The Truth Behind: Pore Clogging Ingredients

On the search for the next big game-changing product to elevate your skincare routine? For most, finding the correct skincare products can be quite a challenge. Introducing new products that are not compatible with your skin type can aggravate the skin and cause unwanted breakouts.

While some swear by keeping it simple with coconut oil or shea butter, others steer clear of these “pore-clogging” ingredients. So what ingredients cause clogged pores and should you avoid certain ingredients? First, let’s take a deeper look into comedogenicity. Ingredients or products that are said to be comedogenic tend to cause breakouts by blocking pores of the skin. Through a series of tests, scientists scored ingredients for comedogenicity from a scale of 0 to 5.

    0: Non-Comedogenic
    1: Slightly Comedogenic
    2-3: Moderately Comedogenic
    4-5: Highly Comedogenic

As part of the tests, suspected pore clogging ingredients were applied onto the inner ear of rabbits. The ears were then examined and given a ranking based on how clogged the pores were. Alternative testing was also done on humans by rubbing the ingredient in question on the backs of test subjects. Again, the results were examined and evaluated for clogged pores. From these results we should have a list of ingredients that we should avoid at all costs, right?

Although these seem like easy tests to determine whether an ingredient will clog the pore, in reality determining comedogenicity is more of a grey area. Let’s break down some of the flaws with the tests.

  1. The skin on our face is different from the skin on the inner ear of rabbits. Rabbits ear skin is generally more sensitive than human skin which can lead to false rankings.
  2. Similar to what was mentioned above, the skin on our face is different from the skin on our backs. The pores on the back tend to be larger and can be more prone to breakouts.
  3. Although scientists try to maintain testing factors from person to person, maintaining consistent testing conditions outside of the lab is not always possible. For example, there was no guarantee that test subjects did not contaminate the testing area with other products when at home.
  4. In an ideal scenario, testing for pore clogging ingredients would be done on all skin types and on a large group of test subjects. However, the tests were done on small groups of people.

Comedogenic testing can show which ingredients are least likely to be comedogenic but not necessarily determine which ingredients are definitively comedogenic. Further testing showed that although ingredients were rated to be comedogenic, at diluted concentrations, they become non-comedogenic in a product as a whole.

Many factors including skin type, environmental stressors, hormonal changes, and diet can play a role in breakouts, not just what we put on our skin. As with any new skincare product, the best option is to give products a chance. When in doubt, try a small patch test and observe the reaction based on your skin’s chemistry towards a new product. Those with oily skin or tend to break out more often can try to stick with products of lighter consistency such as gels or gel-creams rather than thick creams and moisturizers.