While this term is pretty standard in the beauty industry at this point, it’s not without its faults. Note: Experts don’t seem to agree on a standard practice for evaluating and classifying ingredients. There are “comedogenic scales” and lists, but each varies a bit, and none work as an official tool used by dermatologists or cosmetic chemists. So it remains for us to sift through the research – or in some cases, anecdotal evidence – to determine which ingredients are most likely to cause clogged pores. Additionally, the term is not regulated by the FDA, so brands are free to use it as a marketing tool, even if their formula might trigger rashes (which breeds consumer suspicion).
To understand how we got here, it’s important to understand this story of the concept. The Comedogenic Scale (rated 0 to 5) was first established in the 1970s by dermatologist Albert Kligman, MD, who actually helped pioneer Retin-A. In it, the researchers used the rabbit ear pattern. It’s enough to get people thinking for a few reasons, says cosmetic chemist Krupa Koestline. The first is that rabbit ears are much more sensitive than human skin, and therefore what could trigger acne on the animal could be fine for human use. The second reason is that no modern literature has been done to confirm the effectiveness of using this test.
Finally, it is always interesting to note that each one is unique. We can make educated guesses about what might work for a certain type of skin, but at the end of the day, we can never really know how the skin is going to react to something. “Even if two people are predisposed to acne, what is non-comedogenic for one person may be for another,” says a certified dermatologist. Mona Gohara, MD One of the main factors is the sensitivity of the skin. Those with easily irritable, acne-prone skin may be triggered by more products than those with fair oily skin. But there are a whole host of other issues, including how easily your pores get clogged, pore size, and how quickly your skin self-exfoliates.