The Best Moisturizers for People With Acne
The road to clear, healthy skin is paved with the right moisturizer, and dermatologists share the best ones for people with acne.
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If you’ve got acne-prone skin, chances are, you’ve been a little hesitant to slather on moisturizer at one time or another. Layering on a thick, hydrating lotion just feels counterintuitive if you’re trying to combat breakouts and keep skin clear, right? Well, you’re definitely not alone.
“Many people with acne-prone skin feel that their skin is oily and that they should not use moisturizer because it will make them break out more,” says Shari Lipner, MD, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian in New York City. “The truth is that people with acne still need to use moisturizer, but it has to be the right moisturizer. The right moisturizer will hydrate your skin without making you prone to getting more breakouts.”
In fact, it may be even more important to focus on moisturizing when you’re using products to treat acne, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol. “Acne prescriptions often dry out skin,” says Jennifer L MacGregor, MD, a dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City. “People [with acne] also tend to over-cleanse, thinking they can ‘dry out’ the pimples, but this just strips the skin’s natural oils and irritates the skin more, leading to redness, peeling, and more acne.” According to the American Academy of Dermatology, when your skin gets dry, your body will produce more oil to compensate. That extra oil can clog your pores and do exactly what you’re trying to avoid.
MacGregor suggests looking for moisturizers with gentle, soothing, and hydrating ingredients that won’t clog pores like ceramides, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, niacinamide, sulfur, and aloe.
So, which ingredients are smart to avoid? “The big ones to avoid are ingredients that are occlusive or settle into pores—oils, lanolin, petrolatum, cocoa butter, and red dyes,” Dr. MacGregor says. “Some people also break out more if topicals contain dimethicone or silicone,” though others may tolerate those ingredients perfectly fine, so it’s important to take note of what products and ingredients are tied to breakouts. Dr. Lipner also suggests avoiding fragrances. “Fragrance can irritate your skin and make your acne worse.
Luckily, there are so many brands making simple and cost-effective moisturizers that don’t clog pores—many of which can be found at the drugstore. Here are 10 great options, based on the ingredients dermatologists suggest seeking out.
EltaMD UV Daily Facial Sunscreen Broad-Spectrum SPF 40
Applying a moisturizer with SPF every morning will help keep skin supple and protect it from the biggest culprit of premature aging: The sun, according to a 2019 study in Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin. Amy Fox, MD, a dermatologist at UNC Health Care and associate professor of dermatology at UNC School of Medicine, recommends this moisturizer from EltaMD because not only is it hydrating (thanks to hyaluronic acid) and non-comedogenic, it also employs physical sunscreen ingredient zinc oxide to shield skin from UVA and UVB rays. While physical sunscreen has been known in the past for leaving a white cast on the skin, Dr. Fox notes that many formulations, including this one, have gotten more subtle over the years and don’t come with the same downside.
Aveeno Ultra-Calming Fragrance-Free Daily Facial Moisturizer for Sensitive, Dry Skin with SPF 30
This moisturizer contains soothing ingredients, like oats, to hydrate and calm sensitive skin. It’s also fragrance-free, which is great for anyone who’s sensitive to fragrance. Using a moisturizer with SPF daily is important not only to protect skin against skin cancer and signs of aging, but also because sunlight can worsen acne, says Dr. Lipner. Similarly to over-cleansing, UV light exposure can dry out the skin and prompt more oil production in response, leading to more clogged pores. You can avoid this by keeping skin hydrated and protected from the sun.
Glow Recipe Watermelon Pink Juice Oil-Free Moisturizer
Hyaluronic acid, a substance that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, is one of the gentle, hydrating, and non-comedogenic ingredients Dr. MacGregor says to look for in a moisturizer. The combo of hyaluronic acid and watermelon extract makes this oil-free moisturizer ultra-hydrating, light, and soothing for irritated or inflamed skin. When you apply it, you’ll notice an instant cooling effect. Bonus: The smell is unbelievably refreshing. Tip: Dr. Fox advises to look for certain keywords on product packaging to know if’s compatible with acne-prone skin, These include “oil-free,” “for acne-prone skin,” and “non-comedogenic,” which all suggest the product doesn’t contain commonly pore-clogging ingredients.
CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM
If your skin is feeling particularly dry—thanks to the weather or any harsh acne medications you use—try applying a slightly heavier moisturizer at night. Dr. MacGregor suggests this CeraVe nighttime moisturizer, “which is a lighter ceramide formulation that restores skin barrier from drying acne topicals without clogging pores.” Ceramides are a type of fatty acid that are essential building blocks of the skin barrier, or the outer layer of the skin that works to lock in moisture and helps prevent moisture loss, dryness, and irritation.
Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel-Cream
The acne-prone-skin-friendly version of Kiehl’s cult-classic moisturizer is formulated without any oils or fragrance to provide shine-free hydration that won’t clog pores. Water and dimethicone, a common product in oil-free moisturizers (including this one) that forms a barrier on the skin to lock in moisture, can be very helpful in keeping skin hydrated, says Dr. Fox.
Neutrogena Naturals Multi-Vitamin Nourishing Daily Face Moisturizer
Many simple and cost-effective brands make quality non-comedogenic moisturizers that you can find at the drugstore, says Dr. Fox. So remember that your moisturizer doesn’t have to be expensive to be helpful. “It should be inexpensive because you should be using moisturizer liberally every day,” says Dr. Fox. This daily moisturizer costs only $10, is safe for acne-prone skin, and includes vitamins B, C, and E, to help combat dullness and brighten skin.
Clinique Dramatically Different Hydrating Jelly
This gel version of Clinique’s iconic moisturizer strengthens the skin barrier and locks in moisture with fruit extracts and oil-free hydrators like sunflower seed, barley extract, and cucumber fruit extract. It’s a great lightweight option for anyone who wants to avoid thick, heavy products. The watery gel-like texture feels refreshing on the skin and absorbs quickly, so you can layer other products on top without worrying about any sort of sticky residue.
Ole Henriksen C-Rush Vitamin C Gel Moisturizer
This moisturizer is a two-for-one: It moisturizes and anti-ages all at once—all without clogging pores or exacerbating breakouts. It contains three forms of Vitamin C, which helps brighten skin and reduces signs of aging. A light gel-cream consistency and added antioxidant-rich ingredients—plus superstar hydrater hyaluronic acid—give skin the intense hydration it needs without weighing it down.
Sephora Collection Super Matte Moisturizer
This moisturizer deeply hydrates skin, while mattifying powders help prevent that oily shine anyone with acne-prone skin is all-too-familiar with. The hyaluronic acid in this formula draws moisture into the skin, while squalane, a non-comedogenic oil that’s made from an oil the body produces naturally, works as an emollient to seal in that moisture. Bonus: This product’s mattifying powers make it a great primer to use before applying foundation to keep skin smooth and hydrated all day long.
Belif Problem Solution Moisturizer
This acne-friendly moisturizer includes ingredients like dimethicone and squalane to hydrate skin and lock in moisture. The addition of tea tree oil and white willow bark makes it useful for treating and combating breakouts at the same time. Tea tree oil is a naturally antibacterial oil that’s been shown to treat mild to moderate acne. One 2016 study, published in the Australian Journal of Dermatology, found that using tea tree oil gel and face wash twice daily for 12 weeks improved acne, and produced very few side effects. White willow bark is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Shari Lipner, MD, dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, New York City
- Jennifer L MacGregor, MD, dermatologist at Union Square Laser Dermatology, New York City
- American Academy of Dermatology: Moisturizer: Why You Need It If You Have Acne
- Amy Fox, MD, dermatologist at UNC Health Care and associate professor of dermatology at UNC School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- Advanced Pharmaceutical Bulletin: "Anti-aging and Sunscreens: Paradigm Shift in Cosmetics"
- International Journal of Cosmetic Science: "The chemistry, function and (patho)physiology of stratum corneum barrier ceramides"
- Indian Journal of Dermatology: "Moisturizers: The Slippery Road"
- Austalian Journal of Dermatology: "Tea tree oil gel for mild to moderate acne; a 12 week uncontrolled, open‐label phase II pilot study"