Dealing with acne at any age is an uphill battle, and sometimes finding skin care for acne-prone skin makes the hill feel even steeper. There are a handful of different types of acne: cystic acne, hormonal breakouts, blackheads, closed comedones, and whiteheads, and each has a myriad of triggers. That’s why it’s key to find a dermatologist that can get to the root of your acne and come up with solutions to clear it up.
Here we break down advice from dermatologists and include the best skin-care products for acne-prone skin to build your new regimen. We’ve included cleansers, serums, SPF, pimple patches, and more from brands like CeraVe, Neutrogena, Tatcha, Glow Recipe, and La Roche-Posay. You’ll see products at every price point, including plenty of drugstore picks so that you can put your best skin forward without spending your whole paycheck.
When looking for facial cleansers for acne-prone skin, there are two breakout-fighting active ingredients to consider: salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (or BHA); and benzoyl peroxide, an anti-microbial agent that works to kill bacteria. Benjamin Marks, MD, a dermatologist at Northwestern Medicine Glenview Outpatient Center, recommends a salicylic acid face wash for one wash of the day and a benzoyl peroxide wash for the other for best results.
However, you could opt for a gentler formula without active acne-fighting ingredients, especially if you already have a potent acne treatment regimen through serums, exfoliants, or prescription topicals (like tretinoin or Accutane). Other helpful ingredients are vitamin C, an antioxidant that brightens post-acne dark spots and scars over time, and niacinamide, which works to even out skin tone and texture. Peptides and ceramides are super for protecting the skin barrier, and calming botanicals like chamomile, aloe, and green tea can soothe redness and irritation.
When it comes to texture, keep your skin type in mind. “For oily skin, I usually recommend a foaming cleanser,” board-certified dermatologist Prince Adotama, MD, assistant professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, previously told SELF. “If your skin is on the dryer side, a gentle hydrating cleanser is preferred.”
Exfoliants and Scrubs
There are two kinds of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Physical exfoliants use ingredients like jojoba beads, sugar, or coffee to actually scrub the skin. Chemical exfoliants like glycolic, lactic, mandelic, and citric acids (aka AHAs) “are gentle superficial acids that can exfoliate your skin enzymatically,” David Kim, MD, MS, cosmetic dermatologist at Idriss Dermatology in New York City, previously told SELF. Exfoliants can help acne because they increase cell turnover, clearing the pores from gunk and revealing smoother, brighter skin. Derms have a few recommendations when implementing exfoliants into your routine. First, start by using them just once or twice per week. Chemical exfoliants can be used more often after your skin builds tolerance, but physical exfoliants should be used sparingly.