I promise you, those breakouts you're dealing with are not your forever, though dealing with acne can feel endless. It's a complicated problem to have, and it can be difficult to discover the culprit—hormones, genetics, and diet, among other factors, can all come into play. But one thing's for sure: Your skin must stay hydrated while you're treating your acne, and a good moisturizer is the answer.
"People will avoid using moisturizer for two reasons: They have oily skin and feel that it's not necessary, or they are afraid that moisturizer will give them acne blemishes," explains Renée Rouleau, celebrity esthetician and trusted skincare expert. "Both are not accurate. Wearing moisturizer does not cause breakouts. Acne happens when the cells that line the inner pores fail to fall off properly, clogging the pore. This happens whether you moisturize or not."
In fact, skipping out on moisturizer can actually have an adverse affect on the skin. "Did you know that not using a moisturizer can cause even more breakouts?" Rouleau continues. "Bacteria breeds in oil. When moisturizer is avoided, the skin dehydrates and sets off a response to produce more oil. This newly produced oil accumulates on the skin, resulting in a breeding ground for bacteria, which makes existing breakouts last longer and leaves a hospitable environment for new breakouts to form."
I, for one, am dealing with both acne and dry skin because of the way winter (and the dry heat billowing out of my vents) wreaks havoc on my skin. The good thing, though, is that I have a laundry list of products I know I can turn to at times like this. Take a look at the list below for some of our favorite skin fixes.
Embryolisse Emulsion Hydra-Mat
"Maintaining a hydrated skin barrier without adding excess oil is always a fine line with acne-prone skin," New York-based dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum explains. "I highly recommend moisturizers that are water-based and more of a gel-cream consistency rather than a thick emollient or ointment. Look for products that contain hyaluronic acid, glycerin and squalene which are hydrating with out clogging pores versus petrolatum or mineral-oil based products. I love Embryolisse Hydra-Mat emulsion as it soaks up excess oil while maintaining hydration."
Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with Sunscreen
You might already be familiar with Differin from their retinoid acne treatment. So, who better than them to deliver a moisturizer for acne-prone skin? New York-based dermatologist Melissa Levin, MD., raves, "The Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30 is great for those with acne-prone skin because it has a lightweight formula that contains Micropearl technology, which absorbs surface oil for a matte finish, while also providing protection against harmful UV radiation including UVA/UVB rays."
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer
The O.G. Pink Grapefruit Formula
I swear by this stuff. If, like me, you use an acne spot treatment that can't be worn during the day because it dries white, you're going to want to find a moisturizer that also works against your breakouts. This moisturizer is a game-changer. If your skin is super oily, or if you sweat a lot (like if it's summertime or you're going to the gym), you're going to want to check this formula out. Plus, the price simply cannot be beat.
TULA Skincare Breakout Star Oil-Free Acne Moisturizer
Boost & Brighten
So you want a moisturizer that won't break you out, but would you mind if we went ahead and added a few ingredients that heal past breakouts? This moisturizer from TULA not only uses salicylic acid to ease current blemishes, but it also uses azelaic acid to lighten scarring.
Tatcha The Water Cream
Tall Glass of Water
You know the refreshing feeling of that first splash of cool water on your face in the morning? Consider this gel formula that sensation, bottled. It imbues a boost of hydration that plumps the skin, while Japanese wild rose tightens pores and smooths skin to reduce the appearance of cystic bumps.
LANEIGE Water Bank Moisture Cream
The One With The Veggies
We love water-based moisturizers for their lightweight, non-oily feeling along with the powerful shot of hydration they provide. This bestselling formula incorporates unusual ingredients like brussels sprout, lima bean, and artichoke extract, resulting in an effective antidote to that horrible combination of flaky-oily skin that so many of us struggle with.
Origins Pore Clearing Moisturizer with Salicylic Acid
To Unclog Pores
Together, bamboo charcoal—that is, charcoal from the singed stalks of a bamboo tree—along with salicylic acid zap existing breakouts while preventing new ones from forming.
Tata Harper Clarifying Moisturizer
Natural Blemish Eraser
Reducing the amount of sebum your skin produces can help prevent pores from becoming clogged with bacteria. Active ingredient saw palmetto helps balance sebum to mattify your complexion, while tazman pepper berry reduces redness.
Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion
There's a reason you can find this on the bathroom shelf of everyone you've ever met. Cetaphil is a no-frills, inexpensive moisturizer that protects skin's moisture barrier throughout the day. Because it lacks alcohol, fragrance, and other potentially irritating ingredients, it's recommended across the board by dermatologists for sensitive skin.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Face Moisturizer
A Matte Finish
A favorite among derms everywhere, this soothing and mattifying formula is anti-shine, which means your complexion won't look slick by mid-afternoon. For best results, look into pairing this moisturizer with La Roche Posay's gel cleanser for acne-prone skin.
Bioderma Sebium Mat Control
"Bioderma Sebium global is a great moisturizer for acne prone skin," New York-based dermatologist Lily Talakoub, MD, says. "The biggest mistake acne prone consumers make is that they skip moisturizing for fear of more breakouts. However if the skin is not hydrated and gets dry it will actually produce more oil. This moisturizer contains AHA esters, salicylic acid, and citric acid to reduce blemishes while zinc gluconate, combined with enoxolone, soothes and reduces redness caused by inflammation."
Biossance Squalane + Probiotic Gel Moisturizer
If rosacea makes your acne appear worse, this formula eradicates even the most stubborn traces of redness. Sugarcane-derived squalane even softens the skin so your complexion feels pillowy and moisturized.
Proactiv Complexion Perfecting Hydrator
"This is a wonderful choice for acne-prone skin because it's lightweight, and doesn’t occlude or block pores, and it contains 0.5 percent salicylic acid," New York-based dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, shares. "Salicylic acid is an ingredient that helps prevent future acne pimples and also treats current pimples by dissolving blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic acid is a bacteriostatic ingredient and targets the bacteria that live on the skin and play a role in acne formation. This product also contains licorice root extract and kojic acid: both improve the pigmented and dark marks that acne leaves behind; essentially the 'stains' on the skin from old pimples."
Paula's Choice Water-Infusing Electrolyte Moisturizer
Gatorade for the Skin
This formula comes out of the bottle in an air-light whip, and it melts on contact with your skin. It's ingredients are just as refreshing: electrolytes recharge tired looking skin, and calcium and potassium strengthen the moisture barrier.
Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Oil-Free Matte Moisturizer
If you haven't tried a matte moisturizer, you haven't lived. No one wants to apply makeup atop a greasy canvas (read: face), and this moisturizer eliminates that issue while also incorporating hyaluronic acid, soothing, aloe vera, and, of course, salicylic acid.
Belif The True Cream Aqua Bomb
This cream "bursts" into a lush, moisturizing gel on contact, reduces redness, and cools an irritated visage. And it can boost your skin's hydration levels by a whopping 70 percent without the heaviness of a standard cream.
EltaMD AM Therapy Facial Moisturizer
All Day Moisture
Willow bark extract stimulates the formation of new, unpocked skin, while niacinamide and hyaluronate moisturize sans oil.
Face Reality Skincare Clearderma Moisturizer
Sometimes botanical-based moisturizers can be too triggering for already inflamed, acne-prone skin. This formula, however, incorporates a gentle blend of green tea, lilac, and cranberry fruit extract in order to soothe your inflamed skin and reestablish an ideal moisture balance.
PCA Skin Clearskin
This cool, jelly-like cream calms and hydrates thanks to cucumber, niacinamide and redness reducing borage seed oil. Try it as a soothing base under more potent treatments, like a retinol cream or spot treatment.
Glossier Super Pure
Lightweight and Simple
It's not a regular serum, it's a water-gel serum, with two efficacious acne-moisturizers: Rebalancing niacinamide and decongesting zinc, which clear pores without causing redness or scaly patches.
Stryke Club Calm Down Moisturizer
Affordable and Natural
Ingredients like alcohol and sulfates, which are found in many popular creams, can disrupt already-struggling skin. Stryke Club's Calm Down Moisturizer has none of that, using non-reactive elements like sunflower oil, rice bran extract, and vitamin E instead for a formula that's both hydrating and soothing.
Eminence Organic Skin Care Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator
We love organic options. And this fast-absorbing, milky liquid, along with being sustainable, will provide you with exfoliating, redness-zapping moisture that works hard to clear your skin so that you can sit back and relax.
Korres Pomegranate Moisturising & Balancing Cream-Gel
In this formula, antioxidant-packed pomegranate helps you achieve a fresh-faced glow without irritating your delicate skin. This active ingredient also reduces the appearance of pores, while salicylic acid gently unclogs them and exfoliates away dead cells.
DR. BARBARA STURM Clarifying Face Cream
"I created my Clarifying Face Cream with acne-prone skin specifically in mind," skin expert Dr. Barbara Sturm shares. "I tell many of my clients who have problematic skin that it is a common misconception that skin prone to acne and breakouts should be dried out. In fact, it is even more important to moisturize it as most breakouts are exacerbated by inflammation and dryness...The cream works as an anti-bacterial and helps target inflammation before it occurs. When used as part of your daily skincare routine, it will result in a more even and more clarified complexion."
Renée Rouleau Skin Recovery Lotion
"When the skin's barrier has been damaged from drying acne products, keep your skincare routine simple by only using a gentle cleanser and a calming moisturizer," Rouleau explains. "Twice a day, morning and night, you’ll want to cleanse and immediately follow with the application of a moisturizer. If your skin is in an inflamed state due to harsh acne treatments, less is more right now. The skin needs water, not oil. Use an oil-free, water-soluble lotion like my Skin Recovery Lotion, which is great for repairing the skin's moisture barrier packed with bisabolol, a soothing and calming plant-based anti-irritant derived from chamomile."
G.M. Collin Puracne Treating Gel
"This gel contains a complexity of ingredients to eliminate breakouts and induce a healthier complexion," aesthetician and global educator for G.M. Collin Karen Asquith explains. "Salicylic acid, the gold standard to treat acne, provides a keratolytic and comedolytic effect while visibly decreasing inflammation. Niacinamide improves the appearance of enlarged pores, helps regulate sebaceous lipid and acne, and imparts a more even-looking skin tone."
Joanna Vargas Daily Serum
Complexion Green Juice
"My Daily Serum is a lightweight gel formula, created to address breakouts and hydration issues without clogging pores, and with no harsh chemicals," Joanna Vargas explains. "It works for all skin types and makes you look like you’re glowing from 10 miles away. Inspired by my love of green juices, it contains oat grass juice for the lymphatic system, chlorophyll for oxygenation, Vitamins A,C,E and F found in leafy greens, and hyaluronic acid which holds 1,000 times its weight in water. My favorite ingredient is Galactoarabinan, which is derived from the larch tree, because it causes more cell turnover than a glycolic, and is anti-inflammatory, so it won’t cause irritation, even in sensitive skin. The serum also contains minerals that control the oil production in the skin."
Snow Fox Skin Care Cucumber Recovery Serum
Cool As A Cucumber
"I suggest Snow Fox's Cucumber Recovery Serum, as it is a non clogging moisturizer with 200,000 molecular weights of hyaluronic acid," skincare expert and founder of Snow Fox Skincare Phoebe Song shares. "High concentrate HA serums that have low or non comedogenic properties won't clog pores. It's paired with a cucumber recovery tonic, which has a concentrated rose water base. Rose water is great for rebalancing the natural pH of skin, which can help reduce inflammation and regulate oil production."
Dove DermaSeries Fragrance-Free Face Cream
"This keeps the skin barrier health top of mind," Connecticut-based dermatologist, Mona Gohara, MD recommends. "Its simple, fragrance-free formulation keeps the acne fire from being stoked. Although it’s a cream, it is non-comedogenic, cosmetically elegant and easy to layer. I often use it as my last step before makeup when I am going out at night. "
"This is best for acne-prone skin because it acts as a serum and moisturizer, and keeps your routine short and simple," board certified dermatologist, Ellen Marmur, MD, who also is the founder of Marmur Metamorphosis. "The amazing ingredients such as canadian willow herb, niacinamide and pre- and probiotics help sooth not only acne but also rosacea, redness, inflammation, and dryness. Massage one to two pumps of serum to face, neck and chest."
Maya Allen is the former Digital Beauty Editor at MarieClaire.com where she covered makeup, skincare, haircare, wellness, you name it! She has a 15-step skincare routine, owns over 200 red lipsticks, and enjoys testing the latest and greatest in beauty. On most weekends, you can find her at her happy place, which is her makeup vanity. There, she’s usually blasting her speakers while singing along to lyrics at the top of her lungs, and making sure her highlighter is on point. Before joining MarieClaire.com, she held positions at Byrdie.com and Cosmopolitan.com.
The Cannes Film Festival 2022: The Best Red Carpet Looks
Here's what everyone wore for the festival's 75th year.
By Sara Holzman
Zosia Mamet Doesn’t Need Your Main Character Energy
The 'Flight Attendant' star has found success as an actor and passion as a writer, but the role she was born to play may just be the one of best friend.
By Neha Prakash
We Can Likely “Expect to See the Children as Well” in Sussex Docuseries, Expert Says
“You know, Netflix, they do want bang for their buck.”
By Rachel Burchfield
Experts Explain How to Make Your Bikini Wax Less Painful
It all starts with preparation.
By Samantha Holender
The 26 Best Sunscreens Ever for Your Face and Body
Formulas to stock up on, stat.
By Samantha Holender
The 10 Best Supplements for Skin to Add to Your Daily Routine
From glow-boosting gummies to acne-fighting pills.
By Samantha Holender
The 18 Best Mascaras, According to Marie Claire Editors
"It feels like I've been searching for the perfect mascara since birth, but I think I've finally landed on a keeper..."
By Julia Marzovilla
The 50 Best Hairstyles for Thin, Fine Hair That Never Fall Flat
By Tatjana Freund
The 10 Best Eyeshadows for Darker Skin Tones That Will Make Your Eyes Pop
Palettes, pigments, and shimmers with incredible color payoff.
By Taylore Glynn
The Andie MacDowell Renaissance Is Upon Us
The '90s icon has always done things her own way. Now, the world is finally catching up to her.
By Sara Stewart
Glycolic Acid: What It Is and How It Works On Your Skin
We’re breaking down the benefits, drawbacks, and go-to products.
By Samantha Holender