Did you know that acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million people each year? It appears during the teenage years and continues into adulthood, with around 85% of individuals aged 12-24 experiencing at least some minor form of acne.
While acne usually develops during adolescence, it can occur at any age and can be triggered by genetic predisposition, hormonal changes, and environmental factors.
Acne is a common skin condition that can cause physical and psychological distress, taking a toll on the emotional health of countless individuals. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor self-image, and a decreased quality of life are often associated with acne.
As a result, when it comes to skincare, those with acne-prone skin must be extra careful when establishing a routine that works for their skin type. Whether you’re dealing with mild or severe breakouts, following a gentle and effective routine is key for a clear complexion.
Here is a step-by-step guide to a gentle acne-clearing routine to help you get the skin you deserve:
Step 1: Cleansing
The first step to a proper skincare routine for acne-prone skin is cleansing. Cleansing your face helps remove excess sebum, dirt, makeup, and other impurities that — if left on the skin — create an environment conducive to the growth of bacteria and clog pores which can lead to acne breakouts.
Use a mild non-comedogenic cleanser with ingredients specially formulated to target acne and minimise breakouts.
Choose a cleanser with salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, as these ingredients can help reduce inflammation, exfoliate dead skin cells to treat existing pimples, and control sebum production to prevent new ones from forming.
And, avoid cleansers with harsh or abrasive ingredients such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), alcohol, fragrances, or dyes, which can strip your skin of its essential natural oils and moisture, causing further dryness and irritation, clogging your pores, and, hence, worsening your acne.
When cleansing, use lukewarm water to open up the pores for a deeper cleanse without over-drying and irritating your skin. Apply a thumbnail-sized amount of cleanser on wet skin with gentle circular motions and rinse thoroughly with plenty of water. Avoid scrubbing or rubbing your face harshly, as this can cause irritation and inflammation.
Double cleansing is recommended if you’re a makeup user. Use an oil-based cleanser first — here’s a list of the best oil cleansers for acne-prone skin — to break down and remove your makeup, followed by a gentle cleanser specially formulated for acne.
Cleanse your skin no more than twice daily — once in the morning and once at night — because over-cleansing disrupts your skin barrier leading to further dryness, irritation and, ultimately, more acne breakouts.
Step 2: Exfoliation
Exfoliation plays an important role in maintaining healthy skin, and, when done correctly, it removes dead skin cells and excess sebum and unclogs congested pores, which contribute to the development of acne breakouts.
Acne-prone skin types should use light exfoliation with caution, as the wrong method and type of exfoliant can irritate and worsen their skin.
Choose a gentle chemical exfoliating product with AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) or BHA (beta hydroxy acid) because they are gentler than physical exfoliants — which can be too harsh and abrasive for acne-prone skin — and can penetrate the pores more deeply, therefore providing better results.
AHAs are good for treating dry skin and breakouts, while BHAs work best for oily and acne-prone skin since they penetrate deep into the pores to remove dirt, excess sebum, and impurities.
If your skin is particularly sensitive, start with a lower percentage; a good rule of thumb is to look for AHA/BHA exfoliants with a concentration between 5%-10%, then gradually increase it as your skin gets used to the product.
It’s best to exfoliate once to twice per week because, just like cleansing, over-exfoliating can damage your skin barrier leading to further dryness, redness, irritation and breakouts.
Step 3: Spot treatments
Spot treatments treat and prevent acne breakouts by removing excess sebum and bacteria within the pore and reducing redness, irritation, and inflammation associated with acne.
Look for spot treatments that contain ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or sulfur to unclog congested pores, reduce sebum production and acne-causing bacteria, and calm redness, inflammation, and swelling.
When using spot treatments, be cautious about applying only a pea-sized amount on the affected area — no more than once or twice a week, depending on severity — as they can be too drying and harsh, aggravating your acne.
Step 4: Moisturising
We’ve all heard the common misconception about how oily and acne-prone skin types don’t need to use a moisturiser, but this could not be further from the truth. Although acne-prone skin is often associated with oiliness, it’s still prone to dehydration, which is why it’s important to incorporate a moisturiser into your skincare routine.
Healthy and balanced skin restores and preserves the skin’s natural protective barrier by replenishing and locking moisture in the skin and creating a protective layer to protect against environmental stressors, preventing new acne breakouts from forming.
But when this balance is disrupted, it leads to a weakened skin barrier that causes dehydration, over-production of sebum — the major cause of acne — and further irritation that causes clogged pores that lead to acne breakouts. As a result, a proper moisturiser tailored to acne-prone skin is essential to keep your skin healthy and balanced.
Choose a non-comedogenic moisturiser that’s preferably gel in texture — to form a barrier on the skin’s surface without clogging pores; these are especially great if you don’t like the feeling of heavy creams on your face — and opt for oil-free and fragrance-free options whenever possible as these are less likely to cause irritation and further breakouts.
Look for ingredients like glycerin, which helps attract water molecules to the skin, hyaluronic acid, which helps to bind moisture to the skin, and ceramides, which help restore the skin’s protective barrier. These ingredients will provide your skin with enough hydration without making it feel greasy or heavy.
Other ingredients like aloe vera, green tea, or chamomile are a great addition to reduce redness, irritation, and inflammation while soothing skin sensitivity associated with acne breakouts.
Moisturise your face twice a day — once in the morning after cleansing and once at night before bed — to keep your skin hydrated, balanced, and healthy.
Apply a dime-sized amount of moisturiser to clean, damp skin. Use gentle tapping motions when applying the moisturiser to help it penetrate deeply into the skin without over-rubbing or stripping away essential oils and moisture.
Step 5: Deep pore cleansing facial (optional but highly recommended)
Deep pore cleansing facial treatments effectively decongest and deep clean your pores and reduce acne breakouts.
Professional facial treatments combine the use of specialised tools, skincare products, and techniques tailored for your skin type to provide a safe and minimally invasive solution to deeply cleanse and clear your skin from existing breakouts that cannot be released by gentle exfoliation without damaging your skin.
The basis of a proper deep pore cleansing facial involves:
- Cleansing your skin with a gentle cleanser to remove excess sebum, dirt, and debris.
- Exfoliation – either physical (i.e. manual exfoliants) or chemical (i.e. with alpha or beta hydroxy acids).
- Steaming – to open and loosen up congested pores for easy extraction.
- Extractions – to remove blackheads, whiteheads, and deep-rooted acne breakouts from the skin.
- High-frequency – to kill bacteria and prevent future breakouts, minimise pores size, and soothe redness, inflammation, and swelling associated with acne.
- Treatment masks – to soothe, calm and hydrate skin.
- Sunscreen application – if done in the morning.
It’s important to note that deep pore cleansing facial treatments are not intended to replace your daily skincare routine but rather to complement it by providing a more intensive cleanse. That said, deep pore cleansing facial treatments are recommended once a month or every 4-6 weeks for optimal results.
Find a reputable and experienced skincare professional who has experience in performing deep pore cleansing facials and providing post-care guidance to help you maintain clear skin.
A gentle routine, along with these skincare tips to keep in mind, is key when dealing with acne, so stick to the basics to start taking control of your skin.
Everyone’s skin responds differently, so if your skincare routine isn’t giving you the desired results, pay your dermatologist or aesthetician a visit; they will be able to diagnose your skin and provide you with tailored advice that best suits your skin’s needs.
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I don’t suffer with acne anymore, but I used to in my teens. All of these steps really helped – especially keeping my skin hydrated and cleansed.