What Acne Ingredients to Avoid

Thankfully, those awkward high school days are behind you, but you can’t always say the same for your acne. Even though acne is the most common skin condition in America, it can still be challenging to find skin care products that won’t make acne-prone skin even angrier. Not everyone’s “trigger ingredients” are the same, but when you search for products, it’s important to be aware of known acne or sensitive skin irritants. Here are some tips to making sense of the back of your bottles.

Ingredient Myths and Facts

Sorting through labels and ingredient lists can be challenging. While you’re looking, be aware of the facts: Even if a product calls itself “non-comedogenic,” it may still cause or exacerbate acne, since each person has specific trigger ingredients. On the flip side, using a product with one or more known pore-clogging ingredients isn’t guaranteed to make you break out. Instead, consider the ingredient concentrations. If a comedogenic ingredient appears near the end of the product list, it’s likely present in a very low amount that may not cause a problem. If it’s one of the first few ingredients listed, however, you’re better off choosing a different product. Just because a product contains oil, seems greasy or makes your skin feel oily does not mean it will make acne worse. Many types of oil actually hydrate, protect the skin and help prevent blocked pores. It’s common to struggle with products that seem to make your skin worse before you find any that help clear it up. But with a little investigation and awareness of what to avoid, you’re likely to land on the best choices for you.

Cocoa and Coconut

Skincare ingredients can be ranked from 0–5 on the comedogenicity scale, which measures how likely they are to clog pores and cause breakouts. Both cocoa butter and coconut butter, common oils used in a variety of skincare products, score a 4 on the comedogenicity scale. Although they can add a pleasant scent to moisturizers and other topical products, cocoa butter and coconut butter both have a very greasy texture and won’t let your pores “breathe” in the way that some other oils will. As alternatives, try castor, soybean, safflower or sunflower oils, all of which score 0 or 1 on the comedogenicity scale.

woman cleansing face


Alcohols are common ingredients in many skincare products because they dry quickly, leaving your skin feeling soft and light. That may seem like an advantage, but many alcohols actually increase skin dryness and irritation. Products with a high alcohol concentration can break down your skin barrier with repetitive use, and even draw out fatty compounds that keep your skin hydrated and healthy.

The Isopropyls and Lanolin

Many isopropyls, such as isopropyl isostearate and isopropyl lanolate, score a 4 or 5 on the comedogenicity scale. Another ingredient that typically scores high is lanolin. While natural lanolin oil is not typically a breakout culprit, synthetic lanolins and lanolin derivatives may cause irritation and make existing acne even worse.

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