How to find the perfect moisturizer for acne-prone skin

How to find the perfect moisturizer for acne-prone skin



Woman holding her hands in front of her face

Theoretically, our skin doesn't need a moisturizer.

Our skin contains waterproof lipids and humectant-rich corneocytes. The skin barrier protects from the penetration of harmful substances into our skin and water evaporation out of our skin.

Sounds great, right? Our skin is so clever...

Unfortunately, not everyone (about 99% of us) has perfectly functioning skin, resulting in skin issues and the need for a moisturizer.

So, let's talk about how to choose a moisturizer for acne-prone skin :)

What's The Job Of A Moisturizer?

A moisturizer is supposed to protect the skin. Its goal is to support our skin and help with:

  • ❯ A lack of oil (dryness)
  • ❯ A lack of water (dehydration).

And that's it.

Depending on your skincare routine, a good basic protecting moisturizer can be enough. Especially if you're already using a potent serum.

Three Types Of Moisturizing Ingredients

There are three different types of moisturizing ingredients.

Depending on these ingredients, a moisturizer can feel more lightweight and watery to primarily help with a lack of water. Or it can feel thick and nourishing to primarily help with a lack of oil.

The three moisturizing ingredients are:

Occlusives are the heaviest moisturizing ingredients. They're forming a protective layer on the surface of your skin to prevent water loss. However, they're not 100% waterproof.
Some examples of occlusives you can find on the ingredient list of your product are: Beeswax, Shea Butter, Mineral Oil, Petrolatum.

Emollients sink into the skin, making it more smooth and flexible. A lot of emollients are at the same time occlusives. Depending on the emollient, it can feel lightweight or heavy.
Some examples are: Ceramides, Cholesterol, plant oils, Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride.

Humectants are lightweight moisturizing ingredients. These ingredients act like little sponges, which attract water into the skin and hold them in place. The most popular humectant is Hyaluronic Acid. It can hold 1,000 times its weight in water. Not bad!
Other examples of humectants are: Amino Acids, Honey, AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids).

Synonyms For A Moisturizer And Their Meaning

There are synonyms for the phrase 'moisturizer', such as cream, lotion, or emulsion.

These synonyms mainly depend on the moisturizing ingredients the product contains.

Lotions are lightweight products containing more humectants than occlusives.

An emulsion is a phrase often used in Korean skincare. Similar to lotions, emulsions describe watery moisturizers. An emulsion is supposed to give your skin primarily water. It contains more humectants than occlusives.

Creams are moisturizers containing a lot of occlusives and emollients. They feel heavy and nourishing.

Similar to creams, these types of moisturizers are on the heavier side containing mainly occlusives and emollients. Ointments can be used as spot treatments.

An oil is a water-free product. Most plant oils are emollients. Depending on the oil, they can feel light or heavy. This mostly depends on the composition of the oil. Oils with a higher percentage of oleic acid (= nourishing, rich fatty acid) are more suitable for dry skin. Whereas oils containing mainly linoleic acid (= lightweight fatty acid) are better for oilier skin types.

In order to find a good moisturizer for acne-prone skin, let's first discuss what acne-prone skin means...

Acne-Prone Skin And Moisturizers

Acne-prone skin usually means that it's prone to acne or at least breakouts, aka pimples and/or clogged pores.

Generally, there are 4 factors that may cause acne:

  • ❯ 1. Too much sebum/ oil
  • ❯ 2. Excess dead skin cells
  • ❯ 3. Inflammation
  • ❯ 4. Bacteria, namely the so-called Propionibacterium Acnes (P. acnes).

Based on these factors, a skincare routine for acne-prone skin should incorporate products that:

  • ❯ 1. Doesn't contain heavy occlusives but lightweight humectants since your skin produces enough/ too much oil
  • ❯ 2. Remove excess dead skin cells (exfoliation)
  • ❯ 3. Act anti-inflammatory
  • ❯ 4. Is anti-bacterial.

A moisturizer for acne-prone skin should be lightweight, watery, and humectant-rich. Since the skin usually produces enough oil, it doesn't need any heavy occlusives or emollients such as Shea Butter, Beeswax, or heavier plant oils.

Lotions and emulsions are synonyms to look for.

Whether your moisturizer should additionally contain active ingredients, such as acids (exfoliation), depends on your skincare routine.

Let's have a look at the most common skincare routines and how to choose the best moisturizer...

Choose Your Perfect Moisturizer For Acne-Prone Skin Depending On Your Skincare Routine

You should always pick your moisturizer depending on your skincare routine.

There're two scenarios:

1. Your routine already contains acne-fighting products
Suppose your skincare routine already contains products for acne-prone skin (f.ex. a serum or a toner with ingredients such as BHA, Niacinamide). In that case, you only need a good basic moisturizer (aka lotion or emulsion) with lightweight humectants to keep your skin moist. No acne-fighting or anti-bacterial ingredients are required.
Here is a selection of great basic moisturizers - these products are all you need:

2. Your routine doesn't contain any acne-fighting products yet
Suppose you haven't incorporated any acne-fighting products into your routine yet. In that case, you should choose a lightweight, humectant-rich moisturizer (aka lotion or emulsion) with some active ingredients that can help with breakouts. The product should contain ingredients such as Niacinamide (skin barrier repairing, anti-inflammatory, acne-fighting, balancing) or Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs: anti-inflammatory, acne-fighting, balancing).
Here are some great products you could try:

To Sum Up...

A moisturizer for acne-prone skin should be a lightweight, watery product containing mainly humectants as moisturizing ingredients.

Since acne-prone skin usually produces enough oil, it doesn't need any heavy occlusives or emollients such as Shea Butter, Beeswax, or heavier plant oils.

Depending on your skincare routine, your moisturizer may contain some additional potent (active) ingredients, such as acids (AHAs or BHAs), to fight breakouts.

Last but not least, here are some PRO Tips when it comes to moisturizers:

  • ❯ Apply your moisturizer on damp skin to seal in water. This will make your skin look plumper and keep dehydration (lack of water) at bay.
  • ❯ A skincare diary can help you keep track of new products and find out what ingredients your skin does (not) like.
  • ❯ The comedogenic scale might be an interesting topic if you have acne-prone skin. Check out this post for more information.