone skin that contain niacinamide are MUN Skin Protect + revive moisturizer and Bristol & Sussex Balance Moisturizer.
Avoid isopropyl myristate
Fayne L. Frey, MD, FAAD is not a fan of this synthetic ingredient.
“Isopropyl myristate is a synthetic oil that is used as a binder and emollient (makes skin feel smooth) and a known comedogenic ingredient. It depends on the percentage of the ingredient found in the product, but unfortunately, that information is not given to consumers. A general rule of thumb is the first six to seven ingredients in a moisturizer constitutes over 90% of the product.”
People with acne-prone skin should seek out a non-comedogenic moisturizer with anti-inflammatory agents for twice daily application to help hydrate skin, aid with scarring, and soothe irritation.
Ultimately, seeking out a dermatologist will help you find a gentle, healing moisturizer that’s customized to your needs.