(UPDATED: March 1, 2020)
Natural skincare is wildly popular right now - and for great reason! More and more consumers want products that do not harm their skin. The public has been leaning towards a more "natural only" approach with readable ingredients to move away from large companies who are selling toxic synthetics to a non-informed public market. GREAT!
Plot Twist: as popular as natural products are, those of us acne-prone need to heed caution. The majority of products on the market are made for the general public (not for acne-prone skin) and contain some of the 120+ scientifically-identified comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients, many of which are in fact natural.
Comedogenic ingredients are responsible for triggering product acne (a.k.a. acne cosmetica). Breakouts from products will not cause deep cysts, but rather surface-level, non-inflamed white acne bumps. They often form in a cluster of several small, white bumps with little or no redness. See picture below for an example:
In 1989, a study of comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients was conducted. The study found various synthetic and natural ingredients that triggered pimples. If you are breakout-prone or have noticed more clogged pores recently, these are the ingredients you must start avoiding in your skincare. Good news though is you can still eat these, just don't put them on your skin!
NATURAL INGREDIENTS THAT CAN TRIGGER ACNE:
Watch out, these pore-cloggers can trigger product breakouts.
- Almond oil
- Apricot kernel oil
- Avocado oil
- Beeswax (a.k.a. cera alba wax)
- Cetearyl alcohol
- Cetyl alcohol
- Cocoa butter
- Coconut oil (a.ka. coconut alkanes or cocos nucifera) • Coconut oil is great for many people suffering with ezcema, rosacea, and dry skin, but if you have acne you will want to stay away from this product 100%. It is a very thick oil that causes massive amounts of little bumps all over the skin. This will by far make your acne worse.
- Corn oil
- Cotton seed oil
- Evening primrose oil (oenothera biennis oil/extract)
- Flaxseed oil
- Grapeseed oil (vinis vinifera extract)
- Hydrogenated vegetable oil
- Olive oil (a.k.a. olea europaea fruit oil/extract) • Heavily used in natural skincare and very cloggy for the #acnecommunity. Make sure this isn't in the products you are prone to breakouts.
- Peach kernel oil
- Peanut oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil (glycine soja oil) • Another oil that is widely used to make products more smooth and hydrating, but even a little bit causes clogs on the skin. I have tested several products with small amounts of this ingredient and still small clogs - especially in the chin. Watch out for this one.
- Stearyl alcohol
- Sweet almond oil
NATURAL INGREDIENTS THAT DON'T TRIGGER ACNE:
- All essential oils
- Aloe Vera
- Bergamot essential oil
- Clove essential oil
- Ginseng extract
- Green tea extract
- Jojoba essential oil
- Lavender essential oil
- Mandarin essential oil
- Oatstraw extract
- Pink grapefruit essential oil
- Rosemary essential oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sweet orange essential oil
- Tea tree essential oil
- Titanium dioxide
- Zinc oxide
- Witch hazel
What to do?
1. Most natural makeup and sunscreens contain comedogenic oils. The large majority of natural makeups and SPFs are non-toxic (yay!) but can contain comedogenic ingredients in their formulations such as coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, soybean oil, and more (no! 😭). If you're seeking acne-safe makeup that is also natural, loose powders are the best option (lists with *asterisk below).
2. Beware of untested carrier oils. Most carrier oils used today were not available or tested in the 1989 comedogenic study such as argan oil, borage oil, hemp oil, kukui nut oil, macadamia oil, meadowfoam seed oil, pumpkin seed oil, rosehip oil, tamanu oil, walnut oil. These cannot be confirmed as acne-safe and I strongly recommend to avoid them.
3. Sunflower, safflower, jojoba, and all essential oils are acne-safe. While most oils are comedogenic, jojoba, safflower, sunflower, and all essential oils were all found to be acne-safe. Feel free to use these ingredients without worry.
4. Download the comedogenic list. If you have acne, your skin requires special care. Checking every product you use on your face for comedogenic ingredients is a must to stay safe. Even a one-time use mask can leave bumps for months.
5. Shop Skin Nutritious for acne-safe, non-comedogenic skincare. My whole skincare line is designed specifically for acne-prone skin types to be 100% non-comedogenic and as non-toxic as possible. Created by me, an 12-year acne survivor who has worked with over 1,300 clients to clear their skin! I also have a growing list of pre-screened cosmetics here: Makeup for Acne.
If you are not sure if your breakouts are from products or something else, I can identify that for you. Check out my services below for 1-on-1 support.
Wishing you freedom, happiness, and clear skin!
Elise May, CN + LE, is a holistic esthetician, acne nutritionist, and founder of Skin Nutritious. Since 2009, she has helped over 1,300 clients overcome acne with a blend of coaching, treatments, and holistic skincare.