Do Comedogenic Ingredients Really Cause Acne?


If you’re suffering from acne, you’re no doubt worried about which products to use on your skin. 

You probably spend hours reading labels and religiously check for the words “hypoallergenic”, “non-comedogenic” and “dermatologist-tested” on all your face care products. 

Do you know why you’re supposed to avoid comedogenic ingredients? What even are they anyway? Do they really cause acne? Since non-comedogenic products usually cost more, is it really worth our while to spend the extra money? 

Let’s find out more here.

What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean?

Acne’s least severe form is known as a comedo. It’s a pore blockage which results from excess sebum and which causes pimples, blackheads and whiteheads. The word “comedogenic” therefore means that an ingredient is likely to clog the pores and lead to acne development. 

Meanwhile, non-comedogenic ingredients don’t clog the pores. Therefore, they are less likely to cause acne or pimples. Most of us accept that when a product is labeled as non-comedogenic, it won’t give us acne. But is it really that simple?

The Limitations Of Non-Comedogenic Labeling

Unfortunately, just because a product has a label saying that it is non-comedogenic doesn’t mean that it won’t give you acne. 

For a start, there is no FDA regulation for non-comedogenic claims on skincare products. There is no defined list of ingredients which must be excluded from products in order for them to be labeled “non-comedogenic”.

Also, everyone has individualized skin. Therefore, standardizing comedogenicity is difficult. A product which can treat acne for me may not work for you and could even damage your skin. 

Skin health is dependent on many factors from environmental surroundings to biological processes. Hormone balances, nutrition, stress and skincare products all have a role to play. Therefore, you cannot guarantee any product can improve acne significantly. That means that even a non-comedogenic product could result in acne for some people.

No testing standard exists for comedogenicity. While there are some tests to describe relative comedogenicity, again they won’t apply to everybody for the reasons above. One method of testing, for example, the Rabbit Ear Model, may not be able to reflect cases of human acne accurately since rabbits’ ears are very sensitive to comedogenic ingredients.

Even human testing doesn’t reflect the way the product would be used in the real world. Individuals who are chosen for tests of this nature usually have large pores and are prone to acne. Also, the ingredients are usually exposed at a higher level than they would be in real life. This too makes testing unreliable.

Must I Use A Non-Comedogenic Product To Stay Acne Free?

Although comedogenicity ratings on products may give an insight as to whether the product is likely to cause acne or not, those ratings aren’t a hard and fast rule. Even products which contain comedogenic ingredients might not be comedogenic. 

Studies have been carried out on comedogenic ingredient-containing skin products to see the effect they would have on the skin. The result showed that no additional acne was caused even in products with comedogenic ingredients. 

Nevertheless, there are some comedogenic ingredients which should be avoided if you’re naturally prone to acne. These include:

  • Sodium salt sulfuric acid

  • Myristyl Myristate

  • Isopropyl Isostearate

  • Oleic acid

  • PPG-2 myristil propionate

  • Oleth-3

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

  • Laureth-4

  • Myristyl lactate-4

So, Can I Use Any Skincare Product Or Should I Continue Looking For Non-Comedogenic Products?

If any of the ingredients listed above are on the label of a skincare product, it’s always best to avoid its use if you have acne-prone skin. However, you don’t need to rely on the comedogenicity rating. 

The study outlined above shows that many products containing so-called comedogenic ingredients have very little impact on acne progression. Although some people have a great sensitivity to certain comedogenic ingredients, other people have a greater tolerance level. 

It’s important to remember that your skin is completely unique and therefore your acne may be triggered by something that another person’s won’t be. There are many factors which contribute.

The best advice is to experiment and find out which ingredients and products are most suitable for your skin. You can then stick to those in the future to make sure your skin stays protected from future breakouts.


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