Acne, like a lot of other skin conditions, is created by a lot of factors. It tends to occur more when you’re going through puberty and other hormonal changes, like periods of stress. It tends to occur more if you’re not washing your face at night or touching your face more often, but it can also occur if you’re overcleansing and irritating your skin. It tends to occur more in some people when they’re eating more dairy, simple carbohydrates, and fatty or oily foods. (In others, diet doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference.)
Although most of the questions I get are about skincare for signs of aging, I still frequently receive questions about acne. Here’s my best advice:
Best Skincare Products for Acne
There are five major ways to treat acne:
- Use hormonal treatments to try to re-balance hormonal levels.
- Birth control pills
- Estrogen/progesterone menopausal treatments
- Use antibacterial agents to try to wipe out P. acnes, the underlying bacteria of acne.
- Salicylic acid
- Topical antibiotics
- Use exfoliating agents to increase cell turnover, and reveal newer, fresher, non-affected skin underneath.
- Salicylic acid
- Retinoids or alpha hydroxy acids
- Blue LED light treatments
- Use drying agents and treatments to “dry out” the pimple(s).
- Salicylic acid
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Various types of clay
- Various types of charcoal
- Zinc, magnesium
- Reducing serum production in the skin.
Personally, I think the best way to treat acne at home is to utilize approaches #2-4. Below, I recommend my favorite product for acne from each skincare product type. Whether you choose one or incorporate them all, you should see some results in 4-6 weeks. That said, all of the products below are designed to work well together.
Best Cleansers for Acne
The key to cleansing skin affected by acne is to use ingredients that are gentle enough not to dry out the skin too much (which would in turn trigger reflexive oil production — not desired!), but cleansing enough to remove the excess dirt, oil, and debris acne-causing bacteria thrives upon. In addition, the best cleansing regime also includes cell turnover-increasing agents.
My favorite cleansers for skin affected by acne are:
- Aveeno Clear Complexion Cleansing Bar. This product contains salicyclic acid, which is used to unclog the pores. According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, a dermatologist in Miami, salicyclic acid is more effective than alpha hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid or lactic acid) in reducing the number of comedones (pimples).
- FutureDerm Custom Cleanser ($59). This cleanser can be created for skin moderately to severely affected by acne with the following levels of ingredients:
Best Toner for Acne
- FutureDerm Specialist Customized Toner ($59). This toner can be custom-made for acne sufferers with the following ingredients:
- 2% salicylic acid
- 0.5-2% green tea
- 1.5% witch hazel
Best On-the-Spot Treatments for Acne (Day and Night)
Benzoyl peroxide is a really powerful treatment for acne that is available over-the-counter in concentrations up to 10%. Unfortunately, it is believed that benzoyl peroxide works in part by causing an oxidative “eruption” at the site of the acne lesion (pimple), which really means that you’re (eep!) potentially creating oxidization in your skin — the very aging process that many anti-aging treatments are trying to avoid. With that said, I would recommend using benzoyl peroxide as an on-the-spot treatment only. If you’re OK with using benzoyl peroxide on-the-spot also, I like ZapZYT.
Now, for those of you I’ve scared into not using benzoyl peroxide at all (whoops), one of my favorite all-time treatments is Mario Badescu Drying Lotion. This is a super-powerful little drying lotion with a mix of agents like calamine, zinc oxide, titanium oxide, sulfur, and salicylic acid. A drop on each of your pimples gets rid of them in half (or less) of the usual time. I really love this stuff and keep it on-hand when I notice my own skin breaking out!
Another great option (equal to Mario Badescu Drying Lotion) is Kate Somerville EradiKate, with 10% sulfur (the highest concentration available). In reality, the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion and Kate Somerville EradiKate products largely work in the same way, as on-the-spot treatments with an active drying agents that include zinc oxide. It’s really and truly a matter of personal preference on this one.
Best Day Serum for Acne
- Philosophy On a Clear Day Blemish Serum ($30.00, Amazon.com). This product contains ultra-effective salicyclic acid as the first ingredient, and glycolic acid, which increases cell turnover. The use of glycolic acid as the first ingredient makes this one my favorite above other forms. (And, since I’m one of those skincare experts who recommends using glycolic acid and retinoids separately, use this glycolic acid-containing one during the day!)
- Curology also makes a custom acne serum, which I appreciate, even though they’re technically a competitor. But they’ll custom-mix you a serum designed for reducing acne, and which can be adjusted depending on your results, which is great, considering that P. acnes can become more resistant over time.
Best Night Serums for Acne
At night, I recommend using two serums: A retinoid and a specialty acne product.
The best retinol serums for acne…well, of course I recommend our FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.5, or our new FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 0.75 or FutureDerm Time-Release Retinol 1.0 (coming soon!). These are time-release formulas, so the retinol should be working in your skin all night long (yay)!
As far as another acne serum goes, I like tackling acne in a new way with Glossier Super Pure Serum. This clever little serum infuses two ingredients good for acne, but rarely found in anti-acne products: niacinamide and zinc. In a 1995 study by Takozaki et. al., it was reported that a 4% topical niacinamide treatment applied twice daily may help to treat acne by reducing inflammation with similar efficacy to 1% clindamycin gel. As for zinc, Dr. Howard Murad sings zinc’s praises in The Murad Method: “Zinc is truly a workhorse ingredient… It protects the skin from UV light and other irritants and infection from bacteria and fungi.” Since acne is caused largely by a bacterium, I say, go for it.
Best Moisturizer for Acne
- If you’re looking for a moisturizer to cover all of your bases under $100, my FutureDerm Specialist Customizable Moisturizer cannot be beat. We can make it for you with the concern of acne with 0.5-1.0% retinol, 4% niacinamide, 2% green tea, and 2% oatmeal. It’s hard to beat!
- Make sure you use a moisturizer with SPF, or a sunscreen, during the day.
Acne often occurs during the hormonal changes associated with puberty, menopause, or following pregnancy; during times of stress; and when your diet significantly changes.
No matter the cause of your acne, using a mix of ingredients designed to increase cell turnover and exfoliation, decrease bacterial proliferation, and to “dry out” acne lesions (pimples). Whether you choose one or all of the products I recommend above, you should see some results in 4-6 weeks. That said, all of the products below have been selected to work well together.
Disclaimer: I have not been compensated for this review by any brand. All opinions are my own. It may contain affiliate links, for which we may be paid by an independent third-party for compensation if you make a purchase.