In search of cosmetics that don’t cause acne

by Bionic Beauty on 13.Nov.2008 · 18 comments

lanolin in skincare products can cause acne

Dear Bionic Beauty,
I’ve been digging through my local drugstore for new makeup and skincare. Can you give me some guidance on what ingredients can cause acne? I have semi-sensitive skin but take good care of it. I just want to make the best choice possible and not end up with something loaded with acne causing ingredients even though it says “non-comedogenic”?
Thank you!
Skincare gal

Hi Skincare Gal,
Nice to meet you (consider this me shaking your virtual hand). I’m right there with you on the digging through drugstores. I think my local Walgreens and CVS sale reps know my name and don’t even bother asking me for help anymore. Actually, they ask me what the up n’ comers are. :) Anyhow, it can be tough finding good-for-your-skin items at a drugstore, but certainly not impossible.

I’m going to give you a list of common acne causing ingredients and then also a HUGE table that rates a multitude of ingredients on their irritant and ability to cause acne. Until I was comfortable with this knowledge, I printed it on a sheet of paper and tucked it into the side pocket of my cell phone holder. That way wherever I went, I was guaranteed to have my “list” with me. It’s totally creased and I admit, a bit grubby from me toting it around. But… it *is* handy.

I hope this information helps you in your cosmetics search. Don’t lose hope!
Cheers,
Bionic Beauty

Continue reading for common acne baddies and their ratings from the Acne Institute.

Lanolin – An oil extracted from lamb’s wool (it’s sheep waterproofing!). While lanolin usually won’t bother people who are not prone to acne, it can cause flare ups in people who are sensitive or easily breakout. Common lanolin derivatives in cosmetics include etoxylated lanolins and acetylated lanolins. These ‘synthetic’ lanolins can penetrate your pores even better than true lanolin (yeah, scary). If you’re looking for a safe lanolin option, find a source of 100% pure lanolin oil.

Isopropyl MyristateThis ingredient is a penetrating serious offender to the skin and can be found in many cosmetics. Its purpose is to apply “slip” allowing it to go on more smoothly. This is the ingredient that makes cosmetics and lotions feel “sheer” and slippery/slick. Common relatives are: legion, isopropyl palmitate and isostearate, butyl stearate, octyl stearate, and isocetyl stearate, and myristate myristate.

D&C PigmentsSome of the FDA approved D&C red dyes (which are derived from coal tars) are known to be acne causing. A few red pigments, for example D&C Red #9 and D&C Red #40, have been tested for comedogenicity (acne causing ability) and were found to be higher on the scale of acne-causing red pigments- so keep an eye out for these in particular.

Sodium Laurel Sulfate – Very commonly found in a wide variety of skin and hair products. Sulfates are detergents and strippers; they make the foaming you’re used to. It leaves a film on the skin and penetrates into the pore, clogging and creating whiteheads and blackheads.This is why so many companies are releasing sulfate-free cleansers, shampoos, and body washes. If you’d like to try a sulfate-free shampoo on the cheap, simply buy a bottle of Johnson’s & Johnson’s baby shampoo. :)

Stearic Acid and Cetyl Alcohol – Also very common in skin care products and some cosmetics. These ingredients can create a sludge on the facial pores which can eventually lead to whiteheads, blackheads or pustules (the mound type acne similar to cystic acne). Alcohol based ingredients can also be overly drying to your skin… which believe it or not, can certainly cause a breakout.

List of Cosmetic Irritants: Scale of Comedogenic and Irritant Potential of Cosmetic Ingredients
(0 =Least likely to cause acne; 5 =Most likely to cause breakouts)

Ingredients by “Family” Acne Rating

LANOLINS

PEG 16 Lanolin
Acetylated Lanolin
Ethoxylated
Anhydrous Lanolin
Lanolin Alcohol
Lanolin Oil
4
4
3
2
2
1

ACIDS, ESTERS, & ETHERS

Stearic acid
Isopropyl Myristate
Myristyl Myristate
Myristyl Lactate
Isopropyl Isostearate
Isostearyl Neopentanoate
Isopropyl Palmitate
Butyl stearate
Decyl Oleate
Isodecyl Oleate
2- Ethyl Hexyl Plamitate
PPG2 Myristyl Propionate
Diocetyl Succinate
Glycerin 3 disotearate
Ascorbyl palmitate
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG) 400
PEG 75 lanolin
PEG 5 Soya Sterol
PEG 8 Stearate
PEG 100 Stearate
PEG 100 Distearate
PEG 150 Distearate
PEG 200 Distearate
Disodium Monoleamido PEG 2-sulfosuccinate
Laureth 4
Laureth 23
Steareth 2
Steareth 10
Steareth 20
Steareth 100
4
5
5
4
5
3
4
3
3
4
4
4
3
4
2
1
3
3
3
1
2
2
3
4
5
3
2
4
2
0

ALCOHOLS, GLYCOLS, SUGARS

SD Alcohol 40
Isopropyl Alcohol
Cetyl Alcohol
Oleyl Alcohol
Hexadecyl Alcohol
Cetearyl Alcohol + Cetearth 20
Propylene Glycol
Hexylene Glycol
PG Dipelargonate
PG Monostearate
Sorbitan sesquinoleate
Glycerin
Glyceryl Stearate NSE
Glyceryl Stearate SE
0
0
3
4
5
4
0
2
2
3
3
0
1
3

WAXES

Candelilla Wax
Carnauba Wax
Beeswax
Lanolin Wax
Jojoba Oil
Sulfated Jojoba Oil
1
1
2
1
0
3

THICKENERS

Carboxymethylcellulose
Carboxypropylcellulose
Carbomer 940
1
1
0

NATURAL OILS

Cocoa Butter
Coconut Butter
Crisco
Sesame Oil
Corn Oil
Avocado Oil
Mink Oil
Soybean Oil
Wheat Germ Glyceride
Sulfated Castor Oil
Cotton Seed Oil
Peanut Oil
Olive Oil
Sandalwood Sees Oil
Almond Oil
Apricot Kernal Oil
Castor Oil
Saflower Oil
Squalane
Sunflower Oil
Mineral Oil
Petrolatum
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Evening Primrose Oil
Shark Liver Oil
Babassu Oil
4
4
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
3
2
2
2
2
2
1
1
0
0
0
0
3
3
3
1

PIGMENTS, dyes and/or coloring

D & C Red #3
D & C Red #4
D & C Red #6
D & C Red #7
D & C Red #9
D & C Red #17
D & C Red #19
D & C Red #21
D & C Red #27
D & C Red #30
D & C Red #33
D & C Red #36
D & C Red #40
3
2
1
1
1
3
2
2
2
3
1
3
2

DETERGENTS and SURFACTANTS (foamers and cleansers)

Sodium Laurel Sulfate
Polysorbate 20
Simethicone
Dimethicone
4
0
1
1

VITAMINS & HERBS

Tocopherol
Tocopherol Acetate
3
0

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mythbuster Beauty November 14, 2008 at 11:06 am

This is a topic that is near and dear to my skin as well. That gosh darn Lanolin seems so innocuous, but definitely one to avoid for us sensitive-skinned folks.

I also think it is fascinating that Mineral Oil, Petrolatum are so low on the non-Comedogenic scale. I had avoided using a very highly reviewed product because of their use of mineral oil and my fear of breaking out while using it. Maybe I should re-consider it!

The one problem that I have encountered while using many drug store skincare products is the amount of color, fillers, and fragrance in them. Of several lines, I have yet to find one that really impresses me.

Reply

2 karissa November 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm

curious, I am trying to stay away from SLS containing products all together. Can you recommend ANY facial cleanser with 2% salicylic acid that do not have SLS? I can’t seem to find any. I am 30, prone to acne. It just plain sucks.
and I LOVE THIS POST! thanks for all the fantastic info. really you out did yourself! (i know I have given you a tall order, sorry, I am desperate!)

Reply

3 PRIIA Cosmetics November 16, 2008 at 1:48 am

This is EXACTLY why I do what I do and why I’m creating a natural cosmetics/skin care line to address these concerns!

Trying to find cosmetics and skin care that don’t contain comedogenic or acnegenic ingredients is defintely no easy task. I’ve seen brands advertising their products as non-comedogenic/non-acnegenic yet the 2nd ingredient on their list is either coconut oil or sulphates! Worse yet, most prescription and OTC acne products contain ‘vehicles’ that are super acnegenic/comedogenic! What sense does that make?!?!

For years I suffered with acne; to the point of having to go on Accutane for a year. It was devastating. It is the number one reason why I became an esthetician and decided to specialize in the treatment of acne.

Great post Jami!

Reply

4 BionicBeauty November 18, 2008 at 8:30 am

Karissa, Thanks so much for your question! I would keep an eye out for non-foaming acne cleansers; such as the cream cleansers. If it doesn’t foam, *sometimes* it is free of sulfates. I have one right now: Neutrogena’s Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream Cleanser doesn’t seem to have sulfates listed (or maybe I’m not seeing straight due to the low levels of caffeine in me this morning. Ha!).
I’ll have a look at my drugstore for some more options on my next trip. :)
Cheers,
BB

Reply

5 BionicBeauty November 18, 2008 at 8:37 am

Mythbuster- Thanks for your input. Yes, I have long avoided mineral oil too. I have a jug here at home that I use on my leather couches and the horse tack. I am not sure I’m keen to slather it on my face though, no matter what the rating. I envision high levels of pimples… 😉

PRIIA, Thanks SO much for weighing in. I’m battling like crazy and do *not* want to go on prescription meds. And I swear, the more I learn about skincare, the more I realize some formulas are just a bunch of hoo-ey. They may contain Benzoyl Peroxide or Salicylic Acid to battle acne, but the other ingredients are acne causing. It’s a total catch 22 and enough to make me go a little batty occasionally.

Cheers to you both and thanks again for all your input!
BB

Reply

6 Skin health nut November 25, 2008 at 12:30 am

Whoa that’s quite a list there, very educational. My hair and skin improved a lot once I stopped the artificial stuff.

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7 Flüge December 10, 2008 at 5:01 am

Hey…
I always use a powder of Lancaster which is not agressive for the skin. I already use it since eight years and I never had problems with it. The products are really great and for your skin you should pay more. Or, when you remove your make-up, just use water. It is better then thousands of this liquid soaps…

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8 Michelle March 14, 2009 at 1:11 pm

Thanks so much for this post! I suffered from very severe cystic acne for two years, and it’s finally clearing up thanks to some LASER treatments and my knowledge of comedogenic ingredients. In fact, I only use drugstore products for both face and hair care. I’ve found a great drugstore skin care regimen that minimizes acne aggravation. I’m so happy that you made an even more extensive list of ingredients for this purpose!!!

Reply

9 colleen gilmour July 12, 2009 at 9:11 pm

I see this list of ingredients that clog pores and cause acne all over the place, but no one ever has a list of products that don’t contain them! I have looked at zillions of products from drugstore to high end, and have yet to find any without at least 1 or 2 of the biggest baddies. If anyone knows of any products that are easily obtainable and not ridiculously expensive that are “bad ingredient” free…please share!

Reply

10 Bionic Beauty July 12, 2009 at 9:46 pm

Hi Colleen, If you search the Bionic Beauty archives you will find the majority of skin care lines I review fit this description. I myself cannot use glycerin, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, all -ane ingredients and most parabens. Some lines that come to mind are YY, YBF, Terra Andre, Herbaria, Sophyto Organics, Lexli, and Hampton Sun (for SPF/sunblocks). For makeup, check out Purely Cosmetics and PRIIA Cosmetics. The bigger mineral makeup companies include all sorts of very bad ingredients.

I hope this helps get you started in your research.

Best regards,
Jami

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11 Lanolin Woes November 12, 2009 at 10:42 pm

very frustrated with my inablillty to use products containing lanolin. Do you know how many things that stuff is in? I go from smooth pimple free skin to looking like a pubescent teenager. And I am getting to that age where I need a GOOD, lanolin free wrinkle cream. sigh. Now most recently there seems to be something else that is causing me problems. I check ingredient lists like a compulsive nut, but something is causing me major problems, currently my face resembles a braille novel, and it happened overnight. So my big plans for this evening is washing sheets, and trying to find the offending culprit.

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12 Bionic Beauty November 15, 2009 at 7:38 pm

Hi Lanolin Woes,
First off… welcome to Bionic Beauty! I feel your pain about the sensitivity to certain ingredients. I am highly sensitive to glycerin, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide. Glycerin is in just about every fluid hair, skin and body product. It’s very tough. For lanolin-free skin care, I would suggest YBF Skincare (review: http://bionic-beauty.com/spin-traps-ybf-skincare/) or Lexli Skincare (my review: http://bionic-beauty.com/product-review-lexli-skin-care/).

Those are my personal favorites and what I use consistently. For moisture/lotion, I simply use 2 drops of Jojoba Oil. Jojoba is the closest oil to our natural sebum and hence, it doesn’t strip your oils. It helps clear acne, calm irritation, and provides balanced hydration. You can also use it for your hair, nails, body. Here are some tips for Jojoba OIl: http://bionic-beauty.com/15-beautiful-uses-jojoba-oil/

I hope this helps you!
Please feel free to comment back or email me with any questions!
All the best,
Jami (aka Bionic Beauty)

Reply

13 emily August 27, 2011 at 11:21 am

I use La Roche Posay products. Their makeup gives great coverage and doesn’t cause breakouts, at least in my experience. My dermatologist suggested it and I love it.

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14 Kris September 20, 2013 at 1:52 am

You girls need to stop shopping for OTC drugstore makeup. They are all packed with harmful chemicals that wreak havoc on the skin. Try using 100percentpure.com products. They contain no sulfates/parabens. Check out their ingredient list. I love their makeup!

Reply

15 Bionic Beauty November 14, 2013 at 3:35 pm

Hi Kris,
Thanks for your comment! Drugstore and luxury brand cosmetics can both be packed with chemicals especially since they don’t list all the ingredients on their labels. A great example would be Bare Minerals/Bare Escentuals. As for parabens, they are not truly a harmful ingredient at all. The whole paraben mess got started with some PR rep mis-reading a scientific paper from the EU. Now people are completely snowed into thinking that parabens are bad. It’s a mess.

My suggestion for excellent makeup is Purely Cosmetics (http://www.purelycosmetics.com) – Robyn, the owner, is amazing and will help you find exactly the right makeup for you.
For skincare, I only trust YBF Skincare (http://www.ybf-skincare.com) these days. Again the owners, Kimberley and Darrell are top notch and their skincare is absolutely mind-blowingly wonderful!!

Anyhow, I truly appreciate your comment. It is very nice to be able to discuss makeup/skincare ingredients with someone. :-)

All my best,
Jami

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16 Samira January 6, 2014 at 7:27 am

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Reply

17 Bionic Beauty January 7, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Hi Samira, Welcome to Bionic Beauty! I truly appreciate the compliments and hope to see you around BB in the future.
Cheers,
Jami

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