We all must have seen many “non-comedogenic” labels on our skincare products. What does it really mean, and how can this help us make better skincare decisions? Read this article if you want to know the answer to 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 the formation of comedones (whiteheads). Comedone is a type of non-inflammatory acne and can further lead to the formation of inflammatory acne. Yes, the red and painful acne that we all hate. So, in short, non-comedogenic means that the product does not tend to clog our pores and less likely to cause acne.
Understanding the comedogenic rating
Knowing that each ingredient in skincare can have a 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 zero being non-comedogenic and five 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 ratings. 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. Thankfully, with the ban on animal testing, it is tested on the back skin of a small number of human samples (usually less than ten 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 their testing method closely, we find some downsides since they are not tested under “real-life” conditions. For example, our backs have a different physiology than the facial skin with different hair and oil production. Also, the small number of samples may not represent the general population. These drawbacks 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 rating doesn’t guarantee products with ingredients that have high comedogenic ratings (4 – 5), such as cocoa butter or coconut butter, will break you out (although there are still some possibilities). Meanwhile, products with a comedogenic rating of 0 – 2 are still considered safe and commonly won’t cause any adverse reaction. Knowing this fact, instead of tossing away all your products that contain ingredients with a 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 break out 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 ingredients that your skin is not fond of.
When you have a highly sensitive acne-prone skin
If you have extremely sensitive acne-prone skin and try your best to stay away from anything that could cause any trouble, you can try to avoid products with more than two ingredients with high comedogenic ratings. 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:
Besides having an EWG-green level grade, none of their ingredients listed has a high comedogenic rating. Butylene glycol is the one with the highest comedogenic rating of 1 which means this product is excellent for even the most acne-prone or sensitive skin.
“Less is more” is the best way to describe their product. A minimal ingredient list could narrow down the possibility of having ingredients with a high comedogenic rate. None of their ingredients has a 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 it for a while, you might need to watch out as this might be the culprit.
Librarian fact: Since several oils (coconut oil, flaxseed oil, wheat germ oil, etc.) have a higher tendency to clog the pores, we commonly see products for acne-prone skin to be water-based or “oil-free” and labelled “non-comedogenic”. This label can be “misleading” and carry a fear-mongering message for several types of oils (hemp seed oil, sunflower oil, etc.) that are less likely to clog your pores and even have benefits for acne-prone skin due to its’ high level of linoleic acid. So for people with acne-prone skin, don’t be afraid of oils. 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 a comedogenic rating of more than 3 are considered to more likely cause clogged pores (although this might not always be the case which significantly depends on the formulation). Here are some non-comedogenic products from Skin Library that we love to help keep your pores clear and acne-free with all low comedogenic rate (0 – 2):
Although some studies have stated that BHA has a 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 antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and an exfoliating product that can help shed dead skin cells.
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 peace of mind that the product will be less likely to clog your pores, it doesn’t mean that other products without the label will break you out. From this article, we learn that comedogenic ratings are not the most accurate way to assess if a product will be “bad” for your skin. Products with several high comedogenic rating ingredients don’t make them bad products, just like 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 to help you judge if your skin will or will not react negatively to the products.
- By Claudia Christin (@Funskincare)
MBBS, Ph.D. (Dermatology)