Your Guide to Acne Cosmetica from Causes to Treatment

Why Your Cosmetics Might Be Causing Your Breakouts

Woman washing her face
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Acne cosmetica is a mild but persistent form of acne triggered by the use of cosmetics. It can occur anywhere on the body, but is most common on the face, neck, hairline, and scalp.

Acne cosmetica looks like small bumps across the surface of the skin or scalp. The skin will look and feel rough. Many comedones, and possibly some small papules and pustules, will be present, but there usually is little to no inflammation.

What Causes Acne Cosmetica?

This type of acne is caused by the use of comedogenic hair or skin care products. When a cosmetic product accumulates within the follicle, the pore becomes blocked. Excess skin oil builds up, clogging the pore and creating a blemish. Pomades or hair oils, heavy moisturizers, eye creams, and makeup are all common causes of acne cosmetica.

Tips for Identifying the Problem

Identifying the pore-clogging culprit is important. Are you breaking out on the forehead, hairline, or scalp? Your hair care products may be to blame. Finding small bumps and whiteheads in the eye area or on the upper cheeks? Your eye cream could be too heavy. Bumpiness and breakouts over the entire face and neck area most likely are caused by moisturizer or foundation makeup. Once the source of the breakouts is identified and use is discontinued, acne cosmetica gradually improves.

Treating Your Acne Cosmetica

The first step is to leave your face makeup-less at least a few times a week to allow your skin a break and time to breathe and heal.

 If you don't feel comfortable going makeup-free all day, cleanse your face as soon as you get home. This will give your skin a few hours every evening to go bare.  

Makeup alone typically doesn't cause a full-blown case of inflammatory acne, so just keeping your skin bare isn't necessarily going to be enough to clear up your skin.

 If you're not already using an acne treatment medication, whether an OTC or prescription product, it's time to start. These types of products will help you get blemishes under control as you determine the primary culprit behind your breakout.

To help clear existing breakouts more quickly, and to inhibit the formation of new comedones, use a cleanser or treatment pads containing salicylic acid. Regular exfoliation may also help to speed clearing of acne cosmetica.

It is generally a good idea to switch makeup brands or products if your acne seems to worsen after wearing makeup for several days in a row. For those with sensitive skin, certain makeup formulations (even those labeled noncomedogenic) can cause acne breakouts

If this seems to be the case for you, try another brand. Your skin might tolerate one better than another.

When You Can't Completely Eliminate Your Cosmetic Products

Sometimes it's not practical to stop using your hair or skin care products. You can still reduce the amount of pore blockages produced by following these basic tips:

  • Choose products labeled noncomedogenic.
  • Switch to an oil-free moisturizer.
  • Apply hair pomades and oils at least one inch back from the hairline or only on the ends of the hair.
  • Make sure to thoroughly cleanse all traces of makeup from your face at the end of each day before going to bed.

 As with any form of acne, see your doctor if you aren't seeing improvement after six to eight weeks of treatment.


United States. NIAMS. "Questions and Answers About Acne." Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2015

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