How to Find the Right Products for Acne-Prone Skin

Dealing with acne-prone skin is often a test of patience. It takes time to figure out what’s going on and to identify what might be aggravating your skin. (And sometimes, even your dermatologist can’t pinpoint the exact cause.) It’s also a long process of trial and error to figure out how to get rid of your acne. In some situations, you can find a solution on your own. But in other cases, it’s a much better idea to call in the experts to get an opinion (and perhaps a prescription) from your dermatologist.

If you have a relatively mild case of acne, or if you just want to try to troubleshoot things on your own, you’ve probably realized there are a wide variety of skin care products marketed toward people with acne-prone skin (and little solid advice on choosing the right products to clear up your skin). We could give you specific product recommendations, but the internet is full of those. We think it’s probably more useful for you to learn how to choose the right products for yourself. After all, everybody’s skin care needs are different.

1. Realize there are no magical cures

young woman wiping hair with a towel

There’s no simple cure for acne-prone skin. | iStock.com/Central IT Alliance

Acne is an annoying and often embarrassing problem, so skin care companies market products that promise all sorts of lightning-fast results — which they typically can’t deliver. That’s in part because acne is caused by a variety of factors. Hormones play a role, as do bacteria and inflammation. And you can’t overlook the role of sensitivities and allergies, either. No single skin care product can effectively address every possible cause of acne. So, if a product’s promises sound too good to be true, they almost certainly are.

2. Choose a gentler cleansing routine

young woman with clear complexion in the bathroom

Your current regimen may be too harsh on your skin. | iStock.com

Whether you’re dealing with occasional breakouts or a constant barrage of acne, one of the first steps to finding the right products for your skin is to realize your cleansing routine is probably too harsh. Many people think acne is caused by poor hygiene, which has been repeatedly proven untrue. And just as many think they can “dry up” their acne by using harsh or astringent products. But by using harsh cleansers, soaps, foaming washes, or drying spot treatments, you’re just irritating your skin more and doing nothing to address the cause.

3. Think twice about products that contain too much alcohol

girl checking her face for pimple in mirror

Some toners are too drying. | iStock.com

Particularly when they want to eradicate their acne, many people think products that sting are just doing their job. But especially in the case of products like toners that contain alcohol, you’re probably doing more harm than good. Alcohol-based toners and similar formulations are probably too drying, even for oily skin. However, be aware that alcohol in smaller amounts often supports the inclusion of valuable ingredients, like glycolic acid. So, don’t swear off a product just because it includes a small amount of alcohol. 

4. Realize that you still need moisture and oil

Woman looking in the mirror

Even oily skin needs moisturizer. | iStock.com/chachamal

In an effort to combat oil and stave off acne, many people go oil-free for every step of their skin care and makeup routines. But that’s not always a good idea. Moisture and oil are necessary for healthy skin, and failing to provide your skin with adequate moisture usually means you’ll end up with redness and inflammation. There’s no reason to completely avoid oils, especially nourishing plant oils, when you have acne. And there’s no reason to forego moisturizing, even if you have oily skin. 

5. Add chemical exfoliants to your routine

pretty woman washing her face with pure water

Chemical exfoliants can be very helpful. | iStock.com/shironosov

Instead of slathering spot treatments all over your face and hoping they solve the problem, you should turn to well-formulated chemical exfoliants to make a meaningful difference in your skin’s condition. Well-formulated products with salicylic acid and glycolic acid will help solve blocked pores and keep dead skin cells from building up. This isn’t the time to go wild and choose the highest concentration you can find. (That usually ends in peeling and inflammation.) But a gentle yet effective exfoliant can make a world of difference for acne-prone skin.

6. Go with a spot treatment — if you can be gentle

woman squeezing pimple in front of mirror

Use a spot treatment to speed things along. | iStock.com

In addition to your exfoliant, you can opt to use a spot treatment to quickly clear up spots when they do appear. Spot treatments that are formulated with benzoyl peroxide or sulfur are often recommended by dermatologists. But as with an exfoliant, you have to know when enough is enough. Don’t go for the highest concentration right away. And don’t slather a product that’s made for isolated spots all over your face. You’ll just end up with dryness and inflammation, which never helps when you’re trying to get rid of acne. 

7. Don’t rely on noncomedogenic products

beautiful woman doing her makeup

Even noncomedogenic products may clog pores. | iStock.com/gpointstudio

Whether you’re choosing skin care products or looking to overhaul your makeup stash, you’ve probably come across plenty of products that are labeled noncomedogenic. But the reality is there are no regulated standards associated with the term. So even if a product carries that label, there’s no guarantee it won’t clog your pores. Similarly, oil-free products aren’t always a guarantee, either, since there are plenty of other ingredients that can make a product thick, heavy, or otherwise likely to break you out.

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