I've Tried $673 Worth of Acne Products, and Here's What Finally Worked
I've struggled with hormonal acne for years and, like a lot of other people, thought I had it under control until I had to shelter in place. Just as the memes suggest, nature is restoring itself and our collective acne concerns have returned in full force. So, how do we deal with it? With my breakouts difficult to predict these days, I knew it would be important to find products I could trust, that focused heavily on controlling oil production, reducing scars, as well as retaining moisture, so that, hopefully, by the time most of the country is adjusting to another new normal, my complexion and skin barrier wouldn't be totally compromised.
For the past few weeks, I set out to find products that actually work, crowdsourcing suggestions from friends and colleagues until I found the best of the best. While these products have been working for me, not all might benefit your skin in the same way. Do your research, pay attention to ingredients, and find some comfort in knowing that what's likely stress-induced acne is not easy to manage, and you're not alone. Hopefully, this routine — that includes both affordable gems and splurge-worthy formulas — subsides some of your biggest skin concerns right now.
Differin Daily Deep Cleanser
You're probably familiar with the best-selling Differin Gel, but its sister cleanser, the Differin Daily Deep Cleanser ($10) is not to be slept on. It contains five percent benzoyl peroxide that creates crystal-clear results without the irritation famously associated with the acne ingredient. The texture of the cleanser is also a pro: it's a bit grainy, but not stripping or harsh.
Renée Rouleau Rapid Response Detox Kit
Although I've been particularly attached to the Detox Cleanser and Detox Toner in this set, I argue that it's worth owning the entire four-piece Rapid Response Detox Kit ($132). Both the Triple Berry Smoothing Peel and Rapid Response Detox Masque are medicine cabinet staples for their acne-taming powers, but as of late, I simply can't go a morning without using the Toner and Cleanser duo. While the former uses salicylic acid and lactic acid to balance and smooth, the latter contains tea tree oil and kaolin to calm inflammation and unclog pores.
Caudalie Vinopure Natural Salicylic Acid Pore Minimizing Toner
In my opinion, toners are so underrated, and the Caudalie Vinopure Natural Salicylic Acid Pore Minimizing Toner ($28) is one I always recommend to friends and for good reason. Like the name implies, its hero ingredient is salicylic acid, fussy acne's worst nightmare. I tend to use this formula at night, so the BHAs can get to work while I sleep.
Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner
I tend to go overboard with acne products, leaving my skin stripped and dehydrated. This time around, I knew my routine had to be as equally packed with hydrating formulas as it was with acids and topical antiseptic, so I've relied heavily on the Fresh Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Toner ($45). The rose-based toner doesn't just retain moisture but soothes any and all irritation.
The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution
I've heard a lot about The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution ($7) — I mean, really, who hasn't? It wasn't until I hit acne rock bottom that I knew it was time to incorporate it into my routine. The exfoliating solution uses a generous cocktail of AHAs and BHAs to improve your skin texture and fight acne. The result: a reduced appearance in pores and baby-soft skin.
Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Facial Treatment
Another product that deserves all the hype: the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay Facial Treatment ($8). I use it about once a week, mix in a bowl with apple cider vinegar, and let the mixture sit on my skin for about 10 to 15 minutes. When it dries, your face will feel tight and uncomfortable, but your pores will be vacuumed clean, and the brief sense of discomfort is so worth it.
Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack
I hadn't used the Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack ($22) in years, but when my acne proved to be sticking around, I knew I had to return to this old faithful formula. I mostly recommend this to anyone with oily skin because of the kaolin clay that sucks out impurities and controls oil, but it's so low-key and gentle that it'll work for anyone.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%
Niacinamide is one of those ingredients that you always hear about, but you should own more products that contain it. The thing is, if you have acne-prone skin, it's key. It flushes out pores to prevent future breakouts and in the case of The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% ($6) uses niacinamide in tandem with zinc PCA to control sebum production.
Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution
The first time I used the Renée Rouleau Anti Bump Solution ($50) I applied it to a cyst I could feel burrowed in chin, maybe a few days out from surfacing. By the morning, the pimple was nonexistent and never heard from again. Its secret: a purified form of lactic acid. If you haven't realized yet, acids are essential.
Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum
I can never decide which is more frustrating: an actual pimple or the mark it leaves behind. The emotional duress of dealing with an acne scar from a breakout that happened weeks ago is a mind-boggling experience, but the Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum ($72) makes it easier to handle. A combination of glycolic acid and vitamin C fades spots while offering additional antioxidant benefits, so your skin can repair itself faster the next time you get a pimple.
The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
The only facial oil my acne will tolerate these days is The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil ($10). Rose hip is rich with vitamin A and linoleic acid, which both control sebum production and prevent both black- and whiteheads. It's also been said to reduce the appearance of scars and is deeply hydrating, especially when worn on top of your go-to nighttime moisturizer.
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
It's rare to find a skin-care product that shows results almost instantaneously, but the SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic ($166) is one of them. It protects the skin, brightens hyperpigmentation, and maybe even most impressively, works for up to 72 hours after being absorbed. I only added it to my product rotation after trying Madelyn Cline's skin-care routine, and now I'll be savoring every last drop until this bottle is bone-dry.
It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout™ Full-Coverage Concealer
A great way for me to avoid touching my face: makeup. I only wear a full face when I'm determined to master a look I saw on Instagram, but on most days I wear the It Cosmetics Bye Bye Breakout™ Full-Coverage Concealer ($32) on my chin and forehead — my most active acne zones. Bonus: this full-coverage concealer acts as an acne treatment, too, infused with tea tree oil, colloidal oatmeal, and sulfur to control oil, treat acne, and moisturize.
Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Serum
On the days I absolutely don't want to wear any makeup but would like to reduce the redness of some fresh pimples, the Dr. Jart+ Cicapair™ Tiger Grass Serum ($46) is my go-to. I owe one of my best friends credit for this one. Back in April, she sent me a series of Snapchats of herself wearing this serum, and I could've sworn she was wearing a full-coverage foundation her skin was that smooth. With that, I was convinced.
Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch
Three years ago, the last time I dealt with chronic breakouts, pimple patches were my go-to. The Cosrx Acne Pimple Master Patch ($6) protects my active breakouts from my hands and external stressors. Like I said, I've adopted a terrible habit of touching my face while working from home and covering hot spots with these patches helps prevent worsened breakouts. The ultrathin hydrocolloid patch also acts like a scab on any just-popped wounds, so it can heal faster without irritation.
Hero Cosmetics Micropoint for Dark Spots
Another acne patch I swear by lately is the Hero Cosmetics Micropoint for Dark Spots ($13). Unlike a lot of other acne patches, these specifically target scars, using tranexamic acid, niacinamide, and vitamin C to reduce the appearance of dark spots. Each sticker contains 170 microneedles so the aforementioned ingredients can penetrate deep into the skin for fast results.
La Roche Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil Free Sunscreen SPF 60
Yes, your acne — active breakouts and recovering scars — need protection. After using so many peels, masks, and acids, skin is deeply sensitive to sun damage. Reduce the risk of prolonging the scarring and burning by using a sunscreen, like the La Roche Posay Anthelios Clear Skin Oil Free Sunscreen SPF 60 ($20). This formula won't break you out, dries fast without a white residue, and makes your skin glow.