As much as it embarrasses me to admit it, I have had adult acne for almost all my late teen and adult life. Even though I sometimes get severe flare-ups, I have become an expert on which products to use or avoid for preventing, clearing up, or concealing my acne. I have gone to the dermatologist multiple times and tried both oral and topical medication. I’ve tried tea tree oil, antibiotics, birth control medicine, and even Accutane. There was a time when Differin gel and birth control pills did the trick for my acne. I eventually was able to have clear skin for many years in my early 20s simply from taking birth control pills.
In my late 20s, this stopped being effective and I asked my doctor for my last resort choice: Accutane. I had to take it for 6 months along with birth control, and saw my dermatologist and get bloodwork done every month. My skin cleared up tremendously in that amount of time, and my skin was super clear for about 2 years. I even wrote about it in a blog post (here) about how it was the final solution to my acne problem. However, this fall my skin started really breaking out again.
I remember being told that Accutane may require more than one session of use for it to be completely effective. Some people only have to take it once, and some people need a 2nd session. I’m not opposed to trying a 2nd session. However, for the time being, I am trying to manage my acne in other ways. It really flares up around my period and it has been taking a toll on my self-esteem.
Lots of people who have never had acne or simply have the occasional pimple often try to tell me how to manage my acne. I find this very offensive and demeaning. Most people assume that a.) I don’t take care of my skin or have poor hygiene, b.) I wear too much makeup which then clogs my pores more, c.) I have a poor diet, or d.) I don’t drink enough water. I have heard the whole gamut of reasons why people believe I’m breaking out. The truth is that even the dermatologist has not pinpointed the reason why I am breaking out.
So before I have my next dermatologist appointment, I am continually trying to prevent future acne, clear up current acne quickly, and cover up the scars and redness left behind. I have rounded up my favorite products for acne-prone skin. I feel like I have become a bit of an expert when it comes to skin and makeup products for acne-prone skin. Chances are, your acne is probably less severe than mine, so hopefully you won’t require Accutane to really help you clear it up. I would love to hear your favorite products that you use as well!
Look at the Labels
First of all, you HAVE to look at the labels of your skin products. It should say oil-free and/or non-comedogenic. Sebum is the oil secreted by your pores, and your pores can be clogged by too much sebum and dead skin cells. Bacteria then gets trapped inside the clogged pores, and redness and swelling occur. By putting excess oil from skin and make-up products on your skin, you will end up clogging your pores even more and exacerbating the problem!
Non-comedogenic products do not contain ingredients that cause comedones (white heads and blackheads). A lot of natural remedies (coconut oil and butter, almond oil, avocado oil) are comedogenic and should not be used by people who break out easily. Non-comedogenic products will not treat your acne on their own but will help prevent pimples that occur from clogged pores. Also, you MUST moisturize your skin. Some acne products are drying and strip your skin of its natural oils, which actually ends up BACKFIRING and making your skin work overtime to produce more sebum. It will make you break out more, which you don’t want!
Product Recommendations to Prevent and Clear Acne
Use a skin cleanser every morning and evening. If you are using multiple products with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, your skin may become too dry. Too dry=Not good! You may want your daily acne topical treatment to contain these ingredients and go with a gentle cleanser like Cetaphil. Make sure that you use lukewarm water and take time to massage the cleanser onto your face for some time (sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat or the ABC song in your head) before rinsing. Pat your skin dry with a towel instead of rubbing your face.
- Clean & Clear Deep Action Cleanser– This product is oil-free and removes dirt, oil, and make-up. It contains salicylic acid to prevent and treat acne, and a menthol ingredient to leave your skin feeling cool and refreshed after cleansing.
- Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Facial Cleanser with Salicylic Acid– This product is 90% naturally derived and contains salicylic acid and Willow bark bio nutrients. It removes dirt, oil, and makeup.
- Biore Charcoal Acne Clearing Cleanser for Oily Skin– This product is oil-free and contains salicylic acid and charcoal. The purpose of the charcoal is to soak up excess oil in your skin.
- Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser– This product was recommended to me by my dermatologist. He said that it was best to use a gentle cleanser along with the oral and topical medications that I was taking so that my skin didn’t dry out.
Like I previously stated, you must use a moisturizer for your skin, no matter what your skin type. You don’t want your skin overcompensating with excess sebum. Many of these moisturizers also contain sunscreen as well, which is an added bonus!
- CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion SPF 30– This lotion is non-comedogenic, oil-free, and contains SPF 30. It also contains niacinamide, which strengthens the skin’s barrier and calms skin.
- Cetaphil DermaControl Oil Control Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30– This lotion is also non-comedogenic, oil-free, and contains SPF 30. It controls shine and leaves your skin with a matte finish.
- Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Control Moisturizer– This lotion contains salicylic acid, so if you use it too frequently or with other salicylic acid products, it could dry out your skin. You will need to wear sunscreen with this moisturizer as well.
DAILY ACNE TREATMENT
This category includes all over topical ointment or spot treatment. If you use only spot treatment medication, I would use a daily cleanser that contains salicylic acid to prevent and clear up any acne that you have. Spot treatment will NOT prevent acne, only clear up pimples when they occur.
I’m not a huge fan of benzoyl peroxide products such as Proactiv. Many over-the-counter products that contain benzoyl peroxide contain 5-10% of this ingredient, which can be too drying for skin. Proactiv is only 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, and according to the research on their website, there is no clinical difference between using 2.5%, 5%, or 10%. In other words, 10% is no more effective than 2.5%, despite the higher concentration. It will, however, dry out your skin much more, which is terrible for your skin. I never liked how benzoyl peroxide stained my towels, pillowcases, and sometimes accidentally clothes. I found it so drying that it was painful, despite moisturizing. I tried Proactiv for a long time as instructed, and it did not help me.
- Stridex Daily Care Acne Pads– This product contains 2% salicylic acid, helps unclog pores, and removes dirt and oil. Use a Stridex pad to wipe off skin, and repeat with a clean pad if needed to get additional dirt/skin off of your face. Stridex pads is an all over topical treatment and should be at least once or twice a day in order to be effective. Excessive use may cause your skin to be too dry.
- Differin Gel– This was one of the only products that worked for me when I was younger and used to be available via prescription only. I have started to use it again, and it is now available as an over-the-counter medication. It contains retinoids in the form of adapalene. Retinoids help to regulate skin cell turnover. This is supposed to keep pores from clogging and prevent inflammation. It treats acne, prevents new acne from forming, and since it regulates skin cell turnover, it helps improve your skin tone, redness, and scarring from previous breakouts. You should see a reduction in acne after 2 weeks, and a significant improvement after 12 weeks. I’ve read that even missing one treatment can lead to a setback with your skin.
- Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment– I believe this is one of the only over-the-counter treatments that only contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. Like I said before, I found this ingredient to be too drying to use all over, but it will do a great job of sucking up pimples that are already there. Use with care if you are mixing with other products. You don’t want your zits to start peeling!
- Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment– This treatment contains 2% salicylic acid. The gel dissolves surface oil and gets into pores to reduce the size and swelling of pimples.
Product Recommendations to Conceal Acne
It’s so important to do your research before purchasing makeup products for your face. I was using a concealer earlier this year before my skin really started to break out. After I started to have some acne issues, I found out the hard way that my concealer (even though it covered very well and stayed put) was super oily and causing my breakouts. As you can see, it’s hard to distinguish (without makeup) what is acne and what is redness/scarring left behind.
BEFORE AND AFTER MAKEUP
- Maybelline New York Fit Me Matte and Poreless Foundation– This foundation is non-comedogenic and minimizes pores. It is designed specifically for normal to oily skin, and has a matte finish. There are so many shades to fit your skin tone! I’m a big fan, and I feel like it lasts all day.
- Neutrogena SkinClearing Blemish Concealer– This concealer contains 2.5% salicylic acid and is oil-free, so it will both conceal and heal your acne. It is very easy to apply! You should not use this concealer anywhere near your eyes, due to the acne medication.
- BareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15– This powder foundation comes in 30 shades, and you can build up how much coverage you want, from sheer to full. It’s clean, vegan, and cruelty-free makeup, and BareMinerals claims that you can sleep in it without it making you break out. (I still wouldn’t recommend that!)
- Benefit Cosmetics the POREfessional Face Primer– This primer is translucent and oil-free. It’s lightweight and silky and minimizes the appearance of pores and fine lines. I don’t always use primer, but I do really like how lightweight this product is!
- Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes– These makeup remover towelettes are gentle on your skin, even around your eye area. I recommend still using a makeup remover even if you use one of the cleansers that removes makeup. Remember that any residue can clog your pores, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Hopefully these acne products can help you in your battle with acne. Besides making sure to cleanse your skin, moisturizing, and treating your acne using over-the-counter topical medication, try not to pop or pick at your pimples (something I need to work on!). This can make the bacteria and acne spread to other areas of your face. A general rule of thumb is that if you don’t see improvement from over-the-counter treatments in a month, you may want to visit your dermatologist to clear up your acne and prevent scarring. Some say that foods with high levels of processed sugar and dairy products cause breakouts, so you may want to cut back on them. I myself have never been able to completely cut out dairy products, mostly because of all of the other benefits that the body and mind receive from dairy (yogurt in particular). Breakouts can also be related to stress, so try to find ways to de-stress or exercise to boost those feel-good brain chemicals.
Which types of acne products and makeup products do you use that help to prevent, clear, and cover acne? Please share!
Until next time…