How Comedogenic Ingredients are Making the World a "Pore" Place
If you’re a fellow acne-prone skin-thusiast, then you know that it’s super easy for the ~wrong~ products to cause irritation and breakouts. Despite the fact that skincare products are supposed to help us feel confident, not all products on the market are created equal. In fact, it can often be frustrating trying to find the right skincare ritual that works for our skin mood when we’re actively trying to avoid fragrances and harsh ingredients. However, fragrances and abrasive exfoliators aren’t the only things we should be avoiding when it comes to our skin. That’s where comedogenic ingredients come into play.
What does comedogenic mean?
For all of us with acne-prone skin, I’m sure you can relate to the fact that all of the resources we look at for advice often tell us to avoid “comedogenic ingredients.” If you haven’t heard the term ‘comedogenic’ before, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
In medical terms, ‘comedo’ or ‘comedone’ refers to the earliest stages of acne, or the bumps on the surface of our skin also known as pimples (1). But in simpler terms, comedogenic is an adjective that describes any ingredients that tend to cause blackheads by clogging the pores in our skin. Even though this sounds straight-to-the-point, it actually can be difficult to tell if the products you’re sticking with are truly non-comedogenic or not. Have no fear - we’re here to break it down.
What are comedogenic ingredients?
As researchers and scientists began studying comedogenic ingredients after they noticed that makeup and lotions were clogging pores, they developed the “comedogenicity scale” you may have seen before when looking at skincare products. The scale is usually shown as a table that assigns common skincare ingredients a number from 0-3 or 0-5. The higher the number, the more likely that ingredient is to clog pores, so that means anything rated a 0, 1, or 2 is generally considered “non-comedogenic.” For example, here’s how a 0-5 scale would be split up:
- 0: Not pore-clogging
- 1: Very low chance that it’s pore-clogging
- 2: Somewhat low chance that it’s pore-clogging
- 3: Moderate chance that it’s pore-clogging
- 4: Somewhat high chance that it’s pore-clogging
- 5: Very high chance that it’s pore-clogging
Nowadays, we’re lucky because we can easily turn to Google and search up the ingredients in our products to see if they’re comedogenic or not. There are even websites out there that let you type in ingredients in your products and it’ll tell you if the ingredient is comedogenic. Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of ingredients out there that are known to clog the pores in our skin and hair. Here’s a list of comedogenic ingredients that we commonly see in products that you shouldn’t let fly under the radar.
- Algae Extract
- Avocado Oil
- Cetyl Acetate
- Cocoa Butter
- Coconut Oil
- Flaxseed Oil
- Isocetyl Alcohol
- Jojoba Wax
- Palm Oil
- Shea/Shea Butter
- Soybean Oil
How do our pores get clogged?
There are plenty of reasons why our pores can get clogged. For one, our pores can be clogged due to excess oils and dead skin that piles up on our skin’s surface. That’s why it’s so important to include gentle exfoliation in your skincare ritual to help our skin shed old skin and create new skin cells. This is where it gets complex, though, as over-cleansing and over-exfoliating can also clog our pores. When we cleanse or exfoliate too much, you can strip your skin of its natural oils and sebum which can cause your oil glands to overcompensate for what’s missing. All of that excess oil then clogs our pores.
As for comedogenic ingredients, some products are specifically formulated to not clog our pores and that’s why they come with special labels. It’s important to look for both skincare and makeup products that are oil-free to avoid adding excess oil to our skin’s surface and potentially clog the pores. As always, you should also be washing your face every night to cleanse your face of dirt, oil, and makeup from the day so you can start fresh when you wake up.
What are the consequences of using comedogenic ingredients on the skin?
Those of us experiencing hard-to-deal-with acne and an oily skin mood might be using comedogenic ingredients without realizing it. Plus, comedogenic ingredients can interact with the blemishes and pimples we already have and make them worse. If you’re planning to try out a new product in your skincare ritual, it’s crucial to first see how your skin reacts to it before slathering it on. Instead, take a small amount of the product and put it on a small patch of your skin (along your jawline or behind your ear) and see how your skin is handling it after a day or two.
What are some non-comedogenic alternatives?
Now that you know what to avoid, you’re probably wondering which products you *can* use. In general, you can search for products that have non-comedogenic labels and that are non-toxic which is a great starting point. However, you can’t always rely on these labels, so you can always check the ingredients label to narrow down which ingredients are good for your skin mood and which aren’t. These are some ingredients and oils that tend to be non-comedogenic and are safe to use on your skin without causing worsened breakouts (3):
- benzoyl peroxide
- salicylic acid
- grapeseed oil
- sunflower oil
- neem oil
- sweet almond oil
- hemp seed oil
To stay away from comedogenic ingredients and avoid breakouts, dermatologists recommend looking for skincare products that are both oil-free and noncomedogenic. When it comes to makeup, they also recommend sticking to powder makeup instead of liquids if you can.
There’s no better time than now to empower yourself by feeling comfortable in your own skin. To do so, remember to stay away from the products that will only cause the breaks you’re trying to avoid and take you back to square one in your skincare journey. Keep going while you’re ahead and ditch those comedogenic ingredients that your pores hate. You’ll be glad you did!
Written by Selena Ponton