When makeup makes you break out


Remember that day when you finally purchased the foundation or blush you really, really wanted for weeks? Remember how this foundation made you look amazing and how you wanted to tell the whole world about it? Remember how after a few days you finally noticed those small white bumps or zits on your face and you started crying in despair, hoping to find another culprit than the foundation itself?

Well, I remember it. It happened to me not long ago, with the Nars Orgasm Blush. I was so excited to finally purchase it after so many months of anxiety the mere thought of breaking out because of it never even crossed my mind for a second.

I’m a curious girl, thus whenever a makeup or a skincare product makes me break out or gives some other skincare troubles I must find out why.

I have a sensitive dry skin, and things I have to rub on my face like cotton pads, towels or brushes are my worst enemies. My moisture level drops dramatically throughout the day even with rich moisturizers, and since powders absorb moisture and make your dry even drier using a powder blush was the problem itself : my skin lacked moisture because of it, and desperately tried to make me understand by throwing a huge tantrum, resulting in those small white bumps. I quickly fixed the problem by mixing the blush with a drop of oil or a little bit of moisturizer to make it a cream blush, but I also noticed some kind of makeup brushes also irritates my skin.

This little adventure with the Nars blush reminded me of those fine lines and tiny white bumps (milia) that mysteriously appear under my eyes whenever I wear thick-type concealers or use too much moisturizer under my eyes. Most concealers are too thick and somehow too drying for me, thus they visibly empathize my fine lines. Just like with the blush I quickly fixed the problem by using a liquid-type concealer (the fabulous Laneige Watery Cushion Concealer) and whenever I want to use a thicker one, like the Nars Creamy Radiant Concealer I mix it with a tiny bit of moisturizer.



1- Find the culprit

It could be your foundation, your blush, or any other makeup product you usually wear. Apply the cosmetic you suspect on your skin without anything else and check if small bumps or zits appear.

2- Tools matter

The problem could also comes from the tools you use to apply your makeup, like a brush or your fingers. The only tools my skin likes are sponges, like the Beauty Blender. Whenever I try to apply my makeup with a brush or my fingers my skin becomes extremely dry after a few hours, resulting in small bumps or irritated skin. I recently got my hands on the Etude House Play 101 Stick in shade Rose Gold (a beautiful pink highlighter) and whenever I rub it directly on my cheeks I end up with small bumps, but if I rub the stick directly on my fingers and dab them on my skin everything is fine.

3- Formula & Texture

Some ingredients can be irritating and clog pores, resulting in breakouts and various skincare troubles, thus you always need to check the ingredient list before purchasing a skincare or a cosmetic product.
Silicone, for example, has been a controversial ingredient since years. They are present in the majority of our skincare and cosmetics, and some skins (usually acne-prone and oily) dislike them a lot as they can clog pores. To avoid future bad purchases you need to identify the ingredients your skin likes and hates the most. To do so, simply compare the ingredients in your products. For example if a foundation makes you break out, check out the ingredient list and compare it with another foundation your skin likes. In my case the culprit in the Nars Orgasm is Talc. I slightly suspected beeswax but considering my favorite CC Cream by Hera contains beeswax as well I quickly let go of my suspicions.

The texture also matters. People with dry skin usually prefer liquid-type foundations while those with oily-skin usually go for powder-type, but once again the most important thing is the ingredient list : you can find a lot of oil-free (non comedogenic) liquid foundations on the market, perfect for oily skin. The other way around doesn’t work very well as most people with dry skin should avoid powder-type cosmetics.

4- Too drying or too oily

If your cosmetics make your skin too dry, you can try to mix them with a moisturizing product like a serum, an emulsion, a moisturizing cream or an oil. I like to mix my powder blushes (like the Nars Orgasm I mentioned above) with my Hera Aquabolic Moisturizing Emulsion or a drop of my Innisfree Canola Honey Oil.
You can also use a moisturizing mist, like the Tatcha Dewy Skin Mist, to moisture and hydrate your skin throughout the day.
If you have dry skin try to look for non oil-free moisturizing formulas, and if you have oily skin go for water-based & oil-free formulas.

5- Skincare & Primer

Sometimes your cosmetics and your skincare products don’t go well together. I know for a fact using too many moisturizing products without leaving your skin the time to absorb them can lead to breakouts, flakes and more. One of my golden rule is to always apply my makeup 10 minutes after applying my skincare products.
I also noticed a huge difference in the lasting power and the finish of my makeup whenever I use a water-based foundation (oil-free) on top of an oil-based moisturizer or not. Oil and water don’t mix together, thus whenever you use an oil-based moisturizer you should also use a oil-based primer or foundation. Your primer should also always be the same formula as your foundation.
I recently purchased the fabulous multi-purposes primer Lovely Cream by Cosrx. Even though I like it a lot, I noticed my skin becomes extremely greasy and somehow oily if I apply it less than 10 minutes after my skincare products -unless I mix it directly with my moisturizer – and if I use my fingers to blend it instead of a sponge.

6- Exfoliation

One of my favorite topic. You should never exfoliate your skin daily – otherwise your skin will make you pay greatly for it – but getting rid of those dead skin cells may change the way your foundation will look.
Exfoliation is often the answer to flaky skin and dry patches as it gets rid of dead skin cells build up. If your foundation looks cakey, flaky or just weird try to exfoliate it. While I am not a fan of scrubs (the ones with beads) I find peeling gels like the Mamonde Natural Peeling Gel or the Iaso Triple White Peeling Gel extremely gentle as they can be used twice a week. If you find peeling gels too gentle you could also try a chemical exfoliator, like the Paula Choice 10% AHA Weekly Treatment or the Mizon 8% AHA Serum.


6 comments on When makeup makes you break out

  • Eunice

    Hi Hye Mi,

    I too have sensitive dry skin! Came across your post while looking out for solutions to replace my new Iope cushion – their new formula has additional ingredients which broke me out in raised bumps. Tried new Laneige formula too and bumps magically appeared again.
    Now i have to use my vacation stash of make up – Avene fluid corrector but it really doesn’t last so it will just fade and slide off after 4 hours. And I can’t do touch ups πŸ™

    Anyway, I am not giving up on finding the right cushion, gonna try out more brands out there!

  • Cherl Tan

    Hello Hyemi!
    I love your website and I’m so glad that you posted this! But I’m facing a major problem πŸ™ I tried using non-comedogenic foundations and BB/CC creams but I still break out badly… even from some primers too! I don’t usually break out when I don’t wear foundation but when I wear it, my skin loses all of its senses! What do I do? /~\ Please help me!!!

    • Hye Mi (author)

      Hello Cherl,

      If you break out even from oil-free cosmetics it could be because there is an ingredient your skin can’t handle, maybe you’re allergic to something? I suggest you to compare the ingredients in every foundation/CC/BB you own to see if they have any common ingredients (it’s probably the case) and try to look for another BB/CC without the similar ingredient(s). For example if you notice the CCs/BBs that make you break out all contain silicon (again, just an example, could be anything) find one without silicon.

  • Berries

    Hihi, is below ingredients clogging ?

    Aqua, Butylene Glycol, PEG / PPG / Polybutylene Glycol -8 / 5 / 3, Glyceryl Polyalene, Glycereth – 26, PatcG20,

  • Chloe T.

    Thank goodness you shared, Hye Mi! I am a person that often breaks out when into contact with various makeup or skincare items like Etude House’s BB cream and Innisfrew’s Real Squeeze mask collection. It makes it a really big hassle when finding the right skincare or makeup items and I was wondering if you could share with me a few that could help. I have sensitive, acne-prone skin that can get oily on really hot days. Please help me, Hye Mi!

  • Jolie L.

    I’m glad you shared this Hye Mi!
    For a person who has acne-prone skin like me, I’m always shy away from trying out new products. Not that I don’t like to (I actually do like trying new products, I mean..who doesn’t) but I just don’t want to breakout. This is why I usually stick with the same brand that I know won’t break me out or using oil-free products that won’t clog pores.


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