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What Does Non-Comedogenic Mean?

The Truth about Non-Comedogenic
Skincare Products

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Is this buzzword all it’s cracked up to be?

Non-comedogenic: It’s a term that graces the packaging of all types of skincare, from moisturizers to cleansers. But what does non-comedogenic really mean? And should acne patients avoid products that don’t prominently feature the term? “If you see non-comedogenic on a moisturizer, for example, it implies that the formulation doesn’t cause comedones, which are non-inflammatory acne lesions like whiteheads and blackheads,” says James Del Rosso, D.O., adjunct clinical professor of dermatology at Touro University Nevada in Henderson, NV and an Acne Store advisory board member. Here, he answers some pressing questions on the subject.

Q: Is using the term non-comedogenic regulated?

A drug is submitted to the FDA and gets approval. But there is no definitive formal process where these skincare products have to be looked at and regulated before “non-comedogenic” is slapped on a label. So it can be random. If it’s a smaller company and they have a new moisturizer, they may look at it and say “Well, we’re using ingredients that the literature says does not cause comedones or acne so we are going to use the term non-comedogenic on our label.” They’re likely never going to get questioned or run into an issue unless their product creates a problem.

Q: So how does the consumer know which skincare products are non-comedogenic?

It’s hard to know. I think sticking with recognized brands is going to be the surest thing overall.

Q: Does non-comedogenic refer to the ingredients or the formula as a whole?

A company might say that ingredients have been individually shown to be non-comedogenic but they didn’t test the formulation. That’s not valid. You have to look at the final formulation because it’s more than just the ingredients—it’s all of it. How all of the ingredients interact together is very important.

Q: What does non-acnegenic mean?

It simply means the product won’t cause acne. You don’t see this term often on products.

Q: Are there comedogenic ingredients to stay away from if you have acne-prone skin?

I tend to stay away from the comedogenicity of individual ingredients. I am seeing a lot of coconut oil in products and some people have talked about certain grades of coconut oil being comedogenic. But that doesn’t mean that every product using coconut oil is comedogenic. It might be a low concentration that’s not going to create a problem so it’s hard to say. Similarly, people hear mineral oil and they immediately think that it’s got to be comedogenic. But light mineral oil that’s pharmaceutical or cosmeceutical grade is non-comedogenic and that’s what is in the majority of products. Sometimes feeling the texture of a product can clue you in to whether or not it will clog pores. If the formula is super thick or greasy, it may not be the best option.

Q: It seems like if a skincare product doesn’t say it’s non-comedogenic, it may not necessarily mean it isn’t. So what if you’re not sure?

Look at the company’s website and see if they talk about how they back up the claim of comedogenicity or email them. Ask them how they’ve tested the formulation if you really want to know. And if they don’t tell you, that’s a red flag.

James Del Rosso, D.O.

Dr. Jim Del Rosso is an internationally renowned dermatologist who has been practicing dermatology since 1986 and a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists. He is Clinical Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, has published multiple peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, and was President of the American Acne & Rosacea Society, American Society of Mohs Surgery, and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. He is Adjunct Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Currently, Dr. Del Rosso is Research Director of JDR Dermatology Research and practices at Thomas Dermatology in Las Vegas, Nevada and also serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research and Strategic Development at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Maitland, Florida. He served as Head of the Section of Dermatology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine after receiving his D.O. degree from the same medical school in Athens, Ohio, interning at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, completing a dermatology residency at Atlantic Skin Disease and Skin Surgery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and completing a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology at OSU.


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