Those of us who are acne-prone understand how difficult it can be to find moisturizers, sunscreens, and makeup that are safe to use and won’t clog pores. To help us make the decision of what’s “safe” to put on our faces, we often rely on scientific-sounding words on the labels like “non-comedogenic” and “dermatologist-approved.” These phrases suggest that the product has been tested by skin care experts who have found the product to meet certain levels of standards. But what do these words really mean?

It turns out, they don’t mean much of anything.

Product claims used by manufacturers are not regulated in any way by the beauty industry or by the Food and Drug Administration. In fact, there is no official standard by which these terms can be measured or tested – so essentially, any company can claim that their products are “non-comedogenic” or “dermatologist-approved,” regardless of what is actually in the products or how the products were tested.

A skin care product that is labeled “dermatologist-approved” or “dermatologist-tested” only means that at least one dermatologist tried it and likes it. The key word here is “one” and it can be any dermatologist. This label does not indicate the level of expertise of the dermatologist who tested it, or the fact that he may not even be licensed.

So what’s the catch?

Many dermatologists are more than willing to accept generous checks from skin care companies to “test” their products. In fact, one very well-known and respected dermatologist, Dr. Zein Obagi, was offered $25,000 by a skin care company who wanted for him to “approve” their new products. As he stated, “They didn’t want me to study, review, or test it. Just approve it.” Of course, he declined to do so, but many others in his position would have gladly accepted the offer, resulting in yet another “dermatologist-approved” product on the market.

There are a number of other phrases used on product labels that are not regulated either – including “allergy-tested,” “fragrance free/unscented,” “hypoallergenic,” “non-irritating” and “sensitivity-tested.”

The Consumer Reports website contains a very helpful database where you can search common terms used on product labels to determine whether or not they are industry-verified and meaningful to consumers.

So, if you can’t trust these claims on product labels, how can you decide which products are safe to use? Here are my suggestions:

  1. Check the ingredients yourself. The POREspective website has a printable list of pore-clogging ingredients that you can use to check the products you buy.
  2. Read product reviews by other consumers, especially those written by people who have acne-prone skin. These websites have very helpful product review pages: and
  3. It may be difficult for you to determine which ingredients are causing you problems. Using your own experiences with products can be tricky, since it may take several months to see the effects of pore-clogging ingredients. It’s probably not the product you started using three days ago that is causing you to break out, but more likely one that you have been using for several weeks or longer.
  4. Seek the advice of a qualified skin care professional. Estheticians who are trained to treat acne can be a great resource for helping you select the right products for your skin. Not all estheticians, however, are knowledgeable about acne, so choose carefully!


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