We all must have seen a lot of “non-comedogenic” label on our skincare products. What does it really mean and how can this help us on making a better skincare pick decision? Read this article if you want to know the answer for this!
What is does Comedogenic mean?
Comedogenic is the tendency for an ingredient to clog our pores. Anything that disrupts the sebum outflow on our skin can lead to formation of comedone (whiteheads). Comedone is a type of non-inflammatory acne and can further lead to formation of inflammatory acne. Yes, the red and painful acne that we all hate. So, in short, non-comedogenic means that the product has no tendency to clog our pores and less likely to cause acne.
Understanding the comedogenic rating
Knowing that each ingredient in skincare can have different tendency to clog our pores, the comedogenic rating was created. Comedogenic rating is a scale that shows how likely a specific ingredient can clog your pores. The scale ranges from a number in between 0 – 5, with 0 being non-comedogenic and 5 being the most severely comedogenic:
1: Slightly comedogenic
2-3: Moderately comedogenic
4-5: Severely comedogenic
We all know that clogged pores are one of the major culprits for acne formation and no one wants that. That’s why people are highly cautious with products that have ingredients with high comedogenic rate. In this article, we’ll breakdown on how reliable/accurate this comedogenic rating is and how we can make the best out of this rate for our skincare purchase decision.
Where did the comedogenic rating come from and how is it tested?
The tendency of an ingredient to cause comedone formation was initially tested on rabbit ears but thankfully with the ban on animal testing is tested on the back skin of small number of human samples (usually less than 10 people). When there’s no comedone formation after application to these test subject means it is a non-comedogenic ingredient, and vice versa.
If we look up into their testing method closely, we may realize that there are some downsides since they are not tested under “real-life” situation. For example, skin on our backs have a different physiology than the facial skin with different hair and oil production. In addition, the small number of samples may not represent the general population. This drawback may give some ingredients “bad reputations” unnecessarily.
How to use the Comedogenic rating?
There are definitely several other factors that we should take into consideration on the determination on how comedogenic an ingredient can be based on their extraction process, formulation and the percentage of the ingredient in the product. In fact, when used in low percentage, an ingredient with high comedogenic rate can be totally harmless for our skin.
Therefore, to make it simple, this rate doesn’t guarantee products with high comedogenic rating (4 – 5) ingredients, such as cocoa butter or coconut butter, will break you out (although there are still some possibilities). Meanwhile, product with comedogenic rating of 0 – 2 are still considered safe and commonly won’t cause any negative reaction.
Knowing this fact, instead of tossing away all your products that contain ingredients with high comedogenic rating, there’s a better way to make the best use of this rating system.
When you’re looking for the “culprit”
The comedogenic rate can help you narrow down ingredients that are probably causing you to breakout when they are high up on the list. Although, again, this is not an absolute judgment. But it can guide you on narrowing down any possible ingredient that your skin doesn’t really favour
When you have a highly sensitive acne-prone skin
If you have an extremely sensitive acne-prone skin and you try your best to stay away from anything that could cause any trouble, you can try to avoid product with more than two ingredients with the high comedogenic rating. Only products with clear positive (4-5: severely comedogenic) comedogenicity ingredient might need to be avoided
Here are some of our cult favorite products with non-comedogenic ingredients:
- KEEP COOL Soothe Bamboo Toner
Besides having an EWG-green level grade, none of their ingredients list have high comedogenic rate. Butylene glycol is the one with the highest comedogenic rate of 1 which means this product is great for even the most acne-prone or sensitive skin
- COSRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence
“Less is more” is the best way to describe their product. Minimal ingredient list could actually narrow down the possibility of having ingredients with high comedogenic rate. None of their ingredients have high comedogenic rate, with butylene glycol scoring the highest point of 1
Here is a quick list of common oils in skincare and their comedogenic rating:
- Almond Oil (Comedogenic rating: 2)
- Castor Oil (Comedogenic rating: 1)
- Coconut Oil (Comedogenic rating: 4)
- Jojoba Oil (Comedogenic rating: 0-2)
- Rosehip Oil (Comedogenic rating: 1)
- Shea Butter (Comedogenic rating: 0)
- Sunflower Oil (Comedogenic rating: 0)
When you’re trying to put pure oil from your kitchen on your face. This is where you can make the best use of the comedogenic scale. Coconut oil which is pretty high in the comedogenic rating (4: severely comedogenic) has been quite a popular makeup removal oil for a while now. If you are experiencing clogged pores after using them for a while, you might need to watch out as this might actually be the culprit.
Librarian fact: Since several oils (coconut oil, flax seed oil, wheat germ oil, etc) have higher tendency to clog the pores, we commonly see product for acne-prone skin to be water-based or “oil-free” and labelled “non-comedogenic”. To be fair, this label can be “misleading” at some point and carry a fear-mongering message for several types of oil (hempseed oil, sunflower oil, etc) that are less likely to clog your pores and even bring some extra benefit for acne prone skin due to its’ high level of linoleic acid. So for people with acne prone skin, don’t be afraid of oil. Instead, you just have to pick the right one.
You can check out on comedogenic rating of other ingredients, HERE and HERE, from a sources that we believed to be one of the most accurate out there. Although we should take into consideration that most of the studied are conducted from years ago, which might not represent current skincare products formulation.
How to perform an allergy skin patch test
What you can do instead to test out if your skin is agreeing with your skincare product is to do a patch test before you put them on your face, here is how you can do a patch test:
- Take an appropriate amount of your product and put them on several areas: the back of your ear, down the neck, or part of your skin that are most prone to any breakout (but make sure to do it only on a specific side of your face so that you have some negative control to compare them with)
- You can cover them with a bandage and let them sit on your skin for at least overnight or up to 1 day (the longer the better)
- Observe any irritation or changes like tingling sensation, redness or comedone formation
If no negative reaction occurs, then your product is most likely good to be used on your face.
Non-comedogenic Products for acne-prone skin
Products with comedogenic rating of more than 3 is considered to more likely cause clogged pores (although this might not always be the case which greatly depends on the formulation). Here are some non-comedogenic products from Skin library that we love to help keep your pores and acne-free with all low comedogenic rate (0 – 2):
- SOMEBYMI AHA-BHA-PHA 30 Days Miracle Toner
Although some study has stated that BHA has comedogenic rate of 2, it has been proven by many other high evidence studies to be a superior ingredient for the treatment of acne. It is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, as well as an exfoliating product that can help to shed away dead skin cells.
ACWELL Licorice pH Balancing Cleansing Toner
BENTON Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel
COSRX Low pH Good Morning Gel Cleanser
BENTON Aloe Soothing Mask
Takeaway: Non-comedogenic means that there is no known tendency for an ingredient to clog your pores and cause acne. Although a non-comedogenic label may bring you a peace of mind that the product will less likely to clog your pores, it doesn’t mean that other products without the label will definitely break you out. From this article we learn that comedogenic rating is not the most accurate way to assess if a product will be “bad” for your skin. Product with several high comedogenic rating ingredients doesn’t make them a bad product. Just like when a few “bad” people in a country won’t make the country a “bad” place to live in. We also introduce the patch-test technique so that it can help you judge if your skin will or will not react negatively to the products.
- By Claudia Christin (@Funskincare)
Seoul based Dermatology Post Graduate Student