Demystifying Clogged Pores: Non Comedogenic Oils for the Face
by Heather Smith on Oct 27, 2023
You're tired of breakouts and want a solution. Enter non-comedogenic oils: your new skincare superheroes. They won't clog your pores or cause acne and they are amazing moisturizers and antioxidants.
Whether you've got dry, oily, or combination skin, there's a non-comedogenic oil that's just right for you. Different types of complexions respond differently to oils, but knowing your options is the first step.
Let's debunk some myths, understand the science behind these oils, and help you find the perfect match for your skin type.
The Science Behind Comedones and Comedogenicity
Understanding what causes comedones is essential in your skincare journey.
The concept of comedogenicity refers to the ability of a substance, such as an oil or cosmetic ingredient, to clog pores and potentially cause acne or blackheads when applied to the skin.
A comedone is a type of acne lesion that forms when a hair follicle or pore becomes clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Comedones are a common feature of acne and can appear as small, raised bumps on the skin.
- Open Comedones (Blackheads): These are comedones that remain open at the surface of the skin. The dark appearance of blackheads is due to the melanin in the clogged pore being exposed to air and oxidizing, which gives it a black or dark appearance.
- Closed Comedones (Whiteheads): These are comedones that are covered by a thin layer of skin, trapping the contents inside. Whiteheads appear as small, flesh-colored or white bumps on the skin's surface.
Both open and closed comedones can become inflamed and develop into more severe forms of acne, such as pustules or cysts, if they become infected or if there is a significant inflammatory response in the area.
Effective skincare routines and acne treatments aim to prevent the formation of comedones and treat existing ones to help clear up acne-prone skin.
What is the Comedogenic Rating Scale
The comedogenic rating for oils was not invented by a single individual but rather developed through research and experimentation by dermatologists and scientists. The comedogenicity of oils is often measured and reported using a comedogenicity scale.
One of the most well-known comedogenicity scales is the one attributed to Dr. Albert Kligman in the 1970s. Dr. Kligman was a dermatologist and researcher. He conducted experiments in which various substances, including oils, were applied to the skin to determine their potential to cause acne or other skin issues. Based on the results of these experiments, he assigned comedogenicity ratings to different substances on a scale from 0 to 5, with 0 being non-comedogenic (unlikely to clog pores) and 5 being highly comedogenic (likely to clog pores).
Over the years, other researchers and dermatologists have refined and expanded upon this work, leading to the development of various comedogenicity scales and databases used by the skincare and cosmetics industry to assess the safety of their products.
Why is it Controversial
The comedogenic scale, used to evaluate skincare and cosmetic ingredients for their pore-clogging potential, is a contentious concept for several reasons:
- Individual Variability: It doesn't account for diverse skin types and sensitivities, leading to varying reactions among individuals.
- Lack of Standardization: There's no universal standard for scoring, causing inconsistencies in ratings and interpretations.
- Incomplete Data: Comedogenicity scores are often based on limited studies, which might not accurately represent real-world use. Ingredients can be labeled comedogenic even when they're benign for most users.
- Marketing Confusion: Companies employ comedogenicity labels in their marketing, confusing consumers about product suitability. To make an official claim that a product is non-comedogenic, specific human testing should be performed.
- Short-Term Focus: Many comedogenicity studies are short-term and may not reveal the long-term effects of ingredients on the skin.
- Animal Testing Methods: Historically, comedogenicity was tested using animal models like rabbit ears, which does not fully correlate with human skin.
- Concentration Matters: Comedogenicity can vary with ingredient concentration. For instance, a tiny amount of coconut oil may have a different effect than using it in its pure, undiluted form.
- Product Interactions: Comedogenicity scores often assess ingredients in isolation, without considering how they might interact with other ingredients in a product. Some combinations may mitigate or exacerbate comedogenic effects.
- Environmental Factors: Skin reactions are influenced by environmental factors such as climate, humidity, and pollution, which comedogenicity scores typically don't account for.
- Ingredient Variability: Not all forms of a specific ingredient are created equal. Variations in ingredient sourcing, purity, and processing can impact its comedogenicity, making generalizations challenging.
- Skin Barrier Health: The condition of an individual's skin barrier, influenced by genetics, age, and prior skincare routines, affects how their skin responds to products, regardless of comedogenicity ratings.
- Overly Simplistic Scale: The 0 to 5 comedogenicity scale may oversimplify the complexities of skin reactions, leading to inaccurate assessments of ingredient safety.
- Cultural Differences: Different cultures may have varying skincare practices and needs, making a one-size-fits-all comedogenicity rating less relevant on a global scale.
Facial Oils and Comedogenicity
Carrier oils play a vital role in skincare and are commonly used as the base for beauty and wellness products. However, understanding their comedogenicity is a complex and often misunderstood aspect of skincare.
Often oils that are high in oleic acid cause higher rates of pore-clogging. However, it's essential to understand oleic acid itself is not the culprit behind comedogenicity. Instead, the balance between oleic acid and linoleic acid in a carrier oil determines its comedogenic properties.
Oleic acid isn't a "bad" oil, but it needs to be offset with high levels of linoleic acid to ensure you receive the positive benefits and not the side effects. Oils, like argan, that are high in oleic acid AND linoleic acid are the best for your facial skin because the balance gives you the best of both worlds - the oleic acid moisturizes, and the linoleic acid reduces inflammation and acne.
Another consideration is the pore-clogging and inflammatory potential of other fatty acids, such as palmitic acid. In this context, a nuanced understanding of the specific fatty acid composition of carrier oils is crucial for making informed decisions about skincare and product suitability.
List of Non Comedogenic Oils
Given the nuances of oils and controversies discussed above, it can be hard to write a definitive list of the best non-comedogenic oils for skin care.
As a general rule, if you have oily or acne-prone skin and are worried about clogging pores, your best oil to start with will be squalane. This oil is bioidentical to your own skin oil (with the exception of one hydrogen bond) and it's a purified, fractionated oil. This means the only thing contained in squalane is squalane. You don't have to worry about fatty acid ratios and phytochemicals - just pure, 100% squalane goodness.
The flip side though is that squalane doesn't have all the other benefits that you get when you use carrier oils. These benefits can be huge for the skin and for reducing acne breakouts and improving overall skin health and skin barrier health. These skin benefits include anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-aging effects.
Finding your favourite non comedogenic carrier oil is simple. People with oily skin should stick to oils with a comedogenic rating of 0-1. People with dry and mature skin can expand to oils with a comedogenicity score of 2. Unless you have extremely dry skin or have already used (and loved) oils with a score of 3 or higher, just skip them.
Here's a summary and links to our more in-depth focus article:
Facial Oil Comedogenicity
1 to 2
3 to 5
Expert Tips for Using Non-Comedogenic Oils Effectively
You can incorporate face oil in many different ways! Our non comedogenic oils list is a great place to get started, but knowing how to use them is the next step.
The Single Oil Approach
As we've said, if you're particularly worried about clogged pores or sensitivities, start with a single oil. Your best bet would be squalane. You can use this full strength directly on your face. You could also mix a few drops into a moisturizer you already know and love.
DIY Carrier Oil Blends
After researching options and matching oils to your skin type and skincare concerns, choose any number of them to mix together and make your own topical face oil. Choose the highest quality, organic carrier oils you can find. As a general rule, we recommend a 3-5 facial oil blend when you're getting started. That makes it easy to adjust the ratios of each oil and find a blend that works for you. If you're looking for some tailored suggestions, check out how we designed our CoreComplex™ Oil Blends for inspiration.
Commercially Prepared Face Oils
The popularity of facial oils has exploded. However, this often requires you to know a bit while reading ingredient labels. Most of your favourite brands will have an oil or two to choose from and you can incorporate them into your skincare routine as described above.
Shopping with a specialist brand, like bareLUXE, will up the ante and have you finding more complex and powerful oil serums for more visible results.
The comedogenicity stakes aren't quite as high when you're oil-cleansing because pore clogging is less likely when the oils are washed away. However, this is a great time to try out other non-comedogenic oils that you might not routinely use on your face.
Castor oil is a great example. Because of it's fatty acid profile, it feels quite thick/substantial on the skin. It's still non-comedogenic and wont clog pores, in fact it helps to cleanse them better than many other oils.
Common Misconceptions About Non-Comedogenic Oils
You still need to be judicious and attentive to your skin, even if the oils you're using are unlikely to clog pores. Here are a few myths in need of busting:
- Non-Comedogenic Means It Won't Cause Breakouts: While non-comedogenic oils are less likely to clog pores and cause breakouts, they are not entirely risk-free for everyone. People with sensitive or highly acne-prone skin might still experience issues with non-comedogenic oils. It's important to consider individual skin types and perform a patch test when trying a new oil.
- You Shouldn't Use Oils on Oily Skin: Oils can actually help balance oil production in oily skin types by providing hydration. Some non-comedogenic oils, like jojoba oil, are particularly good for regulating sebum production.
- You Can Apply Non-Comedogenic Oils Without Limit: While non-comedogenic oils are generally safe, it's still important not to overuse them. Using too much oil, even non-comedogenic ones, can create a greasy feeling on the skin. A little goes a long way.
- Diluting Essential Oils Makes Them Non-Comedogenic: While diluting essential oils with a carrier oil can reduce their concentration and potential for skin irritation, it doesn't automatically make them non-comedogenic. The comedogenicity of an essential oil depends on its specific properties and essential fatty acids.
- Non-Comedogenic Oils are Non-Irritating: This can be true, like with sunflower seed oil and grapeseed oil. However, if you suffer from atopic dermatitis, allergies, or sensitive skin, some oils are better for you than others. This is another place where squalane comes into play as an excellent 'go-to" oil to start with.