Tuesday, 23 February 2021 10:12

Irritating Ingredients: Three Factors to Observe

Written by   Alex Hernandez

Acne is widely considered one of the most frustrating skin conditions. Whether it be hot, painful lesions to sandpaper-like texture, there is a laundry list of ingredients that can exacerbate acne. What is even worse? Unknowingly using topicals products or ingesting things that not only irritate acne but can cause acne to form is a common mistake. While acne is an inherited condition of the pore, acne can be controlled and prevented by adjusting lifestyle habits. This article has put together some of the worst offenders for acne-prone skin and what ingredients skin care professional should opt for instead. Let’s get started.


It only makes sense to begin with topical ingredients because when it comes to acne, people often start on the surface. Practitioners have dedicated themselves to detecting and listing out pore-clogging ingredients for acne clientele to avoid. Acne-prone skin must diligently avoid the following: sodium lauryl sulfate, coconut oil, cocoa, and shea butters. Sodium lauryl sulfate is a common ingredient found in many products like toothpaste, shampoo, and facial and body cleansers.

Coconut oil, cocoa, and shea butters bring the concern of all-natural and organic products. Though natural, these ingredients can wreak havoc on skin that is already experiencing acne or is prone to it. A common, yet incorrect assumption is that something is good for skin because it’s labeled as natural or organic. Some of the most popular, natural topical ingredients like coconut oil (keep in your pantry, not your skincare), and shea butter are extremely pore-clogging and can cause breakoutswhile iodine-rich seaweed has an irritating effect, coconut and shea butters will smother pores, trapping bacteria and cellular build-up. Keep in mind that these ingredients are popular in not just skincare but cosmetics and haircare as well. Be aware that skincare companies can claim that their products promote clear skin but have an ingredient deck rife with pore-clogging ingredients and acne-irritants. 


While you have become a pore-clogging ingredient buff, you will also want to know what ingestible ingredients acne-prone individuals will want to avoid. First, it’s important to note that moderation is key. Cutting back or limiting intake of acne-triggering food is recommended, remember that we’re all human. Indulging here and it is fine if it’s not regular practice. Foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar cause inflammation in the body and therefore, cause inflammation in the skin. Another concern is the overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids like corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils. Olive oil and coconut oil are great healthy alternatives. Both inflammatory ingredients and omega-6 fatty acids are found in obvious choices like fast food but can also be hidden in packaged items found in the grocery store. 

Iodides, which are found in things as simple as table salt to various soy products, are one of the most pervasive acne triggers. Instead, opt for acne-safe sea salt, un-iodized salt, or Celtic salt. Shellfish and seaweed should be consumed in moderation as they are rich in iodine. Regarding soy, it can be found in obvious foods like soy sauce, edamame, and tofu, but it is also a popular sneaky ingredient in a lot of processed foods. Again, moderation is key. Enjoy that sushi or salty snack, just be aware that there could be a blemish or two that comes after.  

A well-known and equally triggering acne enemy is dairy products. Dairy products like milk, ice cream, yogurt – you name it, can exacerbate breakouts. Think of dairy consumption as an internal domino-effect.The high glycemic index of dairy triggers an increased level of insulin and the release of the IGF-1 hormone. The triggering of this growth hormone can have effects on sebum and skin cell production. Other ingredients like peanut butter (opt for almond or other nut butters) and organ meats are high in androgens and will create a similar problem. The diet of an acne-prone individual should be as anti-inflammatory as possible and rich in antioxidants (think dark leafy greens) and essential fatty acids (salmon, white fish, and pharmaceutical-grade omega-3 supplements). Skin care professionals often encourage clients to consume dairy alternatives like almond, coconut, and rice milks alone with nut cheeses. Luckily, acne-safe alternatives are abundant.

The last ingredient to keep in mind are supplements; when people take supplements, it is with intention of bettering health in some way or another. Vitamins, especially multivitamins, can be teeming with acne-irritating ingredients like iodidesand B vitamins. Biotin supplements that promote hair, nail, and skin health are particularly bad for the acne-prone because they encourage cellular growth. Acne-prone skin has no problem generating and shedding skin cells, so much so that the pore cannot keep up. Biotin exacerbates this natural occurrence in the acne-prone pore, leading to further breakouts. When it comes to vitamins and supplements, make sure to carefully read the ingredients and to completely avoid hair and nail supplements.


There are several preventative measures acne-prone clients can take in their everyday life to avoid worsening or causing breakouts. When doing laundry, use wool or plastic dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. Dryer sheets leave a waxy residue on clothing that can irritate skin and potentially clog pores. Plus, dryer balls are reusable, cost-effective, and eco-friendly. Next, choose a free and clear version of laundry detergent because fragrance and dyes are known skin irritants, whether acne-prone or not. Another laundry tip, wash pillowcases frequently. Recommend clients keep a few extra pillowcases to swap out every few days—bacteria and dead skin cells linger on fabric

Checking ingredients of personal care items and auditing the pantry can be time-consuming, but it is well worth the effort. Remember that skin will thank you for taking care of it internally and externally.

Alex Hernandez


Alex Hernandez, a licensed aesthetician since 2016, serves as the clinic manager and lead educator at the Face Reality Acne Clinic in San Leandro, CaliforniaHernandez has trained alongside Laura Cooksey, owner, and co-founder of Face Reality Skincare. Among those professionals, Hernandez became a Face Reality Certified Acne Expert in 2018, through diligent practical training and the completion of the online course. Since then, Hernandez has worked with hundreds of acne clients in her aesthetics career.

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April 2021

Skin Care Blogs

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  • Repechage
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