Oils have a jekyll and hyde reputation for people with acne-prone skin.
There are tons of websites expressing the benefits of using oils in the skin, while others try to completely avoid oils if they’re dealing with breakouts. There are so many oils to choose from but it is very important to know which ones are best. So who do we believe? Not all oils are created equal, so keep reading to make some sense of this talked about topic!
The reason oils have a certain reputation is because of their comedogenicity (pore-clogging factor). Many oils have been tested but only a few have been found safe for acne-prone skin.
Most products on the market today have 3-5+ oils in their products, all touting its “benefits.” This was one of the main reasons our founder created Divulge Beauty, our bread and butter is focusing on providing products with non-comedogenic oils or none at all, what is the point of having beneficial oils with great properties if they are also comedogenic.
Choosing oils carefully really matters especially if you suffer from comedonal acne, a form of acne caused by a build-up of facial products in the pores, along with bacteria and oil. I’m sure you’ve heard of non-comedogenic makeup, moisturizers, and other facial care products that claim non-pore clogging superpowers, but are they really as clean as they say? When I examine the ingredient lists it is usually far from the case, and I can spot a couple of offenders right away.
To understand why an oil has the comedogenic rating that it does, you need to understand the ratios of the many essential fatty acids which are different from one another. Other factors can include where the oil comes from, how it was extracted, and the quality and ethics of the company who manufactures it.
Acne-prone skin, especially oily acne-prone skin, is deficient in an essential fatty acid called linoleic acid (source). There is also a study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology (source), says that acne-prone individuals have been shown to have lower levels of linoleic acid in their skin surface lipids (aka sebum). If the skin produces too much sebum, the situation is even worse, because our natural extra sebum is made with more oleic acid, not linoleic acid.
Linoleic acid is an unsaturated acid, also omega 6 fatty acid. It is popularly added to skincare products because of its beneficial properties including: retaining moisture in the skin, reducing acne, and anti-inflammatory properties.
Oily skin types naturally have more oleic acid and less linoleic acid in their sebum. This makes their sebum thick and sticky which blocks pores and leads to breakouts, it also means more oil production. Bringing back extra linoleic acid into our skincare regimen is very healing and will help prevent future breakouts and acne.Linoleic acid is excellent at breaking up blackheads, unclogging pores, and balancing sebum levels on the skin. Still following?
We use oils because linoleic acid is naturally found in plant-based oils in very high concentrations.However, some oils contain high levels of linoleic acid AND oleic acid, so they can be comedogenic, if you experience a lot of clogged pores and comedones on your skin, I’d suggest using a non-comedogenic high linoleic acid oil with low oleic acid content. Our favorites are safflower, sunflower, and hemp seed oils which have a comedogenic rating of 0. (High Oleic acid content is known to be comedogenic).
In fact, researchers have found a reduction in comedones (which develop from clogged pores) by 25% in just one month of applying linoleic acid topically (source). So although you can find benefits with almost any oil we try to use oils with the highest linoleic acid content, low oleic acid content with a low comedogenic or 0 rating.
We compiled the most used oils in the beauty industry to show you a snapshot.Here is more info on the ratings:
An oil that has a comedogenic rating of 0 is widely believed to be non-comedogenic and will not clog your pores.
A comedogenic rating of 1 means a slight chance that the oil will clog your pores.
A comedogenic rating of 2 means the oil shouldn’t clog pores for MOST people, but some will begin to notice clogged pores or a “purge” in some cases.
A comedogenic rating of 3 is where a lot of people will break out using this oil, but a lot of people may not break out depending on their skin type.
A comedogenic rating of 4 suggests that MOST people will break out using this oil unless they have a good tolerance to it. This largely depends on a number of skin type factors.
A comedogenic rating of 5 is basically a guaranteed chance of breaking out. Very very few people can tolerate oils labeled as a 5, but they do exist!
Safflower oil is a gentle, highly moisturizing oil with similar properties to sunflower oil. It absorbs easily and doesn’t leave a greasy residue. This oil contains a higher percentage of linoleic acid and a lower percentage of oleic acid than its sunflower counterpart. Linoleic acid is excellent at breaking up blackheads, unclogging pores, and balancing sebum levels of the skin (excess sebum is one of the main causes of acne). This makes safflower oil a great carrier oil– especially for those with acne prone and oily skin.
Comedogenic Rating: 0
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Linoleic acid (82%), Oleic acid (11%), Palmitic acid (5%), Stearic acid (2%), Linolenic acid (.41%) (source)
A gentle antioxidant that is light and easily absorbed by the skin without clogging the pores. The most unique feature is its high Vitamin E content which can help reverse and prevent sun damage, environmental damage, and premature aging.Sunflower seed oil protects the skin’s collagen and elastin supply, resulting in a more even-toned youthful appearance. Teenage skin and those who suffer from acne will benefit because of sunflower seed oil’s potent anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and low comedogenic properties. Continuous use can eliminate acne while significantly reducing water loss through the skin; thus, resulting in clear and hydrated skin.Stick to low oleic acid content as higher content types will have a comedogenic rating that could be high.
Comedogenic Rating: 0
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (30-80%), Linoleic acid (60%), Palmitic acid (6%), Stearic acid (3%), Linolenic acid (.22%) (source)
Organic sweet almond oil is a hypoallergenic carrier oil with powerful emollient (skin moisturizing) benefits. One of the other major benefits of sweet almond oil is its ability to lighten skin. Almond oil is comprised of compounds which are all highly effective at lightening skin tone, however it does have a comedogenic rating of 2.
Comedogenic Rating: 2
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (80%), Linoleic acid (25%), Palmitic acid (4%), Stearic acid (1-3%), Palmitoleic acid (.6%), Linolenic acid (.4%) (source)
Olive oil has been praised by history’s most iconic beauties as the secret weapon to ageless skin. Sophia Loren famously indulged in olive oil baths and Cleopatra attributed her timeless “olive glow” to the powers of this ancient Mediterranean fruit. It contains effective anti-aging compounds like squalene (a fat found in our own cells), Vitamin E, and a rare antioxidant called hydroxytyrosol which have been proven to protect against free radical damage to the skin. Olive oil is comedogenic so some people with oily acne-prone skin have experienced breakouts from excess olive oil use.
Comedogenic Rating: 2
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (55-83%), Palmitic acid (7.5-20%), Linoleic acid (3-21%), Stearic acid (.5-5%), Linolenic acid (<1%) (source)
Grape Seed Oil
Because of its lower comedogenic rating, powerful antibacterial properties, and high linoleic acid content, grape seed oil can be a good option for those with sensitive, acne prone skin. It has high linoleic acid content, a compound proven to prevent pore clogging and help treat existing acne infections.
Comedogenic Rating: 1
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Linoleic acid (66-75%), Oleic acid (21%), Palmitic acid (7%), Stearic acid (4%), Linolenic acid (1.5%) (source)
Marula oil has been used by women for centuries as their secret “elixir of youth”. The oil is derived from the nut of the South African marula fruit and offers tons of benefits (but at a price if you’re sensitive). High in oleic acid, marula oil is easily absorbed by dry skin and provides intense hydration by preventing water loss without leaving an oily residue. The Vitamin E, phytosterols, amino acids, and the powerful antioxidants found in marula oil create a potent anti-aging mix which boosts collagen production and fights free radicals. Marula oil has a comedogenic rating of 4, which gives it a very high likelihood of clogging pores. For acne-prone skin the benefits don’t outweigh the fact that your skin will be all clogged up!
Comedogenic Rating: 4
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (70-78%), Palmitic acid (9-12%), Linoleic acid (5-10%), Stearic acid (5-8%), Alpha-linoleic acid (<.6%), Palmitoleic acid (<.15%) (source)
Many skin care addicts and women all over the world praise organic coconut oil as the holy grail of oils. It’s packed with antioxidants and vitamins which promote cellular repair, protect against premature aging, and prevent moisture loss. It about 6% caprylic acid which has powerful antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties proven to successfully fight skin infections such as acne. So while coconut oil can be ideal for those suffering from very dry skin, those with sensitive or oily skin should be careful. Coconut oil has a comedogenic rating of 4, which means that it has a high chance of clogging pores and causing breakouts for most of us!
Comedogenic Rating: 4
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Lauric Acid (52%), Myristic Acid (45-52%), Capric Acid (9%), Palmitic Acid (7-10%), Oleic Acid (5-8%), Caprylic Acid (6%), Stearic Acid (2-4%), Linoleic Acid (2%), Linolenic Acid (.2%) (source)
A staple in Ayurveda, neem oil is one of the most potent antiviral, anti-fungal, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory oils you can use for skin care. Neem oil also boasts a low comedogenic rating of 1. Neem oil also has a less than desirable smell which is often compared to rotting eggs and sulfur!
Comedogenic Rating: 1-2
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (41%), Linoleic acid (19%), Stearic acid (18%), Palmitic acid (16%), Linolenic acid (.44%) (source)
Hemp Seed Oil
Hemp seed oil is very unique in that it has a very similar composition of fats and amino acids as our own natural skin oils, making it very tolerable. Hemp seed oil is made specifically from the seeds of the hemp plant and has a different composition than the plant itself. It is well-known for powerful skin care compounds like Vitamin E, Vitamin C, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In fact, no other oil is packed with as much essential fatty acids as hemp seed. Overall, hemp seed oil is an excellent emollient (hydrates skin), and non-comedogenic.
Comedogenic Rating: 0
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Linoleic acid (56%), Alpha-linolenic acid (22%), Oleic acid (11%), Palmitic acid (6%), Gamma-linolenic acid (3-4%), Stearic acid (1-2%) (source)
As one of the world’s most expensive oils, argan oil (also known as liquid gold) is considered by many to be the holy grail of skin care oils and for good reason. It boasts a high composition of essential fatty acids and plant sterols with a very low chance of clogging pores. The most powerful feature of organic argan oil is its ability to repair skin damage like acne scarring, stretch marks, and dry skin. Pure argan oil is extracted from the kernels of the argan tree: a plant native to Morocco and the Argan Forest. To this day, extracting authentic Moroccan argan oil is a highly labor intensive (and ancient) process done by local Moroccan Berber women (sometimes by hand). This contributes towards pure argan oil’s quality and high price tag. Suitable for most skin types.
Comedogenic Rating: 1
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Oleic acid (45%), Linoleic acid (35%), Palmitic acid (12%), Stearic acid (6%), Linolenic acid (.1%), Palmitoleic acid (.12%) (source)
Jojoba oil is actually not an “oil” at all: it’s a liquid polyunsaturated wax which has a very similar consistency to our skin’s sebum. When applied to the skin, it mixes with sebum and forms a thin, non-greasy layer of protection. This layer is porous enough to allow the skin to breathe yet cohesive enough to provide an excellent barrier against moisture loss. Some often experience a “purge” of toxins when they begin using it.
Comedogenic Rating: 2
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Gadoleic acid (65-80%), Erucic acid (10-20%), Oleic acid (5-15%), Stearic acid (<5%), Palmitic acid (<3%), Palmitoleic acid (<1%) (source)
Rosehip Seed Oil
Rosehip seed oil has earned quite a reputation over the years. Loved by skin care experts and celebrities like Miranda Kerr as being “better than Botox,” rosehip seed oil has the ability to dramatically change the condition of your skin. For starters, rosehip seed oil is one of the richest plant sources of Vitamin C, which can stimulate collagen production, penetrate deeply to reduce redness, and increase cell turnover. Although rosehip seed can work well with oily and acne-prone skin types, it should not be applied directly onto active acne because it has been known to aggravate infections.
Comedogenic Rating: 1-2
Fatty Acid Snapshot: Cis-linoleic acid (41-50%), Alpha-linolenic acid (26-37%), Oleic acid (10-20%), Palmitic acid (3-5%), Stearic acid (1-3%) (source)
In conclusion, keep in mind everyone’s skin is different andeveryone has an oil that is right for them. What works for some may be a nightmare for you because there are too many factors that come into play such as your lifestyle, genetics, the food you eat, how much water you drink, deficiencies, etc.If you don't have acne, you generally don't have to worry about what oils you use (as far as clogs go). So while your friend with dry skin may rave about cleansing with olive oil and the benefits, slathering that on your breakout-prone skin will cause your face to explode in clogs. So for those of you with sensitive, oily or acne-prone skin, we hope this post clarified things a little more for you!
Another note here - oils generally do not clear acne or “moisturize” the skin. They are used to help support the clarity of skin. As for moisturizing your skin, you need a combination of humectants, emollients (oils) and sometimes occlusives to hydrate and lock moisture in the skin, but there is a whole other post on that here. Oils are only one part of the puzzle!
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