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The Best Skin Care Products for Acne

July 19, 2020

The Best Skin Care Products for Acne

Acne can undoubtedly be one of the most frustrating and stubborn skin conditions. So, it may come as no surprise that one of the most common questions is, "What are the best skincare products for acne?"


In order to understand what helps to prevent or heal acne blemishes, let's first take a look at several major factors that contribute to the formation of the condition:

  • Hair follicles in the skin can become blocked by dead cells and sebum (an oil that lubricates the skin and hair).
  • Excess sebum production (which typically happens during adolescence or other hormonal changes) can cause bacterial overgrowth.
  • Bacterial overgrowth can lead to infection and/or inflammation, and the rupture of a follicle (otherwise known as a “pimple”).


So the physical sources for acne are pretty clear, but why and how do breakouts form? Understanding the causes can be a key way of preventing acne in the first place.

  • Hormones can also cause undesirable changes in skin. Adolescent hormones (particularly those that appear during puberty) often cause sebaceous glands—the glands which produce sebum—to enlarge and overproduce. In women, acne can be linked to hormones present in the menstrual cycle.
  • Environmental factors can play a role in skin’s condition, for example - irritating water or wind a polluted air can disrupt the skin's pH and make it more vulnerable.
  • Hygiene is very important when trying to fight blemishes. For example, not washing pillowcases regularly can create a build of skin cells and oils that clog pores. Dirty makeup brushes can also contribute to a build up of blemish-causing bacteria.
  • Improper or ineffective skincare also plays a role. Using a cleanser that strips the skin of its natural moisture can cause the skin to overproduce oil. Comodegenic ingredients in high amounts can also clog pores (such as soybean and palm oil, sulfates, and for very oily skin types even coconut oil or cocoa butter) . People  react differently to ingredients and have different levels of sensitivities as well, so no one product will be appropriate for every single person.


While there is no single treatment that definitively treats all acne, certain routines have proven themselves to be greatly effective in reducing breakouts.

  • Skin hygiene plays a key role in the treatment of acne, but poor hygiene is often not the root cause of blemishes—people get acne even when they work hard to keep their faces clean, due to the skin’s production of oil.
    • Most professionals recommend washing your face twice daily with a gentle cleanser (one that will not “overstrip” the skin of oil, causing dehydration). 
    • Avoiding anything that can cause surface damage to the skin (like a rough washcloth or exfoliating device) is wise as well, since scratches and abrasions can give bacteria a place to take hold.
  • Avoid picking—it’s always a bad idea. Picking at pimples can cause swelling and inflammation of the skin, spread bacteria, and even cause scarring. No matter how tempting it is, keep your hands off!
  • Moisturize daily, even if you feel like your skin is too oily. If you remove surface oil through cleansing and don’t replace it with moisturizer, your skin may react by producing even more oil—causing a vicious cycle! The goal should be to attain a balance of moisture, where the skin doesn’t feel the need to produce oil in excess. In addition, a good moisturizer can help decrease levels of bad bacteria by balancing pH and help heal blemishes. Make sure you look for products that are noncomedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores.
  • Use sunscreen every day. The sun can have a very negative effect on damaged skin, and even mild sun exposure can make inflammation worse (and many acne treatments increase sun sensitivity). Look for sunscreen products that are intended only for the face, as they are more likely to be noncomedogenic.
  • Choose nonprescription and/or prescription products.


  • Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHAs): The most common BHA is salicylic acid, which is a great place to start if you suffer from oily, congested skin. All BHAs operate as chemical exfoliants, increasing cell turnover and increasing rates of healing, and are also effective at killing bad bacteria. They also have the ability to travel deep into pores, killing acne at its source. Studies have shown that salicylic acid use greatly reduces the number and severity of acne blemishes (but look for solutions that are 0.5% to 2% salicylic acid to ensure effectiveness).
  • Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): The most common alpha hydroxy acids are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Both work to speed cell turnover (thus allowing skin to heal itself faster), and AHAs have the added benefit of being moisturizing for drier and/or combination skin types. Lactic acid is the gentlest AHA, which makes it ideal for sensitive skin. By loosening the bonds between dead skin cells, AHAs reveal the brightest, healthiest layer of skin.
  • Cleansing clays: Moistened clays are applied to skin and as they dry, impurities will be gently lifted from skin’s surface as they adhere to the clay.  Your pores will be left refreshed and ready to receive nourishment from serums and moisturizers (that are free of heavy oils).
  • Soothing actives: Ingredients like aloe vera, chamomile, allantoin, tea tree oil and azulene help fight inflammation to reduce the side effects of breakouts. Many of these botanicals also have anti-bacterial properties.


With so many options for acne skincare, it’s important to develop a routine that effectively treats acne blemishes without further damaging or irritating the skin.

  • To cleanse, start with a gentle cleanser in the morning. If you cleansed thoroughly at night and have irritated skin, a simple micellar water might also be better as they remove oils gently. At night, be sure to wash your face well in order to remove dirt, sweat, oils and makeup.
    • Cleansers with a  low percentage of salicylic acid are fine, but keep in mind that your skin shouldn’t feel “tight” afterward—that’s a sign of dehydration, and will make oiliness worse in the long run.
    • Simple, noncomedogenic cleansers without sulfates that are pH balanced (a pH of around 5.5) are optimal.
  • To exfoliate, use a chemical exfoliant (AHA/BHA) like the ones listed above.   In the beginning, you’ll want to use your exfoliant only twice per week and slowly build up your frequency of use if needed. You’ll want to wait until your exfoliant cream or toner is fully dry before moving on to the next step, as it will increase its efficacy.
    • Avoid physical exfoliation (harsh scrubs, rough washcloths, microbeads) as they can damage the skin’s moisture barrier and increase inflammation.
  • To moisturize, select a noncomedogenic moisturizer - preferably one that has healing ingredients like amino acids or vitamin E. Moisturizing is an absolutely critical step, as chemical exfoliants can dehydrate skin through the process of removing dead skin cells.
    • If you have very oily skin or live in a humid climate and feel like most moisturizers are too heavy, try a lightweight gel-based serum with aloe and hyaluronic acid.


Spot treatments can be an excellent way to reduce large pimples or isolated breakouts. Most spot treatments will contain either an AHA, BHA, or benzoyl peroxide solution, usually in a fairly high concentration. Benzoyl peroxide is an ingredient to be avoided in high concentrations as it can bring unwanted side effects such as dryness and irritation.

For the quickest results, salicylic acid is the best option, due to its ability to move deeply into pores very quickly. Tea tree oil is another well-known and much-loved breakout fighter.


Body acne can be extremely frustrating, but the treatment routine for body acne is very similar to that for facial acne. Daily cleansing, application of an exfoliant/acne treating cream, and moisturizing are critical. The same rules for hygiene, avoiding sulfates and harsh/heavy ingredients, and avoiding harsh exfoliation all apply.

Typically the back area needs a less powerful concentration of ingredients in order to be effective and also since you are spreading it over a large portion of your body. Look for lower percentages of the common ingredients that were discussed earlier (for example, instead of 5% salicylic acid—like you might find in a spot treatment—go for 2.5% for daily use).


Acne can be frustrating and painful, but it doesn’t have to be a life sentence. It’s important to note that if your acne is extremely severe, it’s always best to consult a dermatologist to create the best treatment plan for you. If you find the right combination of ingredients that work for you and use them consistently, you can rest assured that clear, beautiful skin will be revealed!