The Ingredients Guide - Comedogenic, Irritating Ingredients To Watch For

Last week, I asked how many of you paid attention to the ingredients list on your beauty products–what was the majority answer? No, not at all; it is not a concern for you. As a beauty junkie, I have (and probably will not any time soon) not become an ingredient wizkid, simply because all of those scientific names never stick in my brain. However, I do think that is it vital to understand the importance of ingredients, especially for those with skin problems. I like to keep certain no-no ingredients in mind when I find a product that works really well, in addition to when I find a product seems to compound existing skin issues.

This guide is by no means a be-all, end-all of cosmetic ingredients, nor is it a full resource on what each ingredient does. I strongly advise you to check my sources, as well as head over to Savvy Skin, run by reader Jeni, because she is a skin care fanatic.

Bad ingredients are pretty much classified as either comedogenic or irritating. Comedogenic means it causes acne (hence why products are touted as non-comedogenic). Based on researching ingredients and the following sites, these ingredients are often found to irritate skin and/or cause acne. When ingredients are tested for their comedogenic or irritating level, they are ranked on a scale of 0-5. 0 means that the ingredent is non-comedogenic and non-irritating, while an ingredient that receives is a 5 is the worst in terms of comedogenic/irritating levels.

It is important to note that people with less sensitive skin may use highly comedogenic or irritating ingredients without any adverse effects. These ingredient lists tend to be more helpful for those that struggle with skin imperfections or troubles, and elimination or reduction of certain known harsh ingredients may inevitably pave the road towards healthier skin. As with all ingredient lists, they are listed in order of amounts–e.g., the first listed ingredient is highest percentage-wise (like water-aqua in 25%) with the last listed ingredient having the least amount percentage-wise (like 0.05%). So if you find a product that you love, and you see it has a potentially irritating ingredient towards the end, it is less likely to be the actual cause of your skin problems. If you use many products that use a particular poor ingredient, even if small amounts on a per product basis, it may add up to a larger dosage overall, though. Keep an eye out!

See a compiled ingredients-to-watch-for list…

Highly Comedogenic (ranked 4 or 5)
Acetylated Lanolin
Algae Extract
Butyl Stearate
Cetearyl Alcohol
Cetyl Acetate
Cetyl Alcohol
Cocoa butter
Coconut Butter
Coconut Oil
Colloidal Sulfur
Cotton Awws Oil
D & C Red #17, 21, 3, 30, 36
Decyl Oleate
Dioctyl Succinate
Disodium Monooleamido PEG 2-Sulfosuccinate
Ethoxylated Lanolin
Ethylhexyl Palmitate
Hexadecyl Alcohol
Isocetyl Alcohol
Isocetyl Stearate
Isodecyl Oleate
Isopropyl Isostearate/Linolate/Myristate/Palmitate (Isopropyl alcohol is OK)
Isostearyl Isosterate/Neopentanoate
Laureth #23, 4
Lauric Acid
Myristyl Lactate/Myristate
Octyl Palmitate
Octyl Stearate
Oleyl Alcohol
PEG 16 Lanolin
Potassium Chloride
Propylene Glycol Monostearate
Red Algae
Sodium Chloride
Sodium Lauryl Suflate
Solulan 16
Steareth 10
Stearyl Heptanoate
Syearyl Heptanoate
Wheat Germ Oil

Moderately Comedogenic
Almond Oil
Apricot Kernel Oil
Arachidic Acid
Ascorbyl Palmitate
Avocado Oil
Benzoic Acid
Cajeput Oil
D & C Red #19, 27, 40
Glyceral Stearate SE
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Mink Oil
Myristic Acid
Olive Oil
PEG 150 Distearate
PEG 200 Dilaurate
PEG 8 Stearate
Sandelwood Seed Oil
Sesame Oil
Shark Liver Oil
Sodium Laureth Sulfate
Sorbitan Oleate
Soybean Oil
Stearic Acid Tea
Sulfated Castor Oil
Sulfated Jojoba Oil
Wheat Germ Glyceride

Highly Irritating
Algae Extract
Cajeput Oil
Colloidal Sulfur
Isocetyl Alcohol
Isopropyl Alcohol
Laureth 4
Octyl Stearate
SD ALcohol 40

Moderately Irritating
Benzoic Acid
Flowers of Sulfur
Isopropyl Myristate
Capric Acid
Caprylic Acid
PEG 16 Lanolin
Solulan 16
Steareth 10
Tridectyl Neopentanoate


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naomi Avatar

hello christine and thanks for listing this- however i need a huge rec… I am allergic to glycerin and silicones and have been looking EVERYWHERE for a silicon and glycerin-free facial moisturizer- any products????
thanks so much

Nora Avatar

I realize I’m not Christine, but I have a suggestion. πŸ™‚ I’ve recently switched to using oils for cleansing my face and I’ve truly found I need NO moisturizer now. None. And it’s decreased the amount of oil my skin produces because I’m not constantly stripping it of natural oils with soap. So some of the lighter oils might work for you, such as grapeseed oil or, I think, sunflower seed oil. Everybody reacts differently, though, so it’s important to try different ones! Hope this helps you!

Taralynn Avatar

Nora. As an esthetician I will tell you that even tho you are using oils to cleanse it it still important that you remain using some form of moisture even if its a light hydra gel or a spf with a cream base.. When you don’t put some moisture back in your skin your skin is most likely to over compensate for lost moisture, hense the shiny zones in the t zone or start breaking out. If non of those your skin will result in looking dehydrated which can make the skin look dry or even aged when its really not. And not everyone should be using a cream, its just important if you are a norm to oily or just plain oily try to find a gel cleanser without sulfates (which are stripping). You should never feel super dry or tight after cleansing but clean and you should no matter how good your cleanser is where some kind of hydration on top. πŸ™‚

Taralynn Avatar

Sulfates are stripping is what I meant to say, I re read that and it looked like I was saying gels without sulfates are stripping. BUT Sulfates alone are stripping so avoid em.

livi Avatar

to the person who need a silicone and glycerin free moisturizer, try clinique dramatically different moisturising LOTION ( not the gel version, because that has silicone). it’s basic, nothing special, but does the job and won’t clog pores, just don’t use too muc because you’ll end up looking greasy

Shefali Avatar

This is awesome Christine. I recognize some of these names in my products and now I’m wondering if that is why I get that horrible cystic acne sometimes.

Vicky Avatar

Hey there, fyi – the link doesn’t work!
I also think that it would be a great idea to name the best cosmetics brands that are less harmful. Thanks!

jeni Avatar

Thanks for mentioning me! Yeah it’s maddening to me that so many of my skin care products (even ones that are made for acne) were what contributed to my bad acne. Luckily my skin is clear now, but it still breaks out if I try a new product that has pore-cloggers in it (like MAC Strobe Cream, which I recently tried and broke out from).

Jaime Avatar

How does this affect allergic reactions? I had one several weeks ago and haven’t worn makeup in 2 weeks because of it and am using hydrocortisone on my eye. As a makeup junkie, I need tips on what ingredients to look for that might have caused this. Please help!

Chica Avatar

Jaime- i have an allergic reaction to a lot of different skincare products but i tend to be ok with make up?
It’s mainly face wash and cleansing lotions that kick my skin off – i’ve found that the Body Shops Aloe Vera range has calmed my skin down a hell of a lot.
Maybe it was your skincare products rather than the make up?

Chica Avatar

Simple & Witch – both of which I thought were ok for sensitive skin , obviously not! Botanics has irritated my skin before too but it’s a Boots range so i’m not sure if it’s available stateside (if that’s where you live!)

Chica Avatar

This is wicked, thanks – I can’t use loads of bath products because they make my skin break out in a rash that lasts for a few days – some of the ingredients in them are listed above.

Stephanie Avatar

Oh no! I’ve tried every face wash under the sun and I still break out. I busted out my aveeno lotion to check the list and it has TWO highly comedogenic items in it! cetyl alcohol and sodium chloride! No wonder why I keep breaking out!!!

Thank you for posting this! Now I need to run to the drugstore and find a new lotion!

Ivy Avatar

Aveeno products contain alot of soy by products which are a common allergen.

sodium chloride is table salt. in case no one knew.

Jen Hill Avatar

What a great subject and post. I am enjoying reading the comments as well. I have very sensitive skin and tend to break out easily, and have been trying some different approaches including using oils in my skincare like Nora mentioned.

So many of the skincare products are full of fillers, fragrances and ingredients that can really irritate our skin. Thanks for sharing!

Kirsten Avatar

Does anyone know if mineral oil can cause acne or clogged pores?
I recently was desperate to get my eyebrows waxed so I went to the nearest place in the mall- Merle Norman and the woman mentioned some of the mild acne on my skin and tried to get me to try one of the cleansers there. I realize she was trying to sell me something, but then she asked what kind of foundation I used so i said MAC, and she said that may be why and explained that MAC has very heavy foundation with too much mineral oil in it. I have never heard of such a thing..i love my studio fix!

Ceci Avatar

Hey Christine

Would you know if shea butter is highly/moderately comedogenic? I’ve been using it to clear up some dry patches on my face. It doesn’t make me break out or anything, but my acne ain’t getting better either (I have moderate acne which leaves my skin a bit bumpy and oily) πŸ™

Robin Avatar

I’m certain shea butter makes me break out. I loved it on my hands, but am more cautious with my face, so I tried it on just one section. After about a week of use, that one section started to break out quite badly. I stopped using it, and the section cleared. I tried again a few weeks later with the same result. A colleague who had also tried shea butter told me she stopped using it because she was pretty sure it was making her break out. (We discovered this independently, so it’s not power of suggestion.) Since many people are reporting good results, though, I suspect it depends on the person. Bottom line: try it on a small area for a few weeks first!

angela Avatar

I have been breaking out for the last 6 months and am trying to figure it out… I started looking at the ingredients in the cleanser I have used for 6 months and the first ingredient is mineral oil… also I have been using a noxema type night cream that has soy oil in it.. and then the lotion before I put on my make up is full of mineral oil and I think that is the culprit… My skin is really bad now and has never been this bad but never used this mineral oil cleanser and lotion with it in either.. I thought I was doing it cheaper and yet here I am with a broken out face and it ain’t fun for sure.. I think I am going to run over to Merle Norman and see if they can help as when I used their products my face was clear.. although I do like my loreal make up stick and it seems to be okay without mineral oil from what I have found out tonight… Mineral oil is my problem as it all started with when I started to use it… glad I realized this…

jennifer Avatar

hey girls,
there is nothing as better as shea butter from Africa.
it is a good moisturizer
it is known to have antiinflammatory properties, anti-microbial properties.
it gives me a soothing relief anytime i use it.
replace your moisturizers with unrefined shea butter and use olive oil to wash your face.

tqklee Avatar

Are there any products that don’t contain these ingredients??? I have looked at all of my cleansers and moisturizes (everything seems to make me bread out, some more than others) and they all have these ingredients in them. Some have two or three and some have more.

L Avatar

I’m also looking to find a product that doesn’t have any of them!
Anyone have any luck???

I got my recent and current cleanser “hydrating cleanser by Cerave” (similar look as cetaphil in packaging and texture/feeling) after researching it on sites like Paula Begoun application for iPhone beautypedia and makeupalley forum etc etc, and got good reviews on it! Turns out has TWO of the highly bad ingredient list. One near top,

Wonder if Paula has any suggested without them in it even,. It’s hard I find!!

Robin Avatar

I did a systematic experiment on my own face for about a year and came up with this: Cleanse with water only (very warm, using a clean wash cloth). Protect with a mixture of oils I mix up myself. I’ve been doing this for a little over a year 54 and my face looks better now than at any time in my life since I was 12. I seldom wear makeup though. If you do, you’ll need a remover of course.

Oil is not a moisturizer. I no longer need one, but when I did, I found that a mix of aloe and honey with a pinch of magnesium salts worked wonders. For occasional deep pore cleansing, I use an oatmeal mask with green tea and honey.

Super cheap and way way better results than expensive commercial concoctions. The silicons (such as dimethicone) in those things were especially damaging to my skin after prolonged use. They make it *look* moisturized, but it’s just superficial. Over time, they rob the skin of moisture.

Hillary Avatar

You should add Dimethicone, Silica, Talc, Sulfates, Fragrance (non-organic), parabens, and dies to the to of that Highly Comedogenic list πŸ™‚ I have been fighting acne for a very long time and am researching lots and lots of ingredients … Hopefully we are on the road to true healing.

Christine Avatar

It all depends on your skin πŸ™‚ On that list, only dimethicone aggravates my acne-prone skin! Sometimes it sucks that skin is so individual!

I know that dimethicone isn’t acne-inducing in the sense that by itself, it is not going to cause acne, but because it does create a thin barrier (like plastic) on skin, if you already struggle with acne, it may trap sebum, oil, dirt, etc. and cause you breakouts.

Patty Avatar

Oh dear! I’ve been using Clearasil Adult Treatment Cream as a foundation make-up for years and it contains some of these comedogenic ingredients. I have a bad problem with sebum build up in my pores, not pimples but large pores and the white sebum comes out. I had acne in my youth but now I am in my 50’s and just have this other problem. Please help me find a foundation that contains none of these ingredients as my patchy colored skin needs something. Thankyou so very very much!

L Avatar

HELP PLEASE, I am soooo bummed out!!

I had recently switched to the most basic but hydrating cleanser
As my skin had been getting too dry from other products
I was using and winter being here (i Have the classic combo of acne sensitive skin etc)

**** Product Is by: “CERAVE” – Hydrating Cleanser ****

It has helped the dryness but acne is the same level.. Not better or worse yet.
Which Paula Begoun says is good too! I checked diff sources before buying it like
Her iPhone beautypedia Application to Reviews by Makeupalley forum.

It has TWO Highly Comedogenic Ingredients on the list, and one is right at the top of it.
Cetearyl alcohol and Cetyl Alcohol

PLEASE ANY HELP Christine or Anyone would be sooooo appreciated!!!
I don’t know where to go to next as seems almost all products I find our the best reviewed have some of those ingredients in it!! ANYONE FIND ANY THAT ARE WITHOUT THEM? Thanks so much for Any reply!!

L Avatar

Turns out it does as well! So frustrating! And It’s not obvious for many im sure as it is listed as “DISODIUM COCOAMPHODIACETATE”… Which I believe is Also from the highly Comedogenic “Coconut Oil” !!! Am I wrong on this?
I googled quickly & this is what basics came on it {This ingredient is a synthetic surfactant produced on the basis of fatty acids derived from coconut oil.} If it is derived from there, should it be considered Comedogenic as well? My friend suggested I try either “Olay foaming face wash sensitive” OR “olay pro x exfoliaiting cleanser” Has Anyone have any opinions on these? I checked the ingredients and they appear okay but I clearly have no clue anymore what’s good. Thanks for any replies :). !!!

mitz90 Avatar

Clear your skin by doing this oh and it also helps loose weight so fast by following the diet and keep it off
DO NOT PICK as tempting as it is especially the ones that have formed a white head it will come back and bring back more just leave it alone keep yourself occupied that way you wont think about it
Cut out dairy, sugar, wheat, gluten, corn, alcohol, all meat (chicken is ok)
Drink alkaline water 8 cups at least everyday or moreΒ 
Eat fruit, veggies, hemp,chia,flax seeds and almonds, quinoa, sugar free almond milk, coconut milk
Indulging days- coconut ice cream, almond ice cream, lara bars, dairy free chocolate bars
its so easy to follow this plan it only gets hard when your at get togethers and the food offered is the food you should be avoiding but just think if i eat this it will give me a pimple andΒ 
Green beaver grapefruit wash- morning and night (removes all makeup as well including eye makeup)
Green beaver exfoliant- wait until pimples are gone then use this (all exfoliants are bad if u have pimples since it will spread them more)
Green beaver blemish mouse- apply to entire face morning and night or apply to spots
La Roche Posay Thermal Spring water- spray entire face, neck, chesk morning and nightΒ 
(all of these products are rated a 2 or 0 on the cosmeticdatabase website and have no comedogenic irritating ingredients)
I have not found a moisturizer, mask, or scar removal that works for my skin but thermal spring water is moisturizing enough for me as well as drinking tons of alkaline water and eating a healthy diet for scar removal I have heard buying an aloe vera plant and using the gel not the liquid inside of the plant works amazing
I have battled with acne off and on since grade.11 im now 22 i’ve been put on all sorts of prescription drugs and creams tried every product costing 2$ up to 300$ a product IT DOESNT WORK MAKES IT WORSE IF ANYTHING OR ONLY HELPS FOR A FEW MONTHS THEN BAM BACK INTO THE VICOUS CYCLE OF BREAKOUTS
as for makeup i am currently using lotus organics pressed foundation, bronzer, blush, lipgloss and 100% pure mascara it doesnt contain any of the irritating comedogenic ingredients however it does contain mica, silica and dimethicone so i will see how it goes and do an update in a month (the lady at the store said give it a month before i decide if it gives me a reaction or not) if anyone has found makeup without the comedogenic irritation ingredients and without mica silica and dimethicone let me know!!!

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