acne

The Ultimate List of Pore Clogging Ingredients To Avoid

The Ultimate List of Pore Clogging Ingredients To Avoid
by Samantha

It would be nice if all skincare formulas were made with acne prone skin in mind,  but in reality, having acne means paying a little extra attention to checking if there are acne-causing ingredients in our products. 

In this article, we will review what the top pore-clogging ingredients are, share a list of the comedogenic rating of the common skincare ingredients, and explain what it all means for those with acne-prone skin.

While not everyone’s skin will respond the same to every ingredient, and not all types of acne are related to pore-clogging ingredients, this list a great start to follow when looking for skincare products that don't clog pores or cause acne!

What does a comedogenic rating mean?

A comedone is a clogged hair follicle (pore), created from keratin (skin debris) and sebum. Therefore, something is considered comedogenic if it has a tendency to block pores and promote the formation of comedones. The higher the comedogenic rating, the more likely it can clog pores and cause acne.

Most pore clogging ingredients are likely to be occlusive which can seal and skin and cause the sebum to either thicken or harder, or add additional oils to the skin that may clog the pores.

This factor may help determine if it is an acne-causing ingredient, although acne has more causes than just the comedogenic factor.  Here are common skincare ingredients are ranked on a comedogenic scale:

0 – non-comedogenic

1 – slightly comedogenic

2-3 – moderately comedogenic

4-5 – highly comedogenic

If true, comedogenicity would be an important consideration in the development of products applied to the skin, especially facial skin which is more susceptible to comedones. 

But keep in mind this rating was developed in 1972 by putting high concentrations of these single ingredients on rabbit's skin. We'll touch more on that later. 

1. Cocoa Butter

Cocoa Butter has a comedogenic rating of 4 making it high on the pore clogging scale.   However cocoa butter also has beneficial properties and it can add moisture to the skin.  

However if cocoa butter is near the top 5 ingredients of a product you're using, you might want to consider switching your product out for a few weeks to see if your acne improves. 

 

2. Coconut Butter or Oil

This is also a 4 on the comedogenic scale and another popular ingredient in many skincare and hair care products.   While coconut butter is likely to clog pores, again you have to see how high up in the ingredient list it is.  If it is lower on the list, it may not affect your skin.   However, if you have acne prone oily skin, it's best to avoid it. 

3. Acetylated lanolin Alcohol

Not all alcohols are bad, in fact there are fatty alcohols that are commonly used in skincare, but a type of alcohol called Acetylated lanolin alcohol has a high comedogenic rating and can go deeper into the pores giving it high pore clogging potential.  

4. Laureth-4

It can be either a surfactant or detergent, it doesn't really have skin benefits and has the highest comedogenic rating of 5.   

 

5. Cetyl acetate 

A type of waxy solid with a high pore clogging rating found in makeup or skincare.

6. Isopropyl Isostearate

High on the comedogenic scale, used in skincare as an emollient. 

7.  Lauric Acid

This ingredient may have mixed results, while it has a high comedogenic rating, there are also lab studies that showed that it reduces p.acnes bacteria which could potentially make it a good anti acne ingredient.   

8. Lanolin

Lanonin has  a rating of 4 on the comedogenic scale making them highly comedogenic.  It is derived from sheep and is commonly found in a lot of skincare products like tinted moisturizers.  

 

9.  Petroleum Jelly 

Petroleum Jelly is considered non-comedogenic, but it is a highly occlusive ingredient. So while petroleum jelly itself isn't doing the pore clogging, it forms a protective seal on top of the skin, causing any excess sebum, sweat, or acne bacteria also sealed in against the skin that can lead to clogged pore or acne breakouts.      

Petroleum jelly, was initially deemed highly comedogenic in the original study in the 70's but has since been changed to non-comedogenic. 

10. Silicones

Even though silicones are a 1 on the comedogenic scale they can still potentially cause acne especially if you have oily, acne prone skin. 

If you suspect silicones area breaking you out, the forms of silicone include dimethicone, methicone, trimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane, and cyclotetrasiloxane.  

Similar to petroleum jelly, silicones create an occlusive protective barrier around skin that can trap in the oils and acne causing bacteria.  If you use a product with silicones, make sure to thoroughly wash it off, using water by itself won't remove silicones from the skin. 

 

List Of Comedogenic Ingredients with their Pore Clogging Rating

Here is a fairly extensive list of ingredients and their comedogenicity ratings based on the original models.

Pay particular attention to the 4-5 ratings, and only if they’re within the first few ingredients of a product.

Keep in mind that just because something is low on the comedogenicity scale doesn’t mean it won’t be problematic for your skin and vice versa.

Guide: 0-1 Not pore-clogging.  2-3 Moderately Pore Clogging.  4-5 Highly Pore clogging, best to avoid especially if they are near the top of the ingredient list. 

 

 0-1

 2-3

 4-5

Acetone (0)

A & D additive (2)

Acetylated lanolin alcohol (4-5)

Acetylated lanolin (0)

Ascorbyl palmitate (2)

Cetearyl alcohol + ceteareth-20 (4)

Allantoin (0)

Butyl stearate (3)

Cetyl acetate (4)

Almond oil (1-2)

Capric acid (2)

Cocoa butter (4)

Aminomethylpropylamine (0)

Ceteareth-20 (2)

Coconut butter (4)

Ammonium lauryl sulfate (10%) (0)

Cetearyl alcohol (2)

Ethylhexyl palmitate (4)

Anhydrous lanolin (0-1)

Cetyl alcohol (2)

Glyceryl-3-diisostearate (4)

Apricot kernel oil (1-2)

Cotton seed oil (3)

Isocetyl alcohol (4)

Archidic acid (1-2)

D & C red #17 (3)

Isopropyl isostearate (4-5)

Avocado oil (0-3)

D & C red #19 (2)

Isopropyl linoleate (4-5)

Babassu oil (1)

D & C red #21 (2)

Isopropyl myristate (5)

Beeswax (0-2)

D & C red #27 (2)

Isostearyl isostearate (4)

Behenic acid (0)

D & C red #3 (3)

Lanolin acid (4)

Behenyl erucate (0)

D & C red #30 (3)

Laureth-4 (5)

Behenyl triglyceride (0)

D & C red #36 (3)

Lauric acid (4)

Bentonite (0)

D & C red #4 (2)

Myristyl lactate (4)

Black walnut extract (0)

D & C red #40 (2)

Myristyl myristate (5)

Butylene glycol (1)

Decyl oleate (3)

Oleth-3 (5)

Candelilla wax (1)

Di-(2-ethylhexyl) succinate (2)

Oleyl alcohol (4)

Caproic acid (0-2)

Dioctyl malate (3)

PEG-16 lanolin (Solulan 16) (4)

 

Caprylic acid (1)

Dioctyl succinate (3)

Polyglyceryl-3-diisostearate (4)

Carbomer 940 (1)

Eicosanoic acid (2)

PPG-5 ceteth-10 phosphate (4)

Carboxymethylcellulose (0)

Ethylhexyl pelargonate (2)

Steareth-10 (4)

Carboxypropylcellulose (1)

Evening primrose oil (3)

Stearyl heptanoate (4)

Carmine (0)

Glyceryl stearate SE (3)

Xylene (4)

Carnuba wax (1)

Grape seed oil (2-3)

Castor oil (0-1)

Hydrogenated vegetable oil (3)

Ceresin wax (0)

Isopropyl lanolate (3)

Cetyl ester NF (1)

Isopropyl myristate (50%) (3-4)

Cetyl palmitate (0)

Isopropyl palmitate (3-4)

Chamomile extract (0)

Isostearyl neopentanoate (3)

Chaulmoogra oil (1)

Laneth-10 (2)

Cholesterol (0)

Laureth-23 (3)

Chondroitin sulfate (0)

Mink oil (2-3)

Coleth-24 (0)

Myristic acid (3)

Corn oil (0-3)

Myristyl alcohol (2)

Cyclomethicone (0)

Octyl palmitate (2-3)

D & C red #33 (1)

Oleth-10 (2)

D & C red #6 (1)

Oleth-3 phosphate (2)

D & C red #7 (1)

Oleth-5 (3)

D & C red #9 (1)

Palmitic acid (2)

Diethylene glycol monoethyl ether (EGME) (0)

Peach kernel oil (2)

Diisopropyl adipate (0)

Peanut oil (2)

Diisopropyl dimerate (0)

PEG-100 distearate (2)

Dimethicone (1)

PEG-150 distearate (2)

Emulsifying wax NF (0)

PEG-200 dilaurate (3)

Ethyl ether (0)

PEG-8 stearate (3)

Ethylene glycol monostearate (0)

Pentaerythrital tetra isostearate (2)

Glucose glutamate (0)

PG caprylate/caprate (2)

Glycereth-26 (0)

PG dipelargonate (2)

Glycerin (0)

Phytantriol (2)

Glyceryl stearate NSE (1)

PPG-10 cetyl ether (3)

Glyceryl tricapylo/caprate (1)

PPG-2 myristyl propionate (3)

Hexylene glycol (0-2)

PPG-2 PEG-65 lanolin oil (2)

 

Hydantoin (0)

Propylene glycol isostearate (3-4)

Hydrogenated castor oil (1)

Sandalwood seed oil (2)

Hydrogenated polyisobutane (1)

Sesame oil (unrefined) (3)

Hydrolyzed animal protein (0)

Shark liver oil (3)

Hydroxypropylcellulose (1)

Sorbitan oleate (3)

Iron oxides (0)

Soybean oil (3)

Isocetyl stearate (0-1)

Steareth-2 (2)

Isodecyl oleate (1-3)

Steareth-20 (2)

Isopropyl alcohol (0)

Stearic acid (2-3)

Jojoba oil (0-2)

Stearic acid:TEA (3)

Kaolin (0)

Stearyl alcohol (2)

Lanolin alcohol (0-2)

Sulfated jojoba oil (3)

Lanolin oil (0-1)

Sweet almond oil (3)

Lanolin wax (1)

Triethanolamine (2)

Lithium stearate (1)

Water soluble sulfur (3)

Magnesium aluminium silicate (0)

Wheat germ glyceride (3)

Magnesium stearate (1)

Maleated soybean oil (0)

Methylparaben (0)

Mineral oil (0-2)

Myristyl myristate (50%) (0-1)

Octoxynol-9 (0-1)

Octyl dimethyl PABA (0)

Octyl methoxycinnamate (0)

Octyl salicylate (0)

Octyldodecyl stearate (0)

Octyldodecyl stearoyl stearate (0)

Oleth-20 (0)

Olive oil (0-2)

Oxybenzone (0)

Panthenol (0)

Papain (0)

PEG-10 soya sterol (0)

PEG-100 stearate (0)

PEG-120 methyl glucose dioleate (0)

PEG-20 stearate (1)

PEG-40 castor oil (0)

PEG-40 sorbitan laurate (0)

PEG-5 soya sterol (0)

PEG-75 lanolin (0)

 

PEG-78 glyceryl monococoate (0)

PEG-8 castor oil (1)

Pentaerythrital tetra capra/caprylate (0)

PG dicaprylate/caprate (1)

PG laurate (0)

PG monostearate (0-3)

Phenoxyethyl paraben (0)

Polyethylene glycol (PEG-400) (1)

Polypentaerythrital tetralaurate (0)

Polysorbate-20 (0)

Polysorbate-80 (0)

PPG-30 cetyl ester (0)

PPG-50 cetyl ester (0)

Precipitated sulfur (0)

Propylene glycol (0)

Propylparaben (0)

PVP (0)

Safflower oil (0-2)

SD alcohol 40 (0)

Sesame oil (refined) (1)

Simethicone (1)

Sodium hyaluronate (0)

Sodium lauryl sulfate (10%) (0)

Sodium lauryl sulfate (5%) (0)

Sodium PCA (0)

Sorbitan isostearate (1-2)

Sorbitan laurate (1-2)

Sorbitan sesquinoleate (0-1)

Sorbitan stearate (0)

Sorbitol (0)

Soya sterol (0)

Squalane (1)

Steareth-100 (0)

Sterol esters (0)

Sucrose distearate (0)

Sucrose stearate (0)

Sunflower oil (0)

Talc (1)

Titanium dioxide (0)

Tocopherol (0-3)

 

Tocopheryl acetate (0)

Triacetin (0)

Tridectyl neopentanoate (0)

Ultramarine violet (0)

Vitamin A palmitate (1-3)

Zinc oxide (1)

Zinc stearate (0)

How Ingredients Were Determined If They Are Comedogenic?      

Originally, animal models were used to determine the comedogenic potential of raw materials, with the assumption that the finished formulations containing these ingredients would also be comedogenic.

In 1972 Kligman and Fulton applied these ingredients in full concentration to the inner ear of rabbits and determined that certain acne-causing ingredients for rabbits were capable of forming comedones in humans, as well. 

Rabbit ears are more sensitive than human facial skin is, which is likely why they were chosen: they would, therefore, produce faster, more inflammatory results.

Kligman stated: “Serious controversies have sprung up regarding the reliability and relevance of the rabbit ear model […] One cannot determine from a reading of the ingredients whether a given product will be acnegenic or not. What matters solely is the behaviour of the product itself.”

In a 1982 study following the rabbit ear model, test substances were applied to the backs of human patients with large follicles and occluded by covering the area with a bandage.

Again, we run into the problem that this isn’t necessarily a realistic scenario, though it is convenient for testing.

Back skin is very different from facial skin, especially when the patients also have particularly large follicles, as they did in the study. Like the rabbit model, this could easily produce false-positive results. The small sample size is also a major concern, as it is hard to extrapolate the findings of so few people.

Other Factors That Determine If A Product is Pore Clogging

1. The other ingredients present in the formula

It’s important to note that just because a product contains comedogenic ingredients, does not mean that the finished product will necessarily be comedogenic. Similarly, a finished product can end up being more comedogenic than the ingredients themselves.

It is well understood in the scientific community that substances can become non-comedogenic when sufficiently diluted.

When applied at 50-100%, some ingredients receive a comedogenic rating of 4-5, but when diluted to 25%, the comedogenic rating can drop to 1!

Other than concentrated, medicated products, most product ingredients are diluted with water, leaving anything else well below 25%, which would, therefore, render the ingredient in that formula non-comedogenic.

2. The concentration, duration, and circumstances under which these ingredients were applied.

For example, in all cases, these ingredients were applied in their raw form, and they weren't tested on the face where people would most likely break out,  which is vastly different than how we use a skincare product in real life.

There are some instances (such as coconut oil, typically applied undiluted) which still received a high rating of 4. Yet some people can still use it with no problems, which leads me to my third concern.

3. Comedogenic ratings tend to be blanket statements.

Kligman, from the original rabbit ear assay, even stated that “Substances deemed to be strongly comedogenic by some are declared by others to be innocuous. Reviewers have not failed to notice the high frequency of strikingly contradictory results .”

This might be due to the simple fact that our skin is not all the same – the exact same conditions applied to two different individuals can easily yield very different results.

Will checking an ingredient’s comedogenic factor help me?

Many dermatologists condemn the original comedogenic models as useless in providing information on which ingredients are and are not comedogenic, while others still rely on the comedogenicity scale heavily.

To put it bluntly, if you’re prone to having acne and you have particularly oily skin, checking the comedogenic rating for ingredients will probably be beneficial to you and give you something to go off on. 

If you have Acne cosmetica, which is a type of acne that is caused or aggravated by cosmetics then it can be especially beneficial.  One study in 1976 used the rabbit model to formulate a “non-comedogenic” cosmetic formulation; it’s use in acne-prone women reduced the rate of acne from 25% to less than 5%.

The bottom line is, just because a product contains a potential pore-clogging ingredient, doesn’t mean the product itself is comedogenic; particularly if the ingredient is very low on the ingredients list. If there are several highly comedogenic ingredients high up on the ingredients list, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from it if you’re acne-prone.

For more tips on picking the best products for your skin, see our post on Minimalist Skincare , or our helpful guide on Finding the Right Product for Your Skin Type .

You don’t need to go through your current skincare products and scan the ingredients over with a fine-tooth comb to determine what ends up in the garbage bin – if they’re working well for you, that’s all that matters.

It also doesn’t mean you should completely discount buying a new product just because it has potentially acne-causing ingredients on the list (unless you are acne-prone and it’s one of the first few ingredients, but even still). Overall, what matters most is a good product formula, and most products geared toward acne will be a safe bet.

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1 comment

Kimberly Kennedy

Kimberly Kennedy

You have to add the 5 next to the Acetyl aged Lanolin in your graph. The number you have is wrong. Other than that, great!

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