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, amongst other factors, can all come into play. But one thing's for sure: Your skin has to stay hydrated throughout the process, 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 points out. "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."
There's even a preferred way to apply your product of choice to reduce breakouts. "Applying a product downwards on the face encourages lymphatic drainage," suggests Joanna Vargas, celebrity facialist and founder of Joanna Vargas Salons and Skincare. "Your lymphatic system brings nutrients and carries away waste from every cell in the body."
Now that you're schooled on all the magic a really great moisturizer—and moisturizer application!—can do for your acne-prone skin, it's time to explore expert-endorsed options. Below, the 13 best moisturizers for acne-prone skin, as recommended by dermatologists and aestheticians.
Differin Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with Sunscreen, $10
"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," says New York-based dermatologist Melissa Levin, MD.
Proactiv Complexion Perfecting Hydrator, $60
"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."
Embryolisse Hydra Mat Emulsion, $26
" 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."
Dr. Barbara Sturm Clarifying Face Cream, $215
"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.
"A complex of balloon vine, viper’s bugloss and sunflower seed 0il strengthens the skin’s moisture barrier and helps to restore its natural barrier function. One of my favorite ingredients, purslane, provides a soothing and calming effect to irritated skin. Zinc removes excess sebum to counteract the formation of blemishes, while bistort root extract provides a radiant finish. 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."
Bioderma Sebium Global, $20
"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."
Renée Rouleau Skin Recovery Lotion, $44
"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 Gel, $49
"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.
"Its anti-acne complex fights hyper-seborrhea and inhibits hyperkeratosis. Nasturtium flower extract boosts the skin’s oxygenation, revitalizes asphyxiated skin, and revives complexion radiance. Madecassosside assists by providing a wound healing activity. Other actives work synergistically to provide the best results possible for acne skin conditions. For anyone with combination skin that appears asphyxiated and dull, Puracne Gel can provide a boost for a visibly healthier and radiant complexion."
Joanna Vargas Daily Serum, $85
"My Daily Serum is a lightweight gel formula, created to address breakouts and hydration issues without clogging pores, and with no harsh chemicals,"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 Skincare Cucumber Recovery Serum, $64
"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, $9
"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. "
MMBalance Serum, $85
"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."
Dr. Barbara Sturm Darker Skin Tones Face Cream, $215
"Besides my Clarifying Face Cream, I would also recommend my Darker Skin Tones Face Cream for those suffering with blemish or acne-prone skin," Dr. Barbara Sturm adds. "The formula is lightweight and quick-absorbing. It was specifically developed for the beauty needs of darker skin tones with normal to combination skin, but if you often experience enlarged pores or breakouts, the inflammation-targeting ingredients strengthen your skin’s barrier function and prevent future irritation. Extracts of magnolia and enantia chlorantha (African whitewood) bark refine pores, reduce sebum flow while providing intense hydration.
Shiffa Healing Balm, $106
Shiffa Healing Balm is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial balm with St. John’s wort, echinacea and calendula—this formula helps lessen the occurrence of acne, takes away the redness and helps prevent scarring," Dubai-based physician and founder of Shiffa, Lamees Hamdan, explains. "Use it on acne prone areas twice a day, a little goes a long way. It is 100-percent natural, more than 96-percent organic, and very gentle on the skin, helping to retain moisture and keep your skin glowing."
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