Acne is something that many of us will or have suffered with in our lifetimes. Many of the frustrations surrounding acne comes from the fact that it is incredibly difficult to get rid of and seems to appear at the most inopportune times.
So, what exactly causes acne?
Well, you may already know the answer to this but just to give you a quick refresh, it’s mostly down to a build-up of oils and dead skin cells.
To better characterise acne, take note of the different kinds of breakouts that are all classified under acne. These are:
- Blackheads – small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin. They are black as the inner lining of the hair follicle produces colour.
- Whiteheads – similar appearance to blackheads, but may be firmer and will not empty when squeezed.
- Papules – small red bumps that may feel tender or sore.
- Pustules – similar to papules, but have a white tip in the centre, caused by a build-up of pus.
- Nodules – these build up beneath the surface of the skin. They are large hard lumps that can be painful.
- Cysts – a severe type of acne that looks similar to bills. They are large and pus-filled lumps. They also carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring.
The best ingredients to look for in acne products
My philosophy to cut through the jargon of beauty marketing is to look at the ingredients list. And while I agree it’s also important to see how the product feels and reacts to your skin the INCI list to me is the only source of clarity in the sometimes overwhelming world of beauty.
So, I will begin this list with the three ingredients to look for in an acne treatment so you can make the best decisions for your skin yourself.
If you know anything about acne you know about benzoyl peroxide. It’s been touted as the holy grail ingredient in treating acne and for many it’s a last resort because it is so strong.
It kills bacteria and can cause major irritation. It is available to buy in products and OTC but my advice would be to check with your dermatologist (if you can) to see whether it’s even worth putting something so strong on your skin.
If you don’t have a dermatologist try and get a sample of the product you want to use and patch test it to see how your skin will react. If you experience any adverse reaction to it, like stinging, redness and increased inflammation, I would stop using it.
Another OG of the acne treatment world. Salicylic acid is a staple chemical exfoliant in the skincare world and can be used by many skin types and for many skin concerns.
It’s a beta hydroxy acid and is relatively gentle when compared to something like glycolic acid. That’s because it exfoliates the stratum corneum (outer layer of skin) and penetrates into pores to remove sebum. Hence, it tends to cause less irritation because it doesn’t penetrate the skin so deeply.
Lastly, we have adapalene. This is an OTC retinoid.
It’s a pretty standard first line defence when treating mild acne where comedones (small, skin-coloured bumps like papules) are predominant.
It’s mechanism of action is regulating skin cell turnover to keep pores free of oil and inflammation at bay.
It has a few names including; Differin, Pimpal, Gallet, Adelene, Adeferin.
Acne products recommendations
IREN Clearer Days Anti-Blemish Serum
After using this when I had my own whitehead breakout, I couldn’t recommend enough. After a week my skin was actually rid of them.
Read my interview with IREN founder, Kristin Chen, here.
Pixi Glow Tonic
This product is very much about prevention of breakouts. It’s an incredibly effective and yet gentle chemical exfoliant that contains glycolic acid. I’ve used this for years and rely on it heavily to prevent breakouts and keep my skin properly exfoliated. I tend to breakout if I stop using it.
Find dupes for Pixi Glow Tonic here.
NIP+FAB Teen Skin Fix Salicylic Acid Tonic
This is a great place to start if you’re just reliving into the world of acne treatments and will give you an indication as to whether salicylic acid works with your skin.
Dermalogica Daily Microfoliant
This is a step up from something like the Nip + Fab tonic because it is dual action. It has salicylic acid and a unique rice-based enzyme powder that ‘microfoliates’ the skin. It’s a great choice if you have been using salicylic and want something stronger.
REN Clean Skincare Clean Skincare Non-Drying Spot Treatment
A great spot treatment for those of you who have very reactive skin that can get red and irritated easily.
Aesop Chamomile Concentrate Anti-Blemish Mask
A great mask that reduces the swelling around spots overnight whilst softening and moisturising the skin.
Sukin Blemish Control Pore Perfecting Toner
Another preventative treatment. This toner has had many great reviews at keeping oily skin at bay and therefore is a great way to prevent breakouts.
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