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Why your moisturizer could be making you break out

If you’ve struggled with acne, you’ve probably heard that it’s super important to moisturize, even (or especially!) if you have oily skin. But if that’s the case, you’re probably wondering, why do certain moisturizers make me break out?

Well, we’re here to answer all your questions about using moisturizers on acne-prone skin.

Why moisturizer can sometimes make breakouts worse
The moisturizer contains irritating chemicals and perfumes

Truth be told, a lot of moisturizers on the market simply aren’t good. Certainly not for sensitive or acne-prone skin. They’re designed to smell nice or feel nice, but not to take care of your skin. 

In fact, if you’ve ever felt like your lotion seemed to be drying your hands out, you were probably right! Some lotions contain heavy duty alcohols and other drying content that feel good in the moment but make matters worse in the long run.

The good news is, if you check the label and ingredients list, you can start to weed out lotions and moisturizers that are likely to irritate your skin or clog pores. First of all, you really only want to use moisturizers specifically designed for the face on your sensitive skin, and from there you generally want to look for something lightweight and non-comedogenic.

But most important is the ingredients list. Here are a few ingredients you’ll want to avoid:

  • Petroleum
  • Aluminum
  • Mineral oil
  • Triclosan
  • Siloxanes
  • Polyethylene, propylene, and butylene glycol
  • Phthalates (often listed as fragrance)
  • Parabens
  • Urea
  • DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (Monoethanolamine), and TEA (triethanolamine)
  • Artificial fragrances

Many of these ingredients can trigger inflammation and flare ups, making acne worse instead of better.

But what about alcohols? You’ve likely heard that alcohols in your skincare can be a no-no, as many alcohols are drying, but it’s not actually accurate as a blanket statement that you should avoid all alcohols. 

Fatty alcohols, like cetyl and cetearyl alcohol, have a different chemical structure that’s safe for beauty products. They act as an emollient, trapping moisture rather than drying the skin out. In fact, you may even have sought out products containing cetyl alcohol before – it’s derived from vegetable oils, including coconut oil. 

The more you know, right?

You’re using too much moisturizer

Another reason your moisturizer could be making you break out is that you’re using too much of it.

If you’re using a moisturizer that has all the right ingredients and is made for acne-prone skin, and you’re just certain it should be working, you may want to try simply using a little less of it. See, the skin can only absorb a certain amount of any product at a given time. Sometimes, when we put on too much moisturizer, our skin absorbs all it can, and then the rest ends up just sitting on top of the skin. 

This excess product can, frustratingly, cause many of the same problems as failing to moisturize – it leaves a greasy layer on your skin that can gather dirt and become a breeding ground for bacteria.

That said, even good moisturizers don’t always work for every skin type. First, experiment with using less moisturizer, but if you’re still seeing breakouts after a couple weeks, it’s likely time to give a different product a try.

You’re using a moisturizer that isn’t specially formulated for your sensitive, acne-prone skin

Lastly, you could be using a great moisturizer in just the right amount, but if it’s not the right moisturizer for your skin, it could still wreak havoc. Finding the right moisturizer when you have sensitive skin and struggle with acne is all about balance and hydration. 

Some ingredients to look for when choosing a moisturizer that works well for acne include:

  • Hyaluronic acid 
  • Niacinamide
  • Glycerin
  • Salicylic acid 
  • Antioxidants
  • Natural BHAs
  • Ceramides
  • Probiotics
  • Colloidal oatmeal

You want a gentle, lightweight formula that is oil-free and gel- or water-based; something that’s designed for acne sufferers. 

But you do need to be using a moisturizer

With all these rules, you might find yourself wondering, should I even be using a moisturizer on my skin if I have acne? And the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Moisturizer is an essential part of any skincare routine – especially if you struggle with acne or oily skin. 

It may seem counterintuitive, since many moisturizers seem oily to the touch, but skin that isn’t sufficiently moisturized will produce more sebum (that’s the oil on your face), clogging pores and feeding acne-causing bacteria. 

So find yourself the perfect moisturizer and keep it in your routine if you want to keep zits and inflammation at bay.

Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for moisturizers that make you break out

If your moisturizer isn’t working for you, check the labels and try using a little less of it. But let’s face it – it’s probably time to change to a new, better moisturizer designed to help clear your skin while keeping it hydrated and feeling fresh.

Not to toot our own horns, but if you’re looking for a great moisturizer like that, we recommend our OAT So Sweet moisturizer. It’s formulated specifically for acne-prone, sensitive skin and contains all the good stuff and none of the bad. 

With all that out of the way, we hope we’ve helped you solve some mysteries here and you’re on your way to happier, healthier, clearer skin.


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