"I’ve tried hundreds, but these ones keep my breakouts in check."
There’s no denying that there are many, many perks to working as a beauty editor. I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the best facial treatments that money can buy and have more skincare products in my stash than one face can try. Plus, I have access to some of the best dermatologists and skincare experts in the business. But despite all of that, I’m still on a very personal journey with my skin after dealing with acne for almost two decades. Trust me, I’ve tried it all—steroid creams, bacteria-busting light therapy, contraceptive pills and almost every product on the market that promises to target breakouts. And I’ve learned a lot over that time about what you should look out for and what you should avoid if you’re trying to create an efficacious skincare routine to care for spot-prone skin.
From cleansers to moisturisers, I’ve pulled together a list of the best products for acne skin that are recommended time and time again by skin experts as well as the formulas that I personally swear by.
"So many of my favourite products for acne skin come via iS Clinical"
While cleansing is undoubtedly an important step of any skincare routine—it’s the chance to remove all of the dirt and debris from the day and prep your skin for the products you’re about to apply on top—the actual formula that you choose is probably less important than you think. Why? Well, you wash it all away. Therefore the general consensus from experts that I’ve spoken to over the years is that it’s best to choose a cleanser that you’re actually going to use rather than one that’s going to sit there gathering dust. However, in my personal experience I have found that I prefer to opt for gel or balm textures that don’t leave my skin as stripped as a foaming formula, but aren’t as rich as a cream cleanser. I also like to seek out ingredients like salicylic acid which provide some gentle exfoliation and help to minimise the amount of excess oil on the surface of my skin ahead of the rest of my routine.
The Medik8 Surface Radiance Cleanser contains a trio of gentle alpha hydroxy acids—lactic, mandelic and salicylic—to gently exfoliate oily complexions and decongest blocked pores to prep your skin for serum. So many of my favourite products for acne skin come via iS Clinical and their Cleansing Complex is a mainstay in my routine. It uses willow bark extract, a natural source of salicylic acid, to gently dislodge any dirt hiding beneath the skin’s surface while minimising the appearance of open pores for a smoother-looking complexion.
Unless I’m in the midst of a major breakout, I tend to only use a toner two or three times a week as part of my evening skincare routine. Why? Well, while I was obsessed with toners as a teenager I’ve since learned that using harsh astringents to target excess oil or over exfoliating with active ingredients can actually cause your skin to produce more oil. Instead, I tend to focus on protecting my skin barrier for optimal skin health. There is still a time and a place for toners for acne skin though—use them to restore your skin’s natural pH levels before serums or to exfoliate pores to help your skin absorb your serums more effectively.
Doing exactly what it says on the bottle, ZO Calming Toner PH Balancer is a skin-soothing toner that calms irritation through a gentle blend of pore-cleansing witch hazel and hydrating panthenol.
Also keeping pH levels in check, the SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Toner decongests pores and gently exfoliates skin through a cocktail of lipo-hydroxy, glycolic and salicylic acids—leaving skin bright, soft, smooth and with zero irritation.
"When it comes to the best serums for acne skin, I always reach for one with active ingredients that are specifically targeted towards treating acute breakouts and reducing inflammation."
When it comes to the best serums for acne skin, I always reach for one with active ingredients that are specifically targeted towards treating acute breakouts and reducing inflammation. Look for things like salicylic acid to unclog pores, Vitamin C which is a potent antioxidant and tackles pigmentation left behind by acne scarring, niacinamide which can ease inflammation and smooth skin, and even retinol (or Vitamin A) which increases the rate of skin cell turnover and improves skin texture.
The iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum Advance Plus is one of my favourite ever serums and has truly worked wonders at keeping my spot-prone skin calm.
The iS Clinical Pro Heal Serum Advance Plus is one of my favourite ever serums and has truly worked wonders at keeping my spot-prone skin calm. The formula focuses on healing inflammation and minimising the redness associated with cystic acne and it contains 15% L-Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), 1% Retinol (Vitamin A) and Olive Leaf Extract, a natural antioxidant extract, to improve skin health.
One of most-recommended serums for acne-prone skin comes in the form of SkinCeuticals Blemish and Age Defense Serum which contains 2% Dioic Acid—a lesser-known acid that can regulate oil and ease inflamed blemishes while fading dark spots at the same time, and all without causing irritation. Plus, there’s salicylic and glycolic acids to help decongest pores and minimise fine lines.
Most dermatologists that I’ve spoken to for advice on spots tend to recommend that the best approach for acne skin is to stick with one basic moisturiser that has one key purpose—hydration.
There’s a time and a place for morning and night creams, but most dermatologists that I’ve spoken to for advice on spots tend to recommend that the best approach for acne skin is to stick with one basic moisturiser that has one key purpose—hydration. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid to hydrate, peptides to strengthen the skin barrier and avoid anything with excessive amounts of oils.
The Skinbetter Science Refresh Hydration Boosting Cream has a featherlight texture and is brilliant to use in combination with more heavy-duty actives like retinoids or exfoliating products. It contains niacinamide to leave skin looking fresh and bright alongside a ceramide blend which boosts elasticity and keeps your skin barrier in check. It’s wonderfully hydrating yet doesn’t feel heavy on the skin or risk clogging pores.
If you’re looking for something a little more hardworking then the Alumier MD HydraSmooth Moisturiser is brilliant for acne-prone skin. It’s a non-comedogenic formula that contains encapsulated salicylic acid, which means it works more effectively over time, to gently remove dead skin cells and reduce active spots. (However, I wouldn’t use this in conjunction with any serums that contain Retinol or Vitamin A for fear of causing irritation.) Plus, it contains a whole host of other ingredients to calm redness, boost moisture and care for the skin’s barrier.
The final category in my list of the best products for acne skin comes via treatments. This might be exfoliators, peels or masks, but their purpose is the same—to calm existing breakouts, tackle any pigmentation left behind my old spots, and keep pores as squeaky-clean as possible in our quest to minimise the chance of new blemishes forming.
Although there is some debate about the benefits of physical exfoliators over chemical ones, sometimes I personally like the feeling of a physical scrub for a real deep-clean and the Medik8 Pore Refining Scrub offers the best of both worlds. It uses jojoba micro-exfoliators to gently slough away dead skin cells while mandelic acid breaks down excess oil, salicylic acid clears out the pores and niacinamide tightens skin. I use it once or twice a week.
The SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Mask is also a brilliant treatment to use once a week to reduce excess oils and leave my skin looking bright and renewed. It contains kaolin and bentonite clays to soak up oil and reduce unwanted shine, a mix of 2% fruit extracts which contain naturally-occurring acids to exfoliate away dead skin cells, and aloe and chamomile to calm and soothe. My skin always looks fresh and clear after having this on for 15 minutes.
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