"Solving the mystery of skin-care ingredients, especially in products that don't brag on their non-comedogenicity, is a problem that most people with acne-prone skin have to solve," says Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Visha Skincare. A product's comedogenic level is measured on a scale of one to five, with the lower numbers meaning it's non-comedogenic, and five being the most pore-clogging.
That said, just because something's non-comedogenic doesn't necessarily mean it's not going to clog your pores—the category isn't regulated by anyone, much like the marketing terms "clean" and "natural." "The trouble with figuring out what products won’t break you out is that the term non-comedogenic has no official legal definition and is not a term regulated in any way by the Federal Trade Commission or the FDA," says Jessica Krant, MD, a cosmetic and medical dermatologist. "Even when it’s on the label, a product may still cause breakouts for some people, and when it’s not on the label, it doesn’t mean a certain product will definitely cause breakouts."
While not all skin types have to avoid comedogenic products like the plague (Dr. Patel says if you have extremely dry or mature skin, heavy creams that tend to be more comedogenic are very helpful), it's still helpful to know just what to look for when figuring out if a skin-care product's going to do your complexion good, and not just coat your pores. These are the three main things to watch out for.
1. Know the ingredient culprits
It's already important to read a beauty product's ingredient label, but it's especially key when watching out for something that could clog your pores. There are certain ingredients that are known for doing so—Akram points out that common offenders are coconut oil, palm oil, and flaxseed oil. Dr. Patel adds that many edible ingredients tend to clog mores more, too. "Think cocoa butter, glycerin, beeswax, and other edible ingredients like almond oil or avocado oil, as they tend to be thicker and feed microbes," she says.
2. Check the comedogenic scale
Just like you can check an ingredient's pH level online, you can also check its comedogenic rating. "You can find comedogenicity scales online, so look for ingredients on the three to five side and try to avoid them," says Akram. In turn, you can replace heavier oils with water-based or water-attracting products such as hyaluronic acid if you're looking to amp up your skin's moisture barrier.
3. Feel the texture
Even if you're not looking into the specifics of comedogenic ratings, you can tell a lot by a product's texture. "Thick creams and heavy oils tend to clog pores," says Akram. "Water-based and gel products tend to be safer for skin that's prone to congestion." An easy thing to remember, according to Dr. Patel? "If it can spackle a hole, don't use it."
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