Let it glow, let it glow. I doubt there is a single person out there who doesn’t want to have healthy radiant skin and I think that we can all agree that adding a facial oil is a great way to get there.
The beauty industry also agrees and in order to help us achieve this goal, it has brought countless products to the market containing cold-pressed oils, natural butters, and waxes or as standalone products. Some of them are labelled non-comedogenic while others are non-acnegenic, and there’s even the term comedogenic scale.
So, What Are Comedones?
A comedo is a single flesh-coloured, white, or dark lump or bump on the skin. If there are several lumps, then these are comedones. They are the primary sign of acne.
Normally, our skin produces sebum (an oily substance) in a sebaceous gland. The sebum flows out of the pore that is connected to the sebaceous gland and evenly spreads over the skin. It’s the skin’s natural moisturiser. When we get acne, some of these pores get blocked by dirt and dead skin cells, hence we get the bumps.
A white comedo also called whitehead or closed comedo is when the clog is deeper in the oil gland. It then has a whitish colour. When the plug reaches the surface of the skin, it becomes an open comedo. As it is exposed to the air, it oxidises and gets a darker colour, hence its name blackhead. The typical red acne pimples are the result of the skin’s immune reaction, the inflammatory process.
Comedogenic And Acnegenic
Comedogenic just means that an ingredient can block pores. The comedogenic scale indicates how likely it will clog your pore and it ranges from 0 to 5, with 0 meaning that it’s non-comedogenic or having little risk to clog the pores. The highest rating 5 will most likely cause a plug. Think of a comedogenic ingredient like glue, that will hold dead skin cells better together and therefore lead to comedones. And yes, you have read “likely”. That is because the skin of each person reacts differently, and even if an ingredient is rated 5, it may not lead to blocked pores in one person but it does in the next.
If an ingredient is acnegenic, it can worsen the state of already existing acne. So, non-acnegenic products are formulated so as to not to cause acne for people with acne-prone skin. The formulations is generally free of ingredients such as artificial fragrances, alcohol, mineral oils, and lanolin.
Both terms are related, but non-acnegenic is not often used on product labels. Also, note that both terms are not regulated by the FDA. If you want to know how to understand a product label, click here.
Concentration And Combination
Depending on an ingredient’s concentration or how and with what it’s combined with, it can change if it’s how likely it’s going to clog your pores. That means, even if an ingredient is comedogenic on its own, if the product is formulated with a low concentration, then overall, the product itself is non-comedogenic. The inverse is also valid. Even if a product doesn’t contain any known comedogenic ingredients, it can still be comedogenic.
What Ingredients Are Comedogenic?
Back to the title of this article, the question can also be asked are only natural oils, butters, and waxes comedogenic, or are there other comedogenic substances?
Some common skincare ingredients are well-known to block up pores, and it’s not just oily ingredients that are typically associated with zits.
Frequently-mentioned examples of comedogenic ingredients are coconut oil and cocoa butter. Comedogenic ingredients flying under the radar are for example moringa oil, D and C colorants, or bismuth oxychloride. The last example is an often-used ingredient in mineral makeup.
As a guiding principle, you can look at how occlusive an ingredient is, take for example a natural pressed oil. In terms of skin-types, more occlusive ingredients are better for dry skin and the inverse is also true: Less occlusive ingredients are better for oily skin.
Fatty Acid Categories
The main constituents of natural oils are fatty acids. The 2 fatty acids that we need to look at in-depth are linoleic and oleic acid since the ratio of these determine how comedogenic or non-comedogenic oil is for different skin types.
Generally speaking, the higher the linoleic acid content is, the less comedogenic it is and thus more suited for oily skin. The higher oleic acid content is the more comedogenic it is and better suited for dry skin, as it’s more occlusive. Overall, oils rich in oleic acid are heavier and richer. Both are considered essential fatty acids as our body can naturally produce them. Hence we need to eat them or apply them topically.
Linoleic acid is an omega–6 fatty acid. It’s very moisturising and as it’s light, it can be used by all skin types. Another advantage is that it can lighten and fade hyperpigmentation. With regular use, it will decrease the skin’s melanocyte production and so even out skin tone. Examples of vegetable or seed oil high in linoleic acid
- Argan oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Grape seed oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Walnut oil (also high in omega–3 fatty acids)
- Borage seed oil
- Black currant seed oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Rosehip seed oil
Originally, oleic acid was sourced from olive oil. Hence oleic which means “from olive oil”. Now, oleic acid is derived from many more sources. Oleic Acid is rich in omega–9s and is known for being hydrating and anti-inflammatory. Known oils rich in oleic acid are
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Apricot kernel oil
- Jojoba oil
- Moringa oil
- Palm kernel oil
- Sea buckthorn oil
- Tamanu oil
- Shea butter
- Neem oil
It’s not that cold-pressed oils, natural butters, and waxes are comedogenic in themselves. Pore-clogging has more to do with how occlusive an ingredient is. Taking natural oils as an example, it then has more to do with the ratio of oleic acid to linoleic acid.
You have seen that linoleic acid is more lightweight compared to oleic acid. While both fatty acids are essential, if you want to stay on the safe side, choose a product high in linoleic acid.
Did you know that not oils are causing clogged pores? Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about how to get the glow.