Which Acne Products Are Best for Your Skin?
Buying anything less than the best acne products can be a very expensive proposition. It is possible for you to spend more on acne care than you spend on vacations1, electronics, your car, or even your rent or mortgage. And besides taking all your money, anything less than the best acne products can cause endless frustration if blemishes never go away. As long as you don’t suffer severe types of acne such as cystic acne (in which case a visit to the dermatologist and medication is necessary), however, the best acne products really do help.
This article will take you through the most cost-effective acne products from least expensive to more expensive. It will take you from low-cost, low-yield acne investments to high-cost, higher-yield investments in clear skin. Let’s start with the least expensive but not necessarily most obvious acne product.
- The best acne products usually are not the most expensive.
- Soap and water actually fight acne, if they are used the right way.
- Different kinds of acne need different kinds of over the counter products.
- Alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids are great for opening up pores, but which product you use depends on the sensitivity of your skin.
- Investing in an acne care system may be more economical and more effective than using a lot of different inexpensive acne care solutions.
In this article you can find specific information for using plain old soap and water, natural products such as apple cider vinegar, benzoyl peroxide, tea tree oil, alpha-hydroxy acids, and a potentially more effective and less expensive acne treatment system.
Soap and Water
Even if you can’t afford any other acne treatment, you can always fight acne with soap and water2. However, there is an art to treating breakouts with soap and water, and some soaps are better than others.
Soap and water treatment for acne isn’t primarily about removing dirt. Cleansing your skin with soap and water to treat acne, or any other skin problem, is not primarily about removing dirt. Only enlarged, healed pores get clogged with dirt, and dirt is easily removed.
Soap and water treatment for acne is primarily about removing excess sebum and bacteria. Cleansing your skin with soap and water is primarily about preventing the accumulation of excess sebum and bacteria3 that can be whisked away from pores that are not yet clogged. Unfortunately, clogged pores can’t be opened by washing your face, and excessive washing can even dry out and tighten the skin, making them even tighter.
Clean washcloths and clean towels are essential for cleansing the skin. No matter which soap you use, you don’t want to put bacteria back on your face as soon as you rinse them off. Always use a clean washcloth and a clean towel when you wash you face. Of course, you may not want to use a washcloth at all.
Washcloths are fine for taking soap off your face. They aren’t all that great for putting soap on your face. In particular, it’s important not to grind soap film into pours by wrapping a washcloth around a bar of soap and rubbing your skin. You don’t want to rub your skin at any point in the cleansing process4, whether you are putting soap or other cleanser on or taking the soap or other cleanser off. Let your soap or other cleanser to the work of getting excess oil and bacteria out of your pores.
- Neem-based soaps are great for soothing allergies and fighting bacterial infections.
- Soaps with benzoyl peroxide kill bacteria quickly but don’t “get the red out.” If you overuse them, they can dry out the skin, which starts the acne cycle all over again. The one exception to this rule is fighting back acne, for which benzoyl peroxide is superior to all other cleansers.
- Soaps with tea tree oil kill bacteria more slowly but remove redness and irritation of pimples. Especially if you have raised pimples filled with yellow pus in a yellow circle in the middle of the zit, tea tree oil is usually a good choice.
- Soaps that contain shea butter or glycerin help fight flaking and peeling in dry summer heat or cold winter air.
What kinds of soap should be avoided?
- Any soap that makes your face feel tingly after you wash it off is tightening your pores and drying out your skin.
- Any soap that contains oak bark, oat meal, or pumice can damage the lining of pores, trapping acne bacteria inside.
- Any soap that contains alcohol or acetone (usually a liquid soap) is definitely to be avoided.
When it comes to your skin, unlike your diet, acid is better than alkaline6. The bacteria that cause the nastiest skin infections can’t survive acidic conditions. And acids in milk, apple cider vinegar, and green tea can tone the skin in ways that keep excess oil from accumulating.
Milk, Apple Cider Vinegar, and Green Tea
The legendary Egyptian beauty Cleopatra, some histories of her time record, bathed her skin in tubs of milk to keep it beautiful. Although there was no chemical name for the process at the time, Empress Cleopatra had actually discovered (or rediscovered) the lactic acid skin peel7.
One of the naturally occurring compounds in milk is lactic acid. There are two important characteristics of lactic acid as regards the skin. One is that it is a very gentle acid, about 1/10 as acidic as vinegar. You can’t burn your skin with a milk mask.
The other important characteristic of lactic acid is that is forms lactones. These become tiny, sticky plastics. They are too small to clog a pore, but they are just large enough to grab on to dead skin. When you rinse off your milk mask or your lactic acid peel, tiny flakes of skin that were clogging pores come off with the treatment.
If you don’t mind running the risk of smelling like a pickle factory, you can always rinse your skin with apple cider vinegar. This will remove even more dead skin and kill even more bacteria, but the odor can be definitely disagreeable. And it’s also possible simply to soak a clean cloth in warm green tea, letting it rest for 10 or 15 minutes. You’ll bring out yellow and brown skin tones, while mildly disinfecting the skin.
Honey is so good for fighting infections that it is literally medicinal. All over the world, plastic surgeons use honey to disinfect the skin before certain kinds of face lifts. Honey contains compounds that fight not just acne bacteria but also the microorganisms that cause boils and cellulitis. There are just two cautionary notes one needs to know about honey for the skin.
One thing to know about honey is9 that the “ooze” from a bacterial infection is what activates it. If you just have whiteheads and blackheads, all putting honey on your face will do is to attract ants, bees, and Yogi the Bear. It also helps to dilute honey with about one part water to four parts honey before applying directly to your skin. Let the honey stand on affected skin for 30 minutes and then rinse off with warm water.
The other thing to know about honey is that you don’t want to use contaminated honey on acne-affected skin. A “health-grade” honey like Manuka honey will be safer to use than the honey you’ve had in the refrigerator for a year or the honey you buy at the grocery store.
Most of the fizzing anti-acne products that you can buy without a prescription, as well as many that are prescription-only, contain benzoyl peroxide as the main active ingredient10. The rule of thumb for benzoyl peroxide is to use it on tougher skin, like back acne, and to use other products for facial acne. It fights infection—but that’s all it does. Your skin has to heal on its own.
Tea Tree Oil
The herbal soaps and gels made with Australian tea tree oil11, on the other hand, are a little less effective at fighting acne bacteria, taking maybe a day or two longer to kill the infection, but they also help your pimples look better right away. Tea tree oil is a good option if you have problems with peeling from benzoyl peroxide. Just don’t use both tea tree oil and Manuka honey. They contain the same antibacterial ingredients.
Retinol creams are12 nothing more than a highly concentrated form of vitamin A. They are great for stimulating “tired” skin, but they are problematic for sensitive skin, especially if you get lots of sun. If you live in Australia or the USA, don’t even think of using any kind of retinol cream without also using sunblock.
Scrubs and Peels
There are also many products that take basic natural ingredients, the very same chemicals found in apple cider vinegar and green tea and other treatments that are the best home remedies, and package them in an easy to use form. There is a very simple way to choose peels that work for acne13. Look for:
- Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) in a concentration of 8 to 10%. These will list glycolic acid or lactic acid (or maybe water) as their first-named ingredient.
- Beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) in a concentration of 0.5 to 2%. Salicylic acid is the most important commercially available beta-hydroxy acid. It may not be at the top of the list of ingredients.
Then be sure your product does not contain alcohol, essential oils, fragrances, or perfumes, since these dry out the skin. But there is a much easier way to do your acne care.
Exposed Skin Care
There are any number of skin care “systems” on the market, and the simple truth is, most (but not all) of them work to some degree. But rather than trying lots of products to find one that works just a little better for you—or not—and rather than running to one store for apple cider vinegar and then picking up your alpha-hydroxy acids at another stores and your retinol at a third, why not integrate your acne care with a product like Exposed Skin Care?
Exposed Skin Care provides a three-step solution that does all the things your everyday acne care routine can do, all in one product. The system knocks out acne with a cleanser, a “pore opener,” an anti-acne serum you apply to your skin, and the right kind of cleansing cloths to remove just dead skin without damaging healthy pores. With a money-back guarantee, you have nothing to lose, and you’ll never have to run down to the store to get a facial ingredient and there’s absolutely, positively no risk you’ll wind up smelling like someone kicked over the apple cider vinegar barrel at the pickle factory. For a simple solution for mild to moderate acne that works, try Exposed Skin Care.
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- Laubscher T, Regier L, Jin M, Jensen B. Taking the stress out of acne management. Can Fam Physician. 2009 Mar;55(3):266-9.
- Mukhopadhyay P. Cleansers and their role in various dermatological disorders. Indian J Dermatol. 2011 Jan-Feb;56(1):2-6.
- Face washing 101 | American Academy of Dermatology. Aad.org. 2019.
- Thomas Stringer ORCID Icon, Arielle Nagler, Seth J. Orlow & Vikash S. Oza. Clinical evidence for washing and cleansers in acne vulgaris: a systematic review. Journal. Journal of Dermatological Treatment. Volume 29, Feb. 2018 – Issue 7 Pages 688-693.
- Tarun J, Susan J, Suria J, Susan VJ, Criton S. Evaluation of pH of Bathing Soaps and Shampoos for Skin and Hair Care. Indian J Dermatol. 2014 Sep-Oct;59(5):442-4.
- Sharquie KE, Al-Tikreety MM, Al-Mashhadani SA. Lactic acid as a new therapeutic peeling agent in melasma. Dermatol Surg. 2005 Feb;31(2):149-54; discussion 154.
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- Eady EA, Layton AM, Cove JH. A honey trap for the treatment of acne: manipulating the follicular microenvironment to control Propionibacterium acnes. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:679680.
- Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. J Dermatol. 2017 Nov;44(11):1212-1218.
- Mazzarello V, Donadu MG, Ferrari M, Piga G, Usai D, Zanetti S, Sotgiu MA. Treatment of acne with a combination of propolis, tea tree oil, and Aloe vera compared to erythromycin cream: two double-blind investigations. Clin Pharmacol. 2018 Dec 13;10:175-181.
- Leyden J, Stein-Gold L, Weiss J. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatol Ther (Heidelb). 7(3):293-304.
- Grajqevci-Kotori M, Kocinaj A. Exfoliative Skin-peeling, Benefits from This Procedure and Our Experience. Med Arch. 2015 Dec;69(6):414-6.
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