Today, we’re talking all about acne. I’m going to go through all the different over-the-counter options, share what works best for different types of acne and give you examples of products that I really like.
A Little Background on Acne
You can get acne at any age. So many different factors play into it: hereditary, environmental, hormonal, bacteria, etc.
- Turnover Rate- If your skin cells are turning over too quickly, but the dead skin cells on top don’t have enough time to clear off, you can get clogged pores.
- Salicylic Acid. This is best known for breaking down the outer layer of your skin cells (the dead ones) and actually getting in. Closed off comedones or milia can’t be squeezed, they’re under the skin and need something to break through that top layer to get them out. That’s where salicylic acid is going to play a huge role.
One option of salicylic acid is a topical exfoliating spray. I’m a fan of products that you can spray onto your face because they’re easy and more hygienic. Life-flo makes a spray that I like if I’m on vacation because it’s so convenient.
Note- Salicylic acid is not good for actually killing bacteria. It will only get rid of inflammation and break through that skin layer.
- Benzoyl Peroxide. Most of the time, bacteria is causing some kind of acne buildup. Benzoyl peroxide is great for this because of its antimicrobial properties. Use it for classic whiteheads.
I use the Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask if I have a pimple right on the surface. It takes effect usually within a couple days.
Note- Sometimes the same brand can have so many products that look the exact same, but the active ingredient is different. One Neutrogena product could have salicylic acid and one could have benzoyl peroxide, so make sure you’re always looking at the active ingredient on the back.
*If I had to choose between salicylic and benzoyl, I would probably choose benzoyl because just breaking through the outer skin isn’t enough. You need something that will kill off that bacteria. I do think both of these products work best when used together.
- Sulfur. This has been used for thousands of years for all sorts of things. It comes in different percentages over-the-counter. Sulfur works by drying out your skin, so this can be good if you have oily, acne-prone skin. Remember, overproduction of oil is what causes a lot of acne breakouts.
Sulfur does what salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide do …combined together. It works as a peeling agent and as an antimicrobial.
If you have normal/combination skin and sometimes get breakouts, sulfur is not going to be the best choice for you because it will end up drying out your skin and irritating it.
- Differin Gel. The active ingredient in this is adapalene, which falls into the family of retinoic acids. Most retinoic acids are prescription strength- this is actually the only one that comes over-the-counter. The difference between this adapalene and prescription-strength is that this is a lot more gentle.
Use differin if you’re thinking about the overall health of your skin, not just focusing on acne. This is preventative and helps with overall texture and toning.
Adapalene is a sophisticated ingredient because it has the ability to get into really deep layers of your skin cells, but once it’s there, it only acts locally. When using a product that doesn’t stay where it needs to, this is where you’ll experience side effects- drying, peeling, irritation.
I’m not always using an active acne medication, but if I feel like there’s a few weeks where my skin is breaking out continuously, I’ll use something like differin gel.
- Serumdipity. This has hyaluronic acid- basically my favorite ingredient when it comes to skin care. It’s paraben-free, cruelty-free, gluten-free, and is another more mild option.
- Alba Botanica Natural Acne Dote Face & Body Scrub (maximum strength). Normally I’m not the biggest fan of acne face washes, but I like this one because it’s really natural and gentle. If I feel like I’m breaking out a lot, I’ll incorporate an acne face wash along with topical products.
- Stridex Pads. I like using these if I’m in a hurry. It’s easy, clean and hygienic because you don’t have to apply a product onto a cotton pad or put it on your hands and rub it on your skin. This works as your toner, and you can wipe and go.
If you’re deciding between any kind of topical acne treatment, I recommend using these as a step 2. I’m not a fan of using these as a cleanser because I feel like your cleanser should be a nourishing step to gently clean away dirt, oil, leftover makeup, etc. As your treat step, you can apply the active ingredient.
More is not always better! Oftentimes higher strengths of these medications can lead to peeling, irritation and redness. It’s better to start with a low dose and slightly increase gradually.
I also like mixing and matching different acne ingredients. Maybe you’re in a humid climate, your skin is extra oily and you breakout- sulfur might be a great option. Maybe it’s winter and your skin is dry- you want to use something a little more gentle like a benzoyl peroxide.
Pay attention to what’s going on with your skin and how each ingredient treats your skin to figure out what will work best for you.
Besides all of these topical products, there are a lot of lifestyle modifications and natural remedies you can do in conjunction with these products or even on their own:
- Drink water. I instantly see a difference in my skin if I’m not drinking enough water. When you’re not hydrated, sometimes your skin tries to overcompensate by producing oil, which leads to more breakouts.
- Skincare regimen morning & night. I know this can feel like a drag, but enjoy the process. Find a skincare regimen that’s relaxing to you. The more you do this, the less you’ll have to worry about constantly combatting with different acne ingredients.
- Pay attention to your diet. Even if you’re not vegan or vegetarian, getting more fresh greens and fruit into your diet will help so much. They’re full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and everything starts from the inside out.
I hope you enjoyed reading this. I know acne is a topic almost anyone can relate to!