Acne Fixes That Are Borderline Genius
Skincare that promises the world then delivers zip is annoying at the best of times, but for those with acne, it's downright soul destroying. The good news is there are a whole host of clinically-proven ingredients that offer real results for acne-prone skin. You just need to know what they are…
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne is the most common skin condition in the US, affecting around 50 million Americans every year. And it’s not just teenagers who are plagued by breakouts. In fact, research shows that approximately 12 to 22 percent of adult women in the US suffer from acne in some form. Whether you're prone to blackheads, whiteheads, pimples or deep painful cysts, the fact is, acne sucks.
But what really causes acne? Well, it’s pretty simple actually: blocked pores. More to the point, acne is caused when an excess of sebum (oil) works with bacteria and dead skin cells to clog up your pores. If this pore remains closed, it’ll become a whitehead, whereas if it opens up, oil and dead skin cells oxidize and turn brown or black, making it a blackhead. Pimples and pustules, meanwhile, form slightly deeper under the surface of the skin which is why they become red and inflamed. All good fun – not.
Now we hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the main trigger of excess sebum production is kind of out of your control, and that’s family history – you can’t change your genetics, after all. Oil glands also become over-stimulated by stress and an imbalance of hormones, which is why puberty, pregnancy, menstruation and the menopause can all lead to flare-ups. Think you can find a miracle cure for acne? Yes, reducing your levels of stress will help and yes, a healthy diet is a great idea. But a miracle cure? Sorry, it’s simply not going to happen.
Treating and controlling your breakouts, however? Now that, you can do. Here’s how.
5 Of The Best Skincare Ingredients For Acne-Prone Skin
At-home skincare can be very effective for managing blackheads, whiteheads, pimples and pustules if you know what to embrace – and also what to avoid. Your first step is to look for products that are non-comedogenic which means they’re less likely to block your pores. You should also avoid rich, occlusive oils such as coconut, olive and avocado. Lighter oils like jojoba and grapeseed are less likely to cause problems and in fact some oils such as ylang ylang and lavender even have anti-inflammatory benefits, so don’t dismiss oils altogether. Just make smart choices and avoid the super-heavy ones.
Next up, look for these scientifically-proven ingredients in your skincare and remember, when trying any new treatment, always do a patch test first and give them a reasonable amount of time (at least four, but preferably eight weeks) to work.
1. Salicylic Acid
A highly researched beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid is one of the most effective ingredients for acne-prone skin. Salicylic acid is an oil-soluble acid that works by breaking the bonds between skin cells to encourage the dead ones to fall off. Unlike alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like lactic and glycolic, salicylic acid also targets oil blockages where it thins sebum, allowing it to flow more freely to the skin’s surface. This helps decrease excess oil, reduce inflammation and minimize enlarged pores which are three important skincare needs for anyone suffering with unwanted breakouts.
Tip: For the best, visible results, look for leave-on salicylic acid treatments that are formulated with a concentration of at least 2 percent – BTW, our Tea Tree Clear Skin Super Serum checks both of those boxes.
2. Benzoyl Peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is a chemical compound that’s been used very successfully as an acne treatment for over 90 years. Similar to salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide has anti-inflammatory properties and its main job is to accelerate cell turnover while removing sebum and dead skin cells from your pores to help reduce blockages. It also has one other trick up its sleeve, however, and it’s a very important one: it totally destroys bacteria by releasing oxygen onto the skin. This makes it particularly effective for inflammatory acne such as pimples and pustules.
Tip: Benzoyl peroxide can bleach bed linen and clothing, so make sure you allow any leave-on treatment to fully dry before getting dressed or going to bed.
While it’s most often thought of as an anti-aging ingredient, retinol should never be overlooked in the treatment of acne. And here’s why. Retinol is an over-the-counter derivative of vitamin A that, again, increases cell turnover, but in a very different way to salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. The difference is that retinol attaches itself to nuclear receptors in the center of your cells which is where genetic information is stored and where major cellular functions are processed. Once attached to these receptors, retinol activates certain genes to accelerate cell turnover and therefore remove dead skin cells and keep the pores clear from debris. Smart cookie.
Tip: Retinol is a super-active ingredient, so start your usage slowly by applying it every two or three evenings to clean, dry skin. As you build tolerance, you can build up to a nightly routine.
4. Tea Tree Oil
Looking for an all-round antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial ingredient whose entire MO is to target your acne problems? Then tea tree oil could be exactly what you’re looking for. This essential oil has been used in traditional medicine practices for centuries and has been scientifically proven to treat and heal mild-to-moderate acne. In fact, one clinical study showed tea tree oil to be 3.5 times more effective at reducing acne lesions than a placebo after six weeks of use. Now, that’s the kind of stat we love. Tea tree oil is also less drying and irritating than salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide and retinol which makes it a great option for sensitive skin types.
Tip: Although rare, tea tree oil has been known to cause allergic contact dermatitis, so stick with diluted formulations like our Tea Tree Clear Skin Super Serum and always carry out a patch test first.
5. Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal works by binding itself to nasty substances on the skin and whisking them clean away. Kind of how a sponge soaks up spillages. This is why charcoal is often used in medicine to remove dangerous ingested toxins such as poison. And why it’s such a great skincare ingredient for drawing bacteria, toxins, dirt and oils out from the skin – which as you know are the main causes of acne.
Activated charcoal is produced by burning a plant or animal product and then treating it to remove certain substances and increase its surface area. Don’t worry, however, we use activated coconut charcoal in our Skin Clearing Charcoal Face Wash. No animals were harmed in the process.
Tip: Activated charcoal is black (obvs), so be careful when using it near light clothing and face cloths as it may cause staining.
A Final Word On Professional Acne Treatments
If you want to hit acne from both sides, think about getting some regular professional treatments at the derm’s office. There are many awesome options for treating acne-prone skin that perfectly complement an effective at-home routine – think chemical peels, HydraFacials, light therapy, even steroid injections.
What works for some might not work for you, however, so always get a consultation first from a qualified expert.
About Georgia Gould
Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.