Learn about the comedogenic scale and see where common carrier oils and butters fall – so you know how to pick the right one for your skin type. With more natural oils and butters available than ever before, it can be difficult to know which ones will work with your skin. One way to navigate the spectrum of products an A dermatologist and cosmetic chemist breakdown the different skincare oils and explain the benefits of using non-comedogenic oils for acne-prone skin. Even for the oiliest skin, drying things out often makes the problem worse. In fact, facial oils can sometimes be the solution to oily skin – it's just a matter of finding the right one. We’ll help you find the non-comedogenic oil that's right for your skin type.
Understanding the Comedogenic Scale for Oils and Butters
With more natural oils and butters available than ever before, it can be difficult to know which ones will work with your skin. One way to navigate the spectrum of products and identify the ones ideal for your skin type is by learning about the components within the oils and how they differ.
Fortunately, there’s a cheat sheet called the comedogenic scale, which ranks oils and butters based on their propensity to clog skin pores. Since carrier oils and plant butters are the key ingredients in many cosmetic products, its very helpful to know what effect they are likely to have.
What is the Comedogenic Scale?
The comedogenic scale is ranked by how likely it is that any specific ingredients, such as oils and butters used in cosmetic product formulation, will clog pores. Anyone who is susceptible to acne breakouts and blackheads should avoid highly comedogenic oils, as they are likely to cause recurring acne problems. However, people with drier skin might prefer a more emollient oil toward the middle of the scale.
The scale uses a numbering system of 0 to 5. Here’s how the numbers rank on the scale:
- 0 – won’t clog pores at all
- 1 – very low likelihood they will clog pores
- 2 – moderately low likelihood
- 3 – moderate likelihood
- 4 – fairly high likelihood
- 5 – high likelihood of clogging pores
WHAT DOES NON-COMEDOGENIC MEAN?
Non-comedogenic ingredients are substances that do not clog pores and have a comedogenic rating of 2 or less. And just about any substance with a rating of 5 pretty much guarantees that a person who is prone to acne breakouts will have one. The comedogenic scale below looks at oils and butter in a particular.
Many factors are involved in how a particular oil impacts your skin. So, there is no way to make an “absolute” prediction. Even dermatologists have trouble determining how people’s skin will react to things. The fact is, everyone’s skin is different, so an oil will impact different people in different ways.
For example, avocado oil can be a nourishing oil for some people with oily skin while others who also have oily skin will use it and develop more acne breakouts!
Factors that can lead to this variety of results may include things like skin type, illness, water intake, environmental factors, and other things that can influence the way the oils act on your skin.
In addition to an ingredient’s comedogenic ranking, the composition of fatty acids is also useful in determining which skin type will benefit from a particular oil. In this guide, we’ll look at both types of information.
SHOP NON-COMEDOGENIC PRODUCTS FROM HERBAL DYNAMICS BEAUTY
A PRIMER ON NON-COMEDOGENIC PRODUCTS
Identifying non-comedogenic skin care products usually involves doing some careful reading of ingredient labels. Single ingredient oils and butters are easy to place. Simply look up where that oil falls on the scale!
Items like lotions and serums are blends of many ingredients. They may often include items both on the low and high end of the scale.
Lotions and creams are blends of oils, alcohols and other ingredients. Emulsifying and emollient ingredients aren’t always skin friendly. Some to avoid include Myristyl/Isopropyl Myristate, Isocetyl/Octyl/Isopropyl Stearate, Hexadecyl Alcohol and others Cocoa butter, coconut oil, wheat germ oil and lanolin offer benefits, but are all high on the comedogenic scale, making them less than ideal for facial skincare.
Water-based formulations are less likely to clog pores. But, watch out for certain algae-based ingredients like red algae and algae extract, sulfate cleansers, and laureth! These all place high on the scale.
Also, you might see claims like dermatologist-recommended, hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. These claims don’t inherently mean a product is not going to clog pores or will work for your skin type. It’s important to know what works for your skin when choosing skincare and makeup products.
In-Depth Comedogenic Scale of Oils and Butters
Fatty Acids: The Key Components Inside Oils and Butters
Fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 are key to healthy skin. This is not only true for foods rich ion these fatty acids, but in topical applications of products containing them as well. In fact, studies have shown that symptoms of essential fatty acid deficiency can be reversed using products that are rich in linoleic acid.
Topical application may in fact be better than ingesting fatty acids when it comes to skin health. Many fatty acids that are ingested tend to be oxidized in the liver before ever reaching the skin. That makes topical application a more efficient delivery system for this critical acid.
Regardless of your skin type, essential fatty acids are important for skin health even if you don’t have any type of deficiency. For those with healthy skin, topical application of products with fatty acids helps to provide protection from UV radiation and sunburn – a critical step to prevent premature skin aging and wrinkles.
It’s well known that excessive UV radiation exposure can cause cellular damage in the skin, including inflammation as well as immune system suppression in the skin itself. Premature aging is a result of the destruction of collagen in the skin’s cells, and causes a loss of elasticity, which leads to fine lines and wrinkles. Fatty acids in products that are applied to the skin help protect and even can help reverse that damage.
Which Types of Fatty Acids are best?
Vegetable and seed oils have two types of many types of fatty acids, but two are the primary focus for skincare – linoleic acid and oleic acid.
Alpha linoleic acid (an omega-3) and linoleic acid (an omega-6) are both considered “essential fatty acids” because the body cannot produce them on it’s own. Oleic acid is produced by the body, so isn’t considered “essential”.
Knowing the difference between fatty acids and how they interact with skin can help you choose the right product depending on your skin type.
High Linoleic Acid Oils
If you have frequent blemishes or oily skin, you might think you need to use only oil-free products. Not so fast! Research shows that people with acne have low levels of linoleic acid in their skin’s surface lipids. Adding these particular fatty acid-rich oils topically may be the best way to address this problem.
Linoleic acid (C18:2) is an omega-6 essential fatty acid not produced by body. It has anti-aging, barrier protective, soothing, and balancing properties, and is most suitable for oily and acne-prone skin.
- The highest linoleic acid ratio is found in black cumin, evening primrose, hemp, grapeseed, guava seed, passionfruit, papaya seed, prickly pear, pumpkin seed, red raspberry, rosehip, safflower, sunflower, soybean and wheat germ oil.
- Borage, castor, cherry kernel, chia, kiwi seed, pomegranate and sesame oils contain high linoleic acid but have more balanced profiles.
High Oleic Acid Oils
Oleic Acid (C18:1) is an omega-9 fatty acid, very hydrating and ideal for drier skin. Oils higher in oleic acid can help with dry and sensitive skin, reducing skin sensitivity. They work effectively to reverse the inflammatory response in various layers of the skin.
- The highest oleic acid ratio is found in almond, apricot, avocado, carrot seed, hazelnut, macadamia, macula, olive, palm, sea buckthorn and canola oil, as well as cocoa, mango and shea butter.
- Argan, abyssinian, jojoba, rice bran and tamanu oils contain high oleic acid but have more balanced profiles.
Other Important Fatty Acids
- Lauric Acid (12:0) – antibacterial and anti-acne properties.
- Found in babassu, coconut, date seed, and palm oil.
- Found in babassu, palm, and coconut oil.
- High in baobab, brazil nut, macadamia, palm, peanut, rice bran, sea buckthorn and neem oils as well as mowrah butter.
- Found in macadamia and sea buckthorn oil.
- Found in cocoa, coconut, mango mowrah, sal and shea butter as well as neem, shea and tamanu oil.
- Found only in castor oil.
- Found ony in pomegranate oil.
- Found in black currant, perilla, flax/linseed, pumpkin seed, and soybean oil.
- Found in black currant seed, borage, and evening primrose oil.
- High in jojoba and meadowfoam seed oil.
- Found in karanja and mooring oils.
- High in abyssinian and broccoli oil, moderate in jojoba and meadow foam seed oils.
Clogged Pores – What You Need to Know
Now that we’ve discussed how comedogenic oils clog pores, let’s take a look at how that impacts your skin. The main result of clogged pores is acne. But instead of trying to treat the acne when it happens, let’s look at ways to prevent it from occurring in the first place.
A clogged pore or comedo (plural is comedones) results in a whitehead or blackhead developing, which is a result of inflammation of the skin. The clogged pores cause the development of acne, which happens when the skin’s sebaceous glands start to secrete oil.
This usually happens around puberty and is often triggered by hormones. Dead skin cells, which the body expels normally, can also causes pores to clog.
It’s interesting to note that clogged pores can negatively impact the skin even after the pimple is gone and the acne is resolved. When acne continually returns, pores can be dilated, causing other pores to clog, resulting in more blockage and acne.
Oily skin is a breeding ground of bacteria, which is found on all skin types. Adding comedogenic oils exacerbates the acne, and slows the process of clearing. Treating clogged pores and acne is critical, because untreated severe acne can cause scarring.
Products containing oils along with other non comedogenic ingredients are good for people who have oily skin. If you have oily skin, avoid oils that tend to clog pores on your face, like coconut oil, wheat germ oil, and others that are high in oleic fatty acids.
Oils that are good to use if you have oily skin include grape seed oil, rosehip, evening primrose, jojoba, and others that are high in linoleic fatty acids.
Using the Comedogenic Scale for Your Skin Type
One of the keys to determining which ingredients on the comedogenic scale to use without doubt is to know your skin type. There are five main skin types, which include normal, dry, oily, sensitive, and combination skin.
A lot of this rating is subjective, because there is no scientific classification of skin types. It’s based on observation and subjective evaluation. Since there are so many different types and needs, it’s important to try different things out and find what your skin prefers. Use products for at least a month to evaluate how your skin reacts.
Normal skin isn’t particularly dry or oily. The pores are usually small; the skin isn’t shiny or flaky and tends not to crack. Usually, there are few wrinkles or lines.
If you have normal skin, you should use products that don’t strip natural oils from your skin. Instead, they should hydrate, thereby helping to reduce lines and wrinkles. Cleansers should clean effectively without harsh chemicals.
- With normal skin, key considerations are lightweight hydration and maintaining the skin’s balance. An oil balanced in oleic and lineoic fatty acids is ideal.
- Top oils for normal skin include argan oil, grapeseed oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, cherry kernel oil, mango butter, pomegranate oil, safflower oil, sea buckthorn oil, squalane, sunflower oil, and shea butter.
Dry skin causes people to feel tightness in their skin, and the skin is often scaly or has patches that are flaky. People with dry skin usually have pores that are almost invisible. There are many factors that cause dry skin, from heredity and genetics to the amount of sebum produced in the skin.
If you have dry skin, it’s essential to moisturize regularly in your skin care routine. You’ll also need to avoid harsh cleansers, limit your time and frequency in a hot shower, use a good humidifier in your home, and consider using products containing humectants like hyaluronic acid, as that is a moisture magnet for the skin.
- Those with dry skin should use oils that are high in oleic acid, as it helps reduce inflammation.
- Top picks include olive oil, avocado oil, almond oil, hazelnut oil, olive oil, moringa oil, neem oil, perilla oil, pistachio oil and argan oil.
- If your skin is extremely dry, consider shea, mango, cocoa and kokum butter.
Oily skin is often marked by a a shine on the face, sometimes paired with severe cases of acne breakouts. If you have oily skin, it may be due to genetics or you may have frequent hormonal changes. You also produce an excessive amount of sebum, which is usually triggered by hormones.
Unfortunately, those with oily skin are prone to acne episodes that may include whiteheads, blackheads, and pustules. Skin may appear shiny most of the time. On the positive side, if you have oily skin you get a boost when it comes to signs of aging. You’ll have less wrinkles and your skin will seem to age more slowly!
Even though it may seem contradictory, if you have oily skin you’ll still need to use a moisturizer. Otherwise, you skin may start producing extra sebum, which could make acne worse.
- Oils that have high levels of linoleic acid are most appropriate for oily skin.
- Best bets include blackberry seed oil, blueberry seed oil, goji berry oil, hemp seed oil, jojoba oil, safflower oil, evening primrose oil, grape seed oil, strawberry seed oil, watermelon seed oil, and rosehip oil.
Redness, itching, burning, and overly dry skin are hallmarks of sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin may experience bouts of rosacea, contact dermatitis, and other skin ailments. Avoid common irritants like the too-harsh sulfates found in most shampoos and soaps, products with noticeable fragrances and harsh acids.
- Pure oils can be great simple moisturizers for sensitive skin since there are no additives or fragrances to contend with.
- For dry sensitive skin, consider almond oil, black currant seed oil, marula oil, papaya seed oil, peach kernel oil, and tamanu oil.
- For oily sensitive skin, try borage oil, grapeseed oil, hazelnut oil, meadowfoam seed oil or watermelon seed oil.
Combination skin may show up as dry and flaky on one part of your skin – and oily on another. This skin type has two different types of needs, and is probably the most common skin type.
If you have a combination skin type, it’s going to be hard to find a single moisturizer that meets your needs. You’ll probably need to use two types, one for your oily areas and one for the dry, flaky areas of your skin. And for those with combination skin types, be sure to exfoliate once a week in order to keep your pores unclogged.
- For those with combination skin types, using oils with properties that address both dry skin and oily skin is key.
- Oils beneficial for both types include apricot kernel oil, black cumin seed oil, black raspberry seed oil, borage seed oil, evening primrose oil, moringa oil, pecan oil, prickly pear oil, rice bran oil and argan oil.
- Jojoba oil is a very popular choice for all skin types, as it reduces inflammation, helps to break up clogged pores, and works to reduce sebum production.
Put Your Comedogenic Scale Knowledge to Work
Hopefully this overview on the comedogenic scale and how it applies to your particular skin type will help you choose skincare products that are appropriate to use. Using the comedogenic scale for oils and butters is your best way to find the right products that will help prevent clogged pores and the resulting problems like acne.
Dermatologists Say These Non-Comedogenic Oils Will Clarify—Not Clog—Your Pores
Brooke Shunatona is a freelance beauty writer. Previously, she was the senior beauty editor at Cosmopolitan.com.
Onyeka Obioha, MD is an LA-based board certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, as well as a member of the Skin of Color Society.
It wouldn’t be fair to lump together an entire skincare category as “bad,” but if you’re someone with acne-prone, oily skin, you might be guilty of doing just that when it comes to face oils. So what if we told you that non-comedogenic oils don’t only exist but you (yes, even you) should definitely be using one? As board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Herrmann, MD, puts it, “Plant-based oils contain essential fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants, which nourish the skin but also strengthen its barrier, increase elasticity, and fight damage from environmental chemicals and UV.” See? There are so many potential skin benefits you’d be missing out on without a face oil. But, as Herrmann points out, there are numerous plant oils and extracts, and their chemical composition of fatty acids varies, and different ratios of acids can be helpful or more harmful for acne.
To understand the difference, scientifically speaking, between oils that clog your pores and ones that don’t (i.e., comedogenic vs. non-comedogenic oils), we turned to cosmetic chemists Gloria Lu and Victoria Fu of Chemist Confessions.
“There actually isn’t any set defining chemical structural difference between comedogenic and non-comedogenic oils,” Lu explains, adding that how these ingredients interact with skin and cause comedones is actually not well understood. It’s an empirical trait qualified through testing (that’s somewhat controversial), but based on that testing, Lu says there are quite a few non-comedogenic oil options in skincare.
But first, a word on comedogenic oils. The most common pore-clogging oil is coconut oil, but the experts also flag palm, soybean, wheat germ, flaxseed, and even some ester oils, like myristyl myristate, as comedogenic. Herrmann adds that other oils higher in oleic acid, like cocoa and shea butter, might be less helpful and encourage breakouts in those who are prone. If you’re using a blend of oils, you’ll generally want to avoid those aforementioned comedogenic oils, but Fu points out that just because a product has comedogenic ingredients doesn’t necessarily mean the product is bad. “The entire formula and the concentration of the offending ingredient also matters,” Fu explains.
Now, let’s get into all the non-comedogenic oils that even those with acne-prone skin could feel comfortable using. Of course, there are no universal recommendations, so be sure to always try it on a small area of skin first. “Oils can impact individuals differently, and their effect may be varied due to someone’s natural skin hydration and oil composition and what medications they may be using,” Herrmann adds.
Below, your guide to non-comedogenic oils and seven worth checking out.
Which Non-Comedogenic Oils Are Best for Acne-Prone Skin?
Life’s hard when you have acne-prone skin. In your teen years, it’s often accompanied by oily skin and inflammation. But sometimes even as puberty gives way to young adulthood, the acne and blackheads don’t go away. Older adults begin attempting to address wrinkles and acne simultaneously, which can make finding the ideal products for your skin type a big challenge.
Interestingly, even for the oiliest of skin, drying things out often makes the problem worse. In fact, facial oils can sometimes be the solution to oily skin – it’s just a matter of finding the right one. The first and most important qualification for choosing an oil is that it’s non-comedogenic. Believe it or not, there’s a comedogenic rating system that can help you understand which oils are more or less likely to clog your pores.
Non-comedogenic oils moisturize and nourish without clogging pores (the best ones even help unclog them!) and are an essential ingredient in skincare for all skin types. We highlighted acne-prone skin above because clogged pores are more likely to concern those with acne-prone skin, but no one wants to use skincare products that could create comedones (blackheads and whiteheads).
After understanding the comedogenic scale and the types of fatty acids that are best for each skin type, we’ll share the non-comedogenic oils that are easiest to find at your local beauty supply or health foods store.
The Comedogenic Scale
Put simply, the comedogenic scale is a rating system that roughly indicates how likely an oil is to clog pores. While everyone is different, this rating system is a great reference point to help you read your product labels and avoid accidentally causing a problem on your skin. The scores ranges from 0 to 5:
- 0: will not clog pores at all
- 1: very low likelihood of clogging pores
- 2: moderately low likelihood of clogging pores
- 3: moderate likelihood of clogging pores
- 4: fairly high likelihood of clogging pores
- 5: highest likelihood of clogging pores
For our purposes, we’ll focus on oils that have a rating of 2 or lower. This scale is based on research from the late 1970s that was initially done on rabbits, and as with almost everything these days, there’s a bit of controversy in the skincare community as to how relevant this scale actually is.
That’s why, in addition to using the comedogenic scale, we’ve further honed our list by using fatty acid categories — linoleic and oleic fatty acids — as good indicators of a non-comedogenic oil.
Your individual experience with the oils we list will vary. Our goal is to give you the science and information available to help you choose what’s right for you.
Fatty Acid Categories
There are two main fatty acid categories to think about when it comes to skincare: linoleic and oleic acids. While there are a number of other important fatty acids in topical oils, these two types are most relevant when it comes to skincare. Most vegetable and seed oils contain both types, but are categorized by which type they are highest in. These broader categories can also help you determine which oils are best for your skin type.
Generally speaking, oils that have a higher percentage of linoleic acid are lower on the comedogenic scale than those with higher oleic acid. While most products that contain various ingredients won’t describe their oily components in these terms, single oil products often do. So it’s good to know the two categories of fatty acids as a form of shorthand.
Linoleic acid is the oil most recommended for acne-prone skin. This is because research has shown that acne sufferers have a lower concentration of linoleic acid on their skin’s surface, which could be contributing to their clogged pores.
Linoleic acid is an omega–6 fatty acid and is considered an essential fatty acid, which means the body cannot make it on its own. It must be consumed to get those nutrients into the body, but in this case, we’re talking about the skin’s surface.
There’s no evidence that low linoleic acid on the skin’s surface is correlated to levels in the whole body, so supplementing orally doesn’t seem to make a difference. Linoleic acids have a shorter shelf life, but when combined with high antioxidant essential oils (many of which are also great for addressing acne), they can last on the shelves as carrier oils for much longer.
The most recognizable oils that are high in linoleic acids are:
- Argan oil
- Evening primrose oil
- Grape seed oil
- Safflower oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
- Sweet almond oil
- Hemp seed oil
- Sunflower oil
- Walnut oil (also high in omega–3 fatty acids)
Less well-known oils high in linoleic acid are:
- Borage seed oil
- Black currant seed oil
- Cranberry seed oil
- Hazelnut oil
- Manketti nut oil
- Raspberry seed oil
- Rosehip seed oil
Many of these oils are also high in oleic acid, so finding the right balance of the two types of fatty acids for your skin type will help you discover which natural oils are best for you.
The best-known oil high in oleic acid is olive oil. Rich in omega–9s (which are non-essential because the body can make them), oleic acids are best known for their hydrating and anti-inflammatory properties, but they can be pore clogging for those with oily, acne-prone, or even combination skin. These effects can be beneficial for acne-prone skin but are more likely to clog pores if your skin tends in that direction. Oleic acid is more ideal for dry skin but can benefit sensitive or irritated skin as well.
While having some percentage of oleic acid is good (or at least not harmful), the non-comedogenic oils have a higher ratio of linoleic to oleic acid. High oleic acid oils have a longer shelf life and are more stable.
High oleic acid oils include:
- Avocado oil
- Shea butter
- Coconut oil
- Olive oil
- Apricot kernel oil
- Jojoba oil
- Moringa oil
- Palm kernel oil
- Sea buckthorn oil
- Tamanu oil
- Neem oil
Some of the oils on this list could be good for treating acne for other reasons even if they are higher in oleic acid. For example, neem, tamanu, and coconut oil are all potent antimicrobials, and we know that acne is at least partially due to an overgrowth of microbes on the skin.
This nuance might mean you should try products that have a high linoleic acid oil base with a touch of one of these antimicrobial oils. For example, you might try using or creating an oil blend with safflower oil as the carrier oil base and a small amount of neem oil to help control bacteria.
Feel offers a daily Squalane Facial Oil Blend , which features rosehip seed oil (high linoleic), squalane (high oleic), grape seed oil (high linoleic), cucumber oil (high linoleic), rice bran oil (about evenly split), and avocado oil (high oleic) for a great mix of oils to both neutralize breakouts, and prevent future clogs and infection.
Now that we’ve laid out the list of various high linoleic and oleic acid oils, let’s look closer at those that most skincare experts agree are best for acne-prone skin.
Sunflower Seed Oil
Sunflower oil is a gentle oil that many of the sources we consulted suggest starting with first. This is because it has a comedogenic rating of 0, absorbs into the skin quickly, and is incredibly gentle, making it suitable for all skin types. Studies show that sunflower oil can help improve the skin barrier, which is important if your skin is prone to breakouts. If you’re new to using oils on your face, this one is a safe bet. Look for cold-pressed, unrefined, organic sunflower oil if you want to avoid GMOs or other harsh extraction chemicals.
Safflower oil has a comedogenic rating of 0. It goes on very light, works for all skin types, including sensitive skin, and absorbs into the skin quickly. Its thin consistency makes it a great candidate for oil cleansing, especially for those with oily skin. To find the highest quality oil, look for cold-pressed, unrefined, organic safflower oil.
Grapeseed oil is not only low on the comedogenic scale — with a rating of 1 — it also helps improve the skin barrier and reduce the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation. All of these qualities make it a stellar facial oil for all skin conditions.
Rosehip Seed Oil
Also with a rating of 1 on the comedogenic scale, rosehip seed oil is a wonderful carrier oil in natural skincare products. Rich in vitamin C, it works well as an anti-inflammatory oil that helps reduce redness, calm rosacea, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also has antimicrobial properties, making it a great candidate for acne-prone skin. It’s among the best oils for anti-aging and acne simultaneously. Try Feel’s AM Essentials Kit for a taste of what a combination of rosehip oil and walnut can do for your skin.
The List Goes On
While there might be some controversy around the comedogenic scale, it remains a good jumping off point — when it’s combined with prioritizing high linoleic acids — to help you find the facial oil that’s best for you. The four oils we highlighted are by no means the only non-comedogenic oils out there, but they’re some of the easiest to find in skincare, and the sunflower seed oil and safflower oil are some of the least expensive. Give them a try before splurging on the rare and high-priced varieties.