With so many products available in the market these days, it’s difficult to know which one will work for your skin type.
You are someone who likes to do ample research before buying any product. You avidly go through each of the ingredients listed on the product carefully to understand what each ingredient does to your oily skin.
Each ingredient has a different effect on oily skin. If you are not a skin expert, you would not know which ingredient will cause your pores to get jammed, and which will help unclog them.
Since no ingredient is totally great or completely worthless, you would want to know which ingredient is relatively good or relatively bad when it comes to addressing your problem of clogged pores.
In order to address this issue, there exists an industry-wide scale called the “comedogenic scale”.
What Is The Comedogenic Scale?
Comedogenic Scale ranks the ingredients on the basis of its ability to clog your pores.
Each substance is given a rating between 0 and 5.
Any substance with a rating of 5 would be highly comedogenic (that is, would cause clogged pores willy-nilly), and a substance with a rating of 0 would be least comedogenic (or you could say, non-comedogenic).
If you have oily skin, you would know that acne and breakouts have their genesis in clogged pores. So, if you have oily and/or acne-prone skin, comedogenicity scale of an ingredient is something that you should be aware of.
What you are supposed to do is check the ingredients in your product against the ratings on the comedogenic list. If your product has a large number of comedogenic ingredients, it can lead to clogged pores and acne, if not, it’s less likely to clog your pores.
The problem here is, I don’t trust this scale too much. Why? Keep reading.
In this article, I will be discussing comedogenic ratings, why some products that have non-comedogenic ratings have comedogenic ingredients in their list, and why the scale cannot be trusted blindly. Also, I will help you figure out how you should choose the right product for your skin that will not break you out.
How about a little formal introduction to comedogenicity to kick this off?
What Is Comedogenicity?
The term “comedogenic” comes from the word “comedone”, which is a clogged hair follicle (also known as a pore) inside the skin.
Comedogenicity or comedogenic rating of an ingredient refers to the tendency of that ingredient to clog your pores. Clogged pores, in turn, can result in acne and breakouts.
A comedogenic scale ranks the ingredients on a scale of 0-5, 0 meaning the ingredient is completely non-comedogenic, and 5 meaning a product is highly comedogenic.
These are what the numbers in the comedogenic scale mean –
0 – Will Not Clog Pores
1 – Low probability to clog pores
2 – Moderately low probability to clog pores
3 – Moderate probability to clog pores
4 – Fairly high probability to clog pores
5 – High probability it will clog pores
Beneficialbotanicals.com lists down common skincare ingredients and their comedogenic ratings, if you are interested.
What Are Comedogenic Ingredients In Skin Care Products?
Rabbit ear test was the first standard for testing the comedogenicity of common skincare ingredients.
Most of the ingredients that are considered comedogenic are based on these first comedogenicity tests performed in the 1980s by James Fulton, an American dermatologist, on rabbit ears. The ingredients were given a rating between 0-5, 0 being non-comedogenic ingredients, and 5 being extremely comedogenic ingredients.
Later, it was found that the model was flawed, and later models for testing comedogenicity of ingredients were also found to yield incorrect results.
Is proper testing even possible? Continue reading to find out.
How Do You Know If A Product Is Comedogenic Or Non-Comedogenic?
Well, the truth is – we don’t know for sure. As stated above, there is no proper research to conclude that a product is comedogenic.
All we know for sure is that there are certain products that have been confirmed to clog pores by enough people using the products containing them. These products have a high risk of being “comedogenic”.
There is no such list of ingredients that a product must contain in order to be classified as non-comedogenic. While the FDA defines a comedogenic ingredient as something that will clog pores, it does not define the list of ingredients a product must contain to be considered “non-comedogenic”.
This means that any company can claim that their product is non-comedogenic, without any guarantee that it will not clog your pores.
Where Do Numbers On The Comedogenic Scale Come From?
The numbers on the comedogenic scale come from studies that are performed by scientific researches, that are published in public journals. The notable among these is American Academy of Dermatology.
So that means the comedogenicity scale is quite reliable, right?
Well, a lot of claims in the skincare industry are backed by “scientific research”, but you don’t know the real story until you dig a bit deeper.
Clogged Pores – What Should I Know About Them?
Sebaceous glands are present in our skin, and these glands secrete an oily substance called sebum. Sebum is responsible for keeping our skin moisturized.
Hair follicles are present on our skin, and these follicles have a small opening at the surface of the skin, which is known as the pore. The hair follicle is connected to the sebaceous gland.
Sebum travels from the sebaceous gland, through the hair follicle, and finally reaches the surface of the skin through the pore.
Now, when there is an excess of sebum being produced by the sebaceous gland, or when dead skin cells block the hair follicle, it results in a clogged pore. Sebum and dead skin cells accumulate in the pore, and this accumulation is what we call blackheads or whiteheads.
If the pore is open to the surface of the skin, the sebum and dead skin cells oxidize and turn black, which is why they are called blackheads.
If the pore is not open to the surface of the skin, then the sebum and dead skin cells accumulate and form a whitehead.
So now you know – blackheads and whiteheads are just clogged pores!
Using The Comedogenic Scale For Your Skin Type
Knowing your skin type is one of the most important things to know when it comes to determining which comedogenic substances to utilize. There are five distinct types of skin: normal, dry, oily, sensitive, and combination.
Because there is no scientific system of classifying skin types, a lot of it is subjective. It’s based on observation and personal judgment. Because there are so many various sorts and requirements, it’s critical to experiment with lots of things to figure out what your skin likes. Evaluate how your skin responds after using products for at least a month.
The skin isn’t greasy or dry. The pores are generally tiny; the skin isn’t shiny or flaky, and it doesn’t crack. Typically, there aren’t many creases or furrows.
If your skin is normal, you should use products that don’t strip the natural oils from it. They should moisturize instead of drying out the skin, therefore assisting to reduce creases and wrinkles. Cleansers that aren’t abrasive are essential for effective cleaning.
- Lightweight hydration and maintaining skin equilibrium are key factors for normal skin. An oil with an appropriate ratio of oleic and linoleic acids is wonderful.
- The best oils for normal skin include argan, grapeseed, hemp seed, jojoba, cherry kernel, mango butter, pomegranate oil, safflower oil, sea buckthorn oil, squalane (best), sunflower and shea butters.
The skin on people with dry skin is tight and scaly, and it is also flaky. People who have dry skin frequently have pores that are almost unnoticeable. Many elements influence the development of dry skin, ranging from heredity to genetics to the amount of sebum produced in the epidermis (outer layer).
If you have dry skin, make sure to moisturize on a regular basis in your skin care regimen. You should also avoid using strong cleansers, limit your time and frequency in the shower, use a good humidifier at home, and consider utilizing humectant-rich products.
- If you have dry skin, use oils high in oleic acid to help reduce inflammation.
- Olive oil, avocado oil, almond oil, hazelnut oil, olive oil, moringa oil, neem extract, perilla seed extract , pistachio kernel and argan nut oils are among the best choices.
- Shea, mango, cocoa, and kokum butter are also good options if your skin is severely dry.
Oily skin is shiny, thick, and dull-looking. It’s also more susceptible to blackheads and whiteheads because of the overproduction of sebum.
People with oily skin should use products that help to regulate sebum production while still maintaining moisture levels.
Cleansing is still important for people with oily skin, but make sure not to overdo it. Excessive cleansing can strip the skin of its natural oils and actually cause the sebaceous glands to produce even more oil.
- Products containing retinoids are good choices for people with oily skin because they help to unclog pores and reduce sebum production.
- Some of the best oils for people with oily skin include argan oil, jojoba oil, and tea tree oil.
People with combination skin have areas of both dryness and oiliness. The T-zone is generally the most oily, while the cheeks are usually drier.
Products for combination skin should be tailored to the individual’s needs. For example, someone with combination skin might need a light moisturizer for the oily areas and a heavier one for the dry areas.
- Most people with combination skin will need to cleanse twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. Be careful not to overdo it, though, as this can also strip the skin of its natural oils.
- Tea tree oil is great for combination skin because it helps to regulate sebum production without drying out the skin. Other good choices include lavender oil, geranium oil, and cedarwood oil.
People with sensitive skin need to be extra careful when choosing products. Many products contain harsh chemicals that can irritate the skin.
Products for sensitive skin should be free of fragrances, dyes, and other potentially irritating ingredients. They should also be non-comedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores.
- Some of the best oils for people with sensitive skin include jojoba oil, avocado oil, and almond oil.
- Butters such as shea butter and cocoa butter are also good options.
How To Perform An Allergy Patch Test?
Sensitivity to new products is not uncommon. In order to determine whether a product will irritate your skin, it is important to perform an allergy patch test.
To do this, simply apply a small amount of the product to a small area of skin, such as the inside of the elbow. Leave it on for 24 hours and then check the area for any signs of irritation, such as redness, swelling, or itchiness.
If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to avoid using the product.
When To See A Dermatologist?
If you have any concerns about your skin or are unsure about what products to use, it is always best to consult with a dermatologist. They can help you identify your skin type.
A dermatologist can also help you with cosmetic concerns such as wrinkles, brown spots, or sun damage.
Dermatologists can also perform procedures such as laser hair removal, laser skin resurfacing, and Botox injections.
Essential Fatty Acids In Skincare
Saying that fatty acids are essential for the skin is an understatement – they are essential for life. The skin cannot function without them. Fatty acids play a role in maintaining the barrier function of the skin, keeping moisture in and environmental irritants out. They also help to keep the skin smooth and elastic.
There are two types of fatty acids: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids have all of the hydrogen atoms they can hold, while unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds between the carbon atoms. This makes them less stable and more prone to oxidation, which is why they are not as common in skincare products.
Saturated fatty acids are found in animal products, while unsaturated fatty acids are found in plant products. The most important unsaturated fatty acid for the skin is linoleic acid. This is because the body cannot produce it on its own, so it must be obtained from external sources.
Linoleic acid is found in many vegetable oils, including sunflower oil, safflower oil, and grapeseed oil. It is also found in some nuts and seeds, such as almonds and cashews.
Products containing linoleic acid can help to improve the appearance of wrinkles, acne, and sun damage. They are also a good choice for people with oily skin or combination skin.
Oleic acid is a type of omega-9 fatty acid. It is found in olive oil, avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil.
Products containing oleic acid can help to improve the appearance of dry skin and sensitive skin. They can also help to reduce inflammation.
Lauric acid is a type of saturated fatty acid. It is found in coconut oil and palm kernel oil.
Products containing lauric acid can help to improve the appearance of acne and other skin conditions. They can also help to reduce inflammation.
How Accurate Is The Comedogenic Scale?
The problem is that this scale does not accurately reflect what happens when we include these ingredients in our skincare products. Let’s see why –
1. Tests Are Not Performed In Real-World Conditions
Ideally, the tests for each ingredient should be performed on each individual, and then a comprehensive list should be prepared to state what ingredients clog pores and cause acne on a particular skin type.
But in the real world, that’s, of course, not practicable.
So, instead, the tests are performed in “mock” conditions, i.e. a condition that mimics the real-world situation and is much simpler to carry out and understand. Some examples of these tests are ‘Rabbit Ear Model’, ‘Human Model’ etc.
What does that mean? We can’t rely on these results as they are not performed in real-world conditions and are bound to be inaccurate.
2. The Rabbit Ear Model For Testing Is A Flawed Model
The “Rabbit Ear Model“, which has long served as a model for determining the comedogenicity of ingredients, is flawed. Moreover, the method is cruel to the hapless animal.
In the Rabbit Ear Model for determining the comedogenicity of an ingredient, the ingredient was applied on the external part of a rabbit’s ears for about two weeks. After two weeks, the comedogenic behavior of the ingredient was determined based on whether or not any clogged pores were found on the surface of the rabbit’s ear.
Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of false positives.
A lot of ingredients that are non-comedogenic on human skin are comedogenic on the rabbit’s ears, as rabbit’s ears are much more sensitive than human skin. Also, the rabbits have naturally enlarged pores. Some of the earlier results counted these large pores as acne, which resulted in more false positives.
So basically, for a long time, there were ingredients people thought were comedogenic but which are actually not. A lot of these errors were corrected in the coming years.
One such example is petroleum jelly, which was earlier termed as comedogenic. This was corrected later on.
3. The Human Model For Assessing Comedogenic Substances Is Also Flawed
After realizing the problems with the Rabbit Ear Model, tests were performed on human skin as well. However, it resulted in more problems.
Firstly, in the human model, the test substances were applied under seclusion for one month to the upper part of the backs of young adult, black men who have large follicles.
You get the problem here right?
Our face skin is different from our back skin. Our face is exposed to a lot more sunlight, dirt, dust and has a lot more hair follicles than our back. So, whether your face and your back will react the same to those ingredients is uncertain.
Also, since the tests were performed on people having large pores, it’s highly uncertain that people with smaller pores will have a similar response to those ingredients.
One other major problem with this test was that the area of application was covered with a bandage. Covering the area with bandage would result in more penetration, which means the substance is more likely to cause acne.
These tests are also normally performed on small sample sizes, so we are likely to get different results if the test is performed on another 100 people or another 1000 people.
4. Comedogenic Ingredients Don’t Make A Comedogenic Product
If an ingredient is comedogenic on its own, it does not mean that a product having that ingredient will be comedogenic as well. How much quantity of the ingredient, in what concentration, is present in the product also matters.
If a product has an average comedogenic ingredient in large quantities, along with some other comedogenic ingredients, that’s when the product becomes harmful for your skin.
The same ingredient, when present in a more diluted form as the only comedogenic ingredient in the formulation, is less likely to cause any problems for most skin types.
5. Everyone’s Skin Is Different
One major issue with accepting the comedogenic rating is the fact that everyone’s skin is different. Everyone has unique skin chemistry, different skin bacteria, and different activity levels. We all live under different environmental conditions and have different genes.
The same ingredient will not have the same comedogenicity potential for every person. All we can say is that people with oily skin are more prone to having acne, and if those people have sensitive skin as well, they are much more likely to develop acne.
So Again, Is the Comedogenic Scale Really Useful?
Everyone likes to take the easy way out. That is the reason why this scale has become such a popular way to determine whether a product is safe for acnegenic skin or not.
Just look at the ingredients on the product and if their comedogenic ratings are below 1, you are good to go. Or what’s even less hassle is to check the product for a mention of the word “non-comedogenic” to consider it good for oily and acne prone skin.
But we all know that the easiest way is not always the best way. Comedogenicity is a complex and an inadequately researched problem.
When is comedogenic scale useful?
If you are breaking out even after following a proper diet and exercise routine, it’s usually good to check the comedogenic scale for high rated ingredients in order to narrow down on what ingredients might be causing your acne.
If your skin is acne-prone and the product you want to buy has a large number of comedogenic ingredients, that too listed near the top, it’s a good idea to avoid that product or patch test it very carefully before using it.
Ingredients listed at the top are present in the highest concentrations in that product. However, if you see a highly comedogenic ingredient, but listed in the bottom rungs of the ingredient list, do not let it bother you much.
These ingredients are present only in diluted form, and sometimes it is necessary for the expert to include them in order for the whole formulation to be effective.
Acne.org lists a helpful table of ingredients that one must avoid while buying a product, and a table that one should consider avoiding while buying a product for acne-prone skin. You could perhaps keep a screenshot of this table handy for next time when you go out to buy a product.
Some ingredients like oils and butter are usually used in undiluted forms. The comedogenic scale can help you navigate these ingredients, if your skin is prone to acne and breakouts.
Perform Your Own Tests Instead
The best way to test skincare products is to use them on your own skin. A patch test is a very reliable way to check how your skin reacts to a product, before you start slathering it all over your face. If the product seems to be irritating your skin, no need to continue.
My advice for you is to stick to natural ingredients as far as possible, and avoid products filled with a lot of chemicals. This is why, I am always gung-ho about trying out DIY techniques at home to address my skincare needs.
If you have to buy readymade products, go for products made by companies that claim to use “safe” ingredients in their products and are trusted by people with skin type similar to yours. You can even go one step further and check their product pages for exact ingredients and the source of those ingredients.
Knowledge is power. A lot of websites have a great detail about various skincare ingredients. If you have sensitive skin, it’s worth spending the time understanding what ingredients are used in a product.
If a product is working for you and you find out that it has comedogenic ingredients, don’t just stop using it. It just means that the ingredients are not harming your skin.
So, this is all I had to share about the comedogenic rating. The only person who can make a decision about your skin is you! The amount of research you put into finding the best skincare products for your skin type is up to you. No one knows your skin better than you, not even the wise scientists who designed the comedogenicity scale.
I hope this article helped you understand a little about comedogenicity and you will now be able to make informed decisions about your skin.