There’s no shortage of advice on the best ways to treat acne, and it may be difficult to know where to start. Skincare is not one size fits all, and your specific type of acne might be more responsive to certain ingredients over others.
That being said, there are a handful of tried-and-true dermatological ingredients proven to help prevent and manage acne. Here, we're breaking down 4 of the most effective.
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BP can be found in acne treatments across the board, and for good reason. When it comes to its acne-fighting qualities, benzoyl peroxide destroys bacteria on the surface of the skin as well as inside pores and pimples. It also works as an oxidizer, injecting air into pores to loosen any oil, dirt or bacteria trapped inside.
As an anti-inflammatory, it reduces the swelling, pain and redness associated with inflammatory pimples. If you experience inflammatory acne (like papules which are red and hard/pustules which have a white head surrounded by red, irritated skin) or excess oil on your skin, try incorporating these SLMD favorites into your routine:
- BP Lotion: a lightweight treatment that absorbs into the skin quickly to treat and prevent breakouts
- BP Spot Treatment: gives a concentrated dose of maximum strength benzoyl peroxide for stubborn pimples
- BP Body Wash: packed with benzoyl peroxide and niacinamide, two powerful anti-inflammatories to kill bacteria and reduce the appearance of breakouts
Although adverse reactions are rare, we'd recommend testing any products with benzoyl peroxide on a small area of skin before applying it over large areas. If there’s no irritation, use the product every other day for the first week or two. Once your skin has fully adjusted, the acne-fighting properties will kick in.
Salicylic acid is derived from the chemical compound salicin, and is most naturally found in willow tree bark. It’s a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), which means it’s oil-soluble and can penetrate the skin deeper than alpha hydroxy acids, which are water-soluble.
With the same anti-inflammatory ingredients found in aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid), salicylic acid has strong antibacterial and drying properties. It is also a keratolytic, meaning it acts as an exfoliant to break down keratin, the protein that makes up the outer layer of skin.
When treating acne, salicylic acid crystallizes and penetrates pores to clear out the bacteria and dead skin cells that get trapped in our skin’s sebum to create inflammatory acne. Its keratolytic properties also make it useful in treating a wide range of other conditions, including dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, keratosis pilaris, and psoriasis. Try these SLMD products:
- Salicylic Acid Cleanser: a gentle exfoliating cleanser which cleans clogged pores without leaving your skin dry or stripped
- Resurfacing Acne Swipes: formulated with salicylic, glycolic and lactic acid to dive deep and remove impurities
- Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment: targets individual pimples with maximum strength BHA
- Salicylic Acid Body Spray: a great choice with a 360 degree spray nozzle, especially after you work out
You probably recognize sulfur as a periodic table element, but we also ingest it regularly in the form of eggs, meat, fish, garlic, onion and beans. When it comes to skincare, sulfur stops the growth of bacteria on the skin’s surface while exfoliating and shedding dead skin cells. It also controls oil production, drying out active acne without dehydrating surrounding skin. Sulfur works well on inflammatory acne and sensitive skin. It is a great replacement for any intensive acne-fighting ingredients that some experience irritation with, like benzoyl peroxide.
For example, you can replace SLMD’s BP Lotion with SLMD’s Sulfur Lotion, which also contains sweet almond oil to clear complexion and colloidal silver to disrupt the metabolic processes of bacteria on the surface of the skin. Sulfur can also treat eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, rosacea, psoriasis, warts, pityriasis versicolor (skin discoloration), hair-follicle infections, and shingles.
Retinol is a retinoid, a class of substances derived from Vitamin A. It has a long history of treating acne and reducing the appearance of aging, especially sun damage, fine lines and hyperpigmentation. Retinol works to thicken the subcutaneous layer while preventing the breakdown of collagen to combat fine lines and wrinkles. For hyperpigmentation, retinol sloughs off dark spots while curbing your skin cells’ production of melanin. As an acne treatment, it works by removing the dirt, oil and bacteria responsible for clogging pores and creating breakouts. It also clears the way to allow other acne-fighting ingredients to reach deep into our skin.
When looking for retinol skincare products, look for those packaged in opaque, tightly sealed tubes because retinol is likely to break down in daylight or with oxygen exposure. Be sure to only apply Retinol at night, as it will make your skin more sensitive to the sun. To encourage nighttime cell turnover, try SLMD’s Retinol Serum, which can be applied at night to encourage skin cell turnover and improve the overall texture of your skin while you sleep. You can find all of four of these powerful acne-fighters in SLMD’s Acne System and Sensitive Skin Acne System, easy systems that will make sure you are incorporating the best skincare ingredients into your regimen.
Dr. Lee's last word
There are a few ingredients that are very effective for managing acne, that we dermatologists rely on for our patients. The good news is that many of them are available over-the-counter, so you don't have to visit your doctor to start your acne routine.
—Dr. Sandra Lee