How to Choose a Moisturizer for Acne-Prone Skin

Even your oily, acne-prone skin can benefit from the daily use of good moisturizers. But choose the wrong product and it can be a skincare disaster with greasy feeling skin, blackheads, and pimples to name a few. With a little know-how, you can pick a moisturizer that will enhance your skincare routine without causing breakouts.

Moisturizers are used to improve the skin's hydration (think water-content of the skin, not oil-content). They work by slowing the evaporation of water from the skin, helping to keep skin hydrated. Moisturizing creams and lotions reduce moisture loss and increase the water content of the epidermis.

Moisturizing products also form a protective barrier on the skin's surface and give the skin a soft, smooth feel. So, how should you go about choosing a moisturizer that won't make your acne worse? Here are a few tips.

Woman using moisturizer
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Tips for Choosing a Moisturizer

Read labels: This is the single most important step in choosing the right moisturizer. If you have oily skin or are prone to breakouts, choose a moisturizer labeled oil-free and noncomedogenic or non-acnegenic. Oil-free products don't have added oils that can leave a heavy, greasy feel to the skin. Noncomedogenic products are much less likely to clog the pores and cause breakouts.

Also, when choosing your moisturizer remember that creams are generally heavier than moisturizing lotions. If you want a lighter product, go with a lotion.

Check for exfoliating ingredients: Many moisturizers contain alpha-hydroxy acids, retinol, salicylic acid, or other exfoliating ingredients. These ingredients could be helpful in improving acne, especially mild or comedonal acne.

But if you are using a topical acne medication, moisturizers with these ingredients can irritate the skin and may increase peeling and flaking. In this case, it's better to use a moisturizer without exfoliating ingredients unless your dermatologist specifically recommends it.

Choose a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free formulation: Fragrances can irritate skin that is already sensitive or acne-inflamed. And if you're dealing with extremely dry, peeling skin caused by acne medications, highly fragranced moisturizers may burn or sting when applied. Your best bet is to choose a fragrance-free, hypoallergenic product. Be aware that unscented is not the same as fragrance-free.

Don't forget the SPF: So many moisturizers now contain SPF, and it's a simple and easy way to be sure to get your sun protection. Using sunscreen daily will help protect your skin from aging and skin cancer. This is especially important if you are using acne treatments that cause photosensitivity or increase your sensitivity to the sun. Some common acne treatments that increase photosensitivity include (but aren't limited to): Retin-Abenzoyl peroxide, and Accutane.

Get advice from a dermatologist: If you're still feeling overwhelmed by the choices available, don't be afraid to ask a professional for advice. Ask your dermatologist what s/he recommends. An esthetician can also suggest moisturizers suitable for oily skin and will have them available for sale.

Focus on results, not price: Remember, you don't have to pay an exorbitant amount to get a good quality moisturizer. Give more weight to how the moisturizer makes your skin feel. If you love your luxuriously priced moisturizer, use it and enjoy it. But if you'd rather spend less, that's okay, too. An inexpensive product can work just as well as the pricey brand names.

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Article Sources
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  1. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-87. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Understanding the ingredients in skin care products. Updated October 10, 2019.

  3. Masini F, Ricci F, Fossati B, et al. Combination therapy with retinaldehyde (0.1%) glycolic acid (6%) and efectiose (0.1%) in mild to moderate acne vulgaris during the period of sun exposure--efficacy and skin tolerability. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014;18(16):2283-6. 

Additional Reading
  • "Cosmeceutical Facts & Your Skin." American Academy of Dermatology. Schaumburg, IL, 2004.