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9 best foundations for acne-prone skin

Combat breakouts and smooth over scarring with an effective product

Acne during your teen years is embarrassing, painful and a huge confidence sap, but there is one saving grace: pretty much everybody (bar a lucky few) is going through it with you. But what happens when acne continues long after puberty, or strikes for the first time as an adult?

The number of women in their twenties, thirties and even forties suffering from adult acne is steadily rising, with air pollution, hormonal imbalances and rising stress levels caused by busy working lives all to blame, according to dermatologists. Pregnancy may also trigger acne for the first time in women who thought they’d banished their last zit back at school.

Unlike the teen variety, adult acne is often harder to treat and more likely to scar, so good skincare is important to help healing. The problem is that most brands tailored to treat acne are designed for oily, thick teen skins and not the delicate, dryer complexions of those still battling breakouts two or three decades later. Harsh, drying treatments won’t do anything for cystic acne except make it more painful and obvious.

Few brands actually market their foundations as suitable for adult acne. (Is there an image issue there? If so, the beauty industry would do well to get over itself because there’s one thing women in their thirties and forties have that teens simply don’t: money to throw at the problem). So we’ve tested the top foundations on skins with active acne and acne scarring to find you the nine best value foundations that won’t harm your skin and may even help to treat it.

1. Neutrogena Visibly Clear Correct and Perfect CC Cream: £6.99 for 50ml, Boots

The best choice for those on a budget, this CC cream offers medium coverage and is incredibly nourishing for the driest acne-prone skins, giving a youthful glow. After two days wear, our skin was visibly hydrated and red marks were diminished. It contains salicylic acid so may not be suitable for those also using prescription cream acne treatments, but the moisture-rich formulation helps clear up dryness caused by over-the-counter emergency spot lotions and gels.

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2. BareMinerals Blemish Remedy Mineral Powder Foundation: £26.50 for 6g, John Lewis

A light powder that builds easily to leave a flattering, natural-looking skin finish, this mineral foundation covers acne scarring and redness with ease. The ingredients actively treat breakouts as your wear it, while letting skin breathe to speed up healing time. A concealer will be needed to give full coverage, but this is a great choice for those who want to help cover up red, angry patches without resorting to a fully made-up look. Comes in 11 different shades.

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3. Vichy Dermablend Corrective Fluid Foundation: £12 for 30ml, Look Fantastic

Originally designed to help those with serious scarring and pigment issues, this high-coverage, long-wear foundation covers acne and scars in one application and is available in shades for even the very palest of skin tones. It is a classic for a reason, and during our tests stayed put through a long day of meetings through to an evening event without the need for touch-ups. Equally suitable for sensitive skins, this is designed specifically to prevent future breakouts, though its effect on the healing time of existing blemishes was negligible. A great staple for anyone with unreliable skin.

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4. Argan Liquid Gold Multi-tone BB Cream: £70 for 30ml, Look Fantastic

This high-end, high-price BB cream isn’t for everyone – those who find that oils trigger a breakout should steer well clear. But it deserves a spot on this list as it comes highly recommend for those who are either dealing with significant scarring and pitting after acne has been resolved or whose treatment for adult acne (such as the drug accutane) causes unsightly dryness and flaking. Packed with skin-loving oils, this foundation also uses liquid gold to help rebuild the skin. The thick formulation blends well and leaves a glowing finish.

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5. Urban Decay All Nighter Waterproof Longwear Liquid Foundation: £27 for 30ml, Feel Unique

A hot date, an important job interview: sometimes a breakout rears its head on the most important and embarrassing of days. When it happens, you’ll do anything to conceal it and damn the consequences. This foundation covers even the most large, angry cystic spots and stays put all day, giving a certain confidence that everyone reading this piece will know is priceless. Bear in mind, however, that this thick, matte solution is not designed with acne sufferers in mind and will need to be fully removed at the end of the day to prevent further aggravation. Nevertheless, it deserves a place in the top draw as a backstop for anyone dealing with adult acne. Comes in 24 different shades.

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6. Charlotte Tilbury Magic Foundation: £29.50 for 30ml, John Lewis

A favourite of the beauty editors, this light, soft liquid foundation feels comfortable and cooling on sore or flaring skin. It comes in a wide range of tones to suit every skin and offers good coverage without looking caked. It’s also long-lasting, retaining its dewy effect long into the day. For oilier skins, it will require re-touching, but the few extra moments in the bathroom will be time well spent. This foundation, we noted, looked particularly good when photographed – great if you’re a fan of the selfie, but feel self-conscious about your skin.

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7. Guerlain Paris Lingerie de Peau: £34.65 for 30ml, Escentual 

This fluid foundation gives a very natural, pure skin look while mattifying oily skin and covering bumpy patches. The makers describe the formulation as “bio-fusion micro-mesh inspired by textile fibre”. It uses silk and linen fibres to layer the foundation over the skin, resulting in the most understated and flattering of the products we tried. It does not clog skin, even when left on overnight, and helps to calm redness. Quality make-up like this comes at a price, but it’s one worth paying. Available in 14 different shades.

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8. Inika Organic BB Cream: £27.50 for 30ml, Feel Unique

Rammed with natural products, this BB cream comes with another health warning: if flower and nut oils cause instant breakouts for you, this is one to skip. But for those who worry about the effect of pollution and chemicals on their acne and prefer an organic approach to skincare, this is a great choice. The primary ingredient is aloe vera leaf juice, together with castor and grapeseed oils. These soothe and treat the skin, promoting healing of existing blemishes and tackling the bacteria that cause new spots. Coverage is light, so a concealer may be needed, but the final finish gives skin a very healthy glow and over time our skin looked brighter and clearer.

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9. Burberry Fresh Glow Luminous Fluid Base: £34 for 30ml, Burberry

Designed as a primer, this works well as a stand-alone for those who aren’t a fan of a heavily made-up face but want to conceal problem areas. It can also be used under a thicker foundation to give a glowy look that helps to steer the eye away from redness or lumps. There are only three shades, but these are expertly blended to work from the palest of alabaster tones through to black skins – sadly still far too rare in our search for a good acne-proof foundation.

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The Verdict: Foundations for acne-prone skin

For value for money, you can’t do better than Neutrogena’s Visibly Clear Correct and Perfect CC Cream. Its active ingredients performed better than most of its rivals but at a fraction of the cost, and it’s available at almost all high street chemists. For those with a little more in their pocket, we’d recommend spending it on Guerlain Paris Lingerie de Peau – a remarkable new product available in 14 shades and on the cusp of cult status, it prompted many a compliment when we wore it. You can’t get a better review than that. It’s worth noting that we tested more than 35 foundations and could only recommend nine – many others marketed specifically at acne sufferers actively caused new breakouts. Beauty industry leaders, listen up: there’s a huge market here, and it’s vastly under-served. 

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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