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How to Tell If a Product Will Cause Breakouts

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

If you’re acne prone you’ve  probably realized you simply can’t trust the majority of skin care and cosmetic products when it comes to determining if they are “acne safe”.  The “non-comedogenic” (meaning non acne causing) label on many products is often just another marketing claim that helps sell products. If you suffer from acne, you have probably had the unpleasant experience of applying a new moisturizer only to wake up the next day to angry red blemishes.  So how can you really determine if a product will break you out?



As Estheticians and Acne Specialists we determine if a topical product has the potential to cause or make acne worse by looking at the comedogenicity of its ingredients based on scientific data.  Clients in our clearing program avoid all pore-cloggers with the skincare clearing protocol we have them use for homecare. It is key to helping clear. We make sure that any and all product used is acne safe and free of certain pore clogging ingredients.  


Pore Clogging Ingredients

The pore clogging list, developed by Dr. James Fulton scores ingredients on a scale from 0-5 for their comedogenicity and acne aggravation based on skin testing. A (0) represents no increase in visible hyperkeratosis (the start of acne) and a (3) through (5) showing a significant development of acne comedones. We recommend our clients avoid ingredients with a comedogenicity rating of (3) and above.  

Acetylated Lanolin 4

Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol 4

Algae Extract 5

Algin (Alginic acid; potassium alginate; sodium alginate) 4

Almond Oil 3

Apricot Kernel Oil 3

Argan Oil / Moroccan Oil 3

Butyl Stearate 3

Carrageenan 5

Cetyl Acetate 4

Cetyl Alcohol 3

Cetearyl Alcohol + Ceteareth 20 4

Cocoa Butter 4

Coconut Oil, Butter, Cream 4

Colloidal Sulfur 3

Cotton Seed Oil 3

D&C Red #17 3

D&C Red #21 3

D&C Red # 3 3

Diisostearate 4 D&C Red #30 3

D&C Red #36 3

Decyl Oleate 3

Dioctyl Succinate 3

Disodium Monooleamido PEG 2 Sulfosuccinate 4

Ethoxylated Lanolin 3

Ethylhexyl Palmitate 4

Evening Primrose Oil 3

Glyceryl Stearate SE 3

Glyceryl-3 Diisostearate 4

Hexadecyl Alcohol 5

Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil 3

Isocetyl Alcohol 4

Isocetyl Stearate 5

Isostearyl Isostearate 4

Isostearyl Neopentanoate 3

Kelp 3

Lanolic Acid 5

Laureth 23 3

Laureth 4 5

Lauric Acid 4

Linseed Oil 5

Mink Oil 3

Myristic Acid 3

Myristyl Lactate 4

Myristyl Myristate 5

Octyl Palmitate 4

Octyl Stearate 5

Oleic Acid 5

Oleth-3 5

Oleyl Alcohol 4

Olive Oil 3

PEG 75 Lanolin 3

PEG 200 Dilaurate 3

PEG 8 Stearate 3

PG Monostearate 3

Plankton 3

Polyglyceryl-3-Diisostearate 4

Potassium Chloride 5

Propylene Glycol Monostearate 4

Red Algae 5

Seaweed 5

Shark Liver Oil 3

Shea Butter 4

Sodium Chloride 5

Sodium Laureth Sulfate 3

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate 5

Solulan 16 4

Sorbitan Oleate 3

Soybean Oil 3

Steareth 10 4

Stearic Acid TEA 3

Stearyl Heptanoate 4

Sulfated Castor Oil 3

Sulfated Jojoba Oil 3

Wheat Germ Glyceride 5

Wheat Germ Oil 5

Xylene 4


For individuals prone to blemishes or acne, any topical products you use should be checked for these pesky acne aggravating pore cloggers including shampoo, conditioner, hand lotion, makeup, makeup removers, etc.  It's amazing how just a change in shampoo and conditioner can aid in clearing forehead and temple acne. Even Dermatologist prescribed topical products should be checked. For example, the cream based form of tretinoin (Retin-A) contains isopropyl myristate which is one of the most potent pore cloggers. While it is clearing out pores, it actually is creating acne! We have many clients who have used tretinoin for years who have never cleared and yet clear wonderfully on an acne-safe retinoid from us.  


Acne Cosmetica (acne caused by cosmetic products) manifests as numerous, slightly elevated, non-inflamed (although they can become inflamed) whiteheads typically on the cheeks, chin, forehead, jawline, and back.  This kind of acne is particularly tricky because it can take up to six months to develop making it hard to link to a certain product.

While checking an ingredient list may seem like an inconvenience, the acne that product can potentially cause is a much bigger problem and can take months to fully treat.  If you ever need help determining if a product is truly “acne safe” stop by Skin Theory and ask one of our Acne Specialists. We carry several acne safe products including Priia Makeup and Face Reality which are product lines specifically created for acne prone skin and are 100% acne-safe.  

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