A noncomedogenic substance is one that does not have the potential to clog pores in the skin. Products with “noncomedogenic” on the label claim not to cause blocked pores.
Substances that can cause comedones, or blocked pores, are known as “comedogenic.”
Some examples of noncomedogenic ingredients include aloe vera, vitamin C, and glycerin. Some comedogenic ingredients found in cosmetics include cocoa butter, lanolin, coconut oil, and wheat germ oil.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the use of the term “noncomedogenic.” This means there is no standardized definition of what counts as noncomedogenic and that products labeled as such do not have to undergo rigorous testing to assess whether they clog pores.
Additionally, much of the information on comedogenic ingredients comes from animal studies that took place before 2013.
That said, it may help people prone to acne if they choose noncomedogenic products because, in theory, they have a lower risk of worsening the condition.
In this article, we will look at the benefits of noncomedogenic skin care and list some common noncomedogenic and comedogenic ingredients and other attributes to look for in acne products.
All forms of acne begin with a hair follicle or pore becoming clogged. This is known as a comedone. A number of factors can contribute to comedones, including the skin’s natural oils, dead skin, makeup, or other products getting stuck in the pore.
Noncomedogenic products claim to be free of ingredients that have the potential to do this, and therefore that they have a lower risk of causing blackheads or whiteheads.
People who find that certain cosmetics cause breakouts may benefit from switching to noncomedogenic products. It is also a sensible precaution to take if someone is not sure what is causing their acne.
However, a product being noncomedogenic does not necessarily mean the product is good at treating existing acne. This term only means that the product will not make acne worse.
Additionally, it is important to note that no governing body regulates the use of the term “noncomedogenic.” This means that any company can use it without having any proof their product really is incapable of blocking pores. If someone is unsure what to try, they may benefit from speaking with a dermatologist.
No, these terms have different meanings. “Oil free” means that a product contains no oil of any kind.
Some assume that since having oily skin is associated with acne, all oils must cause acne. Companies sometimes create oil-free formulas to appeal to those with oily skin.
However, it is not clear if all oils are comedogenic. While oil from the skin, or sebum, can block pores, there are others that appear to have a low risk of causing comedones. These include:
So it may be possible for a product containing oil to be noncomedogenic, or very low comedogenic. Similarly, an oil-free product could be comedogenic if it contains other pore-blocking ingredients.
Generally, it is best to prioritize noncomedogenic products or products that are both noncomedogenic and oil free.
Much of the information dermatologists have about comedogenic ingredients comes from a 1984 study on rabbits. The researchers found that the following ingredients caused comedones:
- isopropyl palmitate
- isopropyl isostearate
- butyl stearate
- isostearyl neopentanoate
- myristyl myristate
- decyl oleate
- octyl stearate
- octyl palmitate
- isocetyl stearate
- propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2)
- lanolin, which comes from wool
- coal tar derivatives, such as D&C red dyes
As this study is old and involved animals rather than humans, it is unclear if its findings apply to human skin.
Other research states that the following ingredients may be comedogenic:
Since the European Commission banned animal testing for cosmetics in 2013, scientists have begun to use a new way of determining if something is comedogenic. It is known as a QSAR model and involves a computer predicting how likely it is a substance can block pores based on its molecular structure.
Hundreds of ingredients are potentially noncomedogenic. Some of the ingredients known to be noncomedogenic or low comedogenic include:
When buying over-the-counter products for acne, it is important to look not just for noncomedogenic options, but products that contain active ingredients that help treat and heal the acne.
Some examples of these ingredients include:
Some of these ingredients increase the skin’s sensitivity to UV light. For this reason, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using an SPF of 30 or above every day while using acids or retinoids.
A basic skin care routine for someone with acne might include the following steps in the morning:
- a gentle cleanser to remove excess oil
- a noncomedogenic moisturizer
- a noncomedogenic sunscreen
If a person wears makeup, they should also opt for noncomedogenic or mineral-based products where possible.
In the evening, they may use:
- a cleanser to remove oil or makeup
- an acne treatment containing one active ingredient, such as retinol
- noncomedogenic moisturizer
It is a myth that skin with acne does not need moisture. The AAD recommends applying a suitable moisturizer once daily to hydrate the skin.
Learn more about skin care routines and the best order to apply products.
Yes, noncomedogenic products may still cause breakouts in some circumstances.
The FDA does not ask companies to prove their products are noncomedogenic. This means some products may still be comedogenic, despite their labeling.
Additionally, anything that gets trapped in pores, including dead skin cells, can cause a breakout. So it is possible for someone using noncomedogenic products to still get acne. This is also true for people with acne caused by an underlying condition, such as polycystic ovary syndrome.
Some products also contain potentially irritating ingredients, or substances that are common allergens. This can cause contact dermatitis, a type of eczema that sometimes resembles pimples.
Always patch test new products on a less visible area of the skin, such as on the forearm, before applying to the face. This can allow someone to gauge if they tolerate it.
Noncomedogenic substances have little to no risk of blocking pores and causing acne. Products that have this label should not contain ingredients that are known to cause new acne lesions.
However, since the FDA does not regulate the use of this term, it is worth looking at the ingredients the product contains to see if the available research proves they do not block pores.
Noncomedogenic skin care and cosmetic products may help reduce acne breakouts, but to help treat and heal acne, active ingredients or medications can be necessary. A person may wish to speak with a dermatologist about this if acne is a persistent concern.