Comedogenic Ingredients and Acne-Causing Ingredients

comedogenic ingredients and acne causing ingredients

Comedogenic Ingredients and Acne-Causing Ingredients

If a product or ingredient is comedogenic, it means that it can block the pores in your skin, causing breakouts. Using skincare products with comedogenic ingredients is bad for acne and increases the likelihood of experiencing a breakout, especially for acne-prone skin types. An ingredient checker listing non-comedogenic ingredients doesn't currently exist because there is conflicting data on which ingredients clog pores and which ingredients lead to breakouts. 

Not all ingredients on this list will cause blackheads or acne in everyone, as everyone's skin is different. Comedogenic ingredients often don't cause breakouts when used and are sometimes sporadic in nature. This is because several factors can cause acne. Keep reading to learn more about why cosmetic ingredients cause random breakouts rather than each time they are used. 

Comedogenic vs. Non-Comedogenic

Comedogenic means a product or ingredient that results in clogged pores, also called comedones. If you already have acne, comedogenic ingredients can increase the number of breakouts you experience.

Non-comedogenic is any product or ingredient that doesn't result in blocked pores or acne. It's essential to be aware of this difference so you can be on the lookout for specific ingredients when you're shopping for skincare products.

Later on, we will discuss which skincare ingredients are comedogenic and how to choose skincare products that won't clog your pores.

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How Do We Know if Skincare Ingredients Are Comedogenic?

The first dermatologist to study comedogenic skincare products was Dr. Albert Kligman. He developed a rabbit ear model to assess which cosmetic ingredients are comedogenic. The ingredient is placed inside the rabbit ear, and then the ear is evaluated for the presence of blackheads.

In 1984, dermatologist Dr. Jim Fulton did a large study to see which cosmeceutical ingredients caused blackheads when applied to a rabbit's ear. The data from Fulton's study is usually found on lists of comedogenic ingredients. Other similar studies have been done on the comedogenicity of skincare products using the rabbit ear model. 

These studies have resulted in a very long comedogenic ingredients list. Once animal testing fell out of favor, there was less comedogenicity testing until 1982, when Kligman described a human model to evaluate purported comedogenic products.

From these studies, we can determine that skincare ingredients are comedogenic if they cause breakouts, even if they don't occur every time they're used. A rating system now exists that rates ingredients on a scale of zero to five. A rating of zero means that the product is non-comedogenic and won't cause a breakout. A rating of five means that the product has the highest chance of clogging your pores.

The scale isn't always accurate since there are some conflicting ideas on which skincare ingredients are the worst for acne and cause blackheads, but it is an excellent guide to get started finding the products that are right for you.

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How Do We Know if Skincare Ingredients Are Comedogenic?

The first dermatologist to study comedogenic skincare products was Dr. Albert Kligman. He developed a rabbit ear model to assess which cosmetic ingredients are comedogenic. The ingredient is placed inside the rabbit ear, and then the ear is evaluated for the presence of blackheads.

In 1984, dermatologist Dr. Jim Fulton did a large study to see which cosmeceutical ingredients caused blackheads when applied to a rabbit's ear. The data from Fulton's study is usually found on lists of comedogenic ingredients. Other similar studies have been done on the comedogenicity of skincare products using the rabbit ear model. 

These studies have resulted in a very long comedogenic ingredients list. Once animal testing fell out of favor, there was less comedogenicity testing until 1982, when Kligman described a human model to evaluate purported comedogenic products.

From these studies, we can determine that skincare ingredients are comedogenic if they cause breakouts, even if they don't occur every time they're used. A rating system now exists that rates ingredients on a scale of zero to five. A rating of zero means that the product is non-comedogenic and won't cause a breakout. A rating of five means that the product has the highest chance of clogging your pores.

The scale isn't always accurate since there are some conflicting ideas on which skincare ingredients are the worst for acne and cause blackheads, but it is an excellent guide to get started finding the products that are right for you.

Why Is There Disagreement on Which Skincare Product Ingredients Cause Blackheads and Comedones?

If you take the time to read all of the studies on skincare ingredients and their ability to clog pores, you will see differences in the studies about which ingredients cause blackheads. There are several reasons for this:

  • Species variations: The rabbit model does not always correlate with what is seen in humans.
  • Location variations: In human testing, where the ingredient was placed on the skin affected testing results. In other words, an ingredient may cause breakouts on one area, such as the forehead, and not in other areas, such as the chin. The site chosen in testing may affect whether or not the ingredient causes breakouts.
  • Ingredient base: The ingredient's base can affect the testing. For example, an alcohol base versus an oil base changes how the ingredient reacts with the skin.
  • Application method: How roughly the ingredient is applied and the direction can affect entry into the hair follicle, which is the site of clogged pores.
  • Ingredient quality: Pure ingredients will react differently than ingredients that have other substances in them.
  • Ingredient mixtures: Mixing the ingredient with other ingredients will change the characteristics of the comedogenic ingredient. Finished products using comedogenic ingredients do not always cause blackheads because of this.
  • Additional products: Using the ingredient in combination with other skincare products can change the ability of the ingredient to cause a breakout. This is why it is important to consider every skincare product in the skincare routine and how it affects other products.

Can a Skincare Ingredient Clog Pores Sometimes but Not Other Times?

Whether or not a skincare ingredient is comedogenic is determined by the skin type of the individual using it. In other words, the skin changes frequently, and different skin conditions will affect whether or not an ingredient will clog the skin. Here are some of the factors that can play a role in whether a cosmetic ingredient is comedogenic:

  • Humidity
  • Temperature
  • pH
  • UV light
  • Hormone status
  • Stress
  • Over exfoliation
  • Cleanser type
  • Skin microbiome
  • Pollution
  • Pore-clearing ingredients

As you see, there is much variability in which cosmeceutical ingredients cause blackheads. A list of the most common comedogenic culprits follows. However, you should pay close attention to which ingredients bother your skin. If you are on the best skincare routine for your Baumann Skin Type®, you should not be experiencing breakouts.
 

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What Are Common Comedogenic Ingredients?

While there are many comedogenic ingredients, some are more popular in skincare than others. Here are seven of the most common comedogenic ingredients and why you should keep an eye out for these ingredients on every product you use.

1. Beeswax

Beeswax is a popular ingredient in all kinds of skincare and makeup products, such as foundations and concealers, but it can clog the pores and cause breakouts. Beeswax is a thick ingredient that doesn't let oxygen enter the pores, allowing oil, dirt and grime to sit under the skin and cause breakouts. Check your makeup products for this ingredient if they feel particularly thick.

2. Cocoa Butter

While cocoa butter may feel great on dry skin, it's more than likely clogging the pores on your face. This is because of how thick this ingredient is. It fills the pores and prevents oxygen from circulating. If you use cocoa butter as a makeup remover when melted due to its oily nature, be sure to follow up immediately after with a cleanser to keep your pores clean.

3. Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is a common ingredient in popular shampoo brands. It is also found in sunscreens, creams and facemasks. SLS can cause skin irritation, clog the pores and make breakouts more frequent for people with sensitive or acne-prone skin. Sulfate-free options are becoming more popular in cosmetic products, so consider switching over if you're experiencing more acne or skin irritation due to products with SLS.

4. Lauric Acid

Lauric acid is a highly comedogenic ingredient and can cause breakouts. It is a fatty acid that fills the pores and prevents proper circulation. This results in clogged pores which usually lead to breakouts, especially if you're prone to acne or flare-ups. Take a careful look at a product's ingredients list to ensure that lauric acid isn't included.

5. Sodium Chloride

Sodium chloride is just the scientific name for table salt, and while it may be a great addition to our meals, it shouldn't be included in our skincare routines. Salt irritates the skin, fills the pores and often results in a breakout when used. Certain skincare products and even some foundations include sodium chloride so pay careful attention to the ingredients list.

6. Coal Tar

Coal tar exists in many popular products, such as shampoos, lotions and creams. Dermatologists often use coal tar to treat certain forms of eczema, but it can also increase skin irritation and acne breakouts. If you have sensitive skin or worry about acne, include coal tar as an ingredient to watch out for during your cosmetic product search.

7. Coconut Oil

Coconut oil has various health benefits and is commonly found in DIY skincare recipes, but it often clogs the pores for acne-prone individuals rather than promoting healthy skin. This is partially due to lauric acid being one of the key components of coconut oil. Many oils are comedogenic ingredients, and you should research them thoroughly before using them, especially on your face. Later on, we'll provide you with an extensive list of comedogenic ingredients, including many oils, to look out for.

 

How to Avoid Pore-Clogging Skincare Ingredients

When you're sorting through your current products or buying something new, you should look for specific ingredients. One way you can avoid pore-clogging ingredients is by using the comedogenic scale. Some products are transparent about their comedogenic rating, but others require more research.

The best way to avoid comedogenic ingredients is to have a comedogenic ingredients checklist you can reference each time you find a new product to try. Compare the list of ingredients on the label to the comedogenic ingredients list to determine if the product could cause breakouts or clog your pores.

Comedogenic Ingredient Checklist

Having a handy list of comedogenic ingredients can help you prevent future breakouts and skin irritation. This is not a comprehensive list, but below are some common ingredients that can cause acne breakouts and blackheads, listed in alphabetical order. Look for these ingredients in each skincare product you use, especially if you are trying to treat frequent acne breakouts, and check their rating on the comedogenic scale before using them on your skin.

A

  • Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
  • Algin
  • Almond Oil
  • Anhydrous Lanolin
  • Arachidic Acid
  • Ascorbyl Palmitate
  • Azulene

B

  • Beeswax
  • Benzaldehyde
  • Benzoic Acid
  • Beta Carotene
  • BHA
  • Bubussa Oil
  • Butyl Stearate
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)

C

  • Cajeput Oil
  • Calendula
  • Camphor
  • Capric Acid
  • Carbomer 940
  • Carnuba Wax
  • Carotene
  • Carrageenan
  • Castor Oil
  • Ceteareth- 20
  • Cetearyl Alcohol
  • Cetyl Acetate
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Chaulmoogra Oil
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Coconut Butter
  • Coconut Oil
  • Colloidal Sulfur
  • Corn Oil
  • Cotton Seed Oil

D

  • D & C Red Pigments
  • Decyl Oleate
  • Dioctyl Succinate
  • Disodium Monooleamido 

E

  • Emulsifying Wax NF
  • Ethoxylated Lanolin
  • Ethylhexyl Palmitate
  • Evening Primrose Oil

G

  • Glyceryl-3-Diisostearate

H

  • Hexadecyl Alcohol
  • Hydrogenated Castor Oil
  • Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
  • Hydroxypropylcellulose 

I

  • Isocetyl Alcohol
  • Isodecyl Oleate
  • Isopropyl Isosterate
  • Isopropyl Lanolate
  • Isopropyl Linoleate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Isopropyl Neopentanoate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Isostearyl Isostearate
  • Isostearyl Neopentanoate

L

  • Laneth 10
  • Lanolin Acid
  • Lanolin Alcohol
  • Lanolin Oil
  • Lanolin Wax
  • Laureth 4 and 23

M

  • Menthyl Anthranilate
  • Mink Oil
  • Myristic Acid
  • Myristyl Lactate

O

  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Stearate
  • Oleth-10
  • Oleth-3
  • Oleyl Alcohol

P

  • Palmitic Acid
  • Peach Kernel Oil
  • Peanut Oil
  • PEG 100 Distearate
  • PEG 150 Distearate
  • PEG 16 Lanolin
  • PEG 200 Dilaurate
  • PEG 2-Sulfosuccinate
  • PEG 8 Stearate
  • Pentaerythritol Tetra Isostearate
  • PG Caprylate/Caprate
  • PG Dicaprylate/Caprate
  • PG Dipelargonate
  • PG Monostearate
  • Polyethylene Glycol (PEG 400)
  • Polyethylene Glycol 300
  • Polyglyceryl-3-Diisostearate
  • Potassium Chloride
  • PPG 2 Myristyl Propionate
  • PPG-5-Ceteth-10 Phosphate 
  • Propylene Glycol Monostearate

R

  • Red Algae

S

  • Sandalwood Seed Oil
  • Sesame Oil
  • Shark Liver Oil
  • Solulan 1
  • Solulan 16
  • Sorbitan Oleate
  • Soybean Oil
  • Steareth 10
  • Steareth 2
  • Steareth 20
  • Stearyl Heptanoate
  • Sulfated Castor Oil
  • Sulfated Jojoba Oil
  • Synthetic Dyes, (D&C Red #S 3, 4, 6, 7, 9, 17, 19, 21, 27, 230, 33, 36, 40)

T

  • Triethanolamine

V

  • Vitamin A Palmitate

W

  • Wheat Germ Glyceride/Oil

X

  • Xylene

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Non-Comedogenic Ingredient Examples

Many people believe natural ingredients are all non-comedogenic, but this is not always the case. Ingredients such as beeswax and wheat germ oil are natural but can clog the pores. Many also believe all oils clog the skin, and while many do, some help you fight off the bacteria that causes acne.

A few of the non-comedogenic ingredients you can use include:

  • Sulfur: When used as a topical treatment, sulfur dries the skin to absorb excess oils more efficiently. This prevents excess oil from creating future breakouts and dries dead skin cells that might take up space in the pores.
  • Salicylic acid: Much like sulfur, salicylic acid stops excess oil production by drying the skin and eliminating dead skin cells that clog the pores.
  • Hemp seed oil: While many oils do cause breakouts, not all oils are comedogenic, and some oils can actually prevent acne. Hemp seed oil is one of these oils, and it works by preventing dryness, which can force the skin to produce more oil and result in breakouts. Hemp seed oil also doesn't clog the pores as other oils do.

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Find Your Skincare Routine at Skin Type Solutions

Part of finding the right product relies on knowing your skin type. Sensitive skin types will have different needs than dry or oily skin types. You can find out yours by taking our Baumann Skin Type® quiz, which will give you all the information you need to determine what skincare products would be best for your personal needs. You'll also learn how to take care of your skin and what an optimal skincare regime would be.

At Skin Type Solutions, we have a wide range of products for all skin types. All the products we offer are high-quality and medical-grade so you can find the perfect match. You can find a complete list of ingredients with every product, so you can look for comedogenic ingredients that might affect your skin. Shop our extensive selection of skincare products to start your skincare journey today.

References

1. Kligman, A. M., & KWONG, T. (1979). An improved rabbit ear model for assessing comedogenic substances. British Journal of Dermatology100(6), 699-702.

2. Fulton Jr, J. E., Pay, S. R., & Fulton III, J. E. (1984). Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology10(1), 96-105.

3. Nguyen, S. H., Dang, T. P., & Maibach, H. I. (2007). Comedogenicity in rabbit: some cosmetic ingredients/vehicles. Cutaneous and ocular toxicology26(4), 287-292.

4. Mills, O. H., & Kligman, A. M. (1982). A human model for assessing comedogenic substances. Archives of Dermatology118(11), 903-905.

5. Baek, J. H., Ahn, S. M., Choi, K. M., Jung, M. K., Shin, M. K., & Koh, J. S. (2016). Analysis of comedone, sebum and porphyrin on the face and body for comedogenicity assay. Skin Research and Technology22(2), 164-169.

6. Tucker, S. B., Flannigan, S. A., Dunbar, M., & Drotman, R. B. (1986). Development of an objective comedogenicity assay. Archives of dermatology122(6), 660-665.

7. Baek, J. H., Ahn, S. M., Choi, K. M., Jung, M. K., Shin, M. K., & Koh, J. S. (2016). Analysis of comedone, sebum and porphyrin on the face and body for comedogenicity assay. Skin Research and Technology22(2), 164-169.

8. Draelos, Z. D., & DiNardo, J. C. (2006). A re-evaluation of the comedogenicity concept. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology54(3), 507-512.

9. Narang, I., Sardana, K., Bajpai, R., & Garg, V. K. (2019). Seasonal aggravation of acne in summers and the effect of temperature and humidity in a study in a tropical setting. Journal of cosmetic dermatology18(4), 1098-1104.

10. Youn, S. H., Choi, C. W., Choi, J. W., & Youn, S. W. (2013). The skin surface pH and its different influence on the development of acne lesion according to gender and age. Skin research and technology19(2), 131-136.

11. MILLS, O. H., PORTE, M., & KLIGMAN, A. M. (1978). Enhancement of comedogenic substances by ultraviolet radiation. British Journal of Dermatology98(2), 145-150.

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