Looking for information on comedogenic ingredients? Our up-to-date pore clogging ingredient checker has a list of the most common ingredients that cause clogged pores and acne.
You can find the complete list in alphabetical order at the end of this blog.
Comedogenic ingredients are the terrible for acne-prone skin When pores are clogged, comedones (clusters of oil, dirt, and bacteria) can form on the skin.
If you have oily, acne prone skin or commonly get clogged pores, avoid these ingredients in skin care products.
To find out if your skin type and determine if you need to avoid comedogenic ingredients, take the our skin type questionnaire!
What Are The Most Common Comedogenic Ingredients?
While there are many pore clogging ingredients, some are more popular in skincare than others. Whether an ingredient is popular or not, if it is comedogenic, it is still the worst for acne prone skin
Some especially common ingredients known to be comedogenic are: (1-5)
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 does not allow keratin to leave pores, allowing oil, dirt and grime to sit under the skin and cause breakouts.
Interestingly, honey and some other bee products are comedogenic.
Check out this blog on honey to get the facts on its use in skin care.
2. Cocoa Butter
Cocoa butter fills the pores and prevents oxygen from circulating.
If you use liquid/melted cocoa butter as a makeup remover, be sure to follow up immediately after with a cleanser to get it out of your pores.
Dimethicone is a silicone-based polymer found in many oily skin products including sunscreen. It can cause comedones, especially if you do not wash your face with a cleanser at night. Not all forms of dimethicone cause comedones, so products many vary.
4. Isopropyl Myristate, Isopropyl Isostearate, Myristyl Lactate
These compounds are used in many products and are well known causes of comedones. Acne medications such as in tretinoin, Retin A, and and Winlevy contain these ingredients. Yes, acne medications! Yikes! Instances like these are exactly why understanding ingredient science is so important in designing a custom skin care regimen.
Skin care brands are allowed to call products acne treatments even if they clog pores, because they might be antibacterial or anti-inflammatory. These three ingredients in particular are easy to overlook on a label because of their esoteric names. Be sure to avoid them if you have acne prone skin.
5. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is commonly found in "DIY" skincare recipes, but it often clogs the pores for acne-prone individuals.
What is interesting is that a compound within coconut oil called lauric acid is actually used to treat acne; that is to say, some extracts of coconut oil are not comedogenic. For example, the skincare brand VMV Hypoallergenics uses a form of coconut oil that does not cause acne.
It can be confusing by just reading the label - but keep in mind that extracts are less likely to be comedogenic than unrefined or even many refined coconut oils.
6. Red Pigment
Some cosmetic colors found in blushes and lip sticks can cause comedones. Red colors are the most common problematic color in cosmetics.
Specifically, red dies made with xanthenes, monoazoanilines, fluorans, and indigoids are comedogenic. (14)
A complete alphabetical list of comedogenic ingredients in cosmeceuticals is at the end of this blog
Comedogenic vs. Non-Comedogenic
Comedogenic means "a product or ingredient that results in clogged pores" Clogged pores are also called open or closed comedones.
These are clogged hair follicles that contain a build up of keratin and debris. When the closed comedones are very deep they are called milia.
If you are acne- prone or have oily skin, comedogenic ingredients can increase the number of breakouts you experience.
Non-comedogenic means any product or ingredient that doesn't result in comedones, milia, blocked pores or acne.
It's essential to be aware of what ingredients cause these pink or white bumps on the skin so you can be on the lookout for specific ingredients when you're shopping for skincare products.
Whether or not a cosmetic ingredient causes comedones depends upon factors such as:
- Baumann Skin Type
- Order of products in skin care routine
- Sun exposure (some ingredients become comedogenic when exposed to ultraviolet light)
- Combination with other ingredients and skin care products. For example Ceteareth- 20 and Cetearyl Alcohol are not acne causing when found alone in skin care products but when they are combined together they become comedogenic.
How natural ingredients are processed. Some pure forms of coconut oil are safe while less pure forms are comedogenic.
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.
Comedogenicity rating system
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.
Kligman scale is 0-3 with 3 being the most comedogenic The scale isn't always accurate since there are other factors that contribute to comedogenesis, but it is an excellent pore clogging ingredient checker.
The other common rating system is the Fulton 0-5 scale. Here is a chart of pore clogging ingredients tested in a rabbit ear model.
Note, this is not the full list; the full list is further below.
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:
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.
Argan Oil- This oil is not comedogenic and has anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Lauric acid- coconut oil extract.
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:
- UV light
- Hormone status
- Over exfoliation
- Cleanser type
- Skin microbiome
- Reactions with other 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.
Does Ceteareth-20 cause acne?
Ceteareth -20 is on interesting skin care ingredient because:
- Found in Cera Ve and many popular products
- It does not cause acne when used alone
- It does cause acne when combined with cetearyl alcohol
- You should not use ceteareth-20 and cetearyl together
Which ingredients become comedogenic in the sun?
These ingredients become more comedogenic with sun exposure:
- human sebum
- cocoa butter
- coal tar
Note that human sebum can cause acne and clogged pores when exposed to sun. So wash your face immediately after exercising in the sun.
Comedogenic Ingredient Checklist in Alphabetical Order
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.
Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Ceteareth- 20 (read below about this ingredient)
Cotton Seed Oil
D & C Red Pigments
Emulsifying Wax NF
Hydrogenated Castor Oil
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Laureth 4 and 23
Peach Kernel Oil
PEG 100 Distearate
PEG 150 Distearate
PEG 16 Lanolin
PEG 200 Dilaurate
PEG 8 Stearate
Pentaerythritol Tetra Isostearate
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG 400)
Polyethylene Glycol 300
PPG 2 Myristyl Propionate
Propylene Glycol Monostearate
Sandalwood Seed Oil
Shark Liver Oil
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)
Vitamin A Palmitate
Wheat Germ Glyceride/Oil
Noncomedogenic Skin Care Routine
When you take the skin care routine quiz, you will receive a list o regimen steps and can choose products for each step. If you told the quiz that you suffer from acne, you will receive recommendations or noncomedogenic acid products to use in your routine. If you see a comedogenic ingredient on the label, look on the product page for the words" noncomedogenic" which means that the final product underwent comedogenicity testing. This overrides the list of comedogenic ingredients because it is the final product and regimen that are the most important to test.
To let us help you build a noncomedogenic skin care routine, take the quiz.
What ingredient is the most comedogenic?
The ingredient that causes blackheads and whiteheads the most in my dermatology patients is isopropyl myristate. beeswax and cocoa butter are also common causes.
How to know if an ingredient is comedogenic?
Read the list above. If the ingredient is on the list it is likely comedogenic but not always. It depends upon many factors. If the ingredient in your skin care product is on my comedogenic ingredient list, either avoid it or try this: Use the product in question on one cheek for 4 days. Do not change any other products in your routine. If you have not developed any clogged pores in 4ndays i should be ok. Of course if you notice down the road that you have more clogged pores, you should consider stopping the product in question.
What ingredients won't clog pores?
Hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHA), benzoyl peroxide, green tea, and retinol do not clog pores. Most water based ingredients will not. But remember it depends upon what the ingredient is mixed with.
Is hyaluronic acid comedogenic?
Hyaluronic acid (HA) is considered noncomedogenic however, I have had many patients get clogged pores from HA serums. In fact , I see this a lot with cheaper brands of HA. I am not sure why this is, but it may have to do with the size (molecular weight) of the HA in the serums. It also may be caused by other ingredients in the serum. I have seen serums that have HA as the only ingredient give my patients pimples and cause the skin to break out.
Is coconut oil comedogenic?
Some forms are very comedogenic while extracts that contain high amounts of lauric acid are not. It depends on which skin care brand you use. Natural unrefined coconut oil is comedogenic Do not use it on your face, chest, or back.
What makeup foundation ingredients cause acne?
Many makeup foundations cause acne. These are the ingredients to avoid in makeup if you are acne prone: Isopropyl myristate, Red pigment, and Dimethicone.
Are peptides comedogenic?
There are many different types of peptides in skin care. They do not seem to be comedogenic.
Are growth factors comedogenic?
Growth factors in skin serums have not been reported to clog pores.
Is collagen comedogenic?
Collagen powers that you drink or eat are not, but collagen used in creams and serums may be comedogenic.
References, Medical Publications and Peer Reviewed Studies about Comedogenicity and Comedogenic Ingredients in Skin and Hair Care Products:
- Sally R, Reider E. Acne (Type 1 Sensitive Skin) in Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology 3rd Ed. (McGraw Hill 2022)
- Kligman, A. M., & KWONG, T. (1979). An improved rabbit ear model for assessing comedogenic substances. British Journal of Dermatology, 100(6), 699-702.
- 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 Dermatology, 10(1), 96-105.
- Nguyen, S. H., Dang, T. P., & Maibach, H. I. (2007). Comedogenicity in rabbit: some cosmetic ingredients/vehicles. Cutaneous and ocular toxicology, 26(4), 287-292.
- Mills, O. H., & Kligman, A. M. (1982). A human model for assessing comedogenic substances. Archives of Dermatology, 118(11), 903-905.
- Tucker, S. B., Flannigan, S. A., Dunbar, M., & Drotman, R. B. (1986). Development of an objective comedogenicity assay. Archives of dermatology, 122(6), 660-665.
- 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 Technology, 22(2), 164-169.
- Draelos, Z. D., & DiNardo, J. C. (2006). A re-evaluation of the comedogenicity concept. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54(3), 507-512.
- 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 dermatology, 18(4), 1098-1104.
- 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 technology, 19(2), 131-136.
- MILLS, O. H., PORTE, M., & KLIGMAN, A. M. (1978). Enhancement of comedogenic substances by ultraviolet radiation. British Journal of Dermatology, 98(2), 145-150.
- Morris, W. E., & Kwan, S. C. (1983). Use of the rabbit ear model in evaluating the comedogenic potential of cosmetic ingredients. In J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem.
- MILLS, O. H., PORTE, M., & KLIGMAN, A. M. (1978). Enhancement of comedogenic substances by ultraviolet radiation. British Journal of Dermatology, 98(2), 145-150.
Fulton JE Jr, Pay SR, Fulton JE 3rd. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1984 Jan;10(1):96-105. doi: 10.1016/s0190-9622(84)80050-x. PMID: 6229554.