If you’re someone who struggles with acne, you're always on the lookout for certain products to keep your skin clear. Typically, that includes bottles labeled non-comedogenic. That’s the technical term for “this stuff won’t clog your pores.” But, like a lot of skin-care buzz words, the term non-comedogenic isn’t regulated by the FDA. So, the product you grab that claims to not plug up your skin might do just that. Kinda cruel, no?
How are you supposed to figure out whether your makeup or moisturizer is going to gunk up your pores? You’ve got to get technical with your ingredients list. We chatted with dermatologist
Dr. Dennis Gross, the man whose eponymous skin-care line is famed for taming the acne beast in many a woman's skin, about which ingredients to be wary of if you're prone to breakouts.
Keep these guys in mind the next time you scan the back of your bottle, and if you see one of the ingredients ahead, says Dr. Gross, put that product down and walk away. It’s that simple. Get the full scoop, straight ahead.
Calling alcohol pore-clogging may seem counterintuitive, seeing as it’s typically very drying. But, Gross claims it can also wreak havoc on your pores because it's drying. “If you have dry skin, combination skin, or oily skin, it is important to avoid alcohol-based cleansers and toners. They dry out the skin by stripping away the natural oils, and your skin will respond to excessive drying by producing more oil,” he says. “These increases in oil production and bacteria clog pores.” This, according to Gross, is exactly what acne is: a blockage of an oil gland by one’s own oils.
Instead of a super-drying toner formulated with alcohol, Gross suggests reaching for witch hazel — it will help with excess oil without getting rid of all of the oil on your skin.
Original Witch Hazel,
“Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, are commonly found in cleansers and hair products,” Gross explains. “Sulfates are often used to create foam and suds, giving you the impression that the product is effectively cleansing your skin.” But, sulfates can strip the skin of its natural oils, which can dry it, leading to (say it with me now) overproduction of oil.
But, Gross explains that you can get the same results from a sulfate-free cleanser. “Coco betaine is a non-pore-clogging alternative that is derived from coconut oil,” he says.
Gentle Cleansing Wash, $10, available at
Find that your sunscreen tends to break you out? Gross says that might be because your formula contains oxybenzone. “It’s known as a possible allergen,” he says. “When it is absorbed, it can cause a reaction in some that is similar to eczema.”
If you’re not willing to give physical sunscreens, like zinc oxide, a go, Gross says to look for the ingredient octinoxate. “I use this in my CC cream for sun protection in a weightless, elegant formula,” he says.
Dr. Dennis Gross
CC Cream SPF 18,
Mineral oils are typically found in cosmetics because of their moisturizing properties. These colorless liquids are derived from petroleum and are especially hazardous to people with acne-prone skin. “If you are experiencing breakouts along your hairline, check if any of your styling products contain mineral oil,” Gross says.
Instead, reach for a moisturizer with hyaluronic acid or other humectants. “Humectants actually draw water into your skin from the atmosphere, causing it to look plumper and firmer without clogging pores,” Gross explains. These will keep your face hydrated without blocking your pores.
Skin Plumping Gel Cream,
This one was actually surprising, because benzoyl peroxide is known as one of the most effective over-the-counter options for the treatment of blemishes. But, Gross says this ingredient can do more harm than good. “I find that benzoyl peroxide is irritating and harsh to a majority of my patients. While it banishes bacteria, it can lead to dry, flaky skin if overused, which can clog pores and exacerbate acne,” he says. “Additionally, peroxide is a free radical that can damage the skin, causing redness and inflammation.”
On top of that, Gross says benzoyl peroxide is also too harsh for darker skin tones. “It can bleach the skin, so you can end up with lighter patches.” He suggests reaching for farnesol and tea tree oil for a natural alternative to benzoyl peroxide. “They also remove and disinfect bacteria found in blemishes,” notes Gross.
The Body Shop
Tea Tree Oil Foaming Cleanser,
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