This post contains affiliate links and I may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you) if you click on the links and make purchases. See my Affiliate Disclosure here. Also, please note that the information presented below in this article is for informational purposes only and can’t be a substitute for any kind of professional advice. In case of severe acne or a sudden breakout which seems to be acne, consult a dermatologist instead of looking for solutions on the Internet as it may be not acne.
Best Acne Treatment Products is part of a series on adult acne treatment. Acne treatment requires a comprehensive approach which is why please see the companion pieces: Hormonal Acne Diet vs “Healthy” Recipes on Pinterest and 24 Common Mistakes in Acne Treatment.
Acne treatment: the basics
First of all, I’d like to note that I prefer medical skincare brands to other brands no matter who advertises them. Acne is a medical condition, so leave trending skin care products advertised by influencers on Instagram for people with perfect skin. Medical conditions require medical treatment.
Second of all, you should know the logic behind every skin care product you use. Here is a list of rules people with acne follow.
Acne treatment rules:
- Use micellar water for removing the makeup once a day and that’s it.
- Although it may be stated otherwise on the product, micellar water contains cleansing ingredients which should be rinsed off.
- Don’t wash your face with cleansers more than twice a day on a regular basis. It’s best to wash your face with cleansers once a day in the evening and wash your face just with warm water in the morning to make your sebaceous glands produce less sebum.
- Don’t use mechanical methods of exfoliation like scrubs and cleansing brushes on acne-prone skin.
- Don’t use soap for washing your face. pH of your cleanser should be around 5.5 or slightly less than that.
- Don’t use hydrophilic oils as most of them are comedogenic for oily and acne-prone skin.
- Don’t use skin care products or soaps with natural oils and butters.
- Don’t use skin care products containing alcohol.
- Never skip a moisturizer after washing your face.
- Don’t use comedogenic moisturizers (steer clear of moisturizers with oils and butters in ingredients unless you’re undergoing acne treatment with retinoids, acids, or benzoyl peroxide and your skin is dry/red/irritated/itchy due to it).
- Use topical retinoids or benzoyl peroxide only in the evening.
- Don’t apply products with acids after applying benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids.
- Apply topical retinoids on dry skin and leave the product for 20-30 minutes before applying anything above it (like a moisturizer).
- Pay close attention to storage requirements of skin care products, especially retinoids.
- Don’t use the same brushes or cosmetics that you used before your acne treatment as they are full of harmful bacteria.
- Apply skin care products and cosmetics with clean hands.
- Don’t touch your face throughout the day.
- Change pillows every day or every other day depending on severity of your acne; iron your pillows or wash on a high temperature to kill bacteria.
- Clean your phone at least once a day.
- Don’t use fabric towels for face.
- If you have acne on your body, wash these areas just with warm water (without soap or a washing gel) in the morning and with a cleanser for face from “the morning routine” on my list in the evening.
- If you have acne on your body, wash your towels on the highest temperature possible and change the towel after every use.
- Don’t be afraid of skin purging. Most effective acne treatment products cause skin purging (they speed up your skin cell turnover rate meaning that everything bad that was in deep layers of your skin will start showing on the surface and then leaving your skin). Skin purging in the first weeks (up to the 6th week of using the new product) is a good sign. If skin purging continues after week 6, see a dermatologist.
- Don’t be impatient. It takes not less than a month to see any improvement in your skin condition. It usually takes 2 months for the improvement to become persistent. And it can take more than a year before you enter a remission phase (because acne is a chronic condition that if triggered by poor skin care routine, unhealthy diet, hormonal imbalance, or a weakened immune system, etc. may return).
Best acne treatment products
Morning skin care routine
Step 1: Cleanser
Morning and evening cleansings are a little different. In the morning you should use softer skin care products (meaning you should leave your cleanser with benzoyl peroxide for the evening as it may cause irritation you typically don’t want in the morning and make your skin more sensitive to the sun).
However, the best you can do for your oily and acne-prone skin with its disrupted barrier is to skip washing your face with cleansers in the morning! The more you clean your skin, the more aggressive or the more alkaline your cleanser is – the more you damage your skin barrier function, the more sebum your skin starts to produce to restore this barrier – the greasier your skin becomes just a few hours after washing it with a cleanser!
Below are some soft cleansers that can be used sometimes in the morning or every day in the evening or in the evening for your body if you have acne on your body as well. Note that just cleansers will not cure your acne! Cleansers just clean your skin from sebum, dirt, dead skin cells, bacteria, etc. To cure acne you need a comprehensive approach and a cleanser is just the first step.
Best cleansers for oily and acne-prone skin:
Bioderma – Face Cleanser – Sébium – Makeup Removing Cleanser is considered one of the best cleansers for oily and acne-prone skin out there.
Vichy Normaderm Daily Acne Treatment Face Wash with salicylic acid, advised by my dermatologist, is one of my favorite skin care products for treating my moderate acne (which is now mild thanks to this product I’ve been using for 6 weeks only). Together with Vichy Normaderm Phytoaction moisturizer with 2% salicylic acid they provide very satisfying results.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser for Oily Skin is also a good cleanser advised by my dermatologist. However, as for me, it’s more alkaline compared to the Vichy mentioned above.
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser for Oily Skin. Its formula contains ceramides which help restore your skin barrier function and preserve moisture; niacinamide which is super effective in treatment of inflammatory acne and hyaluronic acid which keeps your skin moisturized and young.
Cetaphil Pro Oil Removing Foam Wash
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel contains 2% salicylic acid. This formula makes it more effective for acne treatment than La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel. However, note that products with salicylic acid may irritate your skin if you’re undergoing acne treatment with systemic or topical retinoids or benzoyl peroxide. Choose your skin care products wisely depending on your skin’s sensitivity. Also, don’t forget to apply SPF after using products with salicylic acid.
Cetaphil, Foaming Face Wash Redness Prone Skin
Use Cetaphil Foaming Face Wash Redness-prone Skin for morning and night skin care routine only in case your skin is super dry and/or irritated due to the use of benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. As this is a product for super sensitive skin (like skin with rosacea or skin undergoing acne treatment), discontinue its use if it makes your skin break out. There should be no skin purging when using this product as it’s for dry skin, not for oily skin. It’s supposed to soothe skin.
Bioderma – Sébium – Lotion – Rebalancing Water Oil – PH care – for Combination to Oily Skin
NORMACNE Cleansing and Regulating Skin Toner – a toner with salicylic acid from a Polish dermocosmetics brand Dermedic, I’ve been using for several years. It perfectly restores skin’s pH after its contact with tap water during cleansing and soothes inflammations.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clarifying Solution Acne Toner with salicylic and glycolic acids gently exfoliate your skin every day helping it faster shed dead skin cells. Glycolic acid also stimulates the production of collagen.
Step 3: Acne spot treatment (optional)
Normaderm S.O.S Acne Rescue Spot Corrector, Acne Spot Treatment for Face Suitable for Sensitive Skin with 10% sulfur which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide which fights inflammation, and glycolic acid which exfoliates dead skin cells.
Step 4: Moisturizer
Vichy Normaderm PhytoAction Acne Control Daily Moisturizer, Acne Treatment for Face with 2% Salicylic Acid, Vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid, Oil-Free Moisturizer is my number 1 favorite product for acne treatment. It moisturizes my skin, makes it less inflamed, makes skin’s pH slightly acidic, restores skin barrier function, helps get rid of comedones. Skin purging occurred during the weeks 4-6. The product requires at least 8 weeks to provide visible results.
Bioderma – Sébium – Global. Its formula contains salicylic, lactic, and citric acids which fight inflammation and exfoliate the skin.
Bioderma – Sébium – Mat Control Cream – Mattifying and Moisturizing Daily Cream – for Combination to Oily Skin makes pores less visible.
Effaclar Mat Oil-Free Mattifying Moisturizer
Moisturizers for acne-prone but dehydrated, sensitive and/or irritated skin due to acne treatment with retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, etc. These moisturizers are heavier than the ones above but they provide a more soothing effect.
Eucerin Dermo Purifyer Oil Control Adjunctive Soothing Cream
GIGI Recovery Daily SPF-30
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, Oil-Free Face Cream with Niacinamide SPF 30
Step 5: SPF (optional) or moisturizer with SPF instead of a regular moisturizer
Apply SPF or a moisturizer with SPF. Acids, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoids used as active ingredients in skin care products for oily and acne-prone skin make the skin super sensitive to the sunlight and prone to hyperpigmentation. UVA sun rays can pass through glass, so apply SPF even if you’re going to spend the whole day in a car or near a window.
Luckily, we can choose what suits our lifestyle and needs best. SPF, a moisturizer with SPF, a tinted SPF, etc.
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Dry Touch Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 60, Oil Free Face Sunscreen, Non-Greasy, Oxybenzone Free
Cetaphil Pro Oil Absorbing Moisturizer with SPF 30 Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
CeraVe Tinted Sunscreen with SPF 30 – Hydrating Mineral Sunscreen With Zinc Oxide & Titanium Dioxide, Sheer Tint for Healthy Glow
TIZO 3 Mineral Sunscreen for Face SPF 40
Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions BB Cream SPF 40
Evening skin care routine
Step 1: Micellar water (optional)
Use micellar water for oily and acne-prone skin before washing your face with a cleanser if you need to remove makeup. Micellar water should be rinsed off whether you use a cleanser after it or not otherwise it may clog your pores and lead to even more breakouts. Micellar water should not be used as a toner because the two have absolutely different purposes. We use micellar water (a cleanser) to remove makeup and we use a toner to restore skin’s pH after cleansing.
Bioderma Sébium H2O – Micellar Water – Cleansing and Make-Up Removing – for Combination to Oily Skin
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Micellar Cleansing Water and Makeup Remover for Oily Skin, Oil-Free
Step 2: Cleanser
Evening is that time of the day when you can use more effective skin care products for acne-prone skin. I’m talking about products with benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide kills the P. acnes (bacteria linked to acne).
Caution: benzoyl peroxide may cause redness, irritation, itchiness, peeling if you have not been using it before. Start with 4% or 5% benzoyl peroxide. Use your cleanser with benzoyl peroxide less often (depending on severity your skin’s reaction to this ingredient) if it causes irritation. Use a night soothing cream afterwards (without SPF).
Remember about the right morning skin care routine for skin undergoing acne treatment (dry and irritated skin). Use Cetaphil Foaming Face Wash for Redness-prone Skin for washing your irritated skin in the morning or wash your irritated face just with water in the morning. Then use a toner and a soothing cream like Eucerin Dermo Purifyer Oil Control Adjunctive Soothing Cream (apply SPF afterwards) or GIGI Recovery Daily SPF-30. Benzoyl peroxide makes skin super sensitive to sun. Using SPF during the day is a must if you’re undergoing acne treatment with benzoyl peroxide.
Differin, Daily Deep Cleanser with 5% benzoyl peroxide.
PanOxyl, Acne Creamy Wash, Benzoyl Peroxide 4% Daily Control
Step 2: Toner
Use the same toner you use in the morning to restore your skin’s pH after cleansing.
Step 3: Gel with retinoids/ or serum/ or acne spot treatment (optional)
The type of treatment you should choose depends on the severity of your acne, sensitivity of your skin and on whether you’re allowed to use retinoids. Retinoids are compounds derived from vitamin A and they are widely used in the beauty industry to treat acne, reduce wrinkles, and stimulate collagen production. We are particularly interested in acne treatment, so how do retinoids treat acne? Retinoids help regulate skin cell turnover making it healthy.
Note that retinoids must not be used by pregnant and breastfeeding women as they may harm the baby; women planning pregnancy should ask their doctor if they can use topical retinoids. Also, retinoids are not recommended for people with eczema. Read this article on Healthline before use.
The general rule is to apply retinoids not less than 30 minutes after the previous skin care product in your routine (note that your skin should not be wet) otherwise there may be no effect; then wait for some time for the product to work (20-30 minutes) before applying the next product.
According to Healthline, retinol and retinoid esters such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate, are the least effective retinoids for acne treatment. Adapalene shows better results for acne-treatment, however, may cause more dryness and irritation. It didn’t cause any irritation on my skin though. If retinoids make your skin too irritated, use them less often (for example, every other day) and don’t apply the product on areas where you never have breakouts.
Be cautious if using products with benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and/or retinoids at the same time as this combination may cause irritation. It depends on the sensitivity of your skin, however, if I were to use Differin (adapalene), I wouldn’t wash my face with cleansers containing benzoyl peroxide. To avoid excessive dryness and irritation, I’d choose a cleanser from “the morning skin care routine”.
Don’t expect to get fast results using serums with retinol instead of the adapalene gel Differin as retinol used in serums is a less effective type of retinoids.
CeraVe Retinol Serum for Post-Acne Marks and Skin Texture – Pore Refining, Resurfacing, Brightening Facial Serum with Retinol
Naturium Vitamin C Super Serum Plus Retinol, Niacinamide, Hyaluronic & Salicylic Acid
If you can’t use retinoids, don’t get upset! Here is something for you.
You can treat inflammatory acne (pustules, papules, cysts, nodules) with niacinamide which reduces inflammation and makes sebaceous glands produce less sebum. Don’t expect quick results though because acne treatment requires a lot of time. The more severe your condition is, the more time is needed.
Naturium Niacinamide Serum 12% Plus Zinc 2%. Zinc helps with skin regeneration, protects skin from UV damage, helps protect skin’s barrier and has antibacterial properties.
Yeouth Niacinamide Serum Plus Hyaluronic Acid, Licorice Root and Aloe Vera. Licorice root has an anti-inflammatory effect, soothes irritated and itchy skin. Aloe vera also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, moisturizes skin, soothes it, speeds up healing, helps with collagen production.
Use the overnight spot patches from PanOxyl or Effaclar Duo with 5.5% benzoyl peroxide for spot acne treatment. Don’t use these products in case you use the Differin gel (adapalene) to avoid irritation as Differin alone is a very effective medication.
PanOxyl, Overnight Spot Patches
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Spot Treatment Cream with 5.5% Benzoyl Peroxide
Step 4: Moisturizer
Use a moisturizer depending on your skin condition and prior skin care routine. If your skin is dry or irritated after using acne treatment products, use moisturizers without acids, like the ones below, from La Roche Posay, Eucerin and GiGi.
Use Vichy Normaderm PhytoAction Acne Control Daily Moisturizer with 2% Salicylic Acid, Vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid, if you don’t use retinoids in your skin care routine and your skin is not itchy and red due to the use of benzoyl peroxide.
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, Oil-Free Face Cream with Niacinamide
Eucerin Dermo Purifyer Oil Control Adjunctive Soothing Cream
GIGI Recovery Rendess Relief Cream
Vichy Normaderm PhytoAction Acne Control Daily Moisturizer, Acne Treatment for Face with 2% Salicylic Acid, Vitamin C & Hyaluronic Acid, Oil-Free Moisturizer
A few words on exfoliation
Forget about mechanical exfoliation forever. You don’t want to further damage your skin barrier. Acne is a chronic condition and after a long-term remission it may return, so you don’t want to trigger it with disrupting your skin’s barrier. As for chemical exfoliation methods aka acids, they can help your skin shed dead skin cells. Using acids together with adapalene (Differing gel) is redundant as adapalene is a more effective product. Adapalene will teach your skin cells a healthy turnover. Retinol and retinoid esters, used in serums, take more time to show results but they have a similar effect. Adding acids to your skin care routine while using retinoids may make retinoids less effective and your skin more dry and irritated.
In case your don’t use retinoids, it’s better to mildly exfoliate your skin every day than use harsh chemical exfoliants less often which is why I love Vichy Normaderm PhytoAction Acne Control Daily Moisturizer. It’s a moisturizer because it contains hyaluronic acid and an exfoliant because it contains 2% salicylic acid. Besides, it contains vitamin C – an anti-oxidant which helps repair your skin’s barrier function, protects skin from UV (however, it’s not a substitute for SPF), makes skin texture smoother, helps treat acne scars. Apply SPF of a BB cream with SPF after if using it during the day. It takes about 8 weeks to start seeing results for mild and moderate acne.
You also don’t need too many products with acids in your daily skin care routine. You don’t need excessive chemical exfoliation. Your need a balanced skin care routine.
In case your acne is severe and appears not only on your face, see a dermatologist. You might need a completely different treatment plan or you might need to take systemic retinoids available on prescription.
This is it for best acne treatment products, in my opinion, so far. Follow Mindfulness Inspo on Pinterest to stay tuned!