While there is currently no known cure for acne, you can still keep your zits and breakouts under control. It all starts with a daily skin care regimen. The good news is that it doesn’t take much time, effort, or expensive products to take care of your skin. Read on to learn more about a skin care routine for acne.
Acne and Skin Care
It is important to understand that acne is not a disease rooted in bad hygiene.1 Comedones, the clogged, inflamed bumps that are more commonly referred to as pimples, often result as a combination of:
- Overactive sebaceous glands which causes clogged pores
- Hormonal imbalances characterized by high androgen levels
- The proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria associated with acne2
A skin care routine will not take care of all problems. For example, washing your skin likely won’t affect fluctuating hormones; however, practicing a regular skin care routine can help to regulate your skin’s oil production, reduce P. acnes levels on your skin, and help unclog pores.
The Skincare Routine for Oily Skin
The basic routine involves just three steps: cleansing, treating, and moisturizing. The main thing to keep in mind throughout each step is gentleness. At no point should you be rough with your skin, whether that’s scrubbing your face with abrasives or exposing your skin to harsh chemicals. Doing so may result in micro-tears, dryness, and irritation, all of which can contribute to more acne.
Perform this simple skin care routine twice per day, morning and night.
How to Chose a Cleanser
Look for a Gentle Cleanser: Start with a gentle cleanser. The cleanser starts the process of removing excess oil, dead skin, and residue that has built up on your skin over the day. Cleansing also prepares your skin for the treating process, providing a clean, blank canvas for your treatment of choice.
Avoid Harsh Ingredients and Look for Active Ingredients: Look for formulations that are unscented and free of sulfates, a family of detergents that may cause irritation. Avoid anything containing alcohol, which has a naturally drying effect. Some cleansers are medicated, containing benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, or salicylic acid. While these are known to be effective treatments for acne, the nature of cleansers often means that you’re washing off the medication before it can truly take effect.3 Therefore, leave the cleanser on for at least 20-30 seconds.
Look for a Cleanser is Formulated for Your Skin Type: Use a cleanser specifically formulated for your face. One of the biggest mistakes is using a body wash as a face wash. The skin on your face, neck, and chest are thinner and more sensitive than skin on other parts of your body. A body wash would be overly drying and irritating on your face.
Wet your face with lukewarm water, and gently apply the cleanser to your skin in small, circular motions. You generally should not massage the cleanser into your skin for more than 20 to 30 seconds. Going for too long may strip your skin of oils and quickly result in irritation.4 Rinse your face with lukewarm water, and air or pat dry with a clean towel. Do not rub your face with the towel.
If you wear makeup or sunscreen, consider the double-cleanse method. This involves cleansing with an oil-based cleanser before proceeding with your usual gentle cleanser. While they may seem counterintuitive, particularly if you already have oily skin, oil cleansers can effectively remove makeup, sunscreen, and other oil-based products from your skin. The idea is that oil attracts oil, so an oil-based cleanser can absorb cosmetics for easy, effective removal, while nourishing the skin and soothing inflamed lesions.5
With your face clean and dry, it’s time to apply your treatment of choice. You can find a wide range of different over-the-counter acne treatment products on the market. The most common active ingredients you will find are:
- Benzoyl peroxide – Benzoyl peroxide works by directly targeting the acnes bacteria while encouraging the shedding of dead skin cells. It has been well-established as an effective and generally safe treatment for acne.6 However, benzoyl peroxide can be extremely harsh on the skin, resulting in dryness and irritation. It is also known to have a bleaching effect on skin, hair, and fabrics that it comes in contact with.7 If you do use benzoyl peroxide, stick with a low concentration of 2.5%, which has been shown to be just as effective as 5% and 10% concentrations while limiting potential negative side effects.8
- Salicylic acid – Salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, while operating as desmolytic agent to reduce clogged pores. It is generally safe, well-tolerated, and known to be an effective treatment for acne.9
- Sulfur – Sulfur has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and keratolytic properties, making it effective against acne. While it can be used on its own, it is more often combined with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.10
- Retinoids – Retinoids are essentially a class of vitamin A derivatives. Vitamin A plays an important role in promoting collagen production and the growth of new, healthy skin cells. Retinoids are increasingly becoming a mainstay therapy for acne by stimulating skin cell turnover, resolving precursors to microcomedones, and acting as an efficient anti-inflammatory.11 Retinoids may also help to reduce wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of aging while plumping up the skin.12 The most common topical retinoids are retinol, tretinoin, adapalene, and isotretinoin. Similar to benzoyl peroxide, start with lower concentrations to limit any side effects.
Skin purging is one of the most common side effects when using retinoids or other medications that speed up skin cell turnover.
The increased turnover leads to the faster shedding of dead skin cells, precursors to pimples, excess sebum, flakes, and other debris that clogs pores. This purging process eventually exposes the fresh, clear skin underneath.13
To reduce any potential side effects, start with a low concentration medication and apply it only twice per week. As your face adapts to the medication, gradually increase your usage to every other day and then daily. Certain medications, like retinoids, are only recommended for application once at night, while others may be used in the morning and at night.
Choose only one medication at a time. Using multiple treatments at once can overload your skin and increase the irritation and dryness.
You also need to practice some patience. No treatment works overnight and you should be wary of any product that promises fast results. These treatments can take up to three months before you see any improvements.
It may seem counterintuitive to add oil back to your face, but moisturizing is essential to clear and healthy skin. Moisturizers help to nourish your skin while locking in the water that’s already in your skin. This is especially helpful for combatting any drying effects from your topical medication of choice. Moisturizers can also keep your oil production in check. The skin often reacts to dryness by creating more sebum. This overcompensation can clog pores and further contribute to acne formation.14 Many moisturizers also contain ingredients that may soothe inflammation. Oat extract and oil are some of them.
Look for gentle moisturizers specifically formulated for your face. Avoid fragrances, which are usually made with irritating chemicals. Check labels for the word “non-comedogenic,” which simply means that it will not clog your pores.
Non-comedogenic oils include: Oat Kernel Oil, Argan Oil, Rosehip Oil, Hemp Seed Oil, Safflower Oil Squalane Oil, Sunflower Seed Oil, Grapeseed Oil
Along with a moisturizer, use an effective sunscreen during your morning routine. Almost all acne treatments make your face more sensitive to UV radiation. This increased sensitivity makes you more susceptible to sunburn which increases your risk of skin cancer later in life. Look for a sunscreen that offers full-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. The best ingredients to look for are zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, and octisalate.
As your face gets acquainted to this skin care regimen, you can gradually change or add products. The challenging part of a skin care routine is getting to know your skin and figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and what triggers breakouts for you.
Maintaining a solid skin care routine is the foundation to regulating your acne, but it may not be enough to eliminate your zits altogether. Acne treatments and skin care products from DrFormulas can help. Take a look at our line of acne treatments here.
DrFormulas Premium Acne Cleanser