Things to avoid

What ingredients shouldn’t I use if I have acne?

Find out what additives could make your acne worse.

What ingredients shouldn’t I use if I have acne?

Acne is a very personal condition and what works (or doesn’t) for one person won’t necessarily have the same effect for the next. That said, there are some solutions that should be avoided at all cost.

What ingredients can make my acne worse?

Fragrance (including synthetic and natural (essential oils)) 

Always look for products that are fragrance free as there is no legal requirement for manufacturers to state what is in the fragrances they use. Fragrances can lead to overly sensitized skin, causing inflammation, irritation and redness. 

Coconut oil

This is a double-edged sword. Coconut oil is a great source of lauric acid and caprylic acid, both of which can benefit acne, but it can also contribute to pore clogging. It is therefore regarded as comedogenic.

Cocoa Butter 

Cocoa butter is a emollient that softens the skin packed with phytonutrients. As a singular ingredient, it is considered ‘clean’ and natural, but often presents issues for acne skin because it can be considered comedogenic (pore clogging) depending on how it’s present in the formula (the concentration). Cocoa butter also needs to be vetting for ethical issues like fair labor and harvesting methods. It can also carry a heavy carbon footprint given how far it has to travel – most of the world’s cocoa butter comes from West Africa or Chile.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate

These harsh surfactants completely strip the skin of oil and can trigger the skin to produce excess oil in an effort to protect itself. 

Mineral oilcomedogenic

Isopropyl Myristate and derivatives – comedogenic

Avoid any of the following ingredients as they are considered comedogenic: isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl isostearate, butyl stearate, isostearyl neopentanoate, myristyl myristate, decyl oleate, octyl stearate, octyl palmitate, isocetyl stearate.

propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2) myristyl propionate 


Coal Tar derived colorants (D&C Red Dyes)

It is possible that by using any of these products you will experience: breakouts, redness, burning, itching, sore or tender skin, inflammation and/or excessive oil production.


What ingredients have a bad reputation but are still okay for my skin?


There is some anecdotal evidence that silicone “suffocates” skin but this has not been substantiated in any research. In fact, the molecular structure of commonly used silicones makes suffocation impossible. Silicone has been shown to be helpful for offsetting dryness and flaking from common anti-acne active ingredients (such as benzoyl peroxide and topical antibiotics), while improving the appearance of acne scars. It helps ensure an even application of other ingredients and leaves behind a silky, almost imperceptible feel that noticeably enhances skin’s texture and appearance. 


There are good alcohols and bad alcohols and it’s important to know the difference. Better ones, like retinol, cetyl, cetyl alcohol, propylene glycol and oleyl alcohol, are fatty alcohols. These help draw in and hold moisture, kill acne-causing bacteria on the surface of the skin and “de-grease” oily skin.

In contrast, simple alcohols have a dehydrating effect on the skin. These astringent alcohols include: SD alcohol 40, denatured alcohol, ethanol, and isopropyl alcohol. Along with methanol and benzyl alcohol, these can lead to more than just dryness in people with already-inflamed skin. They can cause skin to become even redder, especially for those with dry, sensitive skin, or rosacea.

Algae extract

There are two types of algae – macro and micro. Macro algaes like Carrageenan, Chondrus crispus and Sodium Alginate contain high levels of iodine which can irritate the pores and trigger inflammation. As they penetrate the pores they accelerate the growth of micro-comedones.

However, studies have shown that fatty acids found in marine algae (such as seaweed) could be an effective additional treatment against some strains of bacteria associated with acne.

Good algae to look out for include: tetraselmis suecica, spirulina, ahnfeltia concinna (red algae), Gigartina skottsbergii and Undaria pinnatifida.