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The Truth About Non-Comedogenic Makeup

Some good news and bad news for acne sufferers. The good news is that there are more makeup and skincare solutions than ever before, all touting “natural” products, “clean” products, and that there’s a non-zero chance you’ll wake up tomorrow morning and basically be Beyonce. 

The bad news is that most of these claims are debatable at best and bogus at worst.

With so many choices, it can be hard to tell which foundation will lead to compliments and which may lead to a whitehead the size of a Volkswagen. The cosmetics counter can be a minefield of anxiety and stress that, in a cruel twist, only increases your odds of breaking out.

If your complexion blocks more pores than a cocktail strainer on martini night, it may be time to make the switch to non-comedogenic makeup.

What Is Non-Comedogenic Makeup?

When your pores are blocked, acne occurs. Non-comedogenic makeup and skincare products don’t contain oils, butters, emulsifiers or other substances that research has shown to produce these comedones, which is a fancy word for “clogged pores.”

Comedones come in two varieties: open and closed. Open comedones, commonly known as blackheads, occur when sebum — or oil — breaks through your skin’s surface and turns dark due to air exposure. Closed comedones, a.k.a. whiteheads, happen when the sebum stays beneath the surface and creates a visible, white bump.

It’s worth noting that the havoc wreaked on your complexion by comedones doesn’t necessarily end when your blemishes vanish. Repeated bouts of acne can cause your pores to dilate, which in turn leads to an even greater number of blocked pores. The end result? An unending cycle of blockages and breakouts.

The Comedogenic Scale

The comedogenic scale is a ranking system for personal care ingredients: think everything from olive oil to octyl palmitate. Substances are clinically tested and assigned a rating on a scale of zero to five:

  • Level 0: The ingredient won’t clog your pores.
  • Level 1: A breakout is possible but highly unlikely.
  • Level 2: There’s a slim chance that the substance will kickstart a breakout.
  • Level 3: There’s a 50/50 chance of blemishes in your future.
  • Level 4: If you’re the gambling type, bet on this ingredient clogging some pores.
  • Level 5: Welcome to Zit City, population: you.

If that tube of concealer or eye shadow primer has a non-comedogenic label on it, that means all of its ingredients have a ranking of 2 or lower.

What Ingredients Clog Pores?

Many types of makeup are a mix of comedogenic and non-comedogenic substances, which means reading is fundamental when shopping. Typically, oils are the most heavily scrutinized ingredients in cosmetics and skincare. They're found in concealer, foundation, BB creams and other makeup bag staples, where they often act as binding or delivery agents. Familiarizing yourself with which oils will hydrate your skin and which oils will make you want to cosplay as The Invisible Man is key to clearer skin.

Learn How To Recognize Oils, Good and Bad

Below are two lists of ingredients commonly found in makeup and skincare items. One list contains non-comedogenic oils; the other is a murderer’s row of pore-cloggers. Can you tell which is which?



Moringa oil

Linseed oil

Wheat germ oil

Chia seed oil

Palm oil

Avocado oil

Almond oil

Jojoba oil

Hazelnut oil

Grapeseed oil

Olive oil

Mineral oil

If you guessed that column B is non-comedogenic, give yourself a pat on the back. All of the oils in column B rank 2 or lower on the comedogenic scale. The ingredients in column A, meanwhile, are all confirmed cloggers.

You Don’t Need To Hurl All Your Coconut Oil Into the Sun, Though

Ingredients that can block pores aren’t necessarily bad; you just need to use them wisely. Generally speaking, coconut oil and other substances that rank very high on the comedogenic scale shouldn’t be used on your face. Slather them on your arms and legs instead.

If you get older, however, you may want to consider products slightly higher up the comedogenic scale. As you age, your skin loses elasticity and starts to thin. Your Wolverine-caliber healing powers diminish, too, and it takes longer to bounce back from a cut or scratch. You may find that comedogenic products that caused breakouts when you were 25 are thoroughly nourishing at 45.

This doesn’t mean that you should start smearing your face with soybean oil every night before bed, but it does mean you should start shifting the focus of your makeup bag and skincare regimen to products that add moisture and mitigate the appearance of dark spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.

Avoid Ingredients You Can’t Pronounce, Too

If you’ve been within typing distance of the internet any time in the last 10 years, you’ve likely heard that you shouldn’t eat foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce. The same advice holds true for what you apply to your skin. Many emollient and emulsifying agents can be brutal on your complexion.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the most common comedogenic ingredients found in makeup and skincare, according to

  • Laureth-4
  • Butyl stearate
  • Oleic acid
  • Lanolin acid
  • Octyl palmitate
  • Isopropyl myristate, linoleate, isostearate and palmitate
  • Myristyl lactate and myristate

This is only the tip of the blackhead (so to speak) when it comes to substances to avoid. Researchers have conducted myriad studies of pore-clogging ingredients, and knowledge is power when reading product labels. As a general rule, if you wouldn’t eat it, you probably shouldn’t rub it directly into your forehead until fully absorbed either — at least not without doing a quick Google search first.

What Ingredients Don't Clog Your Pores?

Everybody’s skin is different. (Shocking, right?) As such, the best makeup and skincare products are those that are tailored to your complexion’s unique needs and that use clean ingredients to address your skin’s concerns.

If you have dry skin, for example, you may benefit from olive oil, moringa oil and other oils that are high in oleic acid, which reduces inflammation. By contrast, if you have oily skin, oils that are high in linoleic acid are probably more your speed. Ultimately, the best way to develop your strategy for youthful, glowing skin is in concert with a dermatologist.

There are general guidelines that you can follow, however. Look for foundation and other makeup and skincare products that utilize only non-comedogenic oils and agents such as aloe vera, shea butter and salicylic acid. (The American Academy of Dermatology also discourages the sharing of makeup brushes and applicators, even if you wear strictly non-comedogenic makeup.)

You could also go oil-free altogether and stick to makeup and skincare that uses soothing, water-binding ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Clay and mica are also increasingly popular ingredients in both liquid and powder foundations. Be forewarned, however, that just because makeup is water-based doesn’t necessarily mean it's great for your skin. Keep an eye out for laureth and sulfates, both of which block pores, as well as algae-based ingredients, many of which sit atop the comedogenic scale.

Just like fingerprints and your Netflix queue, your skincare needs are unique to you. The avocado oil that your BFF uses to look 24 forever can make your complexion erupt like you’re 14. If you’re ready to turn the tide in the battle against acne once and for all, NavaMD can help — and from the comfort of your own home, no less. Start your online consultation today to develop a treatment plan customized to your skin’s specific concerns and stop settling for inconvenient, one-size-fits-all skincare.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency