What 'Acne Safe' Skincare Labels Really Mean, According To Our Esthetician

Skincare is a crowded industry. To stand out, brands plaster their products with various terminology to explain their benefits and selling points. But with so many buzzwords — from "hypoallergenic" to "green" and "organic" — it's easy to get lost in a forest of jargon. Worse yet, some skincare terms — like "clinically tested" — may not mean what you think. Even seemingly straightforward claims like "acne safe" can be ambiguous.

People with acne-prone skin are among the consumers who need the most transparency in their skincare, and one would hope that "acne safe" would serve as a reliable beacon. But is it? To get a clearer understanding, Gliz spoke exclusively to Gregory Dylan, a licensed esthetician of 25 years and owner of Gregory Dylan Skincare, who helped us break down the reality of "acne-safe" labeling.

"The term 'acne safe' is a new buzz phrase that has been popularized on social media and has trickled into the marketplace," explained Dylan. "It basically refers to a formulation that has omitted the biggest ingredient culprits that have a reputation for causing breakouts or inflammation. In addition, it commonly references products that are low- or non-comedogenic, which refers to how likely an ingredient is to clog pores." So far, so good, right? But as Dylan soon clarified, achieving the "acne safe" label doesn't involve as much oversight as one might assume (or hope).

The term 'acne safe' isn't regulated

When you see health claims on any product, you'd like to think that they're backed up by solid evidence, whether clinical studies, specific industry standards, or FDA approval. But as Gregory Dylan exclusively told us, this isn't always the case, and "acne safe" is one such label that falls through the cracks.

"Unfortunately, like many marketing terms, ['acne safe'] is not regulated, which many people do not realize," Dylan explained. "While there is a scale for grading if an ingredient is more or less comedogenic, hence lending legitimacy to a formula that is 'non-comedogenic,' the term 'acne safe' seems to be being used as an updated version of this term and should be considered more of an indicator that the product was formulated with acne-prone skin in mind rather than any guarantee that it won't break you out."

Essentially, "acne safe" may not be the solid gold promise that it seems. What about other product claims? Are they more trustworthy? Yes and no. As Dylan told Gliz, "'Non-comedogenic' is certainly going to be helpful for anyone prone to clogging or breakouts. And many acne-prone skins do better with formulas that are 'oil-free.'" But proceed cautiously — like "acne safe," these terms aren't monitored by the FDA, leaving some suspicious wiggle room. Sadly, even claims like "hypoallergenic" aren't regulated. But if product labels' verbiage can't necessarily be trusted, how can people with sensitive skin more effectively identify products that will work for them?

How to find safe products for acne-prone skin

With marketing tricks obscuring the skincare landscape, finding the products you need is tough. Unfortunately, there's no simple shortcut, with Gregory Dylan acknowledging that developing your holy grail skincare routine will probably be a journey. "With acne skin, finding the right products is often a lot of trial and error. What works for one person might trigger another, so trying a product is the best way to see if it agrees with your skin," he explained in our exclusive chat.

This approach works even better if you're methodical. For one thing, you should always patch-test new products. Additionally, Dylan recommended "keeping a skincare journal" to us, as it can help you track breakouts. "Really get to know what products you are using, see if there is an overlap of ingredients that do or don't agree with your skin. This really helps you avoid products that may trigger breakouts," he explained.

When in doubt, a professional opinion can help point you in the right direction. This means making an appointment with a licensed esthetician who can help you understand your skin better. "Estheticians will not only be able to give professional treatments to curb acne and treat scarring, but they will also help guide you towards which products are best for your own skin," Dylan added. "They have already done much of the trial and error with their other clients over the years and truly know how to get people on successful regimens with the right products that yield results."