Common Acne Triggers And What To Avoid

starlena vaughn


It is important to figure out the root cause of your acne. Do you know how to tell if your breakouts are hormonal, triggered by diet, or caused by makeup and skincare?

The location of your break-outs may also be an indicator of an internal issue. Check out our blog post on the ancient Chinese art of face mapping to learn more.

Hormonal acne will be cystic, red, inflamed, and painful.

Breakouts from topical products are typically not painful, and will usually appear as small white bumps.

Topical products can trigger acne by either containing comedogenic (pore-clogging ingredients), an allergy to an ingredient, or by poorly formulated products that weaken the skin barrier (click here for my blog post on why the pH of skincare is so important).

You may have heard the term "skin purging" when it comes to skincare products causing acne. Skin purging occurs when the skin cell turnover rate increases. Your skin starts shedding skin cells faster than normal, and any acne that was hiding under the surface appears on top. It is important to note that the only ingredients that are capable of causing a “purge” are those that exfoliate the skin. This will include retinols, alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s), salicylic acid, and L-ascorbic acid (not vitamin C derivatives that do not exfoliate). Skin purging is temporary, and dermatologists generally say it should resolve within 4-6 weeks. If you are breaking out from a product that does not exfoliate your skin, it is not a purge. Your skin just simply does not like that product, and you should stop using it. 

 - Another common acne trigger is food-intolerances/sensitivities. The usual suspects include:

  •  Alcohol
  • Corn
  • Dairy (includes whey protein, yogurt, and cheese.)
  • Gluten (but even highly processed gluten-free alternatives may trigger acne)
  • Nuts
  • Soy
  • Sugar (This is a big one!)
  • Yeast

Although keep in mind it is possible to have a food-intolerance to any food. 

If you suspect that your breakouts are caused by makeup-up or skincare, take a look at the ingredients lists of your products - it may be due to one or more of these comedogenic (pore-clogging) ingredients: 

  • Algae extracts
  • Ascorbyl palmitate (vitamin C ester)
  • Beeswax (also known as cera alba)
  • Cetearyl alcohol
  • Ceteareth-20
  • Cetyl alcohol
  • D&C red dyes (common in makeup)
  • Dioctyl malate
  • Dioctyl succinate 
  • Ethylhexyl palmitate
  • Ethylhexyl pelargonate 
  • Glyceryl stearate SE
  • Isocetyl alcohol
  • Isodecyl oleate
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Isostearic acid
  • Isostearyl alcohol
  • Lanolin
  • Laureth-23
  • Laureth-4
  • Lauric acid
  • Myristic acid
  • Myristyl alcohol
  • Oleth-10
  • Oleth-3
  • Oleth-5
  • PEG 100 distearate
  • PEG 150 distearate
  • PEG 8 stearate 
  • Propylene glycol-2
  • Retinyl palmitate 
  • Stearic acid
  • Tocopherol (Vitamin E) if over 2%
  • Triethanoleamine
  • Xylene 

And unless highly diluted with an acne safe oil, these plant oils may be comedogenic for some:

  • Almond oil
  • Apricot kernel oil
  • Avocado oil
  • Camellia seed oil
  • Carrot seed oil 
  • Chia seed oil
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Cotton seed oil
  • Date seed oil
  • Evening primrose oil
  • Flaxseed (Linseed) oil
  • Lanolin oil
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Mango butter
  • Marula oil
  • Mink oil
  • Moringa oil
  • Neem oil
  • Olive oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Papaya seed oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Pequi oil
  • Red palm oil
  • Sandalwood seed oil
  • Soybean oil (highly comedogenic even when diluted)
  • Wheat germ oil (highly comedogenic even when diluted)

To make things a little easier for you, here are some plant oils with a low chance of being comedogenic:

  • Abyssinian seed oil
  • Black currant seed oil
  • Blackberry seed oil
  • Blueberry seed oil
  • Borage oil
  • Castor seed oil
  • Cloudberry seed oil
  • Cucumber seed oil
  • Goji berry seed oil
  • Grapeseed oil 
  • Hazelnut oil
  • Hemp seed oil
  • Kalahari watermelon seed oil
  • Meadowfoam seed oil
  • Pomegranate seed oil
  • Prickly pear seed oil
  • Red Raspberry seed oil
  • Rosehip seed oil
  • Safflower oil (High linoleic variety)
  • Sea buckthorn oil
  • Shea buter 
  • Squalane
  • Strawberry seed oil
  • Sunflower seed oil (High linoleic variety)
  • Watermelon seed oil 

But with that being said, there are certain types of acne (fungal acne, also known as malassezia) that are not able to tolerate any plant oil. If you suspect you have fungal acne, I recommend speaking with a dermatologist to determine the best treatment plan for you. 



  1. J E Fulton Jr, S R Pay, J E Fulton 3rd (1984). Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear:


 While we have made every attempt to ensure that the information contained on this site is obtained from reliable sources, Sophia Dee Skincare is not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained from the use of this information. All information in this site is provided "as is", with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information. 


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