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Skincare these days can be a lot of work, with so many products and steps, how do you know what is right and wrong? One step that has never wavered in the beauty world is moisturizing. We all need it, whether you're oily, irritated, sunburned, or just a combination. But when acne is in the picture, it can feel like a moisturizer will just add fire to the flame. However, dermatologists agree that not only is moisturizer an essential step in every skincare routine but can even help calm and prevent acne—if you choose the right formula, that is.
When looking for a moisturizer for acne-prone skin, there are a few things to look for. According to double-board certified dermatologist Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand, oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturizers are among the best picks for acne.
Below, discover our curated list of the best moisturizers for acne-prone skin.
Best Overall: Origins Clear Improvement Pore Clearing Moisturizer
Formulated with 1% salicylic acid, a powerful beta hydroxy acid that’s beloved for its exfoliating pore-degunking abilities, you can expect this moisturizer to show breakouts who's boss. But that's not all it's formulated with. It also boasts bamboo charcoal, a highly absorbent ingredient that’s thought to prevent blackheads and help keep pores clear. (However, it’s important to note that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to support these claims).
Best Budget: Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture with Sunscreen
Dr. Houshmand is also a fan of this budget-friendly favorite. She says that it doesn't irritate inflamed, acne-prone skin, because it's “very lightweight, non-comedogenic, and alcohol-free.” What's more, it contains SPF 15 for sun protection. Cheers to double-duty benefits without breaking the bank.
Best Budget, Runner-Up: Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel-Cream with Hyaluronic Acid for Extra-Dry Skin
Gel formulas can give skin a great amount of hydration without leaving an oily residue, and this gel-cream from Neutrogena does just that. "It contains hyaluronic acid, which pulls moisture into the skin without being oily," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Morgan Rabach. The formula contains glycerin in addition to HA, and it works with all skin types without leaving behind a heavy or greasy feel. Plump and hydrate with the gel that's recommended for not only dry skin but also rosacea-prone skin.
Best Mattifying: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Oil-Free Mattifying Moisturizer
This moisturizer is a favorite among dermatologists for a reason. It mattifies the skin but doesn't dry your face out in the process. It's also oil-free and non-comedogenic, so it's rich enough to provide proper hydration while preventing additional breakouts. Oh, and thanks to a mild exfoliating ingredient, this moisturizer also helps tighten pores and clarify your skin's texture. A winner all around.
Best Mattifying, Runner-Up: Payot Pâte Gris Jour Mattifying & Spot Treatment
This light gel-cream from French skincare brand Payot has a velvety matte finish that we absolutely love. Its formula is no slouch in the blemish-fighting department, either, thanks to calming, oil-regulating ingredients like Cannabis sativa seed extract and zinc. Also nice: It's also totally free of parabens, toxins, and GMOs, and isn't tested on animals.
Best Pore Minimizer: Bioderma Sébium Pore Refiner Cream
Another Dr. Houshmand-favorite for acne-prone skin, this concentrated cream helps tighten the look of pores so they're less visible. Key ingredients include glycolic and salicylic acids which work together to exfoliate the skin and reveal a brighter-looking complexion.
Best for Dry Skin: CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion
Acne-prone skin can be dry, too, which is where this trusty face and body moisturizer from CeraVe comes into play. Dr. Rabach recommends this hydrating lotion for the fact that it's packed with skin barrier-repairing ceramides (a must for dry skin) and that it's oil-free (a must for anyone whos' zit-prone). It also contains hyaluronic acid for more lightweight, non-greasy hydration.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Renee Rouleau Skin Recovery Lotion
Your skin can be sensitive and prone to breakouts, and it's no surprise that it can be difficult to address both issues at the same time. Many acne-fighting ingredients and formulas can be harsh and drying, which can turn already-irritated or red skin into a tailspin.
If that's what you're experiencing, we recommend this gem by Byrdie-favorite Renee Rouleau to calm things down. It's got water-binding ingredients to soothe and hydrate the skin so it feels infinitely more comfortable and less sensitive in the plight against zits.
Best for Sensitive Skin, Runner-Up: Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion
Yes, it's possible to have skin that's sensitive and acne-prone, all at the same time. Since typical acne-fighting ingredients are powerful and (at times) drying, you want to be extra picky about finding a formula to reduce breakouts without irritating your sensitive skin. Rest assured that you can trust this guy from Cetaphil, which is another favorite of Dr. Rabach. It's oil-free, non-comedogenic, and lightweight.
Best With Tea Tree Oil: Dr. Jart+ Teatreement Moisturizer
Tea tree oil may not be an FDA-approved ingredient for acne (salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and sulfur are) but that's not to say that it's not an effective choice against breakouts. It's a natural ingredient, and studies show that it can help address mild to moderate acne. Derms like it too because its anti-inflammatory properties can make a big difference on acne-prone skin when applied topically.
This pick by Dr. Jart is a great one to try; it boasts the brand's Teatreement Solution, which is a blend of tea tree leaf extract, tea tree leaf oil, and 4-terpineol, to reduce the look of blemishes. That's combined with a soothing mix of extracts from green tea, chamomile, and aloe vera to soothe and hydrate.
Best Splurge: Epara Moisturizing Face Cream
This ultra-hydrating moisturizer is a great multitasker, offering multiple skin solutions including skin softening and reducing the appearance of fine lines. For those with acne-prone skin, you can get excited that this luxury product reduces hyperpigmentation and has anti-inflammatory qualities. This will decrease the appearance of inflamed breakouts and fade dark marks left behind from previous ones.
Best Splurge, Runner-Up: Tatcha The Water Cream
Tatcha’s name has been circulating in the beauty world for a while now, with nothing but great reviews. The Tatcha Water Cream is one of their best sellers because it's more than just a pretty container, jam packed with Japanese botanicals. Users claim it leaves skin glowing without the greasy feeling.
What Our Testers Say
"There was no heavy or sticky residue and once the cream was absorbed, my skin felt comfortable." — Ashley Rebecca, Product Tester
Best With SPF: RoC Multi-Correxion 5-in-1 Daily Moisturizer
“This moisturizer containing SPF 30 is great for patients with oily, acne-prone skin,” Dr. Houshmand says. A true multitasker, this cream is clinically proven to reduce dull tones, wrinkles, discoloration, density loss, and of course, dryness. The price point for this cream is also fair, considering the active ingredients and benefits. The lightweight formula is recommended and encouraged to be used daily.
Best Gel: First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Oil-Free Mattifying Gel
First Aid Beauty is known for its ingredient list providing what your skin needs and this oil-free mattifying gel is no exception. This gel is packed with zinc PCA, which regulates your skin's oil production and hydrates your pores, making it a great choice for acne-prone skin. In other words, if you're looking for a topnotch gel moisturizer that promotes clearer, healthier-looking skin, this is it.
Best Gel, Runner-Up: Peter Thomas Roth Acne-Clear Oil-Free Matte Moisturizer
Another lightweight, oil-free formula (see the trend here?), this moisturizer contains an ingredient trifecta to clear blemishes, reduce excess oil, and hydrate the skin. You can credit 0.5% salicylic acid, 3% seboclear to absorb oil and a 10% hyaluronic acid complex for hydration without an oily finish.
Best for Hyperpigmentation: ROSEN Skincare Tropics Moisturizer
This fruity, hydrating moisturizer helps fade dark spots and calms over-oil production to help calm and improve acne-prone skin. Dermatologist approved hyaluronic acid and kojic acid work together to achieve the aforementioned goals, while pineapple enzymes brighten and even skin tone. You'll also love that it's free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals for an all-natural glow.
What to Look For in a Moisturizer for Acne
Dr. Rabach stresses the importance of using a non-comedogenic moisturizer if you have acne-prone skin. “This means you can confidently moisturize your skin knowing that the ingredients will not add to clogging your pores, thus making the acne worse,” she says. “Ingredients that are often avoided in these formulations are oils and other emollients like petrolatum that can clog the pores.”
Dr. Rabach says it’s also important to look for water-based moisturizers with humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid, as these will draw water into the skin to keep skin moisturized. More importantly, they don't have occlusive properties, which form a protective coating on the skin's surface (which can lead to clogged pores and exacerbate acne). “Usually, these types of moisturizers feel light and aren’t too thick or heavy,” she says.
Finally, Dr. Rabach says that acne-prone skin needs a lot of TLC, so it’s best to look for soothing formulations. With that said, she says that they should be free of fragrance, dyes, and botanicals (as these can cause skin allergies or irritate the skin) as well as alcohols, which can be too drying.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Elizabeth Houshmand is a double board-certified dermatologist specializing in cutaneous laser surgery and the dermatologic care of patients, with a special interest in cosmetic dermatology, lasers, acne, and skin of color. She’s a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and a diplomat of the American Board of Internal Medicine.
- Dr. Morgan Rabach is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of LM Medical PLLC, a dermatology and facial plastic surgery practice that she started with her sister, Dr. Lesley Rabach. In addition to her private practice, she is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology at The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.