Comedogenic Acne

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Many women use cosmetic products to enhance their appearance and conceal acne breakouts. Some of these products, however, contain ingredients that can trigger a specific kind of acne known as acne cosmetica, explains New York dermatologist Dr. Gary Rothfeld. Dermatologists call these ingredients "comedogenic," because they can cause the eruption of whiteheads and blackheads, or comedones, when they come in contact with the skin.


Acne cosmetica can occur when you use cosmetics or skin-care products that build up in the hair follicle and block pores, notes the Toronto Cosmetic Clinic. Comedogenic acne differs from acne vulgaris--the common form of acne characterized by large, pus-filled bumps and nodules-- in that it is triggered by external factors rather than physiological ones. Comedogenic acne is also milder than acne vulgaris and doesn't usually lead to scarring.


According to, acne cosmetica has a rash-like appearance. Tiny red or pink bumps form on the areas where the comedogenic product was used--usually the chin, cheeks, scalp or forehead. These bumps may itch, and they may or may not be filled with pus. Since acne cosmetica takes a similar appearance to other skin conditions, it is important to consult a dermatologist to ensure a correct diagnosis before beginning a treatment.

Time Frame

The Toronto Cosmetic Clinic website explains that acne caused by comedogenic products may take several weeks or months to develop and can persist as long as the pore-clogging product is used. Once you eliminate the comedogenic products from your beauty regimen, the acne cosmetica should resolve within a few weeks. Dr. Gary Rothfeld recommends using an acne medication, such as an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide product, to clear acne cosmetica. You should apply the acne medication to clean skin, before applying your makeup.

Comedogenic Ingredients

The ingredients most likely to clog pores include various oils, fragrances and dyes, explains Dr. Gary Rothfeld. Oils are frequently added to foundations, lotions and sunscreens to give them a smoother texture. Some of them, such as sunflower oil or mineral oil, cannot penetrate the skin and are unlikely to cause breakouts. You should, however, avoid products containing the oils lanolin and isopropyl myristate, as they are particularly aggravating to the skin.

Fragrances--especially ambrette, bergamot, cinnamate and musks--can trigger allergic reactions in the skin. Even "unscented" products may include some fragrance to mask the scent of other ingredients. Look for products labeled fragrance-free or hypo-allergenic to avoid this ingredient.

Mica and some red dyes found in blush and eye shadow can also irritate the skin. Look for blushes that use the natural, non-comedogenic red colorant carmine instead, advises

Expert Insight

Dermatologist Dr. Gary Rothfeld recommends that you keep your skin and your makeup clean to avoid an acne cosmetica outbreak. Only apply cosmetics to clean skin, and use clean brushes and sponges to do so. If you wear makeup all day, you may want to remove it after work and reapply before going out for the evening, since wearing makeup for long periods of time can increase the likelihood of clogged pores. Also, be sure to remove your makeup before going to bed.