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How to choose the best moisturizer for acne-prone skin

An expert-approved guide to picking moisturizers that won’t clog pores.

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 8, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
A close-up of a person's face, smearing cream across their cheek with one finger
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Feb 8, 2024 • 9 min read
Medically reviewed by Melissa Hunter, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

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If you’ve got acne breakouts on the brain, choosing the right moisturizer for your skin can make you feel like you’re floating in an ocean of options. We recommend sticking with a simple, gentle, non-clogging moisturizer to make life easier. 

Still, there are plenty of choices to consider. So, we’ve whipped up this handy guide with moisturizers that our dermatology providers consider safe and non-clogging to help narrow your options.

Is moisturizer a must for acne-prone skin?

Using a moisturizer can be beneficial for acne-prone skin. Topical acne treatments like benzoyl peroxideretinoids, antibiotics with alcohol-based preparations, and salicylic acid are effective but can often lead to skin irritation.¹ This irritation isn’t just uncomfortable, it can disrupt the delicate balance of your skin.

One of the main reasons patients struggle to stick with acne treatments is the dryness and irritation these products can cause.² This dryness is more than just a superficial issue. It can disrupt the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin.³ When this happens, your skin loses more water (a process known as increased transepidermal water loss or TEWL), which can lead to inflammation.⁴

The health of your skin barrier is crucial in managing acne. A compromised skin barrier might actually contribute to acne problems.⁵ So, by keeping your skin well-moisturized, you’re not only reducing the discomfort from dryness and irritation but also helping to maintain the integrity of your skin barrier.

Given these considerations, dermatology providers recommend incorporating a moisturizer into your acne treatment regimen, especially when using strong agents like benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.⁶ The key is choosing a non-comedogenic moisturizer that won’t clog your pores to complement your acne treatment effectively.

Skin type matters for moisturizers

The best moisturizer for your skin depends on your skin type, and surprise: acne-prone isn’t a skin type. Your skin might be dry, oily, sensitive, or “normal,” and also prone to acne. Your skin may be dry one day, oily, or combination the next. What makes it change its mind? It could be hormones, your diet, or the time of the year. Your skin type may even differ on different parts of your face—you might have an oily T-zone, but dry skin on your forehead. Luckily, it’s not hard to figure out what your skin type is on any given day.

Step 1: Wash your face gently, wait an hour, then check out your skin in the mirror.

Step 2: Pat a blotting paper (gently) on each area of your face: T-zone, forehead, chin, and cheeks. It can be hard to tell whether what you’re seeing on your skin is oil, shine, or just glowiness, so check the sheet each time you blot to see which part of your face may be oilier.

Step 3: Wait an hour. If oil has reappeared on your face, your skin type is likely oily skin or combination skin (if you’re only oily in certain places). “Normal” skin isn’t dry nor oily but smooth and balanced.

The results:

Normal skinSmooth, no signs of dry flakes or shiny oil

Oily skin: Slick and shiny, larger pores

Dry skin: Dry flakes, tight-feeling

Combination skin: Oily T-zone, with normal-to-dry skin everywhere else (fun fact: most people actually have combination skin!)

Dermatologist-formulated moisturizers for acne-prone skin

Whatever your skin type, our advice is to keep it simple. Curology’s in-house dermatologists developed 2 moisturizers with this advice in mind, so they’re great for acne-prone and sensitive skin. Both are formulated to be non-comedogenic and free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, or any other common skin-irritating ingredients.

The Gel Moisturizer

This moisturizer has a gel texture that hydrates with 2 star ingredients, hyaluronic acid and glycerin. This ingredient duo works together to leave your face feeling soft and refreshed. The Curology gel moisturizer works great for oily, acne-prone skin because it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and locks in hydration all day long. These properties make it a must for your everyday skincare routine. You can layer on as much as you’d like, morning and night, without ever worrying about overdoing it. 

The Cream Moisturizer

This rich moisturizer doubles down on moisture with hydrating heroes—hyaluronic acid, shea butter, aloe, glycerin, plant-based squalane, and allantoin—to nourish and protect your skin without clogging pores. If you’ve got dry skin, aging skin, or your skin just needs some extra help to get through cold or dry weather—we’ve got the creamy moisturizer of your dreams. Our dermatologists formulated this product to work extra hard. It adds moisture to the skin, then it traps that moisture in. Your skin will stay soft and protected all day (or night) long.

Both these moisturizers are designed to pair perfectly with your custom Curology formula and Curology acne cleanser as part of the 3-step set. So sit back, relax, and let one of our moisturizers work its magic on your thirsty skin.

What ingredients should moisturizer have for acne-prone skin?

When picking a moisturizer for acne-prone skin, looking for ingredients that provide effective hydration without exacerbating acne is essential. Two of the most common ingredients to look for are dimethicone and glycerin.⁷

Dimethicone, a silicone derivative often found in oil-free facial moisturizers, is particularly suitable for acne-prone skin.⁸ Its unique properties reduce transepidermal water loss—crucial for maintaining skin hydration—without leaving a greasy feel. This makes it an excellent choice as it acts as both an occlusive and an emollient, sealing in moisture while smoothing the skin.⁹ Additionally, dimethicone is non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores, and it’s hypoallergenic, making it ideal for sensitive skin types.¹⁰

Glycerin, a highly effective humectant, is key for increasing hydration in the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin.¹¹ It attracts water, helping to keep the skin hydrated and supple. However, in high concentrations, glycerin can feel sticky. So, it’s often combined with other humectants to balance its texture and effectiveness.¹²

Besides these, botanical anti-inflammatory agents like Ginkgo biloba, green tea, aloe vera, allantoin, and licochalcone are also beneficial.¹³ These natural ingredients can help soothe the skin, which may be advantageous for those with acne-prone skin.

Ingredients to avoid 

Some moisturizer ingredients can clog pores or irritate the skin. Here are the key ones to avoid, plus how to double-check the ingredients of any product to make extra sure:

Avoid…

Products not labeled with terms “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won’t cause breakouts.” The label “non-comedogenic” (or similar) indicates that the product has been designed with acne-prone people in mind. 

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in skincare and cosmetics, but if your skin is prone to pimples and clogged pores, you’ll want to avoid it. It’s also called “cocos nucifera oil,” so keep an eye on those ingredient lists. Coconut oil clogs pores slowly but surely for some, so you might not notice right away, but take it from the experts: It gets in those pores and clogs up the works!

Alcohol

Alcohol is unfortunately used in a lot of skincare products, even though it dries out the skin and can damage its protective barrier! Watch out for alcohol (usually listed as “denatured alcohol” or “alcohol denat.”) on the ingredients list of your products, especially if your skin seems dry, red, tight, itchy, or irritated after using it. 

The exception: coconut alcohol

Even though coconut oil isn’t good for acne-prone skin, and alcohol can be irritating, coconut alcohol is actually fine. Coconut alcohol is a gentle surfactant that the skin tolerates just fine (unlike sodium laureth sulfate, a surfactant that can cause breakouts). Coconut alcohol comes from coconut acid, which is derived from coconut oil; but unlike coconut oil, coconut alcohol doesn’t clog pores. It’s so safe, in fact, that we use coconut alcohol in our Curology cleanser—it was tested for comedogenicity (pore-clogging potential) and passed with flying colors!

The key takeaways

  • Many common anti-acne treatments, like retinoids or benzoyl peroxide, can also cause skin irritation.

  • This irritation may cause some people to stop their acne treatments early.

  • A non-comedogenic moisturizer that fits your skin type can help prevent this issue.

  • Curology offers two non-comedogenic moisturizers, the Gel Moisturizer for oily skin and the Cream Moisturizer for dry or sensitive skin.

When in doubt, custom skincare is what it’s about 

If you’re struggling with acne-prone skin, try a custom formula of prescription ingredients from Curology. Curology’s Custom Formulaᴿˣ for acne* blends up to 3 active ingredients in a lightly moisturizing base to help fight clogged pores and breakouts. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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To get started,** just take a quick skincare quiz and snap a few photos of your skin. If Curology is right for you, you’ll be paired with a licensed dermatology provider who can recommend products that won’t aggravate your skin and order your Custom Formula. Your Custom Formula may include proven acne-busters like tretinoin, azelaic acid, clindamycin, and more.

FAQs

What type of moisturizer is best for acne-prone skin?

For acne-prone skin, it's best to use a moisturizer labeled as: 

  • “Non-comedogenic”

  • “Non-acnegenic”

  • “Does not clog pores”

  • “Won't cause breakouts”

These formulations are specifically designed to provide hydration without causing irritation or exacerbating acne, complementing your topical acne therapies.

Is it good to apply moisturizer on acne-prone skin?

Absolutely, it's beneficial to apply moisturizer on acne-prone skin. Moisturizers help counteract the dryness and irritation often caused by topical acne therapies like benzoyl peroxide, retinoids, and salicylic acid.¹⁴ This can improve comfort and adherence to your anti-acne treatment regimen.¹⁵

How can I moisturize my face without clogging my pores?

To moisturize with less risk of clogging pores, look for products labeled as “non-comedogenic”, “non-acnegenic”, “does not clog pores”, or “won't cause breakouts.” However, some ingredients in cosmetics and skincare products can actually make acne worse, even if the label says “non-comedogenic”! Check out our quick and easy guide to checking products for pore-clogging ingredients!

Is Curology moisturizer water-based?

Yes, the Gel Moisturizer and the Cream Moisturizer are water-based. They are both dermatologist-formulated to be non-comedogenic, aka they’re made without pore-clogging ingredients. And you can layer either one on after your custom treatment in the evening.

What is the best non-comedogenic moisturizer for oily, acne-prone skin?

We may be a little biased, but we’re partial to Curology’s Gel Moisturizer. That’s because it was formulated by dermatologists to be non-comedogenic, lightweight, absorb quickly, and lock in hydration all day long.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Chularojanamontri, L., et al Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (May 2014).

  2. Lynde, C. W., et al. Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. (March 2014).

  3. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  4. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  5.  Lynde, C. W., et al. Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  6. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  7. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  8. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  9. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  10. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  11. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  12. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  13. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  14. Chularojanamontri, L., et al. Moisturizers for Acne: What are their Constituents?. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

  15.  Lynde, C. W., et al. Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits. The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology. Ibid.

Melissa Hunter is a board certified family nurse practitioner at Curology. She received her MSN from George Washington University in Washington, DC.

*Restrictions apply. See website for full details and important safety information.

**Cancel anytime. Subject to consultation. Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Melissa Hunter

Melissa Hunter, NP-C

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