Will It Make Me Break Out?


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Anyone with blemish-prone skin has probably used lots of skin-care products, only to find that the products make them break out, either immediately or shortly after they start using them. That's incredibly frustrating—you're hoping a product will work for you and it just causes more problems!

So, how can you tell if a product will cause your skin to break out with pimples or blackheads? Unfortunately, most people find it difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between the products or ingredients that increase blemishes and those that do not. That's where we can help you save your skin and your money!

Keep reading to learn why this happens and what you can do to prevent it, or at least minimize it.
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Is Non-Comedogenic the Way to Go?

There is a great deal of evidence that specific ingredients can trigger breakouts and there also are lists of pore-clogging ingredients. Unfortunately, labels like “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic” are totally unhelpful. These terms were coined under test conditions that are not even remotely applicable to how you, or anyone for that matter, use skincare or makeup products.

The whole “non-comedogenic” myth got its beginnings from a 1979 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology. This study examined the potential of various ingredients (cocoa and shea butters, lanolin and waxes, for example) to clog pores and lead to the formation of comedones—hence the term “comedogenic”.

Here’s the kicker: 100% pure concentrations of ingredients were layered five times per application over a period of two weeks, without cleansing the skin at any time. Yikes! It should be obvious that the manner in which these tests were conducted are not remotely similar to how we use skincare or makeup products. First, who would not wash their skin for two weeks! Second, very few, if any, products are formulated to contain 100% of any one ingredient. What really determines whether an ingredient present in your skincare or makeup products is likely to trigger a breakout is how much of the ingredient is present in the formula.

A really tiny amount of an ingredient, even mineral oil, in your moisturizer, blush, foundation, or concealer is not going to cause or exacerbate a breakout. By the way, the researcher largely credited for developing the concept of comedogenic, Albert Kligman, said as much in his 1972 study, “Acne Cosmetica”:

“It is not necessary to exclude constituents which might be comedogenic in a pure state. The concentration of such substances is exceedingly important. To exile such materials as lanolin, petroleum hydrocarbons, fatty alcohols, and vegetable oils from cosmetics would be irrational. What is ultimately important is the comedogenicity of the finished product (Source: Archives of Dermatology, 1972).”

Like most of the beauty advice from the 1970s (Hello, baby oil + sunbathing!), it’s time to retire the whole concept of “non-comedogenic.” It’s just not helpful, and how many of us have bought products claiming they won’t cause breakouts—and we broke out anyway?

What Should You Look For?

The first thing to do is check out our reviews on Beautypedia. We've already done the research on thousands of products for you, and this will tell you which products are the absolute best for your skin type, and what you learn can change your skin and your life. (We never get tired of hearing from readers who tell us how our product reviews have changed their skin for the better.)

Here are a few general precautions and guidelines that will help you begin the process of finding products that are far less likely to cause blemishes:

  1. Avoid products with thick, overly creamy textures, or any products that come in stick form. The ingredients used to give a skin-care or makeup product a thick or solid texture are more likely to clog pores, creating a perfect environment for blemishes to grow.
  2. Gels, light serums, liquids, or fluid lotions are types of products that are far less likely to clog pores and cause breakouts.
  3. Oils of any kind do not actually clog pores, but they do make your skin feel greasy. That adds to the excess oil your skin already produces, thus exacerbating the conditions that lead to more blemishes.
  4. Avoid products that contain any kind of irritant, including alcohol, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus, camphor, lemon, grapefruit, or lime as well as natural or synthetic fragrances. Irritation stimulates more oil production at the base of the pore, and that makes skin redder, makes red marks more noticeable, and hurts your skin's ability to heal.

What About Sunscreens for Breakout-Prone Skin?

There is no way around it: Even if you are battling blemishes, you still need to apply sunscreen every day to minimize sun damage. Wrinkles, skin cancer, brown discolorations, and premature aging of the skin—that's what happens if you avoid this step or do it only occasionally.

We know what you're thinking: The last thing you need is another product on your face! That's understandable, because most sunscreens, even those that claim to be oil-free, contain ingredients that can potentially cause breakouts.

The frustrating fact is that all active sunscreen ingredients, whether pure minerals or synthetics, can trigger breakouts. Plus, the ingredients in a sunscreen that keep the active ingredients mixed together can be tricky for blemish-prone skin.

Given that you need a sunscreen with SPF 25 or greater (and greater is better), what should you do? It will help your skin a great deal if you follow our recommendations on Beautypedia but you also must experiment to find the best sunscreen for your skin. Brands such as Paula's Choice, Olay, CeraVe, Neutrogena, and Clinique all have excellent options.

Another option is to use a foundation rated SPF 25 or greater and then a pressed powder with SPF 15 or greater over that instead of using a traditional sunscreen. That way, if you are going to wear foundation and powder anyway, you don't need an additional product underneath, which is always helpful for someone with oily, blemish-prone skin. Note: If you opt to go the foundation and pressed-powder route, remember: You must apply the foundation with sunscreen liberally and evenly to get the level of protection stated on the label. A too-sheer or spot application will leave your skin vulnerable to sun damage!

Bottom line: It takes experimentation and patience to find a comfortable sunscreen for any skin type, but even more so for someone with oily skin that tends to break out. It may seem at times like you'll never find such a product, and it is very frustrating to keep trying products that only cause you to break out again. However, if you follow our recommendations on Beautypedia, it will make the shopping process easier because you'll know which products to consider. Sooner or later, you will find that perfect combination that lets you enjoy healthy, youthful skin free of breakouts.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Products for Acne Breakouts.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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