Everyone has her own go-to way of dealing with breakouts. For some, it means popping that pimple (which, despite being frowned upon, is still very common). Others furiously slather on face masks, and some people prefer to let their skin breathe, nixing makeup while the zit completes its lifespan.
Of course, if you don’t already have an MVP pimple fix in your beauty arsenal, there’s an endless slew of products out there for you to choose from. So how to cut through the overwhelm to find the acne-killing golden ticket that’s going to work for you, and find it fast? Easy—leave it to the pros.
Facialists and derms know skin, and they’ve seen enough faces to understand what’s truly effective. Here, I bestow upon you the ultimate desert-island acne products, according to the experts.
Keep scrolling for 8 transformative acne treatments—better make some room in your beauty bag.
“I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times but there’s a reason for it: Biologique Recherche’s P50 is nothing short of a miracle for acneic skin,” says Angelina Umansky, esthetician at San Francisco’s Spa Radiance. “Yes, it smells terrible, but it’s so worth it. Not only does P50 balance the pH in your skin, but most importantly, it’s the only product I’ve ever encountered that can dissolve the glue-like, pore-clogging debris that causes acne.” Her tip? Start using it slowly. “Acneic skin is inflamed skin, and inflamed skin does not appreciate change,” she says. “Start by dampening a small cotton pad with distilled or filtered water, then apply the P50 to the cotton pad and sweep it over the face and neck.”
“The go-to acne product for most dermatologists is Retin-A,” says New York City skin pro Rosemarie Ingleton, MD. “It’s tried and true. The key ingredient is tretinoin, and it targets multiple pathways in the disease process that leads to acne breakouts.” Note that Retin-A is a prescription product, however, and it’s probably not going to clear up your breakout overnight. “It requires steady, nightly use for six to eight weeks to see results,” Dr. Ingleton says. But as many Retin-A devotees will tell you, the end reward is worth a little bit of patience.
No anti-acne regimen is complete without a good face mask, right? “My Exfoliating Mask contains lactic acid and volcanic ash to draw out impurities, dirt, and oil from your pores, as well as galactoarabinan, which is derived from the larch tree and causes mega cell turnover and skin lightening,” says bicoastal facialist Joanna Vargas, who has her own eponymous skin-care line. (Translation: It’ll help fade those post-pimple dark spots.) “It’s also an anti-inflammatory, so it’s great for even the most sensitive skin.”
“My first choice would be Differin Gel Acne Treatment, which is sold at Target and a bunch of other pharmacies,” says Shirley Chi, MD, a California-based dermatologist. “It’s a very effective retinoid that, until recently, was only available by prescription. Not only does it treat acne by clearing pores and decreasing oil production, but it also treats wrinkles and aging skin by allowing for faster exfoliation of the dead skin cells.” Yes, it’ll give you similar results to Retin-A—without the need for an Rx.
In case you haven’t heard, oil isn’t the enemy for acne-prone skin—in fact, it can be super healing. That’s why NYC Ayurvedic expert Pratima Raichur recommends an oil from her eponymous skin-care line for zit emergencies. “The Purifying Essential Oil features the ultimate skin healer, neem—its anti-bacterial and antiseptic properties work with camphor and basil to prevent and heal existing blemishes and balance problem skin conditions,” says Raichur. “Organic brahmi and essential oils of sandalwood and rose help soothe irritation and clarify skin, and the oil naturally decongests and pacifies inflammation while controlling sebum production.”
“For breakouts, my favorite product is Protective Nourishment’s Pumpkin Enzyme Mask, which I use as a spot treatment,” says Dallas-based facialist Joanna Czech. (Gotta love a mask that pulls double duty.) “Enzymatic products react selectively within the affected area and dissolve just the spot while keeping it hydrated.” She notes that she prefers this over products that use benzoyl peroxide, which she says “can dehydrate not only the affected area, but the area around it, causing discoloration.”
Not all skin pros are anti-benzoyl peroxide. “For an over-the-counter option, I typically recommend 2.5 percent BP Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne treatment,” says San Diego-based dermatologist Melanie Palm, MD. “The percentage of benzoyl peroxide is the same as prescription-strength gel formulations. It fights inflammatory cysts, but also has some action against whiteheads and blackheads.” To keep it from over-drying your skin, she recommends using it just once or twice daily.
“An effective product that someone with acne can add to their basic routine is the Marie Veronique Treatment Serum,” says CAP Beauty facialist Cara Peloso. “Micronutrients like B5 help balance oil production, niacinamide (B3) has anti-inflammatory properties and helps with pore size, and the green tea extract helps with microbial overgrowth.” She recommends using it twice daily, after you cleanse and before you moisturize.
For a different perspective, read all about the acne acceptance movement. Well+Good’s beauty editor is on board—she’s done stressing over her breakouts, for the sake of her mental health.
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