Oil-free: The myth
Although many oils have anti-inflammatory, nourishing, moisturizing, and wrinkle-reducing properties, the use of oils in skin care often gets a bad rap, especially in those products for acne-prone, oily, or combination skin. However, many oils are fantastic to use topically, even on acne-prone skin, and the right types of oils can even help reduce clogged pores and acne (see my post here about the popular Oil Cleanse Method)! However, many of the oils you see at the grocery store, the health food store, or listed in your skin care products, cause clogged pores and inflame acne. So, how can you know which oils are non-comedogenic?
Comedogenic simply means likely to cause comedones. Non-comedogenic, therefore, means unlikely to cause comedones!
A comedone is a plug of debris (made up of bacteria, oil, dead skin cells, and skin care ingredients) filling a skin pore. Comedones commonly appear as blackheads and sometimes as whiteheads. Comedones trap the oil that normally flows out of pores and a pimple will often develop around this trapped oil.
How to use oil in skin care: What matters?
How much of an oil is in a product influences how comedogenic a product is. Product ingredients are listed in order of inclusion—from most to least. Therefore, if an oil is found close to the end of a list of ingredients, there is likely little oil in the product.
What type of oil is in a product influences how comedogenic a product is. Some oils are much more likely to cause comedones than others.
Type of skin and pore-size must also be considered when choosing a product, as these also affect the comedogenecy of that product. Those with dry skin often have small pores—these pores do not let much oil out or much debris in and rarely develop comedones. Those with oily skin often have larger pores to release a larger amount of oil on the skin—these pores can collect quite a bit of debris and often form quite obvious comedones.
The type of product influences its comedogenecy. A cleanser—typically left on the skin for a short period of time—is unlikely to clog pores. A moisturizer—typically left on the skin until it is washed off—is more likely than a cleanser to clog pores. Even toners can cause clogged pores if they contain comedogenic ingredients.
Comedogenic or common sense? Read the oil comedogenecy chart and find out more!
How to read the chart: Oils are rated between 1 and 5. The first column rates their comedogenecy and the second, their likeliness to irritate skin. A level of 5/5 would means that an oil is likely to be highly comedogenic and highly irritating.
LEVEL OF COMEDOGENECY
LIKELINESS TO IRRITATE
|Hydrogenated castor oil||1||0|
|Hydrogenated Vegetable oil||3||1|
|Safflower Oil (high linoleic acid variety only*)||0||0|
|Wheat germ oil||5||2|
* Safflower oil comes in two varieties: The high linoleic acid variety and the high oleic acid variety. The high oleic acid variety is comedogenic and should only be used for cooking—it is also the type most readily available in the grocery store. The high linoleic acid variety can be found in health food stores and is non-comedogenic and fantastic for skin.
A note about fatty acids and oil
In general, remember that all oils contain fatty acids, and fatty acid has an effect on the comedogenecy level of oils.
For example, linoleic acid is a great fatty acid for the skin! It does not clog pores and actually helps reduce the inflammation that surrounds clogged pores. Safflower oil (of the high-linoleic acid avriety) is—no surprise—high in linoleic acid. Oleic acid, on the other hand, is likely to cause clogged pores and the topical use of oils with a high percentage of oleic acid should be avoided, expect by those with dry skin. Olive oil is high in oleic acid.
Something to keep in mind… many hair products contain oils that can clog pores. If you are breaking out along the side of your face, or on your neck or back, residue from your hair conditioner or styling products could be to blame! Check the ingredients carefully and be sure to wash all conditioner off your skin after you’ve rinsed your hair.