Lately, it's felt like I've been playing a losing game of Whac-a-Mole with my acne. By the time I finally manage to zap one pimple, three more crop up. As someone who has mild—yet consistent—hormonal breakouts, I've tried all kinds of solutions (and as a commerce editor, I've literally tested hundreds over the years). And while I've found targeted acne gel, pore-purifying masks, and chemical exfoliators that technically work, it still feels like I'm always on the defense.
The playing field changed when I got my hands on a tube of Replenix Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Wash ($27), a daily cleanser with a medical-grade, dermatologist-developed formula that gently and effectively clears skin. It's the first cleanser I've tried that's wiped out zits without leaving my face dry or red with irritation.
The formula's efficacy can mainly be credited to its high concentration of benzoyl peroxide. "Benzoyl peroxide has bactericidal activity (kills bacteria!), especially against the bacteria that can cause acne, C. Acnes. It also decreases oil production and removes dead skin cells from the surface of the skin," explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. She notes that the ingredient is unique because bacteria aren't able to build up a resistance to it, which means you can use it forever and it will likely continue to work.
Though the benzoyl peroxide in the product is intense (a 5 percent concentration is no joke), it's still considered safe for sensitive skin. "Given that it's a wash and has short contact with skin, it's probably tolerable for most people," says Dr. Nazarian. The formulation also contains aloe, a natural calming ingredient that most skin types slurp right up.
I've been using Replenix Acne Wash for two months now (both morning and night), and I've seen a dramatic difference in my complexion. Don't get me wrong—I still break out. But instead of experiencing an entire colony of zits (I'm talking six, eight, or twelve consecutive breakouts on my chin and jawline that are generally painful and unwilling to leave), I'll maybe get one or two blemishes a couple of days before my period starts.
While the product is labeled as "unscented," it does have a distinct soap-y smell, but that disappears as soon as you rinse it with water. Unlike other harsh cleansers that really lather up and totally strip your skin of its natural oils, this one makes your complexion feel clean without that "squeaky" clean feeling that sometimes stings.
I've also been using Replenix Oil-Free Balancing Moisturizer ($32) twice a day as a companion to the acne wash. It also contains medical-grade ingredients that Dr. Nazarian approves of, including a soothing dose of aloe, squalane (for hydration), and green tea extract (to combat inflammation and irritation). It's a smart pairing with the acne cleanser, since it offsets some of its more potent ingredients. "Having these ingredients in your moisturizer makes your acne regimen more tolerable," Dr. Nazarian explains. "Oftentimes acne-fighting ingredients can be a bit drying, and offsetting that by having a good oil-free moisturizer can be quite useful and improve compliance."
It contains no fragrance whatsoever, and plays nicely with makeup (aka, it doesn't start to pill the second you apply foundation). I like that it absorbs pretty quickly, but still makes my skin feel softer and plumper. (I'd still recommend using your go-to serum in between cleanser and moisturizer for some extra hydration.)
One thing, though? If you decide to use this acne cleanser (or any acne cleanser, for that matter), make sure to wear sunscreen. "Anyone that is using acne ingredients should be using an SPF 30 or higher daily," says Dr. Nazarian. You should be wearing sunscreen on the daily anyway, but SPF helps prevent scarring and discoloration that can occur as your blemishes heal.
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