Most people with breakout-prone skin have used skincare products hoping these would make the issue better. Hopes start out high, but then all too often are dashed because the products made things worse, either immediately or shortly after we began using them.


The question is how can you tell if a product will cause your skin to break out with pimples or blackheads? For many reasons, most people find it difficult, if not impossible, to differentiate between the products or ingredients that will help and those that can make matters worse.


Is Non-Comedogenic the Way to Go?


Unfortunately, labels like "non-comedogenic" or "non-acnegenic" are totally useless. These terms were coined back in 1972 under test conditions that are not even remotely applicable to how anyone uses skincare or makeup products. But more importantly, there are no regulations anywhere in the world that determines what those terms mean and under what conditions they should be tested to earn that claim.


Like most of the beauty advice from the 1970s (Hello, baby oil, tanning, no sunscreen, lemon juice for freckles, and layers of cold cream), it’s time to retire the whole concept of "non-comedogenic." It’s just not helpful, and how many of us have bought products claiming they won’t cause breakouts—and we broke out anyway? Pretty much all of us!


What Should I Watch Out For?


Here are a few general precautions and guidelines that will help you begin the process of finding products that are far less likely to cause blemishes and clogged pores:


  1. Avoid products with thick, overly creamy textures, or any products that come in stick form. The ingredients used to give a skincare or makeup product a thick or solid texture are more likely to clog pores, creating a perfect environment for blemishes to grow.
  2. Gels, light serums, liquids, or thin, fluid lotions are the only textures of products you should be using. You need the youth-reviving, skin-renewing ingredients these types of products contain but they need to have the lightest possible feel on skin. Your skin simply doesn’t need the emollient greasy feel thicker, richer products impart.
  3. Oils of any kind do not actually clog pores, but they do make your skin feel greasier and heavy. That adds to the excess oil your skin already produces, thus exacerbating the environment that leads to more blemishes.
  4. Avoid products that contain any kind of harsh or skin-aggravating ingredients, including SD or denatured alcohol, menthol, peppermint, eucalyptus, camphor, lemon, grapefruit, or lime as well as natural or synthetic fragrances. These kinds of ingredients not only make skin dry, flaky, tight, and red, they actually encourage more oil production inside the pore.
  5. Avoid abrasive scrubs or stiff-bristled cleansing brushes. These cause micro-fissures in skin, hampering its ability to defend itself again the ravages of acne while potentially triggering more breakouts at the same time.


What You Need to Be Using


If you’re struggling with breakouts and clogged pores, then you absolutely must start by using leave-on products that containbenzoyl peroxideand salicylic acid (BHA). These two ingredients are the gold-standard ingredients for mild to moderate acne. Decades of research has proven how brilliant these are for diminishing breakouts (plus their resulting redness) and clogged pores. They are considered the first line of defense against acne before needing to see a medical professional for other options.


While these ingredients are truly amazing for skin, if the product’s formulation also contains the skin-aggravating ingredients we mentioned above, then the likelihood is it will trigger more breakouts, which is just the opposite of what you want.


What About Sunscreens?


There’s no way around it: Even if you’re battling breakouts, you still need to apply sunscreen every day of your life to minimize sun damageand reduce the risk of early signs of aging and even skin cancer. But we know what you're thinking, you hate the feel of sunscreen on your face and it usually leads to more breakouts. We understand completely how you feel.


The frustrating concern is that all sunscreen ingredients, whether pure minerals or synthetics, can trigger breakouts. Plus, the ingredients in a sunscreen that keep the active ingredients mixed together so they can spread evenly on skin can also be tricky for breakout-prone skin.


One way to resolve this issue is to consider doing what Paula does and use a foundation with an SPF 30 or greater. If you decide to go this route, then just like any sunscreen you must apply it liberally. Unless you like that kind of coverage from makeup, this wouldn’t be the option for you—but it’s fine to layer a sheer application of foundation with SPF over your daytime moisturizer with sunscreen.


Another option is to use the most effective, lightest-weight sunscreen you can find. It will take experimenting to find the one that feels best on your skin, but you can start by trying our CLEAR Ultra-Light Daily Fluid SPF 30+.


Experimenting is Key


It takes experimentation and patience to find products that work for any skin type, but especially for those who tend to breakout, have clogged pores, and struggle with oily skin. Following our recommendations and guidelines will help a great deal, but it also takes experimenting to find the ideal products for your specific skin type, concerns, and personal preferences.


References for this information:

Journal of Dermatological, March 2016, supplemental, pages s4-13

Journal of Drugs Dermatology, January 2016, issue 1, supplemental, pages s7-10

Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, March 2006, pages 507-512

Archives of Dermatology, December 1972, issue 6, pages 843-850