Acne is the inflammatory skin condition that too many of us are unfortunately familiar with. It occurs when the skin’s follicles get blocked, causing sebum to build up under the surface, resulting in unsightly blockages in the form of blackheads, whiteheads, cysts, nodules, pustules and pimples.
More serious cases of chronic acne are best treated by a professional. If you have persistent, severe acne, your dermatologist will be able to prescribe stronger treatments. However, mild acne can often be treated effectively with over-the-counter products and remedies that will be less harsh on the skin.
Walk into your neighborhood drugstore or nearest Sephora and you’re likely to be overwhelmed by a vast selection of products that all claim to be fight acne. How do you know which products will suit your needs best? Which ingredients should you be looking out for?
To take away some of the guesswork, here is a breakdown of ingredients most commonly used in acne products and what they actually do:
Benzoyl Peroxide: One of the two most common active ingredients in over-the-counter acne products, this antibacterial kills the acne-causing p. Acnes bacteria. Treatments like the Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment helps combat breakouts. Benzoyl Peroxide can generally be used on all skin types but if you have especially sensitive skin, it’s best used as a spot treatment. A word of caution: Be careful when applying products with Benzoyl Peroxide, as it can bleach your clothes and towels.
Salicylic Acid: The other most common active in acne products, this Beta-Hydroxy Acid (BHA) sloughs off the dead skin cells that contribute to the clogging of pores. Salicylic acid rich products like the Indie Lee Blemish Lotion are able to penetrate deeper into the skin than AHAs, cutting through oily skin to deep clean the pores. Derived from aspirin, it is also an anti-inflammatory that works a charm on redness.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): AHAs like Glycolic and Lactic Acid work similarly to BHAs. However, they do not penetrate as deeply, instead they work at the skin’s surface, loosening the “glue” that holds skin cells together. AHA-rich products like the Allies of Skin Bright Future Overnight Facial helps reduce clogged pores through chemical exfoliation. Some other benefits include faster cell turnover, which helps lighten past scarring, leaving you with smoother, softer skin.
Clay: This multi-purpose substance typically used in construction and pottery might seem like an odd one to be putting on your face. But certain types of clay are particularly effective as natural acne remedies. While many toxins have positive charges, clays like Rhassoul have a strong negative charge, causing it to bond with any impurities in your skin and allowing them to be washed away with the clay. Regular use of clay-based products like the May Lindstrom The Honey Mud will help clear congestion and re-balance skin over time.
Manuka Honey: A natural antibacterial, Manuka Honey helps to rid the skin of acne-causing bacteria. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect, which helps to calm the irritation caused by acne. Its high concentration of sugars makes it a great emollient that helps calm and soften the skin, which also helps accelerate the healing process. You can DIY your own face mask at home using a teaspoon of raw Manuka Honey, like Haddrell’s of Cambridge® Manuka Honey UMF16+, on a damp face. When choosing Manuka Honey, look out for the UMF value. UMF, or Unique Manuka Factor, is a grading system that assesses the purity and quality of Manuka Honey. Always get UMF 16+, which is the official grading for superior high-grade Manuka Honey that will have the most potent effect.
Azelaic Acid: This multitasker is not as commonly found in over-the-counter ingredients as compared to other more popular acne-busting ingredients. However, products like the Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% by The Ordinary help fight acne by inhibiting the growth of bacteria while also soothing and calming redness. It’s also particularly effective at fading the dark spots acne leaves behind.
Tea-Tree Oil: An essential oil, this is a popular ingredient found in many acne-fighting products, including the Sunday Riley U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil. It is an effective ingredient that helps fight acne thanks to its disinfecting and soothing properties. Bonus: It targets acne without the negative side effects associated with acids and benzoyl peroxide, like skin flaking. It also helps to regulate sebum production and promote more balanced skin that is less prone to breakouts.
Retinoids: Retinoids are hailed for their ability to encourage cell turnover to minimize the signs of premature ageing, including fine lines and sun damage. However, through this exfoliating action, they also contribute to the reduction of acne by preventing dead skin cells from clogging pores. Retinoids like the Zelens Power A Treatment Drops also help lighten post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
So there you have it. Here’s hoping this handy guide will come in useful the next time you’re on the lookout for a new blemish-busting product.