5 Skincare Ingredients for Acne & Acne Prone Skin

25 June 2022

 Acne skincare- the drugstore edit, no prescription needed.


June is Acne Awareness Month- so this doctor’s guide to skincare for acne and acne-prone or oily skin is just in time. If you are struggling with pimples, here are 5 skincare ingredients to select for when purchasing your skincare. These can be obtained over the counter, no prescription needed. I hope that you will find this useful.


For a comprehensive guide to understanding everything about acne- including the various types, causes and treatments- please read Acne: Types, Causes, Treatments & Tips for Prevention. To learn more about how diet can affect acne and the dietary do’s and don’ts for pimples, this post Acne & Diet: Foods to Avoid for Less Pimples will be useful.


Please note that as with any skincare product, it can take a few weeks to see an improvement.  There may be reasons that your skincare is not working; and this post Can Your Skin Become Immune to Skincare Products explains more. Acne vulgaris is also a complex condition that requires medications and clinical treatments in more severe and recalcitrant cases- so do not hesitate to reach out to your doctor to understand your options.


If you find skincare is not working- here’s an easy summary why. More bite sized educational beauty tips on my IG@drrachelho.


So here goes, 5 accessible and affordable skincare ingredients for acne and acne-prone skin:


Types of acids in skincare


1. Acids- AHA and BHAs


Acids in skincare- alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acid (BHA)- exfoliate the skin. In this process, acids remove the top layer of dead skin, trapped dirt and excess oil in the pores.


One of the most commonly used acids for acne and oily skin is BHA or salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is oil-soluble, allowing the salicylic acid to penetrate deeper into the pores to clean out excess sebum.


To learn more about acids and exfoliation and how to choose acid skincare products and to pair your ingredients along with it, A Complete Guide to Acids in Skincare & Chemical Exfoliation will bring you through a deep dive.


The deleterious effects of air pollution on the skin. An excerpt from my article in online beauty magazine, Beaubit.


2. Benzoyl Peroxide


An oldie but goodie, Benzoyl Peroxide is still effective and affordable for acne. It’s a multi-tasking ingredient with anti-bacterial effects against C. acnes; reduces inflammation and comedolytic benefits. Because benzoyl peroxide addresses multiple pathways in the pathogenesis of acne; it is very helpful as an over the counter ingredient for spot treatment against pimples, including inflammatory types of acne.


The downside of using benzoyl peroxide is the small risk of irritation and bleaching of clothes. Benzoyl peroxide is widely available in the pharmacies at concentrations of 2.5%, 5% and 10%- but do not get too carried away by the concentrations. Benzoyl peroxide at concentrations of 5% and 10% are not significantly more effective than 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. Higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are also associated with a higher risk of irritation, so I recommend using benzoyl peroxide at 2.5%.



3. Retinoids


Retinoids might be best known for their anti-ageing, collagen boosting and hyperpigmentation busting benefits; but the retinoids are powerful ingredients for combating acne too.


Retinoids provide powerful keratolytic and anti-inflammatory effects to reduce acne. Evidence for retinoids in treating acne is extensive; and retinoic acid is considered to be the gold standard for acne treatment. Although topical retinoic acid requires a doctor’s prescription; you can still obtain milder retinoids such as retinol and retinaldehyde in skincare over the counter. These are effective in treating mild comedogenic acne.


The Beginner’s Guide to Retinoids will teach you how to get started on retinoids without incurring the dreaded side effects. 5 Affordable & Popular Retinoid Serums Reviewed will share with you some of my drugstore recommendations and duds.



4. Azelaic acid


Azelaic acid is another trending active ingredient, mostly because of its multi-purpose benefits for acne, hyperpigmentation and rosacea. In particular for acne, azelaic acid has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects, making it suitable for users with sensitive skin who are unable to use retinoids.


Most of the data that supports azelaic acid use in treating acne was based on studies on topical with 15-20% azelaic acid. Azelaic acid at 15-20% concentrations is only available with a prescription from a doctor. However, lower concentrations of azelaic acid in over the counter skincare.


You can learn more about azelaic acid in skincare, how to choose it in skincare and my azelaic acid product reviews in Azelaic Acid: A Multi-Tasking Active to Know.



5. Niacinamide


Another buzzy anti-acne hero with multi tasking benefits is niacinamide. Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide primarily reduces inflammation in acne. Small studies also suggest that niacinamide may reduce sebum production in acne too.


Another benefit of niacinamide is that it does not cause purging of the skin. More about how to pick a niacinamide product and my reviews of the ones I’ve tried in Niacinamide: A Versatile Ingredient Your Skin Will Thank You For.



Conclusion on Skincare for Acne and Acne-Prone Skin


In summary, acids; retinoids; azelaic acid, niacinamide and benzoyl peroxide are your skincare saviours to turn to if you have acne or acne-prone skin. Give it a go for at least 4 to 6 weeks to see an improvement. However, bear in mind that acne is almost always a complex condition with multifactorial causes that warrant medications and clinical treatments such as chemical peels, Q-switched lasers and LED light therapy.


If you find that your acne is taking too long to respond to over-the-counter skincare, it may be time to get professional help from your doctor. See your doctor to understand your options. Meanwhile you can learn about the following evidence based treatments for acne in:

The Truth about Chemical Peels

10 Things to Know About Q-switched Laser

LED Light Therapy Explained.




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