For decades, dermatologists and cosmetologists alike have debated the effects of cosmetics on the skin, particularly in acne sufferers. Make-up has often been branded an “acne Catch-22” – you want something to cover the redness, but you’re told it may actually be causing your acne. Fortunately, this is only partly true. To understand how to approach the make-up issue, we should start with a discussion of “cosmetic acne.”
Cosmetic Acne & Skin Care – A mild-mannered cousin. Acne cosmetica, or acne that is caused by cosmetics, is a mild and fairly common form of acne. Because it is triggered by topical products rather than the complex process that creates true acne, it can strike anyone – even people who are not physiologically prone to the condition. Characterized by small, rashy pink bumps on the cheeks, chin and forehead, it typically develops over the course of a few weeks or months and may persist indefinitely. If you’ve recently started using a new skincare product and you’re experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, discontinue use of the new product for a few days and see if your breakout subsides.
NOTE: While studies have shown that make-up does not cause true acne, it can exacerbate the condition. So it’s helpful to be aware of common topical triggers, no matter what kind of acne you have.
Cosmetic Acne & Skin Care – The culprit: Comedogenics. Ever wonder where your make-up goes over the course of the day? Some of it is rubbed off by contact with your hands and your clothing, and some of it migrates across your skin, settling into your pores – much like rainwater collects wherever there are small holes in the ground. Some make-ups include ingredients that are considered comedogenic, or substances that are known to clog pores. Although these cosmetics may not cause true plugging of the follicle, certain ingredients may induce follicular irritation. The result? The small, persistent bumps known as “cosmetic acne.”
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Cosmetic Acne & Skin Care – Seven rules for a clean beauty routine. With so many products making so many claims, it’s easy to be confused by clever marketing. Fortunately, just a bit of education can get you on the path to choosing the proper cosmetics and using them wisely. Here are seven good rules to follow for a healthy make-up regimen:
1. Avoid penetrating oils. Contrary to popular belief, not all oils are comedogenic. Petroleum products, mineral oil and sunflower oil do not penetrate into the pore. Most cosmetic oils, however, can aggravate acne – so it’s best to avoid them. One of the most common acne triggers in skin products, especially lotions and sunscreens, is lanolin, a fatty acid extracted from sheep’s wool. Isopropyl Myristate, which promotes smooth, even application in many foundations, is such an aggressive penetrator that it’s the main ingredient in most rust-removers! In general, products labeled “oil-free” and “non-comedogenic” are less likely to clog your pores and trigger breakouts.
2. Steer clear of sweet smells. Fragrance is a major cause of allergic and irritant reactions on the face. Even products that claim to be “unscented” may include fragrances added to mask the smell of other ingredients. It’s best to stick with products labeled as “fragrance-free” or “hypo-allergenic.” Of course, reactions to fragrance differ dramatically, and you may find certain perfumes that don’t affect your skin. The most common offenders are fragrances in the ambrette, bergamot, cinnamate and musk families. If the derivatives of your favorite face cream or foundation’s scent are not easily determined from the product label, try a patch test on the skin behind your ear. If no irritation appears after three days of repeated application, you may continue usage on a larger area.
3. Be smart about shadow and blush. The stuff that puts the sparkle in your eye shadow, face powder and blush is usually mica, a common mineral. The jagged, flaky shape of mica particles can cause irritation and/or clogging in the follicle, so it’s best to use products without too much shimmer. Likewise, many of the red dyes used to put a bloom in your cheeks are coal tar derivatives; not surprisingly, these substances are comedogenic, too. Check the labels for blushes that use carmine, which has been a natural, healthy cosmetic colorant since the time of the Aztecs. Also, cream blushes are more likely to have comedogenic ingredients, so stick to powder or gel blushes.
4. Get wise to eye creams. Because of the delicacy of the skin around the eyes, creams created for this area are often thicker and greasier than regular facial moisturizers. Heavy eye creams and oily eye make-up removers can promote milia, tiny white cysts under the eyes. These kinds of products can also migrate to neighboring areas, creating acne on the cheeks, temples and forehead.
5. Style your hair with care. Most hair products are full of the ingredients we’d like to keep away from our skin: alcohol, adhesives and oils. So if you’re prone to acne, use care when styling your hair – cover your skin when you spray, and try to keep oils, mousses, gels and pomades away from the skin at the hairline. And don’t use hair products when you exercise; perspiration from your scalp can carry styling products onto your skin, contributing to new breakouts.
6. Wash after exercising. While we know that sweat doesn’t cause acne, it can promote it in those who are prone – and make-up can make matters worse. Even non-comedogenic products can cause clogging or irritation in the presence of heavy perspiration. As a rule, it’s best to wash immediately after exercising with a medicated exfoliating cleanser.
7. Use the right lip lube. If you have problems with pimples around the mouth area, you might want to reconsider the products you use on your lips. Lipsticks and glosses are greasy by nature, with high concentrations of petroleum, wax and other comedogenic substances. The greater the shine, the greater the potential for pore-clogging – so if you’re breaking out, try going for a matte finish rather than a high gloss.
In general, it’s fine to doll up! Just choose your cosmetics carefully – look for products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. Read labels carefully to avoid common topical triggers. And of course, use your common sense; if a product that looks okay on the label is irritating your skin, discontinue usage right away.