Medically reviewed by Vicky Davis, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 1/31/2022
The oily, grimey skin that we associate with acne and other blemishes is running on an excess of something we understand (oil). So, obviously, the last thing a person with acne would want is more oil, right?
Well, believe it or not, oil is not the ultimate, unyielding enemy of clear skin, nor is it persona non grata in skincare products.
In fact, certain oils can actually bring benefits to your skin’s healthy, blemish-free glow without leaving you with newly clogged pores.
Which ones? Well that’s a harder question — and one that science is still trying to answer.
Non-comedogenic oils are a relatively new area of study, and while we have some promising data, there’s no official list of the acne-busting oils that can zero-to-hero your skin.
But non-comedogenic face oils are a good place to start, especially for those with an acne-prone skin type.
Read anything about non-comedogenic face oils and you’ll see references to a variety of exotic sounding products, from rosehip seed oil and hemp seed oil, to sweet almond oil and grape seed oil.
But this isn’t cooking — this is your daily face care routine we’re talking about.
The makeup world is a great place to start the comedogenic conversation because, well, it turns out a lot of ingredients and oils used in cosmetics can increase your acne risk, whether you have oily or acne-prone skin or not.
“Comedone” refers to any mass clogging a pore. So, anything non-comedogenic in nature is simply something that does not clog your pores.
By that definition, non-comedogenic face oil is simply an oil that you can safely use on your face that doesn’t increase your risk of clogging your pores in the process.
It shouldn’t aggravate sensitive skin, nor should it increase oily skin concerns.
The list of oils considered non-comedogenic isn’t very large, and there’s a reason for that: this is a relatively unexplored area of study.
Experts understand plenty about natural sebum or oil production, about active ingredients for moisturizer and about how to treat oily and acne-prone skin.
More research needs to be done, however, to understand how other types of oils can safely fit into the skincare routine of acne sufferers.
Non-comedogenic products are relatively new as a field in the grand, centuries-old scope of cosmetics, and even in the modern world of beauty products as we know it, there hasn’t been a substantial amount of research into oils that don’t clog pores.
Products with tea tree oil may be a great example. Some studies have shown limited evidence that tea tree oil in certain cases may help reduce acne lesions to an extent.
Another oil that has been shown to offer similar benefits in anti inflammatory uses is jojoba oil.
Though the name of the plant may be unusual, the study in question showed that the oil had broad spectrum benefits to offer — 133 of the 194 total participants saw impressive reductions in acne lesions over a six week period.
You’ll find other oil types mentioned on occasion as beneficial for people with acne, but the list is fairly short at the moment for the simple reason that many of these claims are arguably unsubstantiated to an adequate degree to warrant some sort of official label.
In many cases, the oils that you see named are carrier oils designed to deliver other compounds safely to the skin.
Depending on what you’re using the oil for, the question of relative benefits changes drastically. For instance, you don’t necessarily have the same standards of non-comedogenic performance for an oil you use once or twice a month that you would have for one you use daily.
But again, more research is needed.
The best advice we can give you is to read labels. Oil-based products may be an added hazard for people with acne-prone skin, but some of the benefits derived from these products may be worth it for you.
If you have severe acne and you’re doing everything you can to avoid making it worse, a good way to pre-test products is to ask a healthcare professional before using them.
Medical professionals will be able to add context to the discussion or point you toward products that they have seen “work” for people with similar limitations.
Our guide to Treating Acne Caused by Makeup is also a great resource for people trying to avoid making things worse (you might also consider some of the acne treatment options that hers has to offer).
Acne is just an imbalance of dead, dry skin cells, too much oil, and thriving bacteria. Finding that balance again is just a matter of tweaking things until they’re normal again, and this can be done in a lot of ways.
One of the simplest ways to manage acne is to manage bacteria — prescription medications are a great way to get rid of a growing population.
Another solution is removing the dead skin cells before they can become a food source for those thriving bacteria.
One of the most effective ways to do this is through chemical exfoliation with products like retinoids, which in prescription strength products has the added benefit of boosting your collagen production.
Removing oil is also a simple and effective way to curtail bacteria’s successful propagation. Because oil is the medium in which they live, controlling your oiliness will control the bacteria.
This is a good time to point out, however, that the opposite of oily skin isn’t dry skin — or, at least, it shouldn’t be. If you go from oily skin to dry, dehydrated skin, you’ll need a moisturizer.
These can be creams or lotions, but they can also come in the form of acids like hyaluronic acid, which underneath your skin has the power to bind to 1,000 times its weight in water, essentially operating like a storage unit for extra H2O when your cells and proteins need it.
And speaking of needs, this is probably the best time to remind you that your body has them, and not meeting your body’s needs can affect the health of your skin.
We’re talking about the specific stuff — exercise, diet and hydration are important for skin health.
But things like elevated stress levels can contribute to negative skin health and create a more hospitable, less immune space where bacteria can run wild.
Depending on your needs, the variety of non-comedogenic products and oils on the market today may already offer adequate protection against blemishes, or at least help you mitigate the risks associated with them.
But there’s a bigger picture question here to consider, and that’s whether your acne isn’t the result of oils or cosmetic products.
It can often be the case that acne isn’t caused by something you’re doing wrong, but simply by the genetics you were born with and the hormones your body produces that throw your skin out of balance.
Hunting for products to avoid making your acne enter a renaissance period is understandable, but if your problems have been serious for some time and you haven’t considered medical help, consider speaking with a healthcare provider about your issues today.
You deserve to love your skin, and one of the best ways to learn to love it is to understand it.