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All About Acne – Part III: Cosmetic Ingredients to Avoid

  • Posted on June 26, 2013 at 3:46 am

If you haven’t already, check out the previous two posts I’ve written in my series about acne:  All About Acne – Part I:  What Is It and What Causes It? and All About Acne – Part II:  Treatment and Skincare Routine.

Ingredients Collage

Now let’s talk ingredients.  Most people are more aware of ingredients when it comes to our cooking,  but when we walk through the makeup aisles of our favorite stores we tend to be focused on all of the names and claims and rarely take a moment to look at the actual contents of the products.  Fancy packaging and buzz words can sucker anyone into picking up something that might not be the best thing for their skin.

When you have acne or acne-prone skin, ingredients become even more important.  You have to become a detective of sorts and quickly scan ingredient labels, looking for the Big Nasties as I like to call them – the top pore clogging, acne causing, face irritating ingredients.

Keep in mind that a lot of ingredients have similar names but completely different levels of irritation.  Example:  Octyl Salicylate is like a zero out of five on the comedogenic (meaning clogs pores and causes acne)/irritation scale, whereas Octyl Stearate is a five out of five.  It can be confusing and frustrating, but trust me – if you look for the Big Nasties on your cosmetics labels and make some changes if you find you’ve got some shady products in your cabinets, your skin will love you for it and you will clear up the acne even faster.


The Big Nasties – Top Pore Clogging, Acne Causing Ingredients to Avoid

**Remember:  You are looking for these SPECIFIC ingredients to avoid in a product.  Some ingredients have similar names, or are in the same family of the nasties listed but are safe.


Lanolins  (Ranked 4 out of 5 on Comedogenic Scale)

This is used in many soaps, cosmetics and ointments because it is so easily absorbed by the skin.  What is it?  Wool grease.  Literally the fatty wax secreted by sheep’s skin that coats their wool.  Ewww.  Sounds kind of gross when it’s spelled out like that, right?

Specific Versions to Avoid 

  • Acetylated Lanolin
  • Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
  • PEG 16 Lanolin


Isopropyl Myristate (Ranked 5 out of 5 on Comedogenic Scale)

This bad boy and it’s evil band of brothers are synthetic oils that are readily absorbed by the skin.  Even though they are oils, they lessen the greasy feel of cosmetics and give them a sheer, slick feel.  Sounds great right?  Except that it is such an aggressive penetrator that it is the main ingredient in most rust removers.  Yes.  Rust removers.  Not so appealing now.

Specific Versions to Avoid

  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Isostearyl Neopentanoate
  • Isopropyl Isosterate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Isopropyl Linolate
  • Isostearyl Isostearate
  • Myristyl Lactate
  • Myristic Acid
  • Stearyl Heptanoate


Algae (Ranked 5 out of 5 on Comedogenic Scale)

Now, algae in it’s many forms is not a bad ingredient.  It’s just bad for people who have acne or acne-prone skin.  It helps combat dehydration, is packed with minerals and acts as an antioxidant.  Unfortunately, it can be irritating to the skin, cause blackheads and whiteheads, and aggravate existing acne.

Specific Versions to Avoid

  • Algae Extract
  • Red Algae
  • Blue Algae
  • Kelp
  •  Algin
  • Sodium Alginate
  • Alginic Acid
  • Anything starting in “Laminaria”

Other Heavy Hitters to Avoid (Oils, Alcohols, Pigments)

This is a final quick list of other irritating, potentially acne causing ingredients to look for and avoid.  Unfortunately these are heavily present in a lot of drugstore foundations and moisturizers.

  • Butylene Glycol – This ingredient is on the “watch list.” It’s a common ingredient that has been known to irritate sensitive skin, even though it is a 2/3 on the Comedogenic Scale.
  • Laureth-4
  • Sodium Chloride
  • Potasium Chloride
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Isodecyl Oleate
  • Ceteareth 20
  • Isocetyl Alcohol
  • Isocetyl Stearate
  • Hexadecyl Alcohol
  • Octyl Stearate
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Peach Kernel Oil
  • Coconut Butter
  • Linseed Oil
  • D&C Red #30
  • D&C Red #36


LabelsProducts That May Break You Out

I wanted to include here a short list of some popular products on the market that contain one or more of the ingredients I listed above.  If it’s something you use and love, I’m sorry!  It may be working against you.  I’m not saying it is the cause of your acne, but it’s something to check out.  If what you use is not listed here, it doesn’t meant that it doesn’t contain any ingredients above.  One thing that I learned is that there are a LOT of drugstore cosmetics that have multiple Big Nasties in their ingredients.  It would be a huge list.  The best thing you can do is look at what you’re currently using to be sure.


Revlon ColorStay Foundation – Contains Butylene Glycol and Sodium Chloride.

L’Oreal True Match Foundation – Contains Butylene Glycol, Isostearyl Neopentanoate, and Sodium Chloride.

MAC Studio Fix Fluid – Contains Butylene Glycol and Algae Extract.

MAC Mineralize Satin Finish Foundation – Contains Butylene Glycol and Potassium Chloride.

Neutrogena Visibly Even Foaming Cleanser – Contains Myristic Acid.

Noxema Triple Clean Antibiotic – Contains Myristic Acid.

Clearasil Daily Face Wash – Contains Myristic Acid.

Laura Mercier Secret Concealer – Contains Isopropyl Palmitate.

Smashbox High Definition Liquid Concealer – Contains Butylene Glycol and Sodium Chloride.


Bottom Line

I know that I gave you a lot of ingredients and that it can be a little overwhelming.  Take some time to look at your foundation, concealer, moisturizer – everything you put directly onto your skin – and make sure that something you are using to cover up your acne isn’t actually causing it or making it worse.  The best thing to do is try removing the particular item from your routine and see if your skin responds positively to the change.