Best Skincare Routine for Acne
A guide to building the best skincare routine for acne.
Article reviewed by Janet McGroggan | Updated in October 2022
Covered in this article:
Why you need a skincare routine | Key ingredients for a skincare routine | Basic morning skincare routine | Simple night skincare routine | When to consult a dermatologist | Considerations for hormonal acne
Acne is the most common dermatological skin condition, and it will affect most people during their lifetime. It affects up to 80 to 90% of young adults and teenagers, but for some, it can continue til later in life, especially women. Luckily, you can considerably improve your skin’s condition with a few acne self-care measures and a good skincare routine.
What Is a Skincare Routine?
A skincare routine can be defined as a series of steps you take to care for your skin regularly. Any skincare routine aims to improve your skin’s overall complexion and target specific problem areas.
A skincare routine is a regular process using specific products to care for your skin.
Some habits are positive behaviors, like taking a daily walk, drinking multiple glasses of water a day, or establishing a skin care regimen, which doesn’t have to be complicated.
There’s no all-purpose solution to healthy skin. Each person is different and requires individual care. But, there are some skincare routine guidelines to help create a process that will promote healthier skin. Let’s look at some of the basics of acne and how to help prevent and treat it.
Why Should You Have a Skincare Routine for Acne?
Almost everyone will experience acne at some point. The condition tends to appear most during adolescence, but it can affect all ages, genders, and races. During puberty, hormones called androgens to increase the size of oil glands which can easily become clogged. Acne can be more severe in some people because of genetics, hormones, environmental factors, or medications. There’s ongoing research into triggers, but studies show that while certain factors don’t cause acne, they can exacerbate the condition. Stress, oily hair or makeup products, certain foods, sleep deprivation, and smoking worsen acne.
Puberty isn’t the only life stage when acne appears. It’s also common in women during menstruation, childbirth, and menopause when there’s a roller coaster of hormonal activity. Hormonal acne (also known as adult acne) can create deeper cysts under the skin and more inflammation that isn’t as easily treated with over-the-counter products and require dermatologist prescription treatments. Because skin becomes thinner with age, a retinol treatment can be especially beneficial to help remove dead skin cells.
For adult men, acne can be more severe than it was during adolescence, with increased potential for scarring. Hormones play a factor in men, and enlarged pores can trap dead skin cells and bacteria on the face and the back. Facial hair can also trap oil and bacteria, while shaving can aggravate inflammation. Men need to understand the importance of an acne regimen to protect their skin as much as women do.
Basic acne breakouts stem from clogged pores. That can occur for various reasons, but appropriate skincare goes a long way toward preventing blemishes and treating outbreaks. Establishing a skincare regimen and identifying triggers can help create a level of control over a difficult situation.2
Is your acne treatment working?
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Must-have Ingredients for a Basic Acne Skincare Routine
It might be difficult to develop a good skincare routine for acne because there are so many products on the market and so much different information about product application order.
However, you don’t need a complex 10-step regimen to manage your acne. A simple daily skincare regime may reduce acne considerably.
Several cleansers and moisturizers are available as supplemental therapies for acne-prone skin, including lipid-free cleansers with a low risk of skin irritation and moisturizers containing ingredients such as humectants (to keep things moist), emollients, oil absorbers, and those with anti-inflammatory and barrier replenishing properties.
- Salicylic acid helps unclog pores and exfoliates the skin.
- Benzoyl peroxide provides broad-spectrum antimicrobial action.
- Sulfur has a mild inhibitory action on bacteria and modest anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Retinol is a retinoid derived from vitamin A that can reduce sebum production and inflammation
Read more about skin purging and how starting a new skin treatment may worsen the skin condition before things begin to improve.
Steps in a DIY Skincare Routine
If you want to clear your skin from acne, you should consider morning and night skincare routines – with specific steps for each.3 Just a few minutes twice daily will be sufficient.
It’s important to apply acne treatment as directed by your dermatology provider, whether it’s morning, evening, or both, to be effective.
While different skin types require different products, the application order is also important for the acne skincare routine to be effective.
Below you’ll find an example of the recommended skincare routine order.
Basic Morning Skincare Routine
Generally, the skin care steps offer protection in the morning:
Step 1. Wash your face – Use a gel-based cleanser for oily skin, and a cream-based cleanser for normal to dry skin. Rinse your face with warm water.
Step 2. Apply acne spot treatment – Apply the cream on top of the pimple. Benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria and salicylic acid to exfoliate and dry oil glands are most common.
Combine different active ingredients, use benzoyl peroxide on your face wash, and then a salicylic acid cream—or vice versa.
Step 3. Moisturize your skin – Hydrate your skin with a formula suitable for your skin type; for oily skin, use oil-free or gel products with humectants like glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
Step 4. Apply sunscreen – Use a non-comedogenic sunscreen daily, even during the winter. Reapply every two hours if you are outdoors. Your sunscreen should have an SPF 30+ to protect against VA and UVB rays.
Simple Night Skincare Routine
Step 1. Remove your makeup and wash your face – Use a gentle make-up remover to remove all traces of makeup, then wash your face with a gentle cleanser that does not contain benzoyl peroxide.
Step 2. Apply a retinol product – Apply the product to the entire problem area to help get rid of the pimples you have and prevent new pimples from developing.
Take into consideration that retinoids should not be combined with benzoyl peroxide
Step 3. Apply a moisturizer – Most effective when applied to slightly damp skin to help prevent skin from drying out.
Step 4. Use an acne spot treatment – This can be applied as a leave-on treatment to help speed healing.
Your environment is always a factor along with your activities. Try cleaning your face after working out, as sweat can clog pores and aggravate acne.
Keep in mind that as the seasons change, you should adjust your skincare routine in winter, you may need a stronger moisturizer, and in summer, you will need to constantly reapply sunscreen.
When to Add Prescription Medication to an Acne Skincare Routine?
Adequately following a strong regimen can go a long way to keeping skin clear, but factors such as genetics, hormones, or environment may still trigger outbreaks.
It can also be that over-the-counter products don’t work well for your skin and cause some side effects such as dryness, irritation, or inflammation, causing you to discontinue their use.4
However, in some cases, over-the-counter products aren’t sufficient to treat acne. If you don’t see any improvements in your skin after three months, you may want to consult a healthcare provider.
For back acne, where it can be difficult to apply topical treatments, oral medications can be more effective. For example, the topicals might not be sufficient in adults with severe cases that include subcutaneous cysts.
While retinol can have positive effects, over-the-counter products usually contain between 0.25 and 1.5 percent retinol to work on the outer layer of the skin and penetrate the middle layer. A stronger formula prescription retinoid could be more effective but needs medical supervision.
Some dermatologists do not recommend over-the-counter products because clinical research shows they can be limited, thus they opt for other treatments.
It can be beneficial to use an antibiotic and/or anti-inflammatory medication for severe acne or when over-the-counter products have shown no results with extended use.
Women who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or are breastfeeding should consider working with a dermatologist to treat outbreaks to ensure any products are safe. There are both topical and oral options that are viable and effective.
Hormonal acne can require oral medications to treat the deep subdermal cysts unaffected by topicals. For women, specific oral contraceptives can be a solution to help balance hormones. Anti-androgen drugs can be beneficial to both men and women in reducing excess production of the hormone.
What to Consider When Having a Skin Care Routine for Hormonal Acne?
Patients experiencing hormonal acne benefit from a skin care regimen that includes many of the same steps as acne vulgaris but with some additional considerations5. Breakouts can be cyclical, but a skincare routine for acne has ongoing benefits. Remember that the order of the steps is as important as the products.
All acne starts with clogged pores, so regular cleansing helps remove excess oil, skin cells, and dirt. Next, retinol can encourage cell turnover to remove dead skin. Since hormonal acne often breaks out along the chin and jawline, retinol can help with inflammation and subsequent hyperpigmentation. But remember that retinol can make skin more sensitive to the sun and cosmetic procedures such as waxing. Topical treatments with either salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide – or both – clear pores and remove bacteria. Skin needs moisture, even during breakouts. The key is using an oil-free product for better hydration without clogging pores. In the morning, applying an oil-free sunscreen is still critical, especially if using prescription-grade retinol.
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