Acne—the bane of many teenagers, but teenagers aren’t the only ones with skin woes. Many adults cope with acne too. Our guide to acne products will help you find what you need in your quest for clean, clear skin. Keep the following points in mind as you consider which acne products are right for you:
If you’ve never had adult acne in the past and develop it suddenly, talk to your doctor. Adult acne can signal other health issues such as hormone imbalances or rosacea, a chronic condition involving facial skin inflammation, which can appear as redness, broken blood vessels, or acne-like skin eruptions.
If you have rosacea, ask your doctor how best to manage it. Many acne treatments are not appropriate for treating rosacea and can worsen the condition.
Before you self-treat pregnancy-related acne, ask your doctor which products are safe to use. Products that contain vitamin A–derived substances, such as retinol, retinal, or retinoids, are not safe for use during pregnancy; prescription versions of these products may even cause birth defects.
Choose age-appropriate products. What worked to treat acne when you were a teen may be too harsh for dryer adult skin. Similarly, what you use for your adult acne may not be effective for the teens in your house.
Acne Washes, Cleansers, & Scrubs
What they are: Acne washes, cleansers, and scrubs are designed to remove dirt, oil, sweat, and makeup from skin with cleansing agents that also dry up pimples and kill acne-causing bacteria. Most acne washes contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or some combination of these ingredients.
Why to buy: These products are inexpensive, easy to use, and because they don’t remain on the skin after washing, they may be a gentler way to tackle mild acne.
Things to consider: If acne washes dry your skin too much, try using only once per day or every other day, rather than morning and night. For people with more serious acne, an acne wash alone may not be enough to get the condition under control. Combining an acne cleanser with a leave-on cream or lotion can help address this issue.
What they are: Acne masks are applied to the skin and left on for 10 to 20 minutes. They may be a cream or lotion, which dries on the skin, and then is rinsed off. They may contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, clay, or some combination of these ingredients.
Why to buy: Acne masks can be used weekly to give an extra boost to your regular acne care routine. Some people find that using a mask once a week or so gives a deep clean that helps keep acne at bay.
Things to consider: Acne masks can be quite drying, so test a small patch of face skin before applying to your entire face. If you apply a mask and it stings a lot, wash it off right away.
What they are: Acne toners are liquid products that are applied to the skin using a cotton ball or pad. Toners are most effective if used after washing, but before applying lotions, moisturizers, or make up. They may contain a variety of ingredients, such as salicylic acid, plus non-oily moisturizing substances to help balance out the drying effects of other acne treatments.
Why to buy: Some people find that toners remove that last bit of acne-causing dirt and bacteria, and lessen the drying effects of other products. For people with mild acne, an acne toner alone may be enough to keep skin clear.
Things to consider: Toners can be more expensive than other acne products, and they require an extra step in your morning and/or evening routine.
Acne Creams, Gels, Lotions, & Pads
What they are: Acne creams, gels, and lotions are applied to the skin and left on to offer maximum acne control. Acne pads are swiped over the skin and leave behind acne-fighting medication. Most contain benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, or some combination of these ingredients.
Why to buy: These products are inexpensive and for more stubborn acne, they may be the most effective option. Acne creams, gels, lotions, and pads can be used to “spot treat” individual pimples or small breakouts, so the drying effect targets small areas.
Things to consider: Acne gels, creams, lotions, and pads are the most drying acne products. Benzoyl peroxide tends to be strongest, followed by sulfur and salicylic acid. Benzoyl peroxide often is found in teen acne products, since excess oil is often a problem during adolescence. Salicylic acid products are often formulated for adults.
What they are: Acne kits include several acne products in one unit, such as cleanser, skin-clearing treatment, and mild moisturizing lotion.
Why to buy: Acne kits offer convenient “all-in-one” product lines. If using a single acne product isn’t enough for your skin issues, or if you have side effects from single treatments, a kit may be worth a try. The combination of ingredients may be more effective than any one treatment alone.
Things to consider: Acne kits are an expensive acne treatment option and the multiple ingredients are more than many people need, or people may learn that only some of the products work for them. Ask about return policies before buying an expensive kit, and also find out if it’s possible to buy products individually.
Natural & Herbal Acne Products
What they are: Natural and herbal acne products use plants and herbs to treat and prevent acne. Ingredients found in natural acne products include white willow bark, tea tree oil, lemon grass, witch hazel, calendula, and goldenseal.
Why to buy: Natural acne products offer a way to manage acne without using synthetic chemicals. For acne-prone, sensitive skin, natural products may be less likely to cause irritation, redness, and peeling than conventional products. These products come in lotions, scrubs, spot treatments, toners, gels, and kits.
Things to consider: For tough acne, natural products may not be the most effective option. If you have allergies to specific herbs or plants, those ingredients may cause skin irritation.