The worst makeup for dry skin

Dr. Janet Zand

December 25, 2020

If you have dry skin, you’re probably already using moisturizing products in your skincare routine.

But if you follow that great skincare routine with the wrong makeup, it can zap moisture from your skin.

That’s because some makeup contains harsh ingredients that anyone with dry skin should avoid! The good news is that there are really just 5 of them to watch for, making them pretty easy to spot on your makeup ingredient labels.

So here are the 5 worst makeup ingredients for dry skin:

#1 The not-so-gentle exfoliator

Glycolic acid is a very popular exfoliator because of its ability to reduce wrinkles, minimize pores, and even out skin tone.

However, if you have dry skin, you don’t want glycolic acid in your makeup.

Why? Because it’s probably going to be too much exfoliation for your dry skin, especially in winter. Instead, if you want to use glycolic acid, try using a low-dose glycolic cleanser. You may even want to dilute it with water, just to make sure your skin doesn’t react.

Or, another option is to use a cleanser with gentler fruit and plant acids, such as the Système 41 cleanser. I use that — along with the Système 41 Microdermabrasion Scrub once or twice a week — and that’s it. I don’t use any other products with acids in them.

Those two gentle exfoliators are more than enough to make my skin glow ... without any added acids in my makeup products.

#2 The acne treatment that’s now showing up in makeup

Salicylic acid used to just be in acne spot creams and face wash. But now manufacturers are putting it in liquid foundation, mineral powder, and concealer, too!

And as you can probably guess, salicylic acid can be very damaging to dry skin. You’re taking an ingredient meant to dry up acne and putting it all over your face, which will ultimately lead to even more dryness.

So do a quick check and make sure none of your makeup contains salicylic acid.

#3 The eczema trigger

Synthetic and natural fragrances are often added to products to make them smell nice, but they’re very irritating for dry skin.

Why? Because fragrances can irritate your skin and even spur breakouts of eczema.

So to be on the safe side, stay away from makeup that has added fragrances. (This is actually true no matter your skin type, since all skin types can potentially react to added fragrances.)

#4 The sneaky ingredient that goes by many names

This ingredient shows up in makeup products in a few different forms:

SD Alcohol, Denatured Alcohol, or Isopropyl Alcohol

But while they differ in formulation and go by different names, they’re all alcohol. And as you can probably guess, alcohol is bad news for dry skin. It’s also a common trigger of eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis.

So check your makeup ingredient labels for alcohol. Another telltale sign that a product contains alcohol is that it touts benefits like “quick-drying” or “matte finish.”

#5 The ingredient that’s banned in Europe

Parabens are mentioned a lot in the "clean" and "natural" beauty conversation, but seldom is the word actually defined for us.

So, what are parabens? They’re synthetic preservatives added to products to lengthen their shelf life.

And parabens can irritate dry skin, simply because dry skin is just more prone to irritation and allergy.

Plus, researchers have found that parabens can spur the growth of breast cancer cells. The theory is that parabens disrupt hormone function by mimicking estrogen. And too much estrogen can trigger an increase in breast cell division, resulting in tumors.

More studies are needed to determine just how much exposure we’re getting to parabens and whether it’s enough to promote cancer growth. So the safest bet is to just reduce your personal exposure now by avoiding parabens in your beauty products.

So check the label for any ingredient with the word paraben in it. The most common ones used in cosmetics are methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, and ethylparaben. And this doesn’t just go for makeup. One study found parabens in hand soap, body lotion, shampoo, conditioner, face lotion and cleanser, hair styling products, and sunscreen.

Luckily, there are lots of paraben-free alternatives today, widely available at many price points.

Alright, so check your labels for the 5 ingredients above. And here’s to a hydrating, clean, and healthy makeup routine in 2021!

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