May 11, 2021 at 06:00AM
Whether I’m writing about the
products that I’ve actually loved this month or my favourite affordable skincare swaps, I always try to be as open and honest about my skin journey as possible. As someone who has experienced pretty severe acne since my teenage years, I’m not on board with miracle cures and wonder products that claim to eliminate spots and vanish breakouts in one use, and I’d hate to give the impression that there are products on the market that can do that.
Skincare expert Tijion Esho, founder of the
Esho Clinic, is a firm advocate of long-term routines when it comes to treating acne. “One-off treatments can give skin a temporary boost, but we know that with conditions like acne, it’s a journey; not an overnight cure,” he explained. “Patients need successive cumulative treatments tailored to them personally using the correct ingredients for their skin type.” But with acne affecting nearly 80% of the population at some point during their lifetime, it’s not surprising that many of us want quick-fix solutions.
So, while I’m not going to promise that these products will change your life or magically transform your skin if you have acne, I can say that these products will help to calm breakouts, soothe redness and assist with the healing of your spots. I’ve tried hundreds of acne products over the years and these are the ones that I keep in my regular skincare rotation and know I can trust. Ahead, keep scrolling to shop the 16 best acne products that actually work.
This underrated product is formulated specifically to target the scarring and redness caused by breakouts—rather than the active spots themselves. I have some quite deep scarring on the sides of my face and pigmentation left behind from cystic spots but can genuinely say that this has done a brilliant job of evening skin tone and helping my skin to look more clear overall. If you also have scars or pigmentation caused by old spots, then I’d definitely recommend giving this a go.
This emergency spot product isn’t for the faint-hearted and I definitely wouldn’t recommend that you reach for this on a daily basis. It’s quite intense and very drying, but on days that I’ve got important meetings or need to take photos for work, I’ll reach for this. A powerhouse blend of salicylic acid and saw palmetto, you apply it directly to any blemishes and it works to draw out excess oil and toxins. When I’ve got a particularly juicy spot, this stuff won’t make it disappear but it will help to dry it out, reduce redness and speed up healing time. Be warned, though: If you have an open spot or you’ve been picking (no judgement here) then this definitely has the sting factor when applied.
Just like the Origins product, this Caudalie serum is brimming with salicylic acid. However, this one boasts a 100% natural version along with detoxifying grape polyphenols and organic essential oils for soothing results. Although this is gentle enough to use every day, I like to keep my skincare routine as stripped back as possible when I’m going through a particularly rough skincare patch. So I use this 3–4 times a week to keep things in check. Applied before moisturiser, it’s gently exfoliating and helps to dislodge stubborn blackheads and calm redness. Plus, it smells absolutely incredible—a really refreshing, light scent that’s a real treat to use.
I’ve raved about this product many times already, but it truly is one of the best acne products I’ve ever tried. In fact, I’d say that it was one of the first over the counter products that made a noticeable difference to my skin after coming off the pill. Salicylic acid (you’re going to see this ingredient popping up a lot on this list) is the star of the show here. You pour a little bit onto a cotton pad and sweep over freshly cleansed skin then follow with an SPF (if you’re using during the day) and the rest of your skincare routine. It has anti-inflammatory properties, so it won’t irritate any existing breakouts, and it works beneath the surface of your skin to unclog pores and on the surface to smooth and exfoliate. I use this two or three times a week and find that it reduces the raised feeling of breakouts and is particularly good at preventing blackheads around my nose.
This specific serum from FaceGym is a fairly new discovery for me but I’ve been highly impressed with it so far and it illustrates one of the most important things about caring for acne skin: Don’t be afraid of hydration. This formula uses a skin-quenching blend of hyaluronic acid, which moisturises without exacerbating oil production, alongside niacinamide which helps to rebuild skin cells and reduce inflammation. It’s a brilliant serum for encouraging bouncier, healthy-looking skin that can be layered with more potent acne treatments.
I love exfoliating my skin but there’s nothing worse than using a dense, physical exfoliator containing microbeads or gritty particles when you’re dealing with inflammation and active breakouts. This cult cream exfoliator from Elemis does a brilliant job of dissolving dead skin cells with none of the abrasiveness associated with traditional exoliators. In fact, it’s really creamy and gentle on the skin. The magic lies in natural enzymes found in papaya and pineapple which nibble away at dead skin cells to prevent build-up and congestion. Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes then rinse it away and marvel at how much more smooth, soft and radiant your skin is.
I always feel like I’m putting my neck on the line as a beauty editor by recommending this product, as foaming face washes tend to have a bit of a bad reputation in the industry for being drying. However, I’ve used this face wash on and off for years and am impressed by how clean and healthy my skin always looks after using it. Plus, sometimes I want my overly oily skin to feel a little more balanced after cleansing. I’ll use this on mornings following an intensive nighttime skincare routine, just to refresh my complexion when I wake up. I take one pump and massage it into damp skin then rinse with lukewarm water. It’s gently toning and my skin never feels tight after using it so I’d also recommend it if you have younger friends or family members who are looking to start a more regimented skincare routine.
I’ve sworn by this French pharmacy staple as a daily moisturiser for years, which is why I’m so excited that they now have this version containing SPF. It’s a lightweight texture that glides onto the skin without leaving behind any sticky or tacky residue and works to reduce scarring and clear blocked pores throughout the day. If I stop using this, then I really noticed that my skin feels and looks a lot more congested. Oh, and SPF is essential if you’re using ingredients like salicylic acid to treat acne, as your skin might be more susceptible to the sun’s rays. This sunscreen-infused version contains the original hero ingredient—niacinamide and salicylic acid—so you can rest assured that you’re getting all of those skin-exfoliating benefits without the negative effects.
The thing I love most about this product is that it works brilliantly as a full facial mask but it really comes into its own as a spot treatment. It’s a detoxifying blend of 3% sulfur, green clay and azelaic acid—so if you have sensitive skin then you might want to spot check this first—but I’ve woken up to serious crater-like blemishes, applied this mask to it, and 20 minutes later found that the spot in question is looking way less angry. As I said earlier, no product is going to make a spot entirely disappear in such a short time, but I can advocate for the way that it purifies and reduces the appearance of blemishes when you really need something hardworking.
Although salicylic acid is abundant in serums and spot treatments, it can be harder to find in cleansers. Thankfully, this one from Paula’s Choice contains a dose of it to remove excess oil, unclog pores and generally leave your skin feeling clear and refreshed. This is my go-to when I’ve got active breakouts that need calming. The gel texture feels lovely and cooling when massaged into the skin, so it’s great on days when things are feeling particularly irritated.
For the most part, I try to be as confident as I can in my own skin. Yes, I do wear makeup, but I tend to stick to light coverage bases that my spots and scarring still show through. And, I have no qualms about rocking up to work completely bare-faced on occasion. However, there are some days when a breakout can knock down the confidence of anyone. On those days, I reach for this concealer from Vichy. Incredibly high coverage, this creamy stick concealer can cover everything from active spots and scars to pigmentation and dark circles. I apply it using clean fingertips (avoid applying it directly from the bullet to prevent the spreading of bacteria) and pat it onto any areas that need it. It’s non-comedogenic, so it won’t clog your pores and exacerbate any existing blemishes and it really does stay put all day. Sadly, though, the shade range is lacking, so deeper skin tones might struggle to find a colour that suits them.
While this isn’t quite as full coverage as the Vichy concealer, this one from It Cosmetics has a much more inclusive range of shades, so it’s another great option. The best thing about this is that it provides all the cover-up power of a concealer with all the skincare benefits of a spot treatment. It uses kaolin clay, witch hazel, sulphur and an AHA and BHA complex to minimise your breakout and disguise it. A great option if you wear concealer every day.
While this isn’t specifically coined as a product for spot-prone skin, the clay-based formula means it’s my go-to face mask. In fact, if I was pushed to only keep one mask in my skincare routine, it might just be this one. I apply this to damp skin a couple of times a week, and as it dries, you can actually see it drawing all of the excess oil to the surface. It also contains aloe vera to soothe any redness and rosehip and parsley seed extracts to enhance radiance at the same time as purifying your skin.
I know that picking spots is bad for your skin and leads to scarring, but if we’re being honest, who has the self-restraint to avoid touching an unwanted visitor on your face? I use these spot stickers from Sarah Chapman in the same way that someone would apply a horrible solution to their nails to stop them from biting (aka as a preventative measure). After my skincare routine, I’ll apply these patches to any big spots to prevent me from touching them and spreading germs. Not only do they stop external bacteria from getting in but they also exfoliate and decongest pores at the same time. Come morning, your blemish should look calmer and less irritated.
There’s no denying that this is an expensive recommendation but I don’t use these two-step treatments every day. First up—it’s potent. In fact, it’s the only peel on the market that combines five AHAs and BHAs with antioxidants like retinol and resveratrol, but that’s what makes it so good. If, like me, you’re in your 30s but still dealing with regular breakouts then I think this is money well spent as it targets enlarged pores, acne scarring and uneven skin tone alongside signs of ageing like fine lines and pigmentation. My skin always looks brighter and smoother after one use and with regular use I can see a huge difference in my skin texture.
I’ve heard plenty of mixed advice over the years about whether acne-prone skin does or doesn’t need moisturiser but I’m a firm believer that it does. This one from Murad is a great place to start if you’re nervous about extra hydration as it’s oil-free and non-comedogenic so it won’t clog your pores. I love how lightweight in texture it is yet it keeps my skin feeling comfortable and balanced all day, without leaving me looking like an oil slick come noon. Plus, it’s specially formulated to help keep your skin’s microbiome and natural bacteria levels balanced to actually prevent future breakouts.
Up next: this is the best skincare routine for acne, according to a dermatologist.
Author Mica Ricketts |
Selected by CWC