Creating a routine to deal with acne can be tough. Creating a routine to manage acne and some other skin condition? That can feel impossible. While medication is an important part of fighting chronic acne, the day to day routine of looking after your skin is essential.
Fortunately, our acne skincare guide can help you take the guesswork out of developing an effective routine. Regardless of your skin type, you’ll learn the best way to cleanse, tone, treat and moisturize your acne-prone skin.
Sensitive Acne-Prone Skin
Simplicity is the key for sensitive skin: The fewer products you apply, the better. Preventing and soothing skin irritation can actually lead to fewer breakouts, so any products you do apply to your skin should accomplish these goals.
Your sensitive skin needs time to rest and repair, so resist the urge to include medicated products in every step of your routine.
Always avoid cleansers that contain irritants such as fragrance, dyes and abrasive particles; these ingredients can irritate your skin and active acne lesions. You may want to consider cleansing only once a day in order to minimize irritation. Remember, sensitive skin is best when it’s left alone, so aim to simplify your routine.
If you have both acne and sensitive skin, toning is one step that you may want to skip. On days where you do need to use a toner, avoid using an acidic or alcohol-based product. Instead, look for products that contain anti-irritants. These ingredients will soothe your skin and promote the repair of both active and healing acne lesions.
In general, you should avoid retinoids, and stronger acids as these treatments may irritate delicate skin. If you do choose to use stronger acne medications, always perform spot treatments instead of treating your entire face.
If your acne is associated with rosacea, consider azelaic acid; it’s both an exfoliant and an anti-inflammatory ingredient.
Look for creams packed with soothing ingredients — anti-irritants such as allantoin and bisabolol can be beneficial for irritated, acneic skin. They also mitigate some of the irritation created by aggressive acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.
Beware of moisturizers with ingredients you’re unfamiliar with: The simpler the ingredient list, the easier to be sure there are no irritants that could aggravate your skin.
Dry Acne-Prone Skin
For sufferers of dry skin, resisting the urge to treat acne with harsh chemicals is a major challenge. Applying too many harsh treatments can actually damage your skin’s acid mantle, making your skin more susceptible to acne lesions.
Excess oil production isn’t always the cause of acne for those with dry skin. Not only can cleansing with harsh soaps leave you with dry skin, but it can also actually make your acne worse by damaging your skin’s acid mantle.
Try to avoid ingredients that strip the skin of moisture:
- Foaming agents
- Medicated cleansers
- Detergents such as sodium lauryl sulfate
If you have both dry skin and acne, you may want to consider cleansing only once a day to prevent loss of moisture from the skin. Cleansing at night — and splashing your face with water in the morning — may be enough for your skin.
Always avoid toners that contain alcohol. Astringents, like witch hazel, should also be avoided as they will further dry out your skin. Look for toners with antioxidants as they will help protect and rebuild your damaged skin matrix.
If you have dry skin, you may even want to consider using a hydrating mist in place of a toner.
People with both acne and dry skin often suffer from impaired skin barrier function. To repair this damage, choose products that moisturize as well as support barrier function. Preventing further moisture loss is also imperative, so look for ingredients — called occlusives — that lock water in the skin.
When choosing a moisturizer, also look for ingredients that support healthy skin:
- Hyaluronic acid
Although you may be reluctant to use any oil on your face, some acne sufferers have good results with jojoba and squalane oil as they have a similar composition to sebum. When experimenting with using oil on acne-prone skin, use it sparingly or do a spot test to see how your skin reacts.
Unfortunately, many of the most effective acne treatments are also extremely drying. If your acne is caused by impaired barrier function, treating your face with harsh treatments may actually end up aggravating the problem.
Alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is an ideal treatment for dry acne-prone skin as it exfoliates and acts as a humectant, drawing moisture to the skin. Due to its larger molecular size, lactic acid is one of the gentler AHAs, making it a popular option for dry, irritated skin.
If you’d like to use more potent treatments, consider alternating the stronger acne treatments with gentler ones to prevent over-drying. For example, honey has antibacterial and moisturizing properties and can be used as a mask, making it perfect for days where your skin needs a rest.
Oily Acne-Prone Skin
Oilier skin is typically more resilient than dry or sensitive skin. Although this may allow you to use more aggressive treatments, keep in mind that it’s still possible to aggravate oily skin with excessive washing, scrubbing or product use.
Unlike dry and sensitive skin, oily acne-prone skin can typically be washed twice a day. But remember, stripping the face of all its oil may trigger the production of even more oil. Your face should feel clean — not tight and dry.
Using a toner is another opportunity to treat your skin with acne-fighting ingredients while removing residue and impurities from the skin. However, even those with oily skin should avoid overly drying or irritating toners. Toners that produce that addictive “tingly” feeling typically contain irritants, such as menthol or mint, which aggravate active and healing acne lesions.
Salicylic acid is one of the best treatments for oily acne-prone skin. Not only does it treat acne, its sebum-controlling effects can actually help your skin regulate the amount of oil it produces.
In addition to stronger topicals such as benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, you may want to consider products containing these oil-regulating ingredients:
- Green tea
- Gamma-linoleic acid
As long as you aren’t cleansing excessively, your oily acne-prone skin shouldn’t need a moisturizer: The excess oil on your skin already provides enough natural moisture and protection for your skin.
If you feel you absolutely must moisturize, look for light, oil-free gels or serums. And if you can get a moisturizer with matifying or oil-regulating ingredients, all the better.