Treating the Surface: Skincare for Acne

We’ve talked about treating ourselves from the inside out with what we’re putting into our bodies, but what can we do from the surface? Whether we’re treating a problem area that’s already there or we’re trying to prevent another breakout, there’s a product for just about anything. Before we get into what money can buy though, let’s go over what we can do right now to prevent another breakout.

As we know now acne can be caused by outside sources such as dirt, oil, etc. An important thing then is to make sure you’re not rubbing your face all over dirty surfaces. You may be thinking “why would I be intentionally rubbing my face around every dirty surface there is?” You’re right, I’m sure you’re not pressing your cheek against stair railings. What I mean is being more cautious when it comes to things you may not be already thinking of. One of the first things many skincare experts will tell you to do is to change your pillow cases regularly. Oils from your hair, anything that’s on your hands, or even if the pillow had fallen on the floor the night before, all of that adds grime that could be a potential cause to a nasty breakout. I recommend changing your pillow case every 2-3 days. If not, at least once a week. Wash your bedding regularly as well. Keeping these surfaces clean will help prevent breakouts from happening just because you wanted to get a good night’s rest.

Another surface we touch often enough for it to cause issues is our cell phones. If you haven’t already been on the disinfectant craze that Covid brought on, this is another reason to start cleaning your phone off regularly. Especially if you spend a lot of time on the phone. Basically, be aware of what you’re touching throughout the day. Even go as far as looking over your skincare routine. Ditch the rags and the towels. Bacteria collects on damp surfaces quickly. Better to use your hands (after washing, of course) and let air dry if you can (damp skin even helps moisturizer absorb into the skin better).

Alright, now that we have that covered we can get into products. Refer to my last blog on what a basic skincare routine looks like as well as recommended products for different skin types. Now that we have our basic skincare routine down and we’ve found a cleanser we like, we can start adding on to it. This blog will focus on topical solutions for acne. Let’s start out with what ingredients we should look for if acne is something we are trying to treat:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • Salicylic Acid
  • Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)
    • Lactic Acid
    • Mandelic Acid
    • Glycolic Acid

All three can be found in many cleansers specifically used for acne. Its important to note that it is possible one of these ingredients won’t work for you. Fortunately, there are a number of cleansers that use one or the other. They can also be found as separate products. Especially AHAs. You’ve may have heard also of BHA’s (beta hydroxy acids) as well. Both are used as exfoliator, salicylic acid being the most common BHA used. These help to clean and shrink pores but also don’t need to be used every day. A widely known and praised BHA (and one I personally vouch for) is Paula’s choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant . Paula’s Choice has a number of good products for Benzoyl Peroxide and AHAs as well.

Tying in what we talked about in a previous blog, there is also an ingredient that I mentioned prior that can be taken as a supplement or used topically: Zinc. Zinc helps to regulate sebum activity. Excessive sebum production leads to oily skin as well as clogged pores. The serum I use is The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%. Niacinamide is also an ingredient that has been up and coming in the world of acne. Niacinamide helps to reduce the appearance of blemishes and signs of congestion thus leading to a more even and brighter skin tone. This product can be used daily as needed. It, combined with the BHA/AHA exfoliant, can also help with acne scars.

Acne scars happen when we break the skin in a way it wasn’t meant to be broken. Popping a pimple leaves an open wound that can only heal in the way it was broken which is why we want to avoid popping if we can. I know it’s tempting, trust me, but I do have a helpful tip for that. Pimple patches have become quite popular over the past year. You’ve probably seen those clear circular patches around social media. These patches are infused with hydrocolloid which absorbs fluids. Without that though, it also can help prevent spreading the infection. Pop one of those on before bed and you can prevent the infected area from brushing against your pillows or sheets. The ones I use are the Revolution Pimple Patches which also use salicylic acid to help reduce the appearance of the blemish over night. There are plenty more you can find as well.

While the pimple patches may help prevent more scarring, it won’t heal scars that are already there. As mentioned previously, the exfoliant and the niacinamide will help fade scarring over time. This takes patience but it does work. While my scaring isn’t completely gone, it’s much less than it was before. I personally barely notice it. There are some things that can help speed up the process so without making this blog ages long, I’ll touch briefly on them. Microdermabrasion is a minimally invasive procedure that creates little tears in the skin. This forces the skin to heal in a correct way. It may not sound like it, but it does help with skin texture and skin tone. If you want something a little less involved I would suggest playing around with turmeric. Turmeric face masks can be found in stores, but it’s easy enough to make one. That way you can keep it clean and save a bit of money. Be careful though as turmeric can stain surfaces so you may look like you just had a round of bad self tanner after that first wash. Don’t worry, it will wash off, but it may just take a bit of toner after you cleanse.

I know that this isn’t a long list of products for you to try out. What works for me may not work for you. But I do hope that this blog may have given you an idea of where to start or things you can try now that may offer some relief. I know one of the worst things about a breakout is the discomfort of them. Remember there is a purging period which leads to more breakouts than less. When this period passes that is when you’ll see how your skin really feels about them. Give it some time, be patient, and keep an eye out for these ingredients if you’re trying to tackle your acne. Remember too that this will probably be a combined effort with what is going into your body so try incorporating some of the ideas from my first blog.


  • Xiola Schneiderman

    I loved reading about how you described each skincare product and ingredient because this can confuse a lot people. Once more and more steps are added to a routine the harder it is to keep track of, and this goes for ingredients as well. A lot of the time people think if they have acne they can use BHA’s or other actives everyday to help the texture, but in reality this could hurt the skin more since these products shouldn’t necessarily be used everyday.

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