Does makeup cause acne? Non-comedogenic ingredients, explained

How to choose makeup and skincare that won’t make your breakouts worse.

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Curology Team
Jan 05, 2022 · 2 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

This article was originally published on November 1, 2018, and updated on January 5, 2022.

If you’ve ever grappled with acne, this vicious cycle might sound familiar: you want to hide zits with makeup, but the makeup makes you break out even more. Or you buy an “anti-acne” face wash/cream/toner/whatever and end up with red, dried-out skin and even more pimples.

Buying cosmetics is easy—and a little dangerous for our wallets, honestly—but making sure that the ingredients in them are good for skin? Not so easy! You’d need a translator in a lab coat to make sense of most labels. And even then, who knows how your skin might react to each ingredient? 

What if reviewing your product’s ingredients were easy? Understanding comedogenicity—an ingredient’s tendency to clog pores—can help.

What does comedogenic mean?

Comedogenic means “pore-clogging,” and there’s a spectrum to comedogenicity. A comedogenic scale ranks how likely an ingredient is to cause breakouts. But it’s not an exact science.¹ Some ingredients may be pore-clogging for some people but not for others. Even products labeled “non-comedogenic” can still block pores. 

To keep it simple, we put together a list of common pore-clogging ingredients:  

  • Acetylated Lanolin    

  • Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol    

  • Butyl Stearate

  • Cetearyl Alcohol + Ceteareth 20 (only when in the same formulation, not on their own)

  • Cetyl Acetate

  • Coal Tar

  • Cocoa Butter

  • Coconut Butter

  • Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil

  • D&C Red No. 27

  • D&C Red No. 40

  • D&C Red No. 9

  • Ethylhexyl Palmitate

  • Glyceryl-3-Diisostearate

  • Isocetyl Alcohol

  • Isopropyl Isostearate

  • Isopropyl Linolate

  • Isopropyl Myristate

  • Isopropyl Palmitate

  • Isostearic Acid

  • Isostearyl Isostearate

  • Laureth-4

  • Lauric Acid

  • Lauric Acid In Sunflower Oil

  • Myristyl Lactate

  • Myristyl Myristate

  • Oleic Acid

  • Oleth-3

  • Oleyl Alcohol

  • Peg 16 Lanolin (Solulan 16)

  • Polyglyceryl-3-Diisostearate

  • Ppg-2 Myristyl Propionate

  • Ppg 5 Ceteth 10 Phosphate

  • Propylene Glycol Monostearate

  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

  • Stearyl Heptanoate

  • Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Seed Butter

  • Xylene

All of the above ingredients are considered comedogenic. Clogged pores mean a higher chance of acne, so do a deep dive into a product’s ingredient list to see if it’s hiding these ingredients.

If a product contains any of the ingredients listed above, we recommend looking for an alternative. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list, but it is a great place to start! 

Cream against a peach background with a magnifying glass over it

How to check products for pore-clogging ingredients

Step 1: Search for the product’s full ingredients list. The best source is usually the brand’s website. Ulta and Sephora tend to list ingredients as well. If you’re examining a physical product, look on the back of the bottle or the outer box.

Step 2: Compare the product’s ingredients list with the list of comedogenic ingredients above. The closer an ingredient is to the top of the list, the more there is in the product. 

You can cross-check your analysis with an ingredient checker like SkinCarisma, CosDNA, and INCIDecoder—but take what you find with a grain of salt. Each ingredient checker rates comedogenicity differently, and comedogenicity is not an exact science. 

Our favorite non-comedogenic makeup products

Looking for non-comedogenic makeup? We’ve done the guesswork for you with our makeup reviews.  

Removing your makeup every day will also help reduce your chances of breaking out. 

Some of the most common comedogenic ingredients, explained

Cocoa butter

Found in: Bath products, fragrances, cleansing products, eye and facial makeup, hair conditioners, skincare products, suntan products, and soaps

This tasty-sounding ingredient is sourced from cacao beans and is often used for moisturizing purposes. Fun fact: it’s the same fat used to make chocolate!² While it’s a super popular natural moisturizing ingredient, cocoa butter can cause some people to break out.³ 

Coconut oil and butter

Found in: Bath products, eye makeup, haircare products, shaving creams, suntan products, skincare products, and lipstick

Coconut oil⁴ and coconut butter⁵ sound similar but come from completely different parts of the coconut. Coconut oil is made from the meat, while coconut butter is made from the entire fruit. Both are nourishing and moisturizing, but they’re also potentially comedogenic. 

Ethylhexyl and isopropyl palmitate

Found in: A wide variety of makeup and skincare products

Ethylhexyl⁶ and isopropyl palmitate⁷ are produced using a naturally occurring fatty acid found in plants and animals. They’re used to improve the texture, feel, and scent of cosmetic products. Both palmitates act as emollients on skin, which gives it a soft and smooth appearance. Isopropyl palmitate is also used as a solvent to help dissolve certain ingredients. Unfortunately, both ethylhexyl⁸ and isopropyl palmitate⁹ can also potentially clog pores.

Isopropyl myristate

Found in: Moisturizers and topical medical ointments

This pore-clogging ingredient is made from isopropyl alcohol, an agent found in some hand sanitizers and baby wipes, and myristic acid, a fatty acid that’s often naturally found in coconut oil and butter. Combined, these components form an excellent emollient: isopropyl myristate. Besides helping skin feel softer and more supple, isopropyl myristate¹⁰ can be pore-clogging for some people.¹¹  

Laureth-4

Found in: Bath, eye, facial, hair, cleansing, and sunscreen products, as well as cuticle softeners, deodorants, and moisturizing products

In cosmetics, laureth-4 is often used as a cleansing agent or product texture enhancer. It also functions as a surfactant, which means it attracts oils and lets them be washed away.¹² It can also potentially clog some people’s pores.¹³

Myristyl myristate

Found in: Eye makeup, moisturizers, soaps and detergents, haircare, nail care, shaving products, and skincare products

This ingredient is used in cosmetics to help keep skin feeling soft and supple.¹⁴ Unfortunately, it can cause some people to break out.¹⁵ 

Oleth-3

Found in: Skincare, haircare, and makeup

Oleth-3 cleans skin and hair by allowing water to mix with oil and dirt¹⁶ so that they can all be rinsed away. Oleth-3 is highly pore-clogging,¹⁷ so you might want to be careful when using any products that contain it.

Oleyl alcohol

Found in: Hair conditioners, foundations, eye makeup, and skincare

Oleyl alcohol helps mix ingredients that normally won’t stay mixed (e.g., oil and water) and helps prevent them from separating again.¹⁸ It also acts as a lubricant to help make skin feel softer. Unfortunately, it’s pore-clogging for some.¹⁹ 

Sodium lauryl sulfate

Found in: Shampoos, bath products, hair dye, makeup, deodorants, perfumes, and shaving products

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is an emulsifier and surfactant—it helps oil and water mix with dirt, which can then be rinsed away.²⁰ SLS is one of the most common comedogenic ingredients that can trigger breakouts.²¹ 

Why does safety matter in cosmetics?

It’s important to know exactly what’s in the products you apply to your face and body so you can check to make sure they’re a) safe to use and b) not causing any reactions. Unfortunately, packaging can’t always be counted on to tell the truth. Some companies “greenwash” their products, displaying words like “eco-friendly” and “organic” on the packaging that may not actually reflect the quality of the product. It’ll save you time, money, and discomfort if you can identify what ingredients do and don’t agree with your skin.

Curology Custom Formula Cleanser Moisturizer and Lip Balm

Curology—simple, no-clog skincare products

With great knowledge comes great responsibility. This isn’t to scare you into purging all your cosmetics! We encourage you to do your own research and come to a decision that sits well with you. And hey, if your current routine does include these ingredients and you’ve never had a problem, good for you! As long as your skin is happy, it works for us.

Custom superbottle for breakouts | Free Trial button

If you’re struggling with common skin concerns like breakouts, Curology can make it easier. Curology was founded by a dermatologist with products designed by dermatologists. We offer custom skincare, so you can get a formula made to work just for you. Same goes for our other super-gentle skincare essentials, made with only ingredients your skin will like—and nothing extra. All of our products are made to work with your skin’s unique quirks, not against them!

Want to give Curology a try? Your first month is free. Start your free trial now

P.S. We did the research so you don’t have to:

  1. Maarouf, M., et al. Myths, Truths, and Clinical Relevance of Comedogenicity Product Labeling. JAMA dermatology, (2018).

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Heart healthy benefits of chocolate.

  3. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (1984).

  4. Abel Francis, Anitta Shojan. Comedogenicity of Oils. International Journal of Contemporary Medical Research. (2019, August). 

  5. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 10474217, Ethylhexyl palmitate. (2021).

  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 8907, Isopropyl palmitate. (2021).

  8. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  9. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  10. Environmental Working Group. Isopropyl Myristate. EWG’s Skin Deep.

  11. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  12. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 78933, Tetraethylene glycol monododecyl ether. (2021). 

  13. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  14. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 18605, Myristyl myristate. (2021.

  15. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  16. Environmental Working Group. Oleth-3. EWG Skin Deep. 

  17. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  18. Environmental Working Group. Oleyl alcohol. EWG Skin Deep.

  19. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

  20. National Center for Biotechnology Information. PubChem Compound Summary for CID 3423265, Sodium dodecyl sulfate. (2021).

  21. Fulton, J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Ibid.

• • •
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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