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What Do Skincare Buzzwords Like Non-Comedogenic and Hypoallergenic Really Mean

January 15, 2020

Non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic skincare for sensitive and acne-prone skin

Two of the most commonly used buzzwords in beauty and skincare are non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic. But what do they actually mean?

If you have sensitive, oily and/or, break-out-prone skin, you know the importance of knowing what’s in your products. This post breaks down the details behind these beauty buzzwords so you can make informed decisions when shopping for skincare products and ultimately... get your brightest, healthiest skin!

What does comedogenic mean?

In order to understand what non-comedogenic means, we have to start with comedogenic. The medical definition of comedogenic is tending to clog pores especially by the formation of blackheads. Comedones is the technical term for whiteheads and blackheads. Comedogenic means pore-clogging.

So, when a product label states that it’s formula is non-comedogenic, this implies that it will not block pores, leading to blackheads and breakouts. If you have acne-prone or very oily skin, non-comedogenic products are a must. This goes for what you put in your hair, too. If you’re breaking out, limit the amount of creamy conditioners you use. 

Comedogenic products tend to be richer in consistency. Generally speaking, thicker, creamier products are those that are more likely to clog your pores. 

Comedogenic Ingredients to Avoid

Skin and hair care products aren’t always labeled as non-comedogenic, so it’s helpful to know what ingredients to look out for.

Isopropyl myristate is an ingredient that has consistently been proven to clog pores.

Other ingredients to avoid if you have oily or acne-prone skin are:

  • acetylated lanolin alcohol
  • cetearyl alcohol when combined with ceteareth 20
  • isostearyl isostearate
  • isopropyl isostearate
  • isocetyl stearate
  • myristyl lactate
  • myristyl myristate,
  • isopropyl palmitateIsopropyl palmitate
  • PEG 16 lanolin
  • propylene glycol monostearate.

The Comedogenic Scale

The comedogenic scale rates skin care ingredients like oils and butters on their tendency to clog pores. The comedogenic ratings go like this:

  • An oil that has a comedogenic rating of 0 is widely believed to be non comedogenic and will not clog your pores.
  • A comedogenic rating of 1 signifies a slight chance that the oil will clog your pores.
  • A comedogenic rating of 2 tells you that the oil will not clog pores for MOST people, but some will begin to notice clogged pores or a “purge” in some cases.
  • A comedogenic rating of 3 is where a lot of people will break out using this oil, but a lot of people may not break out depending on their skin type.
  • A comedogenic rating of 4 suggests that MOST people will break out using this oil unless they have a good tolerance for it. This largely depends on a number of skin type factors.
  • A comedogenic rating of 5 is basically a guaranteed chance of breaking out. Very very few people can tolerate oils labeled as a 5, but they do exist!

If you’re unsure of an ingredient’s comedogenic rating, we’ve put together comedogenic scale cheat sheet for your reference.

Combatting Comedones

If you have oily or break-out prone skin, the best way to combat comedones is to be diligent about your cleansing routine to be sure any comedogenic ingredients get washed off your skin. Skin types that are prone to comedones must properly cleanse in the morning and evening, and regularly exfoliate to remove ingredients that can clog the pores.

What is hypoallergenic?

When you see the word hypoallergenic on a makeup or skin care label, it means that that maker claims its product causes fewer allergic reactions than other ones. That doesn’t necessarily mean it is allergy-proof or gentler for your skin. There’s no official way of regulating what gets deemed hypoallergenic and what doesn't because it's impossible to guarantee that a cosmetic or skin care product will never cause an allergic reaction. So there aren't any standards or tests required to use this claim on a product label. 

Patch Testing

With that being said, a company may use the term hypoallergenic if they have conducted patch testing — a test that people volunteer for to have a product applied to their back with a patch (to drive penetration of the product into the skin). This is a beauty and skin care industry standard test to determine if a product causes sensitivity or other reactions — not necessarily allergic ones. Patch testing does not specifically include people with allergies to participate, meaning someone who has no allergies at all could be the one getting patch tested. 

Hypoallergenic Label

When a product label has the word hypoallergenic on it, that means that the product is less likely to cause allergic reactions compared to non-hypoallergenic products. Hypoallergenic products typically contain fewer allergens, but are not allergy proof. It's impossible to guarantee that a product will never cause an allergic reaction because there are numerous potential allergens and what people are allergic to can vary. 

If you have sensitive, oily or break-out-prone skin you should always check your skin care product labels. Knowing what non-comedogenic and hypoallergenic really mean will help you make better skin decisions for yourself when it comes to picking out cosmetics and skin care. Keep our cheat sheet handy the next time you shop.