Acne; as four letter words go, it’s pretty hateful. It can rear its head at any given moment, linger for decades and take the form of pustules, painful under-skin cysts, angry red bumps or all of the above, all at once, with accompanying inflammatory redness for good measure. Disregarding the immediate delightful physical effects, the scars that acne leaves behind can range from pockmarks and pigmentation to social anxiety and mental health problems. It’s not a subject to be taken lightly, as founder and chief executive of disfigurement charity Changing Faces James Partridge told the BBC:
“We need to show respect and help people cope, not belittle and stigmatise. Every year there are instances of suicide due to people’s distress around acne. Self harm is also very common.”
Referring to the Street Lane GP practice in Leeds, which provides medical treatments for acne, along with psychological help and advice regarding skin camouflage, James underlined that a consistent level of high quality care and support for acne sufferers is sadly uncommon in the UK:
“There are Changing Faces practitioners there, like counsellors, who are trained to help people deal with their concerns. We think that should be available across the country so people are able to deal with the psychosocial impact of acne."
"I think learning about it in lessons at school, telling people what could benefit them and how people without acne should treat people who do have acne would be a good idea."
Far from being a matter of frippery (don’t even get me started on the ‘makeup as frivolity’ myth), cosmetics really can be as much as a lifeline for acne sufferers as the right moisturiser or a kind word. The ability to disguise a cluster of spots or blur out blemish marks can not only be key to restoring confidence in front of the mirror, but in front of peers, bosses, partners and strangers too. The tricky part is identifying makeup that veils acne rather than aggravating skin or, horror of horrors, highlighting what you’re actually trying to hide. It can be a minefield, but dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting clears up the notion that a thick layer of makeup is only way forward:
“I think more in terms of coverage than I do age of skin, when it comes to acne. Many women who come to see me are making matters much worse by wearing highly-occlusive longwear base that is a nightmare to remove and triggers a sea of clogs underneath.”
“In general, even in severe acne, only a proportion of skin is affected; as much as 70-80% might be unaffected (especially in adult acne where it's typically localized to the lower face). So I recommend a light-coverage ‘real skin’ product for all over, and then oomph’ed-up coverage just where it's needed, because this stops the face looking heavily made-up, creating the idea that something is hidden beneath.”
“For all over, I like Nars Sheer Glow Foundation , £33, Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturiser , £29.50 and Armani Luminous Silk Foundation , £40, applied with a BeautyBlender . Then go in with your high coverage concealing product and dot-the-dots, applying it just where it's needed. I recommend skipping powder and just using blotting papers to stop shine. Reapply cream product as needed; it just looks better in my opinion.”
Avoiding dense, cakey, waxy bases, along with irritants such as high levels of alcohol and excessive fragrance, opting for water-based cream or liquid foundations instead not only achieves a more convincing overall ‘skin’ appearance, but helps to keep further inflammation at bay. If you do crave the kind of bulletproof coverage that a thicker formula allows, Dr Bunting doesn’t rule solid formulas out, but advises adopting an A&E approach (i.e, only on the areas that really need screening out):
“I think that anything red and angry, whether papule, pustule or lumpy nodule, needs a dense pigment product that doesn’t budge but won’t clog pores. My favourite is Vichy Dermablend SOS Cover Stick Concealer , £11.25. The only limitation is the number of shades in the range.”
“To get around this, makeup artist Alex Babsky gave me a great tip. Add a dab of the Dermablend Stick that’s closest to your skin shade to another product that is a perfect match but perhaps isn’t such high coverage (such as my favourite Nars Radiant Creamy Concealer , £24) and custom-blend your own industrial grade concealer. I reuse washed old Touche Éclat concealer pens (as they have that handy cap) so that I can easily transport the concealer I’ve blended around with me for touch-ups throughout the day.”
Superstar makeup artists such as Alex aren’t just highly skilled at sculpting and further beautifying supermodels; almost all of the beauty industry greats have totally been there when it comes to acne. Lisa Eldridge is a former sufferer, and like Dr Bunting she advises looking at the skin as a whole, covering spots but not masking the good stuff. Making sure that there’s less makeup on clear areas on the skin means that you can get away with more coverage in the centre, or wherever else you may need it. Lisa also maintains that the eyes are where most people are looking; add colour and play up your eyes and you’ll not only feel more positive about your look in general but you’ll also feel reassured that actually, not everyone is zoning in on your acne (because I promise you, they’re not).
Another makeup champion for anyone plagued by blemishes, or pretty much any skin condition, is Charlotte Tilbury, whose Magic Foundation , £30, is specifically designed for women struggling to cope with acne, rosacea or melasma . Fragrance-free with non-irritating mineral sunscreen, the liquid formula zaps shine and is pigmented enough to even out even very blotchy complexions. The press launch for the foundation was one of the most honest and impressive I’ve ever been too; Charlotte demonstrated the foundation on women of various ages and with different skin issues (none of them models, may I add), and its imperfection eclipsing powers when demonstrated on half of a face were nothing short of amazing. For a dedicated acne targeted tutorial, check out Charlotte’s website .
A refreshing makeup artist take on ‘skinmprovement’ for breakout sufferers is also an insistence that skin shouldn’t be matte and flat all over; a bit of suppleness and light can make every face look fresh. Lina Cameron advocates highlighting cheekbones ( Guerlain Precious Light , £32, is her preferred illuminator) and mixing up coverage:
“The secret with great makeup for acne is to have different densities of coverage around the face. By combining skin textures, for instance a light base with a dewy finish, along with a bit of a matte effect where needed, we are giving the illusion of perfect skin overall.”
If you’re skin is still glowing like a beacon, and not in a good way, address redness with a green hued colour corrector under makeup. You only need a smidge of RMK Control Colour in Green , £21, to neutralize localised ruddiness.
Prepping skin is just as important as perfecting, as consultant dermatologist Anjali Mahto of The Cadogan Clinic attests:
“Moisturising the skin maintains the integrity of barrier function and is vital for good skin health. Even oily skin needs moisturising as excess oils do not equate to effective skin hydration.”
Before you reach for the primer, Dr Bunting doesn’t think that a dedicated foundation base is always necessary:
“I’m not a huge fan of primers. I prefer to encourage every woman to wear sunscreen under makeup, so the key is to find one that’s an excellent base for makeup, hence the ‘priming’ is a secondary function. I’d normally go for the tinted sunscreens by Jan Marini and Neostrata ; they anchor makeup brilliantly and our acne patients in the clinic love them.”
Taking your makeup of, incidentally, can have as much of an effect on your skin as putting it on. While it’s a falsehood that acne is caused by dirty skin, a buildup of oil and dead skin cells can encourage acne causing bacteria to spread, so having an efficient cleansing routine in place, especially if you’re wearing makeup during the day, is non-negotiable. This in no way involves gritty scrubs or brillo pad style cleansing brushes, as Dr Bunting emphasises:
“Cleansing acne-prone skin should be gentle! I avoid all assisted cleansing devices, which tend to create friction. If you follow my basic principles for makeup, you shouldn’t need to terrorise your face to get it off! I like a simple, non-foaming cleanser that doesn’t clog pores; Avene Gentle Gel Cleanser , £11.50, is great. Take your time and rinse clean with tepid (not hot) water, before patting dry gently.”
The same cleansing diligence should be applied to makeup brushes and sponges; refer to my Ultimate Guide to Makeup Brushes & Tools for the best way to clean your applicators to not only limit the growth of bacteria but also to ensure flawlessly blended makeup.
As for makeup beyond base, oil-free powder blushers and bronzers are likely to stay put better than creams, and they’re less likely to spark flare-ups. Don’t shy away from colour simply because you feel that you’re face is highly coloured as it is; let your base and concealer take care of redness and warm cheeks with a light blusher or bronzer to add life and give skin a flattering glow. Laura Mercier Second Skin Cheek Colour , £21.50, is light textured, cosmetically tested to minimize the risk the risk of irritation and allergic reactions and available in an array of lifelike (non garish) shades).
If you’re still shopping around for a foundation that fits, the following five could provide hope, and possibly help out in the healing process, be it psychological, physical or both:
Oxygenetix Oxygenating Acne Control Foundation , £55
A patent-pending, pro-healing oxygen complex, combined with exfoliating 2% salicylic acid and smooth coverage makes this a standout foundation for acne sufferers. Pricey, but high tech, and if you shop around it’s available in a relatively wide range of shades.
Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Liquid Makeup , £27
Light textured yet well pigmented, Clinique has snuck some salicylic acid into the formulation to promote clarity, and the colour spectrum is bang on. It also strikes a commendable balance between minimising shine yet making skin look plump and healthy.
Marc Jacobs Re(marc)able Full Cover Foundation Concentrate , £37
f you love foundation that slips on like silk, but require a greater degree of coverage than most sheer bases afford, Marc is your man. It’s light as air and oil-free, and you only need a few drops for general ‘evening out’. Expensive, but effective, and a little goes a long way.
This. Won’t. Budge. I’ve been surfing in it and emerged from the waves as flawless as I entered (saying something when you consider the time I spent faceplanting). With a matte finish and the largest foundation shade range currently available in the UK, it’s a good option for when you need your foundation to look as perfect as possible, and last.
Chantecaille Future Skin Foundation , £63
Ending on an eye watering price point here I know, but these bases just go to show that if you spend your pennies anywhere in your makeup routine, it needs to be in the base department, especially if acne is in the picture. Hit the high street for everything else , but sebum reducing, antioxidant rich gel textured foundations such as this are hard to find in your local chemist.
Fresh for autumn 2017, this high pigment foundation smooths skin texture as you wear it thanks to refining papaya enzymes, all the while creating a soft focus, seemingly poreless finish. It lasts through day and night without caking or migrating and it’s available in 30 shades that perfectly mimic real life skin tones. Which you’d think was as in industry norm but...nope.
The Ordinary Coverage Foundation, £5.90
Proving that you don’t need to spend huge sums for seamless foundation, this budget base also does away with the myth that full coverage foundation need look and behave like cement- this liquid foundation couldn’t be lighter. It blends quickly and easily, and the fact that it’s not only available in over twenty shades, but also caters for varying undertones (pink, red, neutral and yellow), means that you can keep your skin looking as skin like as possible. Ideal.
MAC Studio Waterweight Foundation SPF 30 , £27
With an ‘elastic-gel’ texture, this water based foundation takes down redness on contact, melting into skin and moving with your face- it won’t suddenly decamp to your cheeks or do a vanishing act where you need it most. The finish is somewhere between matte and radiant, so makes skin look healthy rather than chalky, and while it applies sheer, you can build coverage over acne scars and blemishes. A makeup artist favourite for a reason.
NYX Total Control Drop Foundation , £14
This clever mid-range foundation allows you to tailor make your coverage according to your needs on any given day- the more droplets you use, the more opaque your base becomes. Very much matte, you could mix it with a serum or moisturiser if you’re after something a little more dewy, but for those with oily skin it could provide the kind of velvety finish that’s so often elusive by midday, and it’ll last until midnight and beyond if you let it (although sleeping in makeup is obviously a cardinal sin for the acne skinned among us especially). It’s fragrance-free so poses minimal irritation risk too.
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