Extra 15% off all sets Shop now Two free samples with every orderShop now Free standard shipping on all US ordersShop all Free international shipping on orders over $50Shop all


  • Education
    A primer on essential beauty topics, from talc contamination to biodegradability.
  • Profile
    Everybody has a story about beauty. Some of the world’s most intriguing people share theirs.
  • Tutorials
    Expert beauty advice to inform and inspire.
  • RHW Shortlist
    A glimpse inside Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's world.
Uncovered: The Complicated Non-Comedogenic Conversation

Uncovered: The Complicated Non-Comedogenic Conversation

Are non-comedogenic products the secret to clear skin? Rose Inc. investigates.

Treating breakouts can feel like a never-ending battle. Stress and hormonal changes lead to pimples, which is then compounded by the stress of said pimples. It’s almost like any mention of the “b” word prompts a blemish to appear. It’s a battle that, we’re often told, can be made slightly easier by avoiding certain ingredients that clog pores. While the term “comedogenic” has been thrown around in the skin-care space as a category to avoid, it’s a bit more complicated than that. Rose Inc. looks into exactly what comedogenic means and why avoiding ingredients labeled as such is just one part of the journey to smooth skin.

The Basics

As esthetician Biba de Sousa explains, comedogenic is “generally used in skin-care lexicon to describe anything that will cause breakouts and inflamed pores.” Therefore, if something is ‘non-comedogenic’, it typically means it is safe to use for those prone to acne. Pimples and clogged pores are often referred to as ‘comedones’ or ‘closed comedones’, which is where the term comes from.

There are certain ingredients known to be comedogenic, like coconut oil, cocoa butter, sodium lauryl sulfate (found in some shampoos), and algae extract. De Sousa adds that many nut oils, like sweet almond and argan, are also comedogenic. However, this can change depending on other factors.

Some of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s favorite non-comedogenic serums from iS Clinical.

The Science

The ingredients previously mentioned all rank high on the comedogenic scale, which was first created by the late doctors James E. Fulton, MD, and Albert Kligman, MD back in the 1970s. The pair applied different ingredients to the inner ears of rabbits to determine whether or not follicular keratosis (an increased production of keratin in hair follicles which leads to clogged follicles and comedones) occurred after a few weeks.

These original tests focused on 12 ingredient categories: lanolins, fatty acids, alcohols and sugars, waxes, thickeners, oils, pigments, silicones, sterols, vitamins and herbs, preservatives, and miscellaneous ones. Ranking was done on a 0-5 scale, with ingredients causing large pimples in the 4-5 range and therefore deemed unsuitable for those with oily and acne-prone skin.

The Conflicting Views

While the scale is still commonly used today, new ingredients and research has emerged since then. For example, concentrations of an ingredient, along with the other ingredients it’s formulated with, can change its comedogenicity. “Even though an ingredient on its own may be comedogenic, when mixed in a formulation it may not have the same effect,” cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson tells us. Similarly, an ingredient that ranks low on the comedogenic scale can alternatively become more comedogenic when mixed with certain ingredients. It can also shift when processed or extracted in a certain way.

The Takeaway

What’s the best way to figure out whether or not a product is going to cause skin congestion? The best practice is to opt for products that are labeled non-comedogenic, suggests New York City dermatologist Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD. Although, like a lot of things regarding skin care, the FDA doesn’t regulate these claims, he still notes that “you can usually trust that it is non-comedogenic.”

It’s also important to recognize that each person's skin is different. An ingredient or product that works great on someone with a dry complexion might be a disaster for someone who’s prone to acne. To err on the safe side, Wilson suggests patch testing products to see whether it’s going to cause a breakout or an allergic reaction. As with any ingredient or product, it’s important to shop smart and do your research ahead of time before slathering just anything on your face.

It’s also important not to assume that only rich creams or balms will cause congestion. De Sousa notes that things like shampoo and conditioner can cause breakouts through incidental exposure in the shower. “They still leave a residue,” she says. Therefore, some individuals might find eliminating all comedogenic formulas from their routines helpful.

Esthetician Biba de Sousa’s namesake product line is non-comedogenic, as are some of RHW’s go-to products seen here.

What's Needed From The Industry

As consumers at the whim of the beauty industry, it’s often easy to feel helpless. As de Sousas tells us, that’s where the change needs to happen. “The cosmetic industry is more interested in trends and how products feel,” she says.

She thinks that every brand should be performing rigorous testing and, if an issue pops up during this phase, the product should be reformulated. Which brings us to what she says is another issue: the laboratories. “They don't like when you say ‘I don't want these hundreds of ingredients’ because they want their job to be easy,” she says. Just as the clean, green, and sustainable beauty categories are undergoing reform, de Sousas thinks cosmetic formulations should be next. “We’re just beginning to understand this,” she says. “And the more people that talk about it, the more likely it will become a mainstream conversation.”

Your Bag 0

Your cart is empty Shop all
Rose Inc GiftBox

Add a Signature Gift Box for $4

Choose Samples

Select 2 free samples
Add Free

Sample: Blush Divine Radiant Lip & Cheek Shade Card

Add Free

Sample: Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer

Experience a does-it-all, creaseless concealer that brightens, blurs and...

Add Free

Sample: Radiant Reveal Brightening Serum Sachet


513 reviews

LX 200

Very Deep Skin Tone, Neutral Undertone


Softlight Luminous Hydrating Concealer

A does-it-all concealer that brightens, blurs and contours while nourishing...

301 reviews


Warm terracotta


Blush Divine Radiant Lip & Cheek Color

A hydrating cream that brightens and blurs with a radiant...

178 reviews


Very Deep Skin Tone/Red Undertone


Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum

A hydrating skin tint that delivers powerful skincare and sheer,...

405 reviews


Cool blush


Satin Lip Color Rich Refillable Lipstick

Creamy lipstick that plumps the lips while drenching delicate skin...

25 reviews


Number 1 Concealer Brush

A customized concealer brush with a unique curve engineered for...

201 reviews


Eye Revival Brightening Eye Cream

A pearlescent cream that diminishes the appearance of dark circles...

230 reviews


Radiant Reveal Brightening Serum

A powerful hydrating serum that instantly brightens the complexion with...


Number 6 Highlighter Brush

A petite dual-fiber brush that delivers seamless cream highlighter...