Keeping your skin pimple-free can pose a Herculean task. Besides finding the right product combination and figuring out when and how to apply each item, you can get stressed about your skincare regimen as you are about your breakouts. Consider this your IT list for the most powerful acne-fighters out there while you get ready to show off your gorgeous filter-free skin.
Salicylic Acid: The Superstar
This beta hydroxy acid is the gold standard ingredient since even sensitive skin can tolerate it. It works by reducing oil production and cleans out pores, says Dhaval G. Bhanusali, M.D. a dermatologist in New York City. He suggests a salicylic acid-based face wash like Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream Cleanser, which provides pore-clearing benefits in a super gentle lather that won’t leave skin feeling stripped. He also recommends a spot-treatment like Neutrogena Rapid Clear Spot Treatment to zap zits on contact.
Vitamin C: The Glow-Getter
This antioxidant protects skin and shields it from environmental aggressors — including sun and pollution — to help it heal faster post-pimple. Vitamin C gives skin a healthy glow and a more even tone. Look for it on the label or in vitamin C-rich citrus fruit extracts such as grapefruit.
Exfoliating Granules: The Pore-Clearers
Boosting skin’s natural cell turnover helps prevents clogged pores. But if you over-exfoliate, it may cause the skin to not only become red and sensitive but also spur extra oil production…which may lead to more breakouts. Opt for gentle products and use them every other day or 2 to 3 days a week, depending on how sensitive your skin is.
Hyaluronic Acid: The Moisturizing Maven
This water-loving ingredient (it can hold 1000x times its weight in water!) won’t clog pores, making it the perfect hydrator for acne-prone skin. We know what you’re thinking: If your skin feels like an oil slick, you definitely don’t need moisturizer, right? Wrong. One of the most important aspects of lessening acne is making sure the epidermis, skin’s top layer, is healthy so it can keep bacteria, dirt, and pollution out. Hyaluronic acid is different from normal hydrators because it acts like a water magnet and maintains skin’s oil and water balance.
Kaolin Clay: The Oil Absorber
“Clays are amazing for acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Bhanusali, who loves kaolin in particular because of its ability to attract oil and lightly exfoliate skin. How it works: All the acne-promoting gunk on your skin (dead skin cells, traces of makeup, and bacteria) clings to the clay. When the clay dries, you wash it—and the grime—away. Dr. Bhanusali’s pro tip: Apply a clay-based mask every Sunday night to start the week off right.
Benzoyl Peroxide: The Bacteria Fighter
Benzoyl peroxide kills off the bacteria that causes the inflammation, pain, and redness that often comes with a breakout. But it shouldn’t be applied to all pimples — only on those that are more blackhead-like or have a red ring around a white pustule. He recommends placing a touch of benzoyl peroxide plus a dot of over-the-counter cortisone on a Band-Aid and covering the spot overnight.
Argan Oil: The Nourisher
Yes, you read that right: oil for oily skin. “Even though argan is an oil, it doesn’t increase your skin’s overall oil production, so I have my patients apply it to their skin twice a week, especially if they are going through harsh acne treatments that dry out their skin,” Dr. Bhunasali says. Apply a couple of drops of the serum at nighttime and “you’ll wake up with skin that’s hydrated, and potentially diminished acne,” he adds.
Vitamin A: The Anti-Ager
Although vitamin A (A.K.A. retinol in OTC products, and retinoid when in an Rx form) is a hero for its ability to boost collagen production and therefore ward off wrinkles, it’s also an effective exfoliator, so it can keep pores clear. “Vitamin A is the single most powerful ingredient in dermatology,” says Dr. Bhanusali. Vitamin A helps with everything from acne to making pores appear smaller and fades redness and dark spots.