For clear, breakout-free skin, you'll probably do anything to avoid clogged pores, which can lead to blackheads, whiteheads, and acne. Exfoliating regularly and using products that increase cellular turnover, like retinol, can help. You'll also want to avoid any products that could clog your pores even more. And yes, there are some "helpful" skincare products that can actually make the pore problem even worse. One of those products that could be tricky? A moisturizer.
That's right. Some moisturizers, which are supposed to keep your skin smooth and hydrated, can clog your pores. So if you have issues with clogged pores and breakouts, you'll want to choose your moisturizers wisely. That's where one important term comes into play: noncomedogenic.
You've probably heard the term before and thought it sounded good for the most part but didn't really know much about it. "Simply put, a noncomedogenic product has been tested to not clog pores," explains board-certified dermatologist Ife Rodney, MD, FAAD, of Eternal Dermatology and Aesthetics. "That means it's less likely to cause acne. Though, this is not guaranteed. Dirt, dead skin cells, or sebum can clog the pores, causing acne. Comedogenic products—usually heavy or greasy—can also clog your pores. It's important to note that noncomedogenic products won't necessarily treat your breakouts. They just won't contribute to the problem."
While noncomedogenic products are helpful for just about anyone, those with oily, sensitive, or acne-prone skin will benefit the most from them, as these skin types can easily become clogged, which can lead to breakouts.
So what makes a product comedogenic? "Ingredients that are 'pore clogging' or comedogenic are found in many skincare products and makeup," says board-certified dermatologist Jeremy Brauer. "The list of pore-blocking ingredients is long and includes various oils, alcohols, acids, butters, propylene glycol, and lanolins. Noncomedogenic products often contain salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur but can also contain other oils such as grapeseed."
Other noncomedogenic ingredients include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, mineral oil, and ceramides.
When choosing a moisturizer, most products will specify that it's noncomedogenic, but you'll want to look at the label, too. "Do your research first. Before anything else, you want to narrow your search down to moisturizers that work with your skin type," Rodney says. "From there, check the label, which will state if the product is noncomedogenic. To be safe, aim for products that are oil-free and noncomedogenic. Next, check the ingredient list. Ingredient lists are usually listed in descending order in terms of concentration. If the product has some comedogenic qualities at the end of the list, it should be safe." Most noncomedogenic products generally avoid thick oils or emulsifiers.
Certain ingredients will work better depending on your skin type. If you have dry skin, Rodney suggests looking for glycerin, hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and squalane. Oily skin types will benefit from hyaluronic acid, vitamin C, niacinamide, and/or retinol. And overall, serums and gel-based or whipped moisturizers are best instead of thick creams.
While noncomedogenic moisturizers are so helpful for skin that's prone to clogged pores, there are a couple of drawbacks. Brauer says that products with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and sulfur can be drying or irritating, so you'll want to be careful with those.
Another drawback is that some people will expect to have their breakout problems solved after using a noncomedogenic product. They can prevent any pore clogging, but that doesn't mean they're going to target acne or blemishes. "Just because it's noncomedogenic does not guarantee that you won't get breakouts," Rodney explains. "If you're seeing unwanted blackheads or whiteheads, stop the moisturizer. Then, look for signs of improvement. Some products also have side effects like dryness, redness, or skin irritation. In both cases, make sure to first test the product on a small area of your skin before committing to it."
If you're ready to change up your moisturizer, take a look at these dermatologist- and editor-recommended picks below.
"Ideal for both acne-prone and sensitive skin, this lightweight moisturizer quickly absorbs into the skin and contains hyaluronic acids, niacinamide, and essential ceramides," Rodney says.
This daily moisturizer is sheer and contains willow bark to stimulate cellular turnover. Other ingredients include vitamin C, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and dimethicone.
Tatcha's oil-free, water-based cream contains Japanese botanicals to control excess oil, tighten pores, smooth skin, and promote an overall glow. It's formulated to hydrate skin without leaving a greasy or sticky residue.
This lightweight gel moisturizer has ingredients like moringa-seed extract and moringa water to refresh and clarify the skin, papaya extract to exfoliate, and hyaluronic acid to lock in moisture. The product also minimizes pores and reduces shine.
Rodney recommends this facial moisturizer, which she says is fragrance-free and alcohol-free and works well on combination skin and with makeup.
Specially formulated to deal with breakouts, this daily moisturizer contains salicylic acid, which is an acne-fighting ingredient. It also has a total soy complex to even skin tone and promote a radiant complexion.
This moisturizer is super lightweight, oil-free, and fast absorbing. Those with normal to oily skin types will benefit from the formula. Ingredients include sodium hyaluronate, hydrolyzed collagen, and red algae extract to leave the skin looking plump and smooth.
"Ideal for aging skin, this noncomedogenic moisturizer has antioxidants and vitamins to fight free radical damage to your skin," Rodney says. Ingredients include essential lipids (for elasticity and hydration), vitamin E, and essential oils.
Gel moisturizers can be so soothing on the skin and, not to mention, fast absorbing. This one keeps your skin hydrated for 72 hours and contains unique ingredients like caffeine to refresh and ginseng to energize.
Sensitive skin types will appreciate this daily moisturizer since it's fragrance-free and hypoallergenic. It's formulated with rice extract and aloe to moisturize and cotton extract to protect the skin barrier.
"This lightweight moisturizer also contains broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen, so there's one less step in your morning skincare routine," Rodney says.
Another lightweight gel formula, this one will brighten, hydrate, and protect your skin. It has nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, antioxidants, and watermelon extract.
This cream works overnight to exfoliate skin and promote cell renewal while reducing the appearance of dark spots, uneven skin tone, and acne scars. Ingredients include papaya extract, glycolic acid, viniferine, squalane oil, hyaluronic acid, and vitamin E.
You won't experience any irritation with this lotion because it's free of all the things that might annoy your skin, like dyes, fragrances, lanolin, parabens, and formaldehyde.
Murad's lightweight and oil-free moisturizer is designed to target large pores and reduce shine. It contains retinol for cellular turnover and hyaluronic acid and honey for moisture.