Let me be clear, acne is completely normal. Almost everyone gets it, to varying degrees, and it can occur anywhere on the body. It’s most likely to occur during someone’s teen years but very commonly occurs in adulthood too. Overtime acne goes away and its usually caused by hormone imbalance, irritation, bacteria, oily skin and many other reasons. People who suffer from severe acne usually have a combination of all these things causing the skin to regularly breakout. If you have severe acne visit your GP as they may have stronger treatments available like Accutane, or you may get referred to a dermatologist. Acne can be a difficult thing to deal with, I personally had it really bad as a teenager so I know how it can affect confidence but hating your skin for it won’t change a thing. Now, loving your skin as people tell you is a bit of a stretch but simply accepting it and not letting it bother you day to day will help immensely. The best way to deal with acne is to negotiate with your skin, see what it likes and what it doesn’t and form a routine.
Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic topical medication used to treat acne. It’s effective against all types of acne and it works by killing the bacteria that is causing the acne, reducing inflammation, and unclogging pores (clogged pores cause blackheads). It’s one of the most effective acne treatments but unfortunately it is less available to UK and EU consumers compared to US consumers who can buy this ingredient at a regular beauty supply store, in the UK/EU you have to get it from a pharmacy where products are limited. Benzoyl peroxide can be extremely drying and sometimes irritating to the skin and because of these side effects the ingredient is limited in many countries (UK/EU). But you can of course buy products off Amazon or other global beauty suppliers.
Here’s a list of products containing benzoyl peroxide:
- ACNECIDE Face Gel Spot Treatment Benzoyl Peroxide UK
- PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash Benzoyl Peroxide 10% Maximum Strength Antimicrobial U.S.A
Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) and is also one of the main ingredients used for treating acne. I discussed this acid’s more general use in one of my other articles here. Salicylic acid works by removing oil and dirt from deeper layers of the skin and unlike other skincare acids focuses on oil-based skin issues like clogged pores which can become white heads or blackheads. Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin which helps keep it clear and acne free. You should use this ingredient if you have non-inflammatory acne like whiteheads or blackheads and should use benzoyl peroxide if you have inflammatory acne like painful bumps or cysts. One thing that salicylic acid has over benzoyl peroxide is that its widely available in the UK and EU.
Here’s a list of products containing salicylic acid:
- CeraVe SA Smoothing Moisturiser Cream Salicylic Acid
- The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid Serum
- The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution
Azelaic acid is an anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory chemical that naturally occurs in grains like wheat and rye. Because of its anti-microbial properties, it’s often used as an alternative to benzoyl peroxide as it works in a similar way, by killing the bacteria that causes acne and reducing inflammation. Although it’s not as potent as benzoyl peroxide, it’s a good alternative if you have dryer/sensitive skin or benzoyl peroxide is less available to you (live in UK or EU) but it is a restricted chemical in Canada. It also has other benefits that benzoyl peroxide does not have like reducing rosacea and hyperpigmentation.
Here’s a list of products containing azelaic acid:
- The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster
- Facetheory Lumizela Azelaic Acid Serum A15
Retinol and Retinoids are a group of chemicals that are derived from vitamin A. Although it’s mostly used in anti-ageing products it can also help treat acne and hyperpigmentation. If you were to go to a doctor about acne issues they may prescribe you retinoids, retinol is the over-the-counter alternative that you can buy yourself from beauty supply shops. It works by increasing cell turnover and cell renewal which will help remove dead skin cells faster preventing clogged pores (which causes acne). The downside, especially with retinol, is that this treatment takes some time to have a noticeable affect and can dry out the skin quite a bit. It’s also advised not to use salicylic acid with retinol/retinoids as this can cause serious irritation.
Here’s a list of products containing retinol, if you’re interested in using retinoids speak to your GP:
- SkinCeuticals Retinol 0.3
- CeraVe Skin Renewing Retinol Serum
- L’Oreal Paris Revitalift Pressed Night Cream
This is not necessarily a skincare treatment but can absolutely help reduce acne. Often, acne is caused by hormone imbalance which is why acne is so common amongst teenagers going through puberty. Hormonal therapy can help women who have acne especially if they have breakouts during certain times in the menstrual cycle specifically around the time of having a period. This solution could take a while to see the results but, if your acne is hormone based, this may be the most effective treatment. If you’re interested in going on hormonal therapy or you think your acne may be caused by hormone imbalance speak to your GP.
However you choose to treat your acne, be patient. Many of these treatments take time and routine to be effective so make sure you plan how to use these ingredients to best suit your routine and schedule so that they can be as effective as possible.