Acne Cosmetica

Updated June 26, 2014.

Acne cosmetica is a mild but persistent form of acne. As the name implies, acne cosmetica is triggered by the use of cosmetics. It can occur anywhere on the body, but is much more common on the face, neck, hairline and scalp.

What Does Acne Cosmetica Look Like?:

Acne cosmetica looks like small bumps across the surface of the skin or scalp. The skin will look and feel rough. Many comedones, and possibly some small papules and pustules, will be present. There is little to no inflammation.

What Causes Acne Cosmetica?:

This type of acne is caused by the use of comedogenic hair or skin care products. When a cosmetic product accumulates within the follicle, the pore becomes blocked. Excess skin oil builds up, clogging the pore and creating a blemish.

Pomades or hair oils, heavy moisturizers, eye creams, and makeup are all common causes of acne cosmetica.

How Can Acne Cosmetica Be Treated?:

Identifying the pore-clogging culprit is important. Are you breaking out on the forehead, hairline or scalp? Your hair care products may be to blame. Finding small bumps and whiteheads in the eye area or on the upper cheeks? Your eye cream could be too heavy. Bumpiness and breakouts over the entire face and neck area most likely are caused by moisturizer or foundation makeup. Once the source of the breakouts is identified and use is discontinued, acne cosmetica gradually improves.

Sometimes it’s not practical to stop using your hair or skin care products. You can still reduce the amount of pore blockages produced by only choosing products labeled “noncomedogenic”. Switch to an oil-free moisturizer. Apply hair pomades and oils at least one inch back from the hairline, or only on the ends of the hair, if possible. And make sure to thoroughly cleanse all traces of makeup from your face at the end of each day.

To help clear existing breakouts more quickly, and to inhibit the formation of new comedones, use a cleanser or treatment pads containing salicylic acid. Regular exfoliation may also help to speed clearing of acne cosmetica. As with any form of acne, see your doctor if you aren’t seeing improvement after six to eight weeks of treatment.


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United States. NIAMS. “Questions and Answers About Acne.” Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2006.