The Best Skincare Ingredients for Acne

June 10, 2020
The Best Skincare Ingredients for Acne

Most people have experienced some form of acne over the course of their life. In fact, 85% of people report experiencing acne at some point. Since acne is a common skin condition, there is a wide variety of treatment products available. In the U.S., over $3 million dollars a year are spent on store-bought acne medications with $3B in spending on prescription acne products. However, only 10% of acne sufferers visit a dermatologist for professional help.

The good news is acne does not persist throughout life - it is typically at its peak during the teenage years and the second decade of life. Although acne may not persist, scarring will. It is paramount to find effective treatments for long term skin health. It is also important to target your skin’s specific type of acne with the help of a dermatologist and seek treatment tailored to you.

What Causes Acne?

Acne is categorized as a multifactorial disease, meaning that it typically does not have a singular cause. However, fundamentally, acne is a result of clogged hair follicles under the skin.

Acne Causing Factors:
  • Hormones- especially during puberty 
  • Genetics
  • Stress
  • Diet
  • Inflammation
  • Excess sebum or oil production
  • Accumulation of dead skin cells
  • Friction or pressure on the skin
  • Bacterial overgrowth 

Acne Types

Acne falls under two broad categories: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. The type of acne you are experiencing determines the course of treatment and the most effective ingredients. More specific types of acne include:

Non-inflammatory Acne:

  • Whiteheads
    • Also referred to as closed comedones, whiteheads are a result of a clogged pore that has closed - resulting in a small, white, raised bump.
  • Blackheads
    • Similar to whiteheads, blackheads are clogged pores from some combination of sebum, bacteria, and dirt. The blackhead is still an open-pore that has oxidized-causing the dark head to appear

Inflammatory Acne:

  • Papules
    • Papules are small, raised, red bumps which are often tender - fundamentally they are also comedones, but have become inflamed.
  • Pustules
    • Typically, pustules are larger than the before mentioned types of acne. They are identified by a raised white bump surrounded by reddened skin.
  • Cysts
    • Cystic acne forms deeper in the skin and appears as large red or white lumps filled with pus; this is considered a severe type of acne.
  • Nodules
    • Nodules are also a deeper form of acne but are more firm than cystic acne and are painful.

What Are the Best Ingredients for Acne Treatment and Prevention?

Mild acne and non-inflammatory acne can be treated with over the counter topicals containing active ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. It is important to consult a dermatologist for more severe acne cases such as cysts or if acne persists after treatment. Here are top acne-fighting ingredients to look for in acne treatments:

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is one of the most effective treatments for acne and should be applied in the morning. It works as an antimicrobial- killing bacteria in pores- as well as cleaning out pores. Since benzoyl peroxide can lead to dryness, a moisturizer should be used with this ingredient to maintain the skin’s moisture barrier.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is also an effective acne treatment ingredient as it works to chemically exfoliate the skin- also allowing other acne treatment products to penetrate pores more deeply. It unclogs pores by aiding your skin in the natural shedding process of dead skin cells- lessening build-up and clogged pores from trapped dead skin. Salicylic acid is most effective when used on non-inflamed acne: whiteheads and blackheads.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic is an AHA- very small molecules- which penetrate the skin easily and increase cell turnover. This is a great ingredient to help additional products and ingredients absorb better into the skin as it strips down the outer layer of the epidermis. Glycolic acid should be used at night, after cleansing and before applying a retinol treatment. Glycolic acid is an ingredient anyone can incorporate into their skincare routines but is great for acne-prone skin to remove dead skin cells and increase the effectiveness of other products.


Retinol encourages cell turnover which improves overall skin texture for a more even complexion. Retinols are safe for anyone to use and help control comedonal acne- blackheads and whiteheads. Typically, topical retinoids are used for acne control which differs from retinol. Retinoids are attained with a prescription and work as an anti-inflammatory, pore cleansing, and exfoliation.

Sulfur Based Products

Sulfur is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. You can find these most commonly in cleansers.

Non-comedogenic Moisturizer

Often forgotten, but necessary. Many of the acne topicals can cause superficial dryness and flaking. Many people wonder which moisturizers do not clog pores without making their skin oily. Ceramide containing moisturizers or Aloe Vera based moisturizers are hydrating without being greasy.

 A consistent regimen with effective ingredients is the best solution for acne. If you have cysts or scars, you must see a dermatologist. Topical medications will not fix these problems. Dr. Zenovia is adamant about being aggressive with acne, especially if it is scarring your skin. Scars last a lifetime and get worse with age, but your acne will get better with age.  The Ask Dr. Z  is a helpful first step in identifying a solution for your acne.  Introduce products with new ingredients gradually and consult a dermatologist if acne persists or for tailored treatment.

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