You may have noticed that marketing terms run thick and heavy on skincare products. Natural. Organic. Hydrating.
If you have acne-prone or very oily skin, you’ve probably run across another less-obvious one: non-comedogenic.
Despite the increasingly-popular perception, non-comedogenic is not a guarantee that the product won’t cause acne. (Comedones is the technical term for whiteheads and blackheads.) Rather, it means that the product doesn’t contain ingredients that are known to clog pores, which boosts the chances of acne forming.
But it’s not quite as straightforward as that.
How to use the label
The issue with all those marketing terms is that they tend to be exaggerated. (Surprising, I know.) Over-the-counter products don’t fall under the rigorous regulation of the FDA, so those terms are largely unverifiable claims.
In the case here, the FDA doesn’t even have a definition for the term, non-comedogenic, which limits the usefulness of the label. For starters, the FDA doesn’t define a list of ingredients that would need to be excluded for a product to be labelled non-comedogenic.
Even more, skin is highly individual, so there’s no guarantee that just because a product doesn’t induce acne in one person it won’t in another, making standardization, at best, a serious challenge.
Comedogenic products tend to be thicker, creamier products. But, again, the only way to know for sure if a product induces acne is to try it. At this point, it’s not even entirely clear if the likelihood of inducing acne can be linked to the ingredients alone.
Consider the label, at best, a basic guideline. It does, at least, indicate that the manufacturer considers the product to be designed for people with oily or acne-prone skin. But since non-comedogenic is not a medical term—or, again, a regulated one—any true understanding, on the manufacturer’s part, of what that entails is mostly guesswork.
Why comedogenic isn’t all bad
Lost in all of this is that comedogenic—or, at least, products that aren’t labeled non-comedogenic—shouldn’t necessarily sound all kinds of alarms.
Sure, there are a few ingredients that should be avoided, but their capacity to induce acne really depends on their concentration and the combination of ingredients they’re used with. Often, these ingredients appear near the end of the ingredient list, which means it’ll have little, if any, any influence over the development of acne.
And some comedogenic ingredients can even be beneficial to certain skin types. Oils like olive, coconut, argan, and coconut butter, while not the best choice in high concentrations for acne-prone skin, can help those with dry or sensitive skin by lubricating the skin and helping restore its hydro-lipidic barrier.