Makeup and Your Skin

What to know before you pick out foundation, powder, or cover sticks.

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on June 18, 2013
From the WebMD Archives

Foundation makeup, if worn correctly, can help to smooth out your skin’s little (or sometimes not-so-little) imperfections.

But how do you know which product will give your young skin the healthy glow you’re after, without looking caked on or like you’re wearing your mom’s makeup?

WebMD talked with skin experts who shared their thoughts about what teen girls should consider when choosing foundation makeup.

Prevent Blocked Pores

Hands down, the No. 1 skin complaint among teenage girls is acne, says Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.

In fact, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, more than 40% of adolescents have acne or acne scarring by the time they're in the middle of their teen years.

 Acne is caused by three main factors:

  1. Too much oil made by enlarged oil glands in the skin
  2. Growth of bacteria, called P. acnes, within the hair follicles
  3. Blocked hair follicles that release oil

That’s why before applying any makeup to your face, it’s important to develop a routine aimed at keeping skin clear and acne at bay.

One way to minimize acne is to cleanse with over-the-counter acne treatments that contain products such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. (These ingredients help to dry excess oil and remove dead skin.)

Choosing Your Foundation

To get the polished look of a foundation makeup and avoid worsening the underlying causes of acne, choose your foundation carefully.

That means searching the label of each product. Check for terms such as "non-oily,” “hypoallergenic” (which means the product won’t cause an allergic reaction), and “noncomedogenic” (meaning the foundation won’t block your pores).

Although the temptation to use makeup to hide blemishes is understandable, heavy foundations often make matters worse.

“The problem is that if girls have a lot of acne they often try to cover it up with a lot of foundation, which clogs pores more,” says Michele Green, MD, a dermatologist in private practice in New York.

That doesn’t mean you have to skip the foundation altogether, though. “I never tell anyone not to cover it up, but we try to treat the problem,” she says.

If you’ve used many over-the-counter treatments for your acne with no success, talk with your parents about seeing a dermatologist. Green and Marmur say professional acne treatments today are so effective that there’s no reason to struggle with the problem alone, particularly if it makes you feel shy or embarrassed.

Acne and Dry Skin

“Not all acne is due to oil,” Marmur says. “That’s a stereotype. Many teens have dry skin and acne, but a lot of [acne treatment] products dry skin out and leave you with irritation."

It’s very common for teens with acne to also have eczema on their face, a condition that causes skin to become inflamed and often very dry and scaly.

If you have acne and eczema, drying out your skin can make the eczema much worse. In this case, the right moisturizer is what you’re on the hunt for. “Many teens think that [using moisturizer] will make them break out more,” Green says. “But using a non-oily, noncomedogenic moisturizer actually makes it better.”

Dry skin and acne can both be improved by treating acne with prescription antibiotics and facial lotions that are non-drying, such as moisturizing gels.

Foundation Breakdown

There are a lot of options for teens when it comes to choosing a foundation makeup. Not only is the market flooded with many different brands, there are different textures, too.

Here’s a rundown of the most common types of foundation makeup and what you can expect from each.

Liquid Foundation

If you are interested in a liquid foundation, Marmur suggests trying a light tinted moisturizer or a thinner liquid makeup for a more sheer, natural cover. “It will moisturize [the skin] and it is easier to take off,” she says.

In addition, some liquid foundations contain salicylic acid. Marmur says foundations that are non-oily, noncomedogenic, and contain acne-fighting salicylic acid allow teens to wear makeup and still keep their skin clear because they don’t block pores.

Mineral Foundations

Mineral powders are often advertised as natural products that will not only provide a nice smooth appearance, but also help to promote healthier skin.

These products are OK for teens, Marmur says, but most are oil-based clay, which may not be the best product for a young girl with oily skin. Still, “it will make skin look better for the day,” Marmur admits.

If you’re partial to mineral powder foundation, take extra care in removing it at the end of the day. Look for an oil-based makeup remover, and then go over your face again with a mild toner to make sure that all the makeup is completely removed and your skin is clear.

Cover Sticks

Although not technically a foundation, cover sticks are a great way for teenagers to cover the skin imperfections they’d prefer others didn’t see, Green and Marmur say.

Cover sticks do a nice job of hiding blemishes without subjecting your skin to loads of makeup. Instead of applying foundation to your entire face, you can use a cover stick to hide each blemish.

“The most important thing is to find one that matches your color skin,” Green says. “It looks bad when the color is off.”

Take a close friend, your sister, or your mom -- someone you trust -- to the store to help you determine what color best blends in with your natural skin color.

And easy does it when it comes to applying a cover stick, or any makeup, for that matter. “You don’t want to cake it on,” Marmur says.

The idea is to smooth out your skin’s appearance while still looking like yourself.

Show Sources


Ellen Marmur, MD, associate professor of dermatology, Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York.

Michele Green, MD, dermatologist in private practice, New York.

American Academy of Dermatology: "Acne Facts."

PubMed Health: "Atopic Eczema."

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