The Comedogenic Scale

Author Team Essentialist

Essentialist was formulated with blemish prone people in mind so you’re basically guaranteed safety when it comes to use of so-called "comedogenic" ingredients.  We can’t say the same for other brands so if you've been finding clogged pores you may need to check those INCI lists. 

What exactly is the comedogenic scale? It's a rating system that was established in 1979 by Dermatologist Dr. Albert Kligman. Tests were conducted on the ears of rabbits which thankfully is no longer the case. Reactions (or the lack thereof) on the poor bunny ears were thought to mirror how human skin would react. 100% accurate? Unlikely. Many agree that there are inherent issues with the ways this rating system was established, foremost being animal testing followed closely by the fact that human skin is not the same as rabbit skin. 

Today testing has been modified for application on human subjects but the problem now is that ingredients are applied to the skin on the subjects back. We shouldn't have to point out that the skin on the body, and our backs specifically, is not the same as the skin on our faces. Testing methodology has also been inconsistent, there is no standardized test. Further, they're often conducted on a relatively small sample of people which means we're not getting an accurate picture of the wider population. Beyond that there are additional considerations that affect our products that aren't considered when testing ingredients in isolation like the concentration it's being used at, what it's being mixed with, if it's diluted, and so forth.

We are the first to acknowledge that this rating system is far from perfect but it can still be a useful guide for helping you filter out some of the more problematic ingredients. If you've been prone to breakouts or simply want to be cautious, it's worth having a basic understanding of the common cloggers.

Let’s start with some definitions. Comedogenic is the tendency for an ingredient to clog pores. Comedonal acne causes bumps to form such as blackheads, whiteheads, or papules essentially a non-inflammatory type of acne. Comedones can lead to the formation of inflammatory acne i.e. the painful, and swollen type. The comedogenic scale is the rating system from 0-5 used to determine the likelihood that an ingredient will lead to clogged pores and the formation of comedones. 

  • 0 - not likely
  • 1 - very low likelihood 
  • 2 - moderately low likelihood
  • 3 - moderate likelihood
  • 4 - fairly high likelihood
  • 5 - high likelihood 

    Some key factors you still have to consider: everyones skin reacts differently, your skin type, environment, and habits (exercise, sleep, diet, and water intake) all play a role. It’s never only just the oil or particular ingredient causing clogged pores and breakouts but the wrong oils and ingredients certainly won’t help.   

    Here are the ingredients in INCI list order used in our Daily Renewal Facial Oil and its ranking.  Note, Bakuchiol has not yet been rated so we haven't included it but, given that it is used to combat acne we are fairly certain it would fall in the 0-1 range too!


    Argan Oil - 0

    Grapeseed Oil - 1

    Strawberry Seed Oil - 1

    Pomegranate Seed Oil - 1

    Prickly Pear Seed Oil - 1-2

    Cranberry Seed Oil - 2

    Passionfruit Seed Oil- 1-2

    Blackberry Seed Oil- 0-1

    Black Currant Seed Oil- 0-1

    Seabuckthorn Fruit Oil- 1


    Once you start to look you'll find you have to visit several sites to get various small lists, most only touching on oils when there are many other ingredient types at play. We found the below from Acne Clinic NYC, it's the most comprehensive list of pore cloggers we've come across so far. Check it out and cross-reference your products, you may be surprised at what you find!

    Acetylated Lanolin
    Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
    Algae Extract
    Butyl Stearate
    Cetearyl Alcohol + Ceteareth 20
    Cetyl Acetate
    Chondrus Crispus (aka Irish Moss or Carageenan Moss)
    Coal Tar
    Cocoa Butter
    Coconut Alkanes
    Coconut Butter
    Coconut Oil
    Cocos nucifera oil
    Colloidal Sulfur
    Cotton Awws Oil
    Cotton Seed Oil
    Corn oil
    D & C Red # 17
    D & C Red # 21
    D & C Red # 3
    D & C Red # 30
    D & C Red # 36
    Decyl Oleate
    Dioctyl Succinate
    Disodium Monooleamido
    Ethoxylated Lanolin
    Ethylhexyl Palmitate
    Glyceryl Stearate SE
    Glyceryl-3 Diisostearate
    Hexadecyl Alcohol
    Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
    Isocetyl Alcohol
    Isocetyl Stearate
    Isodecyl Oleate
    Isopropyl Isostearate
    Isopropyl Linolate
    Isopropyl Myristate
    Isopropyl Palmitate
    Isostearyl Isostearate
    Isostearyl Neopentanoate
    Jojoba wax
    Laminaria Digitata Extract
    Laminaria Saccharina Extract (Laminaria Saccharine)
    Lauric Acid
    Mango Butter
    Mink Oil
    Myristic Acid
    Myristyl Lactate
    Myristyl Myristate
    Octyl Palmitate
    Octyl Stearate
    Oleyl Alcohol
    PEG 2- Sulfosuccinate
    PEG 16 Lanolin
    PEG 200 Dilaurate
    PEG 8 Stearate
    PG Monostearate
    PPG 2 Myristyl Propionate
    Polyglyceryl-3 Diisostearate
    Potassium Chloride
    Propylene Glycol Monostearate
    Red Algae
    Shark Liver Oil
    Shea Butter
    Sodium Laureth Sulfate
    Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
    Solulan 16
    Sorbitan Oleate
    Soybean Oil
    Steareth 10
    Stearic Acid Tea
    Stearyl Heptanoate
    Sulfated Castor Oil
    Sulfated Jojoba Oil
    Wheat Germ Glyceride
    Wheat Germ Oil