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How To Find Out Which Ingredient is Causing Break Outs?

How To Find Out Which Ingredient is Causing Break Outs?

Over the past decade, i have had the opportunity to receive many skincare products to review. Some were SO EXPENSIVE i felt like it was such a privilege to get it sent to me for free and i had to try it - expensive means good what right?
Before starting Fickle Beauty, i was absolutely clueless about ingredients in my skincare products. Back then, I reviewed them according to - Did the packaging look good? Did it get absorbed into my skin quickly without feeling tacky? Did it smell nice? Did it cause me to break out? Was it highly recommended by other influencers/celebrities? 
I feel so silly now that i am a lot more knowledgeable about ingredients. I even took down all the reviews i posted on YouTube because...i know better now and i don't want to fall into that trap of "expensive means good", "it is branded", "celebrities use it". After being more mindful about ingredients in skincare products, i now know better and have found some amazing skincare products and know so much more about what ingredients are beneficial and what to avoid.
In this post, i am going to share how i found out what Ingredients DID NOT work for my skin and the steps you should take if you are struggling to find out what is causing you to break out.
For the products i have chosen to put up on Fickle Beauty, i have tested almost everything out on my skin - which is why you don't see every single product from a brand (because not everything is suitable for me). However, everyone's skin is different. What works for me, may not work for you. 
Before i begin...let me share this with you! You have NO IDEA what a rollercoaster i have put my skin through. I have very reactive acne prone skin! I break out super easily and it can get REEEEEALLY bad. Especially when my skin hates a certain product but i die die want to stick to it because "it is expensive, i don't want to waste money". Also, it wouldnt look THAT bad if i was not a “pimple popper" (yes i know it's bad...but walau I really cannot tahan the bumps and i just NEED to squeeze urgh). So then with the bad habit of touching my face and squeezing pimples and are some of the WORST PERIODS OF MY LIFE. 

Malessezia Folliculitis aka Fungal Acne - looks ok from afar, looks ok with no make up but with foundation and powder...JUST LOOK AT THAT!
Cause: Taking too much antibiotics, resulted in overgrowth of yeast. Oils in skincare products fed the yeast. Not to mention I was oil cleansing daily with an oily which was feeding the yeast. Check and confirmed it’s fungal so from this I learnt all about Malessezia Folliculitis. 
Oh wait, here's another!
Cause: Attempted to oil cleanse with castor oil + jojoba oil. Clogged my pores and started using Retin A in an attempt to get rid of them. Used too much and too often and completely damaged my skin's moisture barrier. Finally realized the importance of having a good moisture barrier. Prior to Retin A my skin was also already dehydrated from over exfoliation - testing product with acids which were too strong and using it too frequently. Left my skin extremely red and dry flakey skin. Also, had a sudden Eczema Flare Up (neck).
(The pictures were taken over a period of a year and I have after pictures of how long I took to “recover” I  know many of you will want to know how i fixed all of the above but please give me some time to write those posts as you can see i went through several different skin problems and i had to tackle all of them differently.)
SORRY TO SCARE YOU but that was my rollercoaster of trying countless number of products over the last year or 2. I see also I scared! But then maybe i should be thankful because without a "fall in my skin", i wouldn't be studying Skincare Ingredients so hard and finding solutions to problems. If my skin was perfectly clear and i had no issues - how would i know if a product I sell and claim that will help fix a problem will actually help. Blessing in disguise? Lol.
Bad skin days are the worst for me, especially someone who runs a BEAUTY STORE and is an "INFLUENCER". I was scared to face the world with such skin - and hide them from Instagram because of the fear of people judging me (NEVER believe everything you see on instagram, as an influencer, i get to choose what to post and i can also put make up to hide it etc). I totally understand how people who do not have perfect skin feel and I always hope to help someone. I am NOT a medical professional but if some people do not want to go the Accutane route, I hope sharing what I have learnt about Skincare will be able to help.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE. THERE IS A WAY OUT. BE EQUIPPED WITH KNOWLEDGE.
All of the pictures were taken a few months apart. My skin got bad then i went back to my "safest skincare products" to help it repair and it was OK again and then i test more products and WHAM! BAM! HERE WE GO AGAIN!
I am fortunate to have found my "safest skincare products list" to fall back on whenever my skin Fs up. However, getting there took a long time and i know MANY of you still don't know what the safest skincare products are for YOUR SKIN TYPE. So this post will teach you steps to take. It may take MONTHS or even YEARS but you know what? Once you find out what ingredient your skin does not like, looking at the ingredients in skincare products will save you $ or get you closer to finding your "HOLY GRAIL".
Ok lets begin! Finally! Haha.
Avoid the big NONOs in Skincare
  • Scrub mitts (think Buf-Puf) and loofahs
  • Physical exfoliating cleansers containing aluminum oxide crystals, walnut shells, pumice
  • Facial cleansing brushes unless the brand offers an ultra-soft brush head for sensitive skin
  • Toners containing Alcohol (however please do note that not all alcohols are bad - the bad alcohols are ethanol, isopropyl alcohol, alcohol denat, and methanol. Good alcohols are Cetearyl, Stearyl, Cetyl and Behenyl alcohol - they're fatty alcohols present in a lot of good moisturisers, also present in many prescription acne medication which means they are safe  BUT anything can potentially still be an irritant because again, everyone is different so please scroll to the end to find out HOW to know if it is the cause of your break out
  • I try my best to avoid it BUT if the ingredient is listed at the last in the ingredient list i am quite forgivable - but of course, don't have better)
However, if you currently use products containing the above ingredients and it is ok for your normal skin, don't worry too much about it. Just know that the above ingredients are sensitising ingredients so if at any point of time you have sensitive skin, it is best you avoid it. 
Now...the useful tools for Skincare Ingredient Search! There are 2 which i use, COSDNA and SKINCARISMA.
For this post teaching you how to find out if a specific ingredient is breaking you out, i will be using COSDNA.
Go to and click ANALYZE COSMETICS.
It will bring you to this page, this is where you Paste the full ingredient list of the product you are using or looking to buy.
I have pasted the ingredient list for one of my personal favourite face mask, Ebanel Hyaluronic Peptide Hydrogel Mask.
This is after all a Fickle Beauty blog, of course i am going to share the good Fickle Beauty products. LOL.
Click "Ingredient Analysis" and it will bring you to this page.
What you have to do is look at this column "Acne" & "Irritant" and that number will tell you if it has a potential to cause your skin to break out or cause irritation. 
Acne = Is it Comedogenic?
<-- The lower the probability 0~5 The higher the probability -->
<-- The lower the probability 0~5 The higher the probability -->
From the above results, it shows that the Ebanel Hyaluronic Peptide Hydrogel Mask is relatively safe to use (but also, people can be allergic to certain ingredients and there are some "blanks" as cosdna's data does not store a lot of information on all ingredients - it is however the most user friendly site that i found and helps me with what i'm going to teach you)
The Safety column is also important but in this post it doesn't really apply as i am focusing more on how to find the potential trigger ingredient that causes break outs. The Safety Rating is a comprehensive index focus on safety on long term usage, according to harmful report from CIR, RTECS, FDA and other related information. The purpose of the index is more inclined to assess whether long-term injury of skin, cells or the human body.
Ok now...lets move on to very popular products which are super highly raved about and supposedly "safe" for all skin types. However, when i introduced this to someone (let's name her Samantha), she mentioned that BOTH of the products she used broke them out.
Samantha is using a good moisturiser but she wants something more hydrating as she does not feel her current moisturiser is good enough. However, it does not break her out.
I recommended her this 2 products COSRX Honey Ceramide Cream & Cerave Moisturizing Cream which i find to be very hydrating and great for my dehydrated acne prone skin and is well tolerated by many.
Lets look at the COSDNA of the 2...
I have Highlighted "potential trigger ingredients" in Pink and now i will create a spreadsheet i call...
Skincare Ingredients To Avoid Spreadsheet
This is a spreadsheet to take down all the ingredients in your skincare products with "ingredients which have rating 1-5" you are currently using and what new products you are introducing to your routine. COSDNA doesn't have a lot of data on a lot of ingredients but i recommend you to list PLANT EXTRACTS AND OILS into the Potential Trigger Ingredient as well because when i did that i found out what OIL my face didn't like - especially when i use straight up 100% facial oils. 

Tried so many “non-comedogenic” products which shouldn’t break me out but ended up making me break out. Discovered some oils which used to work so well for me were big NONOs during my “fungal acne” journey and falling in love with Squalane oil (I will write a post about my Malessezia Follicultis aka Fungal Acne journey - which I fixed with supplements and carefully eliminating ingredients which feed yeast - and after having a healthier gut those ingredients are no longer triggers for me. I will leave that for the post!).
How to start?
Create a spread sheet of the products you are currently using or you have used which didn't cause any issues. List the "ingredients which have rating 1-5"
COSDNA doesn't have a lot of data on a lot of ingredients but i recommend you to list PLANT EXTRACTS & OILS into the Potential Trigger Ingredient as well because when i did that i found out what OIL my face didn't like - especially when i use straight up 100% facial oils.
Now...add in the product you are introducing to your routine. In this case, Samantha would like to introduce a new moisturiser, she will have to stick to her basic safe products like Cleanser, Toner, Serum. This is also where you start to add in a column of the day (every 7 days) and count how many acne lesions you have.
When you first introduce a new product, stick to using it at least 2 weeks. However, if you find yourself breaking out more and more in this 2 weeks, it probably means your skin does not like it. Of course you do have to take in consideration that hormones, diet and other factors do play a huge part especially if you are a woman especially (sigh...SAD) but this is just a rough guide on how to find the ingredient your skin doesn't like. 
When introducing skincare products to your routine, start by switching out 1 product at a time and ALWAYS PATCH TEST. Meaning use on one area of your face only (like forehead), this is so if you are ALLERGIC to the ingredient, it will turn red and itchy and you may get rashes. You won't know if you are allergic to an ingredient until you test it so...ALWAYS PATCH TEST. Allergic reaction isn't the same as "break out" as break outs happen over days but an allergic reaction happens almost right away or maybe within a day. Also, when you patch test, it is easier to "count the current number of acne lesions/closed comedones you have", which is something you need to record.
So this is Samantha's Spreadsheet after 1 1/2 months:
Samantha introduced COSRX Honey Ceramide Cream on 1 Jan, she started with 1 pimple but as weeks went by, more appeared. I advised Samantha to go back to her "safe moisturiser". She also went for a "facial" so her skin went back to normal (more or less) shortly after. Then, Samantha introduced a new moisturiser Cerave Moisturizing Cream (highly recommended by many dermatologist for dry skin btw) and experienced more breakouts.
Wah sian...both moisturisers are so popular and supposedly safe but broke her out. WHY? Lets take a look at the ingredient list of both side by side and see if there are ingredients which are the same.
Both products have 2 common ingredients, Cetearyl Alcohol & Dimethicone. Cerave didn't break me out when it has an ingredient with a number 4 rating - Polyglyceryl-3 which could also potentially be an irritant but since BOTH products caused Samantha to break out. 
Ingredients Samantha should now avoid when finding her next moisturiser will be Cetearyl Alcohol & Dimethicone.
And the search goes on! Lol. But at least Samantha knows what to avoid!
If you already know some of theproducts which caused you to break out, do a spread sheet and list the ingredients. Look for the common the ingredients and you have a rough idea what breaks you out now!
Testing SO many different products with different ingredients made my list of “ingredients to avoid” DAMN LONG by the way. Well lucky you! You don’t have to run a beauty store and test the efficacy of products - always a gamble especially when I come across new ingredients. Haha. Some people are lucky to find the common trigger ingredients after a few products but for some people the list can go on and on and so they've to slowly eliminate. As i mentioned above, it is best to use products with minimal ingredients so it will be easier to slowly eliminate and find out what is not working for your skin.
What a long post this is and yes, SUPER MAFAN RIGHT? Haha. I don't know how many of y'all will actually bother to do this spreadsheet and ingredient elimination thing but for those who asked me how i found out what ingredient my skin didn't like, this was how i did it. I learnt it from a community on Reddit - i spend hours on it almost everyday and learnt so much!
Feb 25, 2021

Love this post! So informative. Thanks a lot for sharing, Tammy!

Janice Phua

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