Can anti-acne sticks actually make acne worse?

Sarah (no relation to Sarah Bellum) says: You guys are great– the Mythbusters of Makeup!! I’m concerned about my acne cover-up. The salicylic acid in Maybelline Pure Concealer is supposed to be good to banish zits, but are the other things that make it a waxy stick actually worsening my acne? Is a cream concealer better? Thank you!

The Right Brain responds:

Thanks for the kind words, Sarah. If the Left Brain wasn’t so afraid of getting sued, we probably would change our name to “Makeup Mythbusters.” But for now, you’re stuck with the Beauty Brains.

You raised a good question about concealer sticks. Will all those heavy, waxy chemicals clog our pores? The answer lies in the acnegenic nature of the specific chemicals in the formula. Allow me to explain:

Does the product claim to be non-comedogenic?

First of all, read the label. The only way to tell FOR SURE if the product will cause acne is to test it, and if the company spent all that time and money on testing, they’ll most certainly put “non-comedogenic” on the label. (“Comedogenic” is the sciencey way to say “causes acne.”) Looking at Maybelline Pure Concealer we do NOT see this claim on the label so we have to assume it’s not tested. So now what do we do? We need to dig a little deeper.

Does the product contain any comedogenic ingredients?

The next approach is to see if any of the ingredients in your product cause acne. Each chemical used in a cosmetic can be tested individually for comedogencity, They are generally rated on a 5 point comedogenic scale: a 0 means non-comedogenic. 1 – 2 means slightly. 3 means moderate and 4 or 5 means zit city! So if you know where to look, you can check the ingredients listed on the label on the back of the pack to see if they cause acne.

Let’s look at our Maybelline example again: Are there ingredients in the formula that are moderately or severly comedogenic? Here’s what’s in the product:

Cyclopentasiloxane; Cetearyl Behenate; Laureth-2 Benzoate; Octyldodecanol; Synthetic Beeswax; Nylon-12; Tocopherol; Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride; Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Extract; Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Extract. May Contain: Titanium Dioxide; Iron Oxides; Mica. Active ingredient is salicylic acid.

Checking some online lists of comedogenicity ratings we see that Octylodecanol and Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride can be “moderately” comedogenic. (Keep in mind there are literally thousands of ingredients and it’s impossible to find test data on every single one.) So does mean you shouldn’t use Pure Concealer? There’s one more question we need to ask.

Does the product contain large amounts of those ingredients?

Once you’ve identified that a product does have one or more comedogenic ingredients, you need to figure out how much of those ingredients are in the product. Low levels of acne causing chemicals may not cause breakouts at all. You can’t tell for sure without seeing the percentage of each ingredient in the formula, but you can make a pretty good guess if you know that in the US, cosmetics ingredients are listed in order of descending concentration above 1%. Below 1% they can be listed in any order. So if a couple ingredients with moderate to severe comegenicity scores show up on the first 5 or 6 ingredients in the formula, there may be cause for concern.

Looking the ingredient list for Maybelline we see that Octyldodecanol is the 4th ingredient so it’s probably in the formula at a fairly high concentration. The Triglyceride is 8th ingredient, behind tocopherol (which is Vitamin E.) Vitamins are typically used at less than 1%, so we can assume that the Triglyceride is present at a fairly low level.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

What does this tell us about Maybelline Pure Concealer? It contains (at least) two comedogenic ingredients, one of which appears to be at a significant level in the formula. If you’re prone to breaking out, this may be a product to avoid.

What do you think and sticks and zits? What are you favorite concealers? Leave a comment and share your faves with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.