EXPLAINER / What Are Non-Comedogenic Cosmetics – And Why Should You Use Them?

Clearstem Skincare prides itself on keeping its beauty products, such as this moisturiser, non-comedogenic. Photo: Handout
Avoid heavy oils, such as mineral or coconut oil, or silicones, often found in foundations, creams and cleansers.
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  • Most of us know comedones as blackheads or whiteheads – those pesky spots and breakouts that occur when oil and dead skin cells clog our pores. Go for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, and remember to exfoliate

Chances are you’ve seen or heard the term “non-comedogenic” before when shopping for beauty products. This buzzword, which frequently pops up in discussions about cosmetics, promises clear and blemish-free skin. Even though you might think it’s just another marketing gimmick, it’s actually a science-driven approach to skincare and make-up that can make all the difference in your quest for glowing, naturally radiant skin. But what does the “non-comedogenic” label really mean?

What is comedogenicity?

Beauty products that contain comedogenic ingredients are more likely to cause comedones to form on your skin. Photo: Aveeno

Comedogenicity refers to the potential of a substance, ingredient or product to clog your pores. In essence, it measures how likely a particular substance is to contribute to the formation of comedones, otherwise known as the stubborn little culprits responsible for bumps, breakouts and rough patches on your skin.

According to Hong Kong-based make-up designer and body painter Karen Yiu, “comedones are skin blemishes [that happen] when the pores of the skin become blocked with oil and dead skin cells”. They usually manifest in two primary forms: open comedones, also known as blackheads, and closed comedones, commonly referred to as whiteheads.

Blackheads are open comedones with a distinctly dark or black appearance, often found on the nose, chin and forehead. They form when pores clog with a mixture of dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria that oxidises and turns black when exposed to air. Conversely, whiteheads form when the pore becomes clogged but the surface remains sealed, meaning they’re considered closed. Unlike blackheads, whiteheads do not oxidise and, as a result, do not change colour.

Shopping for non-comedogenic make-up products could be key to better skin for individuals prone to acne. Photo: Shutterstock

Yiu explains that when a product is labelled as non-comedogenic, it means it’s specifically formulated to avoid blocking or clogging pores, “so if you have acne or oily skin, you should choose non-comedogenic make-up products”. Non-comedogenic products are formulated with the specific intent of reducing the risk of forming comedones, a feature that’s especially important for individuals prone to acne or those with sensitive or easily irritated skin.

When buying beauty products, Hong Kong-based make-up designer and body painter Karen Yiu suggests avoiding comedogenic ingredients such as mineral oil and butyl stearate. Photo: Kim Gallo Esthetics

“When choosing non-comedogenic products, you still need to test different types of make-up [formulas],” Yiu says, as not all formulas necessarily fit all skin types. But as a rule of thumb, there are some ingredients with high comedogenic potential that can lead to clogged pores. “You should avoid products that contain heavy oils or silicones,” Yiu suggests, such as mineral oil, coconut oil, isopropyl myristate ( commonly used in foundations and creams), sodium lauryl sulphate ( frequently found in cleansers and foaming products) and butyl stearate (typically used in make-up products).

Cerave’s hydrating toner is also labelled as non-comedogenic. Photo: Handout

All these and more comedogenic ingredients have the potential to clog pores through various mechanisms, either by creating a physical barrier on the skin’s surface, increasing oil production, or even triggering skin irritation, prompting the skin to generate excess sebum.

Kosas’ Revealer Skin-Improving Foundation contains hyaluronic acid and niacinamide, both of which are non-comedogenic ingredients compatible with a variety of skin types. Photo: Handout

On the flip side, non-comedogenic products are thoughtfully formulated with ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerine, salicylic acid and niacinamide, which are chosen for their compatibility with various skin types and their low potential to contribute to the formation of comedones. Finding these ingredients on a product label is an encouraging indication that’s been made with the well-being of your skin in mind.

However, keeping your pores clean involves more than just choosing non-comedogenic formulas. “I also recommend all make-up lovers to clean their skin properly while removing make-up and do gentle exfoliation every week [to] avoid dead skin build-up. And if you have questions, always ask your dermatologist,” Yiu says.

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