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Shopping for cosmetics products can be overwhelming. Whether you’re sorting through long lists of confusing ingredients, researching the best products for your specific skin type, or trying to stay on top of all the latest skincare beauty trends, the whole thing often feels next to impossible.
Likewise, with so many vapid marketing buzzwords floating around, it’s hard to determine which terms are just for show and which ones actually matter. When you purchase a new face cream, for example, you want to be absolutely sure that you’re getting the most bang for your buck—that’s why staying knowledgeable about these things is so important.
Well, today, we’re here to talk about one of those buzzwords: noncomedogenic. What does it mean, and why do you keep seeing it everywhere?!
If you’re a skincare fan, you’ve certainly encountered this term before. It appears on countless moisturizers and creams, and it seems to have a positive connotation. It’s also long, hard to pronounce, and impossible to spell. We wouldn’t blame you if you never bothered to Google its definition.
Well, if you’re reading this article, it seems the time has finally come for you to figure what the hell this word actually means. You’ve come to the right place.
Honestly, the meaning of this term is far more nuanced than you’d ever expect. Continue reading as we explore all the layers behind this term and determine, once and for all, if non-comedogenicity is something you should actually care about.
At the most basic level, the definition of noncomedogenic is pretty straightforward. The term describes a product that is unlikely to clog skin pores. So, in theory, a skin cream labeled “noncomedogenic” would not cause blocked pores (or the breakouts they often entail).
However, just like many things in life, the truth about this word is far more complicated.
Contrary to what you would probably think, the “noncomedogenic” label on cosmetics products doesn't carry much weight at all. In other words, even if a brand claims that its skincare items are noncomedogenic, there’s no guarantee that those products won’t clog your pores. Sigh.
The history behind this word and its usage are actually quite complex. As such, there’s no single, regulated definition of the term, and beauty brands can basically toss it around willy-nilly.
Nevertheless, despite this unreliability, there is still some value to be extracted from the concept of noncomedogenicity, if only you know what to look for.
So, read on for everything you need to know about noncomedogenic creams and why you should (or shouldn’t) pay attention to this complicated label.
There are a few reasons that the concept of noncomedogenicity is problematic. First and foremost, the way we gauge a product’s comedogenicity level is pretty weird.
Let’s just be sure we’re all on the same page—the word comedogenicity describes a product or substance’s potential to create a comedone. And what’s a comedone, you ask? Well, it’s the earliest form of acne. In other words, it’s a clogged pore.
So, if a product is highly comedogenic, that means it’s very likely to block your pores. There’s a whole scale dedicated to measuring comedogenicity, but we’ll get to that shortly.
When scientists decided to study which ingredients cause clogged pores and acne, they decided to experiment on rabbit ears (yikes).
These researchers applied various products to the inner surface of rabbits’ ears and observed the outcome. Since rabbit ear skin is similar to human skin, they used the results to determine the comedogenicity of many substances.
Also, rabbit ears are far more sensitive than human skin, so if a product turned out to be noncomedogenic on rabbits, scientists could be fairly confident that it would be the same for people.
Anyways, as concerning and problematic as this animal testing was, it did result in some solid, dependable data. It also led to the creation of the comedogenicity scale that we mentioned earlier.
This scale runs from zero to five, with zero being the lowest comedogenicity level and five being the highest. Today, many people view products with a rating between zero and two as noncomedogenic.
Seems simple enough, right? Well, at this point, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that this scale isn’t very reliable. This is largely because the rabbit-ear studies just were not standardized—some of them counted comedones by eye, while others examined the rabbits’ tissue under a microscope to tally the blocked pores.
Along these same lines, other studies didn’t utilize the scale at all. Rather, they would employ their own independent criteria to determine comedogenicity.
This is all to say that if a company claims that their product is noncomedogenic, it’s pretty tough to tell how reliable that statement really is. Every company seems to rely on different studies and standards to achieve that noncomedogenic label.
Plus, to make matters even fuzzier, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no rules or regulations about the term “noncomedogenic” in cosmetics. At the end of the day, any beauty brand can use the label on its products without further scrutiny. The designation is at the mercy of each individual company.
Basically, it’s all a big mess.
OK, so what have we learned so far? To sum it up, the word “noncomedogenic” doesn’t mean much of anything, and the way we measure and determine comedogenicity is all over the place. Now, here’s the next question: where does this leave us, as beauty fans and consumers?
Surely, we’d all like to avoid products that will potentially cause clogged pores and breakouts. If we can’t trust the “noncomedogenic” label, where do we go from here?
Well, even if we can’t depend on the label itself, there is one factor to consider that is a bit more reliable: individual ingredients. Most of the time, studying the specific ingredients of a product is a more reliable method of determining a product’s comedogenicity.
In a landmark scientific study in 1984, researchers compiled a list of comedogenic ingredients that acne-prone people should avoid. The list includes a long series of substances, including:
As comedogenic ingredients, all of these substances may cause your skin to break out.
It’s important to note, however, that these ingredients don’t always cause clogged pores. Sometimes, in low concentrations, they are totally harmless. Only in higher concentrations will they wreak havoc on the skin. Even if a product contains one of these ingredients, it may not be comedogenic at all—it all depends on the concentration.
So, if one of these substances is listed near the bottom of a product’s ingredient list, your skin will most likely be safe.
Now you know which substances to avoid, if possible. Of course, the next step is to consider which ingredients to seek out for oily and acne-prone skin.
Here are a few of the ingredients that may benefit mild acne:
Remember, even if a product contains one or several of these ingredients, there’s no guarantee that it won’t clog your pores. However, if you are seeking a way to treat skin issues like acne, trying out products with these ingredients may be a good place to start.
Ultimately, the active ingredients in a product matter more than the noncomedogenic label. As such, there’s no need to worry if a skincare item doesn’t make that distinction.
At this point, it should be clear that the term “noncomedogenic” just doesn’t mean a whole lot. While it may not hurt to seek out noncomedogenic products, it just isn’t a cure-all for acne-prone skin. So sorry to disappoint.
Fortunately, there is indeed a world beyond noncomedogenic creams. If you’re looking for effective acne treatments, we have plenty of suggestions to help you out.
When it comes to picking out noncomedogenic products, just remember to keep an eye out for those potentially pore-clogging substances that we mentioned earlier. If you see any of these comedogenic ingredients in high quantities, that’s a major red flag.
Sometimes, all you can do is test out products until you find the ones that work best for you. If you’re concerned about causing a breakout across your entire face, try applying the cream or moisturizer in just one small spot.
The bottom line is this: whether or not a product is noncomedogenic should not be the deciding factor when you’re browsing through skin care options. Instead, consider the active ingredients that show up in the highest concentrations. Don’t stress too much about the label.