Comedogenic Products & Your Skin: Why An Acne-Safe Routine Matters

Comedogenic Products & Your Skin: Why An Acne-Safe Routine Matters

Dealing with acne is no joke and if you've been trying to navigate the confusing skincare landscape, you've probably come across products that claim to be "non-comedogenic" and "safe for acne". What does this actually mean?

Comedogenic Ingredients: The Gist

Many resources explain comedogenic ingredients as ingredients that literally clog your pores causing acne. While this is a part of the truth, it doesn't reflect what is fully going on under the surface. Comedogenic ingredients are actually ingredients that trigger an inflammatory response in the follicle. This inflammatory response causes the skin cells in the follicle to become irritated and flaky, which leads to them shedding off into the follicle and creating a clog. This plug that is formed is called a Microcomedone.

Microcomedones are invisible to the naked eye and can start forming undetected up to 8 weeks before you see a visible breakout on your skin (this can be even longer if you're using products that stress out your skin and prevent it from bringing these clogs up to the surface). This is part of why identifying products that are causing breakouts is so hard. Skin operates on a lag time and it's usually not immediately obvious that a product is comedogenic for your skin. If you've tried many products that work at first but then start to notice the acne comes back after a few weeks-months, this may be what you're noticing.

How Come Comedogenic Products Don't Break Some People Out?

It's important to remember that skin is incredibly unique at the end of the day. Comedogenic ingredients are really only a factor if you have acne prone skin. This is because your follicles are already predisposed to inflammation/over-reactivity. People who are not acne prone can usually get away with using products that would cause other people to break out immensely. Even among those who are acne prone, there are a lot of different factors in everyone's skin that influence what reaction a comedogenic product will cause. For example, some acne prone people can tolerate products with Shea Butter in them well, while for others, it's an acne bomb.

It's impossible to tell from looking at your skin what comedogenic ingredients will break you out and which ones you could potentially tolerate. This is also complicated by the fact that skin can tolerate different things at different stages. So, while your skin may blow up when using certain ingredients in its inflamed phase, it may actually be able to handle the same ingredients just fine later on when your skin has calmed down and become healthier.

Common Comedogenic Ingredients 

Here are some common comedogenic ingredients to watch out for that are huge acne triggers for those with acne prone skin.

  • Oils: Coconut oil, palm oil, and soybean oil
  • Butters: Cocoa butter and shea butter
  • Fatty Acids: Lauric acid and oleic acid
  • Waxes: Beeswax and paraffin wax
  • Esters: Isopropyl myristate and isopropyl palmitate

Why Is An Acne-Safe Routine Important?

An acne-safe product is usually one that does not have any known comedogenic ingredients in it OR if it does, the entire formula has been tested by the company and it is actually proven to be non-comedogenic**. We just discussed how some people can tolerate comedogenic products just fine while others can't. Many clients are a bit shocked when I go over their current routine and suggest eliminating their current products for acne safe products. Wouldn't it be better to just keep them on their potentially comedogenic products and see how things play out?

While this is tempting, there are a few reasons why I always recommend eliminating ALL comedogenic/potentially comedogenic products from your routine when beginning your acne clearing journey.

1. In the initial stages of the clearing journey, there are a LOT of skin changes that can happen e.g. Purging. This normal skin response to improved skin health can often be mistaken for skin getting worse. Now, imagine you're going through a purge while remaining on your comedogenic products. It would be near impossible to tell what's purging vs just breakouts from the wrong products.

2. Remember how we discussed Microcomedones and how long it can take to see them show up as actual pimples? When we never fully eliminate comedogenic products, we get stuck in an endless loop of almost clearing skin but acne coming back once those microcomedones reach their visible stage. It's also important to remember that comedogenic ingredients are inflammatory at their core. When they're not taken out, your skin can remain in a permanently sub-clinical inflamed state. This lengthens the time for your skin to heal from and resolve the acne and also leads to worse acne scarring & hyperpigmentation.

*Note: While people generally think of their skincare products as the biggest contributors to acne, don't forget that other products such as makeup and haircare products also have an effect as they come into contact with your facial skin all the time. Eliminating comedogenic products for these categories is also extremely important.

** It's important to add here that many products on the market have "non-comedogenic" claims on their label. This term is not regulated and many companies claiming this still have comedogenic ingredients in them. I don't typically trust these claims unless the company can show proof that the formula was acne tested. As your skin professional, I stay regularly up to date on comedogenic ingredients and review the ingredients lists as well as the overall formulas for all products marked as Acne Safe on my site. Every acne-safe product on the site has been thoroughly vetted and personally tested prior to getting the stamp of approval.


Will I Have To Stay On An Acne Safe Routine Forever?

This can be hard to predict as acne prone skin will always be acne prone. Remember that acne is managed but cannot be permanently cured. We cannot cure your skin of being reactive to comedogenic ingredients (this is a genetic and innate characteristic for those who are truly acne prone) so usually you will have to maintain some form of an acne safe routine to keep your skin happy. However, there is room to experiment with products once you have achieved clearance and your skin has been stable for a while. Since we now have a neutral, healthy baseline to work from, you can try out a formerly beloved product that isn't fully acne safe and closely monitor how your skin reacts to it. In cases like this, I always recommend introducing one product at a time and using it for a few months without changing anything else in your routine in order to get the most accurate gauge.


Understanding and avoiding comedogenic ingredients is essential for managing acne-prone skin. I understand what it's like to stand at the drugstore poring over ingredients list and hoping this new product will fix my acne for good - or just not make it worse again. The best way to manage your acne is to have a good skin professional by your side who has done the hard work for you already. All Full Program clients benefit from curated, acne safe regimens and close, professional monitoring to save you the headache of constant trial and error. Learn more about the program here.


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