What is a comedone and why are non-comedogenic cosmetics important?

Author: Nick Morante

Cosmetic ingredients are graded according to their ability to form comedones.  Ingredients that do not cause comedones are said to be non-comedogenic.

Comedogenicity or pore clogging is very closely linked to acne. There are numerous forms of acne. The exact cause of acne is unknown. Acne vulgaris is a complex condition involving many factors. The changes that occur in the body around the time of puberty are part of the story. Increased sebum or oil made by the oil glands in the skin on the face, chest and back also plays a role. Acne is often slow to respond to any treatment so try to be patient. Stress can also be a cause of acne.[pullquote]A number of moisturizers are comedogenic, meaning that they aggravate acne and can cause comedones. It is important to use a cosmetic product that is oil-free and non- comedogenic.[/pullquote]

The main symptom in acne vulgaris is the abnormal accumulation of keratin, the protein that makes up the dead layer of the skin. This keratin is retained within the hair follicle, resulting in a plugging up of the follicle. These keratin plugs become the whiteheads and blackheads known as comedones. Bacteria called P. acnes digest the oil inside these comedones (whiteheads and blackheads) and release highly inflammatory waste products into the surrounding skin. This inflammation gives rise to inflammatory papules (pimples), pustules, and cysts that are just larger pimples.

Acne is often graded and given a value of 1 to 4. Grade 1 acne consists of comedones, (“whiteheads” and “blackheads”) only. This is the primary grade of acne that cosmetic chemists try to formulate around. Grade 2 acne also has inflammatory papules (“pimples”) along with comedones. Grade 3 acne has papules, pustules, and comedones. Grade 4 acne has all of the above, along with acne cysts. Grade 4 acne is the most severe and causes the most scarring. Simple Grade 1 or Grade 2 acne usually does not cause scarring, unless a patient scratches, picks or traumatizes the acne. An external method of treatment, chemical exfoliation for acne, is usually added to medications. This therapy consists of the use of a mild acid, typically Alpha Hydroxy Acids(AHA’s)  such as glycolic or mandelic acid  at 5 to 10% to promote light peeling of whiteheads and blackheads and remove keratin plugs.

A number of moisturizers are comedogenic, meaning that they aggravate acne and can cause comedones. It is important to use a cosmetic product that is oil-free and non- comedogenic. Moisturizers should be used only if necessary to treat dryness of the skin of the face. Many oil-free ingredients can still be considered comedogenic. Likewise, some oils are non-comedogenic such as USP grade mineral oil. Comedogenic ingredients may be included in products without resulting in comedogenicity because the formula is intended for use in areas not prone to comedogenicity such as the lips, eye lines, hands, or certain parts of the body.

Source: SpecialChem, www.specialchem4cosmetics.com

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