Table of Contents
- How Pores Get Clogged
- What Does Comedogenic and Non-Comedogenic Mean?
- How Comedogenicity Testing is Conducted
- Comedogenicity Scale
- Pore-Clogging Ingredient Checker
- Fungal Acne Ingredients Checker
- Pore-Clogging Ingredients
Pores are tiny openings in the skin through which oil and sweat reach the skin’s surface from their respective glands. Proper skin care is essential to protect our skin, but some skin care ingredients can clog pores, leading to the development of acne, blackheads, and other skin issues.
How Pores Get Clogged
Pores house hair follicles along with a sebaceous gland which produces sebum, an oil that keeps our skin balanced and protected. Sometimes our sebaceous glands go overboard and produce more sebum than we need, particularly during times of stress or hormonal fluctuations, leading to potential problems.
Dead skin cells, which our skin sheds naturally, can mix with the excess sebum and form a plug within the pore, blocking the natural flow of oils. These blockages develop into comedones and they come in an open and closed variety. Open comedones, commonly known as blackheads, are open and have a black appearance due to the oxidation of the sebum and dead skin cells. Closed comedones, or whiteheads, are small bumps covered by a layer of skin which gives them a white or skin-colored appearance. These blockages create an ideal environment for acne causing bacteria which feed on the oil, such as Cutibacterium acnes, which can lead to inflammation and acne.
To make matters worse, even the most promising skincare products can harbor pore-clogging ingredients that cause acne. Some ingredients can be too clingy and form a subtle film on the skin, essentially trapping sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris inside the pores. Others can stir up inflammation and irritation, altering the natural sebum production or causing the skin to swell slightly, constricting pore openings and trapping sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria inside. They might also disrupt the normal shedding of skin cells or alter the skin’s lipid barrier. All this can exacerbate pore-clogging and trigger breakouts.
What Does Comedogenic and Non-Comedogenic Mean?
If you have acne-prone or sensitive skin, it’s important to understand the comedogenicity of skincare ingredients.
Comedogenic substances are those that can contribute to blocking pores and creating comedonal acne made up of closed and open comedones. The oil trapped inside the comedones is a breeding ground for bacteria, which can ultimately turn comedonal acne into inflammatory acne with the red inflamed pimples we know all too well.
Non-comedogenic substances, on the other hand, are formulated to avoid clogging the pores. These are typically more suitable for people with acne-prone or sensitive skin as they are less likely to cause breakouts. However, the term “non-comedogenic” is not regulated, and there’s no guarantee that a product labeled as such will not cause acne, especially since individual skin reactions can vary widely.
Look for products labeled as non-comedogenic and patch test new products by applying them to a small area of skin to check for any adverse reactions before applying them more widely. If you are unsure about the suitability of a product or ingredient, consult with a dermatologist.
How Comedogenicity Testing is Conducted
Comedogenicity is usually tested using the rabbit ear model, where substances are applied to the inner ear of a rabbit. This area is chosen because of its similarity to human facial skin and higher density of follicles, making it more prone to comedones. The appearance of comedones in this area after application of a substance indicates its comedogenic potential.
However, while the scale is widely recognized, it’s important to note that the comedogenicity of a substance can vary depending on individual skin types and conditions, the concentration used in the product, and how the product is formulated with other ingredients. Additionally, some critics of the rabbit ear model argue that in addition to ethical concerns around animal testing, results may not precisely replicate how substances behave on human skin.
The comedogenicity scale is a standard, numerical scale used to classify and rank the pore-clogging potential of skincare ingredients and products. It ranges from 0-5, with 0 being non-comedogenic and 5 being highly comedogenic. Products labeled as non-comedogenic are typically formulated to avoid causing comedones and are usually suitable for acne-prone or sensitive skin types.
- 0 – Non-Comedogenic: Will not clog pores and is safe for use on acne-prone skin.
- 1 – Low: Has a slight chance of clogging pores.
- 2 – Moderately Low: Has a moderate chance of clogging pores.
- 3 – Moderate: Likely to clog pores for some people.
- 4 – Fairly High: High likelihood of clogging pores.
- 5 – High: Will clog pores and is likely to cause acne lesions.
Pore-Clogging Ingredient Checker
If you have acne-prone skin, consider using an online pore-clogging ingredient checker before incorporating any new skincare product into your routine. It’s a simple step that makes it easy to decode the often bewildering list of ingredients in products to check for pore-clogging ingredients that could be a problem for our skin.
Comedogenic ingredient checkers are easily accessible and super user-friendly. Just find the product you are looking for or copy and paste the ingredients into their analyzers, and voila, you get a breakdown of what each ingredient does and its comedogenic rating.
Here are a few of our favorite options to check ingredients:
These tools help us to make well-informed decisions about our skincare products, so we can try to meet our skin’s needs and avoid potential breakouts.
Fungal Acne Ingredients Checker
Fungal acne, medically known as Malassezia folliculitis, is not actually acne, although it looks similar. It’s a condition that comes from an overgrowth of yeast, specifically Malassezia yeast, which feeds on skin oils and leads to inflammation in the hair follicles, causing small, uniform, itchy, and sometimes pustule-like bumps to form. If you suspect you may have fungal acne, you should speak to a dermatologist who can diagnose and treat the condition.
Using non-comedogenic and oil-free skincare products can help deprive the yeast of its food source. If you have fungal acne here are a few online fungal acne ingredients checkers that flag ingredients that can impact fungal acne:
When it comes to skincare, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, especially regarding ingredients that can clog pores.
The comedogenicity of ingredients in skincare products largely depends on your skin type and the type of ingredient. The concentration of an ingredient and the formulation of the product can also influence how the ingredient interacts with your skin. So you may find that your skin has a different reaction to the same ingredient but in different products.
Patch test new productst, listen to your skin, be mindful of how it reacts to different ingredients and formulations, and tailor your skincare routine accordingly.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of some common ingredients in cosmetics that can cause clogged pores in acne-prone skin:
When you read ingredients lists, you’ll find that oils are common in skincare products. While some oils might be beneficial for your individual skin, certain oils are comedogenic due to their specific chemical structure, fatty acid composition, and the presence of other bioactive compounds.
- Coconut oil
- Cocoa butter
- Wheat germ oil
- Flaxseed oil
Fatty Acids and Their Derivatives
Fatty acids and their derivatives can penetrate into the pores, mixing with sebum and skin cells, contributing to blockages. The reaction to fatty acids is highly individual, with some experiencing severe comedogenic reactions while others remain unaffected.
- Myristic acid
- Lauric acid
- Oleic acid
- Isopropyl myristate
- Isopropyl palmitate
- Myristyl myristate
- Ethylhexyl palmitate
Silicones are actually considered non-comedogenic as their molecular structure is too large to penetrate and block pores. However, while they are not likely to clog pores by themselves, silicones might trap substances like sebum, sweat, bacteria, and dead skin cells beneath them, potentially leading to breakouts for some people with acne-prone or sensitive skin. Proper cleansing can help to avoid any potential adverse effects.
- Cetearyl Methicone
- Phenyl Trimethicone
Derived from sheep’s wool, lanolin is used as a skin softener, but it is known to be pore-clogging and can lead to breakouts. Some people may also have a sensitivity or allergy to lanolin, causing skin irritation and redness.
While beneficial for some skin types due to its antioxidant properties, algae-derived ingredients in cosmetics can cause breakouts primarily due to their high iodine content. When the skin is exposed to excessive iodine, it may respond with inflammation and the development of acne lesions, particularly in those with acne-prone skin or sensitivities. Additionally, some algae ingredients create a barrier on the skin’s surface that traps sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria, leading to clogged pores and breakouts.
- Algae extract
- Red algae
- Chondrus crispus
Bismuth oxychloride is a common ingredient in cosmetics, especially mineral makeup, due to its shimmery finish. While it is not known to be comedogenic, for some people with sensitive and acne prone skin, it can cause irritation and breakouts due to its crystalline structure, which can create microscopic tears in the skin and get stuck in pores. Some people may also have an inherent sensitivity or allergy to this compound, leading to inflammation, redness, and itching upon contact. One of us at Acne Club may or may not have personal vendetta against this ingredient…
Petrolatum (aka petroleum jelly or Vaseline), is generally considered non-comedogenic, meaning it doesn’t clog pores, however it can contribute to acne, particularly if you have acne-prone or sensitive skin due to its occlusive nature. When applied it forms a barrier on the skin’s surface, trapping moisture underneath, which can help in the healing process of the skin and prevent dryness, making it a popular product for slugging. However this barrier can also trap sweat, bacteria, and oils on the skin’s surface, which could lead to breakouts, especially if applied over unwashed skin.
If you get clogged pores from a skin care product, discontinue use. It is helpful to only add new products one at a time so you can be sure what is causing new breakouts.
Regular cleansing and the use of topical retinoids, salicylic acid, and alpha hydroxy acids can aid in keeping pores clear, and benzoyl peroxide can help prevent acne-causing bacteria from taking hold and causing inflammatory acne. Use online ingredient checkers and consult with dermatologists to better understand and address your skin’s unique needs and concerns.
Your skin is as individual as you are, and what works for one may not work for another. So, keep those pores happy and listen to your skin. And remember, when in doubt, always patch test!