Did Ü know, cosmetics happen to be the skin’s worst pollutants? In my experience of working with acne, I’ve witnessed the aggravating affects cosmetics have on the skin. A client can be doing everything right, using medicated products and following a perfect regimen, yet continuously break out. These are usually the clients who wear heavy primers, concealers and cream foundations all day at work or school. Silicones are used in most of these products and act as a barrier on the skin, trapping in heavy oils, sweat and impacted dead cells. Even if these clients wash their face the moment they get home, the accumulation of wearing it all day is enough to cause serious damage. Some ingredients are so irritating, that with long-term use they can cause consistent breakouts in someone who is otherwise not acne-prone. About 60 million people in the U.S. struggle with acne, half of which are caused solely by comedogenic ingredients found in skincare, makeup and hair products. Comedogenic refers to a substance’s ability to penetrate down into the pore and cause the formation of comedones.
Who gets it?
If you are genetically acne-prone or had acne as a teenager, you’ll be more susceptible to the harmful ingredients hiding in your makeup. However, many women are developing this type of acne who are otherwise not susceptible.
How does it start?
It can take about six months for acne to appear from a particular product. Depending on your skin type, it can happen much sooner. Cosmetic acne becomes noticeable as several, small elevated bumps on the cheeks, chin and sometimes forehead emerge. Once dead cells and leftover product builds up in the pores, inflammation begins. Whiteheads can turn into red painful pustules. Pus-filled nodules are a clue the problem is being caused from external factors as opposed to physiological ones. Anyone struggling with this knows it’s a vicious cycle. The more you break out, the more you want to cover it up with makeup. This just leads to more breakouts and more cover up. Many women fall into a trap of constantly buying and trying different brands of makeup, hoping a new product will solve the problem but it usually makes things worse.
Why is this stuff in cosmetics?
Cosmetic companies can get away with it due to a lack of regulation. The FDA Cosmetic Act was last written in 1938. That’s forty years before anyone knew what comedogenic ingredients were. Toxicology was barely known then. But, even with comedogenic ingredients being well noted by now, it makes you wonder why they keep using them in formulations. Here’s why: comedogenic ingredients only negatively affect 30% of all users. Cosmetic companies will remove ingredients found to cause allergic reactions in as few as 0.5% of their customers. But, acne sufferers, who happen to belong to a larger percentage of the affected population, are not protected by these companies.
Cosmetic chemists have traditionally tried to mimic our own skin’s natural oil (sebum) in product formulations. But the ideas we have about oils being good for our skin are misleading. Oil is not necessary for moisturizing the skin. For example, kids don’t produce sebum, yet have perfectly hydrated skin. Sebum doesn’t prevent wrinkles, sun causes them. Sebum’s chemical components such as wax esters and fatty acids can wreck havoc on the skin, hence why so many people who have oily skin are also acne-prone. Yet many cosmetics contain fatty acids and esters, such as myristic acid and isopropyl myristate commonly used in primers, concealers and foundations.These products are among the worst offenders for acne sufferers.
- Creams tend to be used the most because they go on so smoothly and give great coverage. The silkiness in these products is due to heavy lanolin oils.
- The more expensive the product, the more likely it is to be pore-clogging. This is usually due to the manufacturer being able to afford most luxurious, expensive oils in their formulations which happen to be extremely comedogenic.
- Cheaper, discount formulations tend to be better for the skin because they tend to contain more water.
- Oil-free claims on makeup labels is simply not true. They might contain no animal, vegetable or mineral oils, but will contain synthetic oil. How do companies get away with this? There’s no laws to prevent it from happening. Cosmetic companies can reason that certain chemicals are made synthetically, rather than with natural oils. So it’s not technically “oil.” Other terms like “hypo-allergenic,” “non-greasy” and “natural,” are all meaningless terms as well. Stick to water-based and glycerin-based products, such as these.
Americans collectively spend $20 billion each year on cosmetics alone. Skincare in particular, is the fastest growing segment of that market. The beauty industry spends $2 billion annually on convincing you to buy their products. That’s a lot of money! My best advice: Be a smart consumer. Don’t buy into marketing tactics that make big claims. Become informed and protect your skin. I created a chart below as a guideline for what comedogenic ingredients to look out for next time you’re shopping for new products. Searching for ingredient labels on makeup can be hard to find and will take some extra digging as cosmetic companies can be secretive about their formulations! I’ve found this website to be helpful also: EWG.org.
Sources: Fulton, James E. Acne RX: What Acne Really Is and How to Eliminate Its Devastating Effects! The Author, 2001.