Best Moisturizers For Acne Prone Skin: Top 7

by | May 16, 2017 | Acne, Guides

Decided I’d do this post some justice, because one quick google search for “best moisturizers for acne prone skin” turns up a bunch of unsatisfactory and arbitrary answers. I actually have a hard time trying to follow the logic behind the recommendations a lot of these websites make. It’s like “Dude, WHAT EVEN are you talking about?” Anyhow….

Here’s the top 7 list.

  1. CeraVe PM (full review)
  2. CeraVe Cream (full review)
  3. EltaMD PM
  4. CeraVe Baby (full review)
  5. CeraVe Lotion (full review)
  6. Sebamed Clear Face Gel (full review)
  7. Dr. Lin Hydrating Gel (full review)

But before we break down each of these in details, let’s first asks ourselves….

What makes a good Acne Moisturizer?

The answer to this question is pretty straight forward. It only comes down to 3 main things. Let’s go over each from most to least important:

1. Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier?

In other words, will it replenish the irritation that active ingredients might cause? When treating acne it’s no secret that we might be using other active ingredients to target breakout directly. For example, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, tretinoin, sulfur, clay mask etc.

These often have irritating and drying effects on skin. And in case you didn’t know, irritated skin is more prone to getting breakouts. Let me repeat that because it’s important:

Irritated skin = more breakouts.

That’s why very few people see success with benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin monotherapy — that is, using these active ingredients by themselves is simply too drying on the skin to be significantly effective. And the worst part is that it’s always the most irritating things that get recommended for treating acne. Case in point, have you seen pinterest and all it’s ridiculous recs?!?! Scrub harshly, spot treat with toothpaste, apply urine….

Wait, what? Yes. That’s actually a thing. DON’T DO IT.

Anyhow,  to combat the negative side effects from acne treatments, it’s important to use a moisturizer that replenishes and mitigates the potential irritation these cause. This is best done by using skin-repairing ingredients like ceramides, cholesterol, and hyaluronic acid (among others).

The takeaway: nourish your skin dang it! It’s important for overall skin health and combatting acne.

2. Is it hydrating enough?

Contrary to popular believe, we do not want to dry out our skin to treat acne. That will only exasperate breakouts, or cause damage to the acid mantle and moisture barrier in the long term.

Just remember this: a skincare routine can never have enough moisture! The more hydration the better. The American Academy of Dermatology said it best:

“Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize. Keeping the skin properly hydrated is the key to successful acne therapy, and the daily use of a moisturizer has been shown to increase the skin’s ability to tolerate medications that often cause irritation.”—American Academy of Dermatology (1)

As a quick aside, have you ever wondered why the people who use multi-step asian routines have gorgeous skin? DING DING DING. Thats right! It’s because most of those steps focus primarily on hydrating the skin, which will turn you into a baby’s assss. Or uh… put more scientifically, it’ll strengthen the “moisture barrier.”

And a final point on this. Yes, it’s still important to moisturize oily skin. It’s a commonly held myth that one should avoid moisturizers if they look like grease balls. The trick is simply finding products that are light and look cosmetically elegant. :p

The takeaway: hydrated skin means a better moisture barrier. A better moisture barrier means skin is more able to fight off pathogens and skin diseases.

3. Will it clog pores?

This one is a bit arbitrary because the whole science behind comedogencity is outdated, and relies on data obtained from rabbit ear testing. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that rabbit skin is not human skin. What clogs poor bunny ears will not always clog human skin.

There’s been several occasions when rabbit ear testing has suggested an ingredient is pore-clogging, only to work perfectly fine on humans. Go figure.

Point being, use the comedogenic scale as a really vague guideline instead of fact. Everyone reacts differently, which is why we should always PATCH TEST. It’s the only way to ensure something won’t go astray and break our skin out.

Simply test the product out on a small area of skin (e.g. half the chin) for a few days, and see if anything happens. See any new breakouts? Clogged pores? That would be an indication that this moisturizer sucks balls for your skin. If you see nothing wrong after a few days or a week, go ahead and use it on your full face.

The takeaway: comedogenic scales aren’t very accurate, so use them cautiously. And most importantly, make sure to patch test first!


And that’s it! Without further ado, let’s break down my top 7 list. We will be going over each moisturizer, and seeing how well it fares up against the 3 questions:

  • Will it replenish skin on an acne regimen? (worth 10 points)
  • Is it moisturizing enough? (worth 10 points)
  • Will it clog pore? (worth 5 points)

Best Moisturizers for Acne-Prone Skin.

Everyone who reads this blog knows I’m a huge fan of CeraVe. So it’s no secret that they will be littered throughout this top 10 list. With that said: no, I’m not endorsed by them. I just really believe in their products because they’re well-tolerated across a plethora of skin concerns, and have worked miracles for my ridiculously acne-prone skin.

But let’s be real, if CeraVe is reading this…. YO, HOOK IT UP!

Anyway, to no one’s surprise, making it at the top of the list is my holy grail. :p

1. CeraVe PM

cerave pm

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My ride or die moisturizer! A.k.a. the ceramide master, the OG skin-brightener, the sexy…. Okay, I’m getting carried away.

How does it measure up as an acne moisturizer? Let’s answer the 3 questions.

Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 10/10

Oh god, yes! BALLS-TO-THE-WALLS-YES! Check out the ingredient list.

Purified Water, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglycerides, Niacinamide, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Phytosphingosine, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Dimethicone, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Disodium EDTA, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum

As you can see it comes with hyaluronic acid, cholesterol, and 3 different types of ceramides! All of these are a natural part of skin that strengthen the epidermal layer. The less of these on the surface of skin, the more prone it is to wear and tear and general skin issues like acne.

It also comes with phytosphingosine, which exerts strong anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial effects against the acne causing bacteria itself (propionibacterium acnes). (1)

Not only not, CeraVe PM includes 4% Niacinamide, a.k.a. vitamin B3. This is an antioxidant that does it all. It prevents melanosome transfer which is great for general skin discoloration and treating hyperpigmentation, or the brown or red marks that are left behind from old acne. It does comparatively better than antibiotics when treating acne. (2) And just for the heck of it, has brightening, hydrating, and anti-aging benefits. (3)

Is it moisturizing enough?  10/10

In my experience, yes. I’ve seen it recommended for all skin types, from dry to oily. I personally teeter on the drier/dehydrated side and this thing has done wonders for my face.

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 2/5

Unfortunately, COSNDA shows that CeraVe has 2 potentially pore-clogging ingredients: Cetearyl Alcohol (rates 2/5) and Polyglyceryl-3-Diisostearate (rates 4/5). Like always just make sure to patch test, because you never know whether something will work for your skin or not.

My skin’s crazy and this is one of the only moisturizers that has worked wonders for me. Screw the bunny data. However, do make sure to avoid this if you’re sensitive to fatty alcohols.

Overall Score: 9.2/10

Check out the full review here. 

2. CeraVe Cream

cerave cream

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Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 9/10

Yippie! Here’s the full ingredient list:

Purified Water, Glycerin, Ceteareth-20 And Cetearyl Alcohol, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Petrolatum, Dimethicone, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate, Disodium Edta, Phenoxyethanol, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Phytosphingosine, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum.

Like CeraVe PM, this also comes with the addition of ceramides, cholesterol, and hyaluronic acid, which will all counteract the negative effects from harsh acne treatments. Like CeraVe PM, it includes phytosphingosine but it’s so far down the ingredient list it’s probably used more as preservative than anything else. Unfortunately, CeraVe Cream doesn’t come with niacinamide though. :'(

Is it moisturizing enough?  11/10 (Okay, fine…. 10/10)

Absolutely. This is one of the most moisturizing product listed in this entire blog post! It comes with the addition of petrolatum a.k.a. vaseline. Now before you start freaking out about the putting vaseline on your face because you think it’ll clogs pores — calm down. Let me assure you that petroleum jelly is one of the safest non-comedogenic ingredients available today.

Vaseline works by forming a film over the surface of skin to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). In other words, the evaporation of water through the epidermis. This is why vaseline isn’t pore-clogging. It just sits on top of the skin. It’s molecules are simply too big to clog pores. What it will do however, is hydrate the daylights out of skin!

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 3/5

There are two potentially pore clogging ingredients in this formula — cetearyl and cetyl alcohol, both of which are fatty alcohols and rate as 2/5 on the comedogenic scale. Again, if you suspect you have sensitivities to fatty alcohols then tread lightly before trying this moisturizer.

Overall Score: 8.8/10

3. EltaMD PM

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Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 8/10

Yes. Full ingredient list:

Purified Water, Ethylhexyl Isononanoate, Niacinamide, Glyceryl Stearate, PEG-100 Stearate, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/ Sodium Acryloyl Dimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Linoleic Acid, 1-3-Bis (N-2-(Hydroxyethyl) Palmitoylamino) -2- Hydroxy Propane, C10-30 Cholesterol/Lanosterol Esters, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycereth-26, Cetearyl Glucoside, Thioctic Acid, Distearyldimonium Chloride, Tocopheryl Acetate, Xanthan Gum, Oleth-3 Phosphate, Butylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol, Iodopropynyl Butylcarbamate, Disodium EDTA, Sodium Bisulfite, Sodium Hydroxide.

Alrighty let’s quickly break down the interesting ingredients that will help with acne in this formula.

  • Niacinamide; remember? That all star-ingredient we just mentioned above.
  • Linoleic Acid; acne-prone skin has been shown to have low levels of this fatty acid, so the assumption is that applying this topically helps reduce breakouts. (4)
  • Sodium Hyaluronate: a crazy strong humectant that hydrates the skin by pulling water to its surface. Also good for wound healing.

Overall, a couple solid things here that’ll help acne.

Is it moisturizing enough?  10/10

Yes, ma’am (and sirs). It feels like a rich cream, without being too greasy.

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 4/5

Only two ingredients register as potential pore-cloggers: PEG-100 Stearate and Butylene Glycol. Both come in at a measly score of 1 anyway. So overall, nothing to really worry about here. For you folks that are sensitive to fatty alcohols, you’ll be happy to know this one doesn’t include any.

Overall Score: 8.8/10

4. CeraVe Baby

cerave baby

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Le ingredient list:

Active Ingredient: Dimethicone 1% (Skin Protectant)

Inactive Ingredients: Purified Water, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Cetostearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, Emulsifying Wax, Niacinamide, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Allantoin, Tocopheryl Acetate, Lauric Acid, Zinc Citrate, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Arginine PCA, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, EDTA, Sodium PCA, Phytosphingosine, Cholesterol, Xanthan Gum, Carbomer.

Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 10/10

Yes! Can you guess why? That’s right! Because like all the other CeraVe products it comes with hyaluronic acid, cholesterol, and 3 different ceramides. By now you probably understand why they call themselves CeraVe…. in other words, their products have ceramides. I don’t even want to admit how many months it took me to realize this haha.

Besides the 3 skin identical ingredients listed above, CeraVe Baby also comes with the following beneficial ingredients.

  • Niacinamide; again, that sexy awesome antioxidant that does a little bit of everything.
  • Allantoin; good for soothing irritated skin.
  • Tocopheryl acetate a.k.a. vitamin E; this inhibits tyrosinase, an enzyme that contains copper and produces melanin which makes skin-discoloration issues like old acne marks worse. Vitamin E may also help treat wounds (the science on this is a bit mixed however).
  • Arginine; a skin-restoring ingredient. And last but not least…
  • Lauric acid; a fatty acid that has anti-microbial effects against p. acne (the bacteria that causes acne). (5)

Is it moisturizing enough?  7/10

Unfortunately this is the least moisturizing of all the CeraVe products listed. It does however have a cosmetically GORGEOUS finish! It dries as matte as possible, leaves absolutely no residue on the skin, and makes the skin feel super soft and smooth.

It simply vanishes into the skin. There’s no better way of explaining it. The application and feel of CeraVe baby is one of my favorite parts about it. However, having such a nice finish obviously comes with the caveat of not being as moisturizing as goopier-looking creams. :p

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 2/5

This one has 4 potentially pore clogging ingredients: Lauric acid (4/5), Cetostearyl Alcohol (2/5), Cetyl Alcohol (2/5), Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate (4/5).

You might be thinking, “4 ingredients? Oh hell NAH! This thing gonna clog my FACE!” But again, you’re not a bunny! Be very skeptical about comedogenic rates. I have used CeraVe Baby with no problems in the past and my face is ridiculous acne-prone. JUST MAKE SURE TO PATCH TEST.

Overall Score: 7.6/10

5. CeraVe Lotion

cerave lotion

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Don’t worry this is the last of the CeraVe products! :p

It’s essentially the lighter version of CeraVe Cream. This one dries very nicely on the skin and provides some lightweight moisture.

Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 8/10

For all intents and purposes, it will do exactly what CeraVe Cream does. So yes, it will be a fuseful adjunct to an acne treating regimen. Here’s the full ingredient list to see what I mean:

Purified Water, Glycerin, Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Cetearyl Alcohol, Ceramide 3, Ceramide 6-II, Ceramide 1, Hyaluronic Acid, Cholesterol, Dimethicone, Polysorbate 20, Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate, Potassium Phosphate, Dipotassium Phosphate, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Cetyl Alcohol, Disodium EDTA, Phytosphingosine, Methylparaben, Propylparaben, Carbomer, Xanthan Gum

As you can see, it’s quite literally the same formula as CeraVe cream just without vaseline. So if I didn’t convince you that vaseline isn’t gross :p, or you simply want a moisturizer that feels a little lighter on the skin, then this is a good bet!

Is it moisturizing enough?  8/10

Yes. It’s marketed for normal to dry skin. But to be honest I think it’s just a tad too light for dry skin. I think oily folks could pull of using this as well considering how light it feels on the skin.

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 2/5

Unfortunately this does come with 3 potentially pore-clogging ingredients: Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol, and Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate. Cetearyl and cetyl alcohol rate as a 2/5 on the comdegonic scale, and polyglyceryl-3 diisostearate comes in at 4/5. Like always, patch test. And avoid if you have fatty alcohol sensitivities.

Overall Score: 7.2/10

6. Sebamed Clear Face Gel

sebamed-gel-main

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This is by far one of the best moisturizers for those dealing with acne cosmetica. That is, breakouts caused by skincare products. You will know if you’re this kind of person because you breakout from EVERY product under the sun. Doesn’t matter what you try, every moisturizer seems to give you clogged pores and pimples.

Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 6/10

Let’s check out the ingredient list and find out:

Aqua (Water), Aloe barbadensis leaf juice, Propylene Glycol, Glycerin, Sorbitol, Panthenol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Allantoin, Sodium Carbomer, Citric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Phenoxyethanol

You’re probably looking at that and thinking, “wow! That barely contains anything!” That’s right. That’s why it’s such good moisturizer for those that breakout from everything. In other words, it’s completely void of anything that could potentially clog pores or irritate skin.

This gel doesn’t even include any oils or emulsifiers!

With that said, there’s nothing in this formula besides hyaluronic acid and panthenol that will reduce the irritation of harsh active ingredients that treat acne. Hence, it isn’t ideal if you’re planning to use stuff like benzoyl peroxide or tretinoin. You will simply find that this doesn’t provide nearly enough hydration to counteract the irritating effects of these actives.

Is it moisturizing enough?  6/10

Unfortunately, I can’t say it is. Unless you have oily skin then this moisturizer will not provide nearly enough hydration. It’s very lightweight, and does the bare minimum when it comes to moisturizing the skin.

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 5/5

As you might have expected with it’s super simple ingredient list, there’s nothing in here that is potentially pore-clogging. Check out the super safe profile it has on COSDNA. Absolutely no potential acne or irritating triggers.

sebamed gel cosdna

Overall Score: 6.8/10

You may have noticed that this is a pretty low score. Just remember that I think this is a good standalone moisturizer. In other words, it’s great if your skin needs a break or is irritated and you want to avoid anything that will potentially break you out. However, I can’t say I recommend this if you will be using it with active ingredients like salicylic acid, retinoids, benzoyl peroxide etc.

7. Dr Lin Hydrating Gel

dr-lin-hydrating-gel

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This is basically the same thing as Sebamed Gel but with the addition of a ton of extracts and arbutin which is good for hyperpigmentation. Here’s the full ingredient list:

Water, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Arctostaphylos Uva Ursi (Bear Berry) Leaf Extract, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Anthemis (Chamomile) Nobilis Flower Extract, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Peel Extract, Sodium Hyaluronate, Glycerin, Pentylene Glycol, Allantoin, Arbutin, Panthenol, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexyl Glycerin, Hexylene Glycol, Phenoxyethanol Polysorbate 20, Sodium Hydroxide, Carbomer, Ammonium Acryloyldimethyltaurate/VP Copolymer.

Will it make adhering to an acne regimen easier? 7/10

Unfortunately there’s not much in this formula that will lessen the irritating effects of acne treatments like clay masks, chemical exfoliates, benzoyl peroxide…. baking soda. WAIT WHAT?!?!? I’m kidding! I’m kidding!

If you didn’t get that joke, let me clue you in: YOU SHOULD NEVER BE USING BAKING SODA ON YOUR FACE. Don’t know why? Read my article about pH.

The quick and dirty version — baking soda has a pH of 9 which is waaaaay to alkalizing for the skin. Using highly alkaline substances will completely screw up the skin’s natural pH (around 4.7). This can do all kinds of nasty things like disrupt the acid mantle, moisture barrier, and skin flora (i.e. the healthy yeast and bacteria that live on skin’s surface). In other words, it will mess you up! So just don’t do it. 🙂

Anyhow… besides sodium hyaluronate, allantoin, and panthenol there’s not much in here that will seriously reverse or reduce the irritation from acne treatments. So again, unless you have oily skin that’s particularly resilient this won’t be the best option to use alongside an acne-treating regimen.

Is it moisturizing enough?  6/10

Unfortunately not. Like Sebamed this does the bare minimum when it comes to moisturizing the skin.

Will it clog pore? (Take this information with a grain of salt). 4/5

There’s just one ingredient that’s potentially pore-clogging: Hexylene Glycol. But even that only comes in at a nefarious 2/5 on the comedogenic scale, so not much to worry about here.

Overall Score: 6.8/10

Like Sebamed gel, this scores pretty low because it’s not the best option to use with active ingredients. However, this is a great choice if you have very oily skin and are keeping your use of drying acne treatments to a minimal.


And that does it for this guide on the best moisturizers for acne-prone skin! I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it useful. I will be updating this with more recommendations as time passes. If you think I missed any good products, or want me to check some others out. Feel free to leave a comment down below!

Warmly,

—f.c.

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