Cosmetic acne was first reported by French dermatologists in the mid-forties. In 1970 Gerd Plewig and James Fulton examined over 700 men to find some of them with normal skin, much to their chagrin the majoriy had cosmetic acne. The knowledge that cosmetic ingredients can cause acne has been known for over 50 years.
Approximately 1/3 of women have persistent low-grade acne which is consistent with cosmetic induced acne. This usually appeared after the age of 20 and is consistent with the epidemic of cosmetic induced acne. And yet despite this they are sold products consistently that are aggravating their existing problem. The image above is a damning reminder that cosmetics do indeed cause acne.
In order for a cosmetic ingredient to be comedogenic it must be able to penetrate the follicle, and once in the follicle, the chemical mujst produce the follicular reaction of “retention hyperkeratosis”. This means the cosmetic ingredient creates irritation inside the pore which results in an excess of skin cells being produced. This subsequently clogs the follicle up and as a result oil builds up with no way of escape resulting eventually in either a blackhead or a pimple forming.
The ability of a cosmetic ingredient to be comedogenic also has to do with the HLB value and the molecular weight of the ingredient. HLB stands for Hydrophylic/Lipophilic Balance and refers to how water soluble or oil soluble the cosmetic ingredient is.
A cosmetic ingredient has the strongest ability to be comedogenic if it is fairly soluble in both water and oil (HLB around 10-12) and a molecular weight between 200-300. Adding PEG’s (Polyethylene Glycols) reduces the comedogenicity of an ingredient.
Whilst cosmetic acne is a major problem for women, very few products offer safe non comedogenic skin care.
Plewig, G. Fulton, J and Kligman, A. “Pomade Acne” Arch Dermatology (101) pp. 580-584.