Considering the close relationship between hormones and acne, it shouldn't have come as a surprise when my skin decided to freak out when I decided to go off of hormonal birth control after a decade. After I stopped taking the pill, my face erupted with the worst pimples I'd ever seen in places that I'd never broken out.
My typically mild acne said, "hold my beer," and proceeded to turn up the volume—and inflammation — on my forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin (FWIW, these are the places where hormonal pimples most commonly appear). Unlike most breakouts, hormonal acne isn't necessarily related to oily skin, which means that certain pimple-quashing ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can be overly drying or irritating. So to keep mine at bay, I opted for a combination of retinoids and gentle AHAs by way of Differin Gel ($18) and Caudalie Vinoperfect Brightening Glycolic Peel ($39).
This knockout product combo centers on cellular turnover, which is essential for breaking down dead skin cells and encouraging healthy new growth and recovery. This expedited turnover cycle can make it easier for your skin to heal and start anew. In fact, glycolic acid and retinol are two of the top science-backed choices for targeting acne via cellular regeneration. And to add a cherry on top, there's evidence that retinoids also reduce inflammation, which can help mitigate the redness and swelling of a pimple while it's healing.
Retinoids, in general, work by stimulating cellular turnover to replace the dead, pore-clogging cells on the surface of your skin with healthy ones—and derms name Differin as the most potent OTC acne-fighting formula money can buy. It’s made with adapalene, the strongest readily available retinoid out there, and its superpowers for zapping zits can’t be overstated. (Trust me—I’m living proof).
Because retinoids can typically be drying, I wanted to be sure to find an AHA formula that exfoliated my skin without stripping it—which is precisely what this creamy mask does. The formula features a gentle blend of glycolic acid and additional AHAs, which work to melt away dead skin cells from the surface of your complexion to leave it clean and clear.
A few dabs of retinol and a couple of nights spent masking were all my skin need to kickstart the healing process. The combination was gentle enough for my already dry, agitated skin—there was no retinization, sensitization, or further complications from adding these tougher players into the mix. I made sure to continue hydrating (topically and orally), using SPF, and resting well to ensure my body and skin could regenerate and get back on track.
Roughly 36 hours in, swelling and redness had reduced by about half. And within just a few days? Good as new.
For more tips on treating adult acne, check out the video below.
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