Acne and Oily Skin

Acne and Oily Skin Care

Struggling with acne or oily skin? Not sure what skin care routine is right for you or what the best skin care products are to use? Acne is one of the most difficult skin conditions to manage and can be embarrassing to deal with. However a good starting point is to include skin care products that are proven to fight acne and avoid those that are known to trigger acne.

Check product ingredient lists carefully to see whether they contain the right ingredients rather than just go by what is claimed on the front label! Even products that claim they are for acne can be loaded with ingredients that, at best, do not help your skin and, at worst, cause more breakouts, irritation and inflammation.

To help you find the best skin care routine for your skin, we explain comedogenic and non-comedogenic ingredients, talk about the importance of Linoleic Acid and uncover the truth about Coconut Oil.  Then we talk about what actives have been proven to fight acne.

Comedogenic and non-comedogenic

Ingredients used in skin care are classified based on a comedogenic rating. This rating is very helpful, but it has its limitations too.

Look for non-comedogenic ingredients: those that do not clog pores (comedones) or aggravate acne. When a pore is clogged, it can lead to a whitehead, blackhead or acne, due to the sebaceous glands secreting oil and causing inflammation. If you experience acne or have oily skin, it is crucial for you to check the ingredient label to ensure it does not contain ingredients that can cause a flare-up.

Non-comedogenic skin care is also important for those who may not experience acne or oily skin, but want to avoid getting those out-of-nowhere whiteheads, blackheads or pimples. No one wants zits on their face, right, whether in solitary or in numbers! It is worth knowing that clogged pores can affect your skin even after the skin eruptions are gone. Unresolved acne can cause the pores to become dilated and put pressure on other pores to clog, resulting in even more acne.

Oily and blemish-prone skin provides the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Using comedogenic ingredients only exacerbates the acne and delays healing. Comedogenic products include ingredients such as Petrolatum, Mineral Oil, Dimethicone and even, sadly, some oils. Oils that tend to clog pores include Almond Oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Cocoa Butter, Olive Oil, Wheat Germ Oil and some other oils that are high in oleic fatty acids.

Why some oils may be your friend

If you have acne or oily skin, you are likely going to be concerned about the amount of oil in your skin. As a result, you may think it is best to remove all oils and products with oils from your skin care routine. But you should not be too quick to write off all oils in your skin care routine. An ingredient is not comedogenic simply based on whether it has oil or oil-like ingredients in it.

Essential fatty acids

Our bodies are able to metabolise certain fatty acids. However, when it comes to the essential fatty acids α-Linolenic Acid (an Omega-3) and Linoleic Acid (an Omega-6), these must be obtained from our diet.

In the same way that we need these essential fatty acids to maintain proper health, our skin also benefits from fatty acids. When essential fatty acids are ingested, they can become oxidised in the liver before being able to deliver their benefits to the skin. This makes the application of fatty acids directly to the skin especially important.

Research has found that the topical application of fatty acids can help provide protection to the skin from cellular damage when exposed to UV light and therefore reduce photo ageing.

Research also points to low levels of Linoleic Acid in those who have acne in their skin’s surface lipids.

Interestingly, Oleic Acid (Omega-9), balanced with other fatty acids and lipids, has been found to help with dry and sensitive skin by addressing the inflammatory response in the skin.

Other skin care oils

Unrefined Coconut Oil is much in vogue at the moment and is even promoted by some as suitable for those with acne, however it has been proven to be comedogenic. Oils with high levels of linoleic fatty acids, such as Argan, Evening Primrose, Grape Seed, Jojoba and Rosehip, are not classified as comedogenic. It greatly depends on their pH balance and linoleic and oleic composition.

Oddly, though, Marula Oil has a rating of 3-4, but is also pH balanced, contains a high level of Vitamin C and has anti-microbial properties that may help to heal blemishes. Despite its rating, some people find it works well for them, so ratings do not always tell us everything, given that every person is individual and not every skin responds in the same way. Sometimes it can be a matter of trial and error.

Jojoba suits all skin types, but can be especially helpful for someone prone to blemishes as it reduces inflammation, sebum production and clogged pores. Abyssinian Seed Oil, Argan Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, Mineral Oil and Safflower Seed Oil all have a comedogenic rating of 0, and there are lots of others that also have a very low comedogenic rating.

For those with oily skin, oils high in Linoleic Acid are the best choice. Look for oils such as Blackberry Seed, Blueberry Seed, Goji Berry, Hemp Seed, Jojoba, Evening Primrose, Grape Seed, Safflower, Strawberry Seed, Watermelon Seed and Rosehip. Other oils that may be beneficial but have a more balanced profile are Argan and Tamanu. Remember to avoid skin care formulations that include fragrance oils or significant levels of essential oils, which are so often added to products targeting these two skin types.

If you experience acne or have very oily skin, the answer is not to use harsh cleansers, toners and drying lotions. These are too aggressive and do more harm than good in the long term. Cutting out beneficial oils from your diet and skin care routine may seem to make intuitive sense, however it can be counter-productive.

Understanding acne

Acne, or Acne vulgaris, is one of the most distressing skin conditions that people can experience. While we usually associate it with adolescence, it can continue for some people into adult life.

There are different types of acne and different levels of severity, however it is typically caused by an increase in hormones, androgens, and an increase in the oiliness of the skin. This oil, known as sebum, clogs pores leads to the growth of bacteria. Additionally inflammation develops and the skin breaks out in pimples, bumps, cysts, blackheads, whiteheads or cysts.

Acne causes

Four factors have been identified as playing a major role in the development of acne:

  1. Follicular hyperkeratinisation: dead skin cells clogging the opening of pores
  2. Increased sebum production: increased androgen hormones increase sebum
  3. Bacteria: Proprionibacterium acnes: anerobic bacteria found deep in the pores
  4. Inflammation: causes redness, swelling and dehydration in the skin

In addition to these, there are numerous internal and external factors that may contribute to or exacerbate acne.

  • Internal: hormones, genetics, chemical mediators in the body (immune system and inflammation), bacteria, pregnancy
  • External: medication, stress, diet, skin care, cosmetics

Acne treatment

Acne is a medical condition and needs to be assessed by a medical professional who can diagnose the type of acne present, recommend a tailored treatment plan and prescribe medication, which may include oral antibiotics, hormones, Isotretinoin or a topical Tretinoin (Vitamin A). This is very important if you have moderate to severe acne, especially cystic or fungal acne.

Acne can be a chronic condition, so it is always best to have it assessed and correctly treated. It is also crucial to do this so as to minimise scarring, which can be very difficult to treat.

Best results are achieved when taking a multi-pronged approach that focuses on controlling sebum, reducing hyperkeratinisation, minimising Propionibacterium acnes (bacteria) and fighting inflammation. This will help to minimise scarring.

Proven acne ingredients

From a skin care perspective, there are a number of products available over the counter that can be incorporated into your day-to-day skin care routine to help manage your acne.

Salicylic Acid, a Beta Hydroxy Acid, is often used for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and exfoliating benefits. Salicylic Acid is widely used and is considered safe for most people, however it can be easily overused. For anyone over the age of 50, it is worth knowing that salicylates have been linked to tinnitus at an incidence rate of less than 1% in the elderly at a 7-9kHz range. This salicylate ototoxicity is related to reversible biochemical or metabolic changes in the cochlear rather than a permanent disorder, nonetheless it can be very distressing and take a significant period of time to resolve.

Glycolic Acid is used to reduce clogged pores and dead cell buildup.

Benzoyl Peroxide is an antibacterial agent that reduces the bacteria in pores and follicles.

Other commonly used ingredients in skin care products that may be helpful when tackling acne or oily skin are Azelaic Acid, Niacinamide, Sulphur and Zinc. These do not have the same pedigree as Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid and Benzoyl Peroxide, so show better results when used in combined with other ingredients targeting acne.

Promising acne ingredients

Another promising ingredient is the Vitamin C derivative Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate. One study showed that the topical use of Sodium Ascorbyl Phosphate at a concentration of 5% improved acne in 76.9% of patients, with less irritation, than commonly prescribed treatments.

When using any ingredients that have not been prescribed for your acne, you should seek medical advice first if you are pregnant, breast-feeding, diabetic or taking Aspirin on an ongoing basis or if you are applying them to children.

Your skin care routine should be seen as an adjunct to your prescribed treatment.

If you would like more indepth information on acne and oily skin and a customised skin care routine, see our Skin Care Packages or download our Skin Care Guide and Skin Care Routine for Acne or Oily Skin from our Skin Care Essentials page.

Acne scars

Acne scars can develop following acne due to abnormal healing, and are more prevalent in men. The degree of scarring relates to the severity of the acne and the length of time the acne remains untreated. Acne scars can be described as ice-pick, rolling or boxcar. These are graded 1-4 and should be treated as early as possibly, given skin aging can make them appear worse later in life.

While scarring is referred to generally, scarring can occur beneath the skin later or above the skin, or it may present as permanent discoloration. Each form of acne scarring has a different genesis and therefore specific form of treatment.

Types of acne scars

The most common type is ice-pick, or pitted, scars. They are caused by the inflammation that accompanies acne. Scar tissue forms at the bottom of the pore and anchors itself to collagen deeper down in the skin. Boxcar scars are not as deep but have well-defined edges, and appear in more limited areas. Rolling scars are seen most typically in people who have had repeated outbreaks of inflammatory acne in the same area. Raised acne scars, or those that sit above the skin, are the least common, but just as difficult to treat.


Discoloration or pigmentation also can occur with acne, and this is equally distressing for anyone who experiences this, even though it may not leave scars. This can present as dark spots, due to an overproduction of melanin, or areas of skin that are lighter than surrounding skin. In other cases, permanent redness occurs due to small blood vessels being damaged or permanently dilated.


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