Breaking Out? These 3 Pore-Clogging Ingredients Might Be to Blame

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You cleared out your expired beauty products, simplified your skincare routine down to a few steps and cut out processed sugars, but you continue to suffer from pesky whiteheads and tender acne cysts. It’s possible that it’s hormonal, but it might also be the ingredients in the products you use every day. Ahead, a clinical aesthetician unveils the three most common pore-clogging ingredients that might be the very reason you’re breaking out.

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What’s Considered a Pore-Clogging Ingredient?

“Pore-cloggers are comedogenic ingredients in skincare and cosmetics that are thicker than our natural oils and therefore create a plug inside of our pores,” informs Gronich. When an ingredient’s molecule size is larger than our natural sebum, they block our pores, causing breakouts to form.

“These ingredients are the hidden culprit behind many breakouts and are found in about 90 percent of products.” That’s a lot.

Now, before you embark on the most intense spring cleaning of your life, Gronich notes that people can react differently to various ingredients depending on their skin type. For example, “Those who are genetically acne-prone are far more likely to have consequences when these ingredients come in contact with their skin,” versus those with dry skin. People with sensitive or combination skin may experience minor blackheads or some congestion. And as she explains on CLEARSTEM’s TikTok, diet and lifestyle habits can play a role in the clarity of your complexion as well.

Are ‘Natural’ and ‘Organic’ Ingredients Less Likely to Clog My Pores?

We hate to break it to you, but ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ designations don’t mean much when it comes to preventing breakouts. When applied to skincare products, these ingredients can be just as pore-clogging as anything else,” explains Gronich. She adds that molecule sizes aren’t taken into consideration when a brand labels a product as ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ so one of these seemingly ‘good-for-you’ products can actually end up causing more harm than good.

3 of the Most Common Pore Clogging Ingredients

OK, it’s time to get to the nitty gritty. In case you didn’t already know, there’s a comedogenic scale that ranks ingredients on how likely they are to clog pores. In other words, this five-point scale is your new BFF when it comes to finding products that won’t congest your skin. Any ingredients deemed a one or two on the comedogenic scale shouldn’t break you out.

But if you’re not familiar with certain ingredients—especially those with hard-to-pronounce chemical names—fret not. CLEARSTEM has a page dedicated to pore-clogging ingredients, showcasing a list of over 100 commonly found ingredients our acne-prone skinned gals will want to stay away from. To help get you started, here are three pore-clogging ingredients that Gronich says to avoid.

1. Shea Butter

Considering that we love to use shea butter for all sorts of reasons like soothing our dry, cracked skin or alleviating our mosquito bites, it hurts to discover that it can clog our pores. Although it technically falls in the non-comedogenic category, some sources report that people with acne-prone skin are more likely to get clogged pores while using shea butter compared to those with dry skin. The reason? The thick, creamy fats found in shea butter can cause excessive sebum production in already oily skin, which leads to clogged pores.

2. Ethylhexyl Palmitate

Hidden in many popular cosmetics, ethylhexyl palimate is a fatty alcohol- and acid-based ingredient that’s most commonly added to formulas as an alternative to silicone. Basically, it’s a cheap oil derivative that has a long shelf life, making it appealing for brands wanting to cut costs. It’s reportedly high on the comedogenic scale, so it’s best to avoid this ingredient altogether as it can cause irritation and breakouts.

3. Coconut Oil

A few years ago, our beauty editor had some questions about the burgeoning hype around this popular pantry item as a DIY skincare solver. And she was right to take a magnifying glass to this ‘natural’ oil that people were slathering on their faces and hair by the bottle, because it turns out that “coconut oil, by nature, is far thicker than our natural sebum. Therefore, it will clog our pores regardless of whether it is organic or not,” informs Gronich.

Our parting advice? Check the labels, ladies.

Products for Acne-Prone Skin to Shop

La Roche-Posay

Toleriane Purifying Foaming Face Wash

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CLEARITY® "The Blackhead Dissolver"

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Essential Hydrating Oil

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Glowscreen Sunscreen SPF 40

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PREGAME™ Face Mask x Jess Clarke

Buy it

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