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Using Lotion to Cure Acne For Good

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Whether you treat your skin with acne gel, acne cream, acne foam, or acne lotion is not as important as the ingredients the product contains. For some skin care problems, however, lotions are best.

acne treatment cream
The most important thing about choosing an acne product is the ingredients used to make the product.

Summary:

  • There is nothing special about a product for acne just because it is a lotion, a gel, a foam, or a wash. What counts is what’s used to make the product, the right ingredients in the right amount1 at the right pH.
  • Never put anything that feels thick or heavy on your face if you have acne. If it feels heavy, it is probably blocking pores.
  • Many lotions for acne contain additional ingredients that can harm your skin.
  • Alcohol and plant essences can increase oil production instead of reducing it.
  • Probably the best way to find the right acne lotion is to start with a skin care system, such as Exposed Skin Care.

What Is a Lotion?

A lotion is nothing more than a liquid product that is thin enough to be spread over the skin easily and thick enough to stay on the skin for minutes or hours until it is washed off or dissolves in perspiration. Usually lotions have very small bubbles or no bubbles at all, and they are used to provide substances for the skin rather to remove dirt, grime, or oil off the skin.

Most lotions contain both water and at least one ingredient that is not readily soluble in water. To make sure the active ingredients stay dispersed, and don’t precipitate down the bottom of the container, most lotions contain one or more surfactants or slipping agents to keep the ingredients mixed. These additives can cause problems in some products.

Lotions: Good, Bad, and Ugly

A good acne lotion2 is one that delivers:

  • A skin healing ingredient,
  • In the right concentration,
  • At the right pH,
  • In a liquid that stays on the skin long enough for the ingredient to do its job.

Many lotions have the wrong ingredient for a particular skin type. Or they might have the right ingredient in a concentration that is not strong enough to make a difference. Or they might be high-pH, alkaline formulas that don’t interact well with the skin. (Alkalizing is good inside the body, but mild acidifying is best for the skin.) Or the instructions with the product might say to wash it off after just a few minutes, soon enough to make absolutely sure no one writes in to complain about side effects, but not long enough to make a real difference for the skin.

There are a few lotions that are just plain harmful for blemished skin3. The main problem areas are:

  • Addition of alcohol and/or menthol to make the skin feel tingly. That “action” on the skin is the process of inflammation, not the process of healing.
  • Use of sodium lauryl sulfate (the European spelling is “sulphate”) as a slipping agent. Women tend to be especially sensitive to this ingredient that can dry out the skin4.
  • Addition of fragrances, perfumes, and “natural` ingredients” of dubious value to acne care but of considerable certainty of causing allergies.

If you have acne, it’s also important to avoid any lotion, cream, gel, or balm that feels thick on your skin. Any product you use should feel light. Thick lotions clog pores and, whatever potential benefit they may have for other skin problems, they are likely to make acne worse.

Now let’s take a look at some of the top-selling acne lotions.

Paula’s Choice Skin Revealing 10% AHA Body Lotion

Paula’s Choice is a high-quality skincare brand that creates products that work at relatively affordable prices, and their Skin Revealing 10% AHD Body Lotion is no different. At US $26.60 for 7 ounces, it really provides a lot of bang for your buck. It contains 10% glycolic acid, a great ingredient for exfoliating the skin. 10% is a safe and effective concentration that should help reduce acne without causing serious irritation to the skin. If you have sensitive skin, never fear, this product also contains shea butter, green tea extract, and other great soothing ingredients to protect your skin while you treat your acne. It’s designed to help with uneven skin tone and rough skin on the body rather than the face, so if you have blackheads and whiteheads on your back, chest, or shoulders, this cream could be an excellent way to treat that problem.

Burts’ Bees Natural Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion

If you have oily skin, odds are you don’t use a moisturizer. But should you? The right moisturizer is essential for all acne treatment, even for those with oily skin. Moisturizer protects the skin from the harsh acne-fighting ingredients in all your other skincare products, and even if your skin is incredibly oily, you still don’t want to risk drying out your skin too much and generating more acne that way. The best moisturizing lotion for oily acne-prone skin is definitely Burt’s Bees Natural Acne Solutions Daily Moisturizing Lotion. Available for just US 16.88 for 2 ounces, it’s relatively affordable and it contains all the right ingredients for oily skin. It is moisturizing, as the name suggests, but it also contains salicylic acid, to help exfoliate the skin while it moisturizes.

DERMAdoctor Poetry in Lotion

If you enjoy luxury skincare, this is the acne lotion for you. DERMAdoctor Poetry in Lotion contains a variety of luxurious ingredients, like retinol, edelweiss extract, chamomile extract, and shea butter, but the decadent ingredients come with a decadent price: US $47.90 for just one ounce. If you can afford to splurge on your skincare every now and again, this might be a good pick if you have adult acne. This is because retinol can treat fine lines and wrinkles as well as minor acne. You’d be getting two birds with one stone, as the saying goes.

The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA

The Ordinary is one of our favorite skincare brands when it comes to providing straightforward, simple products, and their Natural Moisturizing Factors + HA is no exception. The HA stands for hyaluronic acid, which is a great acid for hydration. It attracts water molecules from the air to provide your skin with the moisture it needs. It’s an ideal moisturizer for anyone with sensitive skin because it’s completely alcohol-free, and it contains all kinds of gentle ingredients like glycerin, ceramides, and amino acids. At US $10.87 for one ounce, it’s relatively affordable, especially considering the great ingredients it includes.

Fresh Umbrian Clay Oil-Free Lotion

We know what you’re thinking: a clay lotion? Really? Yep, really, and it really seems to work. Fresh’s Umbrian Clay Oil-Free Lotion is best for those with oily skin that needs some hydration without all the shininess that often comes with moisturizing. Clay is a great way to absorb excess oil on the surface of the skin and make the skin look nice and matte. Other ingredients like vitamin E and glycerin help the skin retain more moisture, which is essential for preventing irritation and consequent acne formation. Finally, this product also includes lavender and cucumber extracts, both of which are known for soothing the skin, which is great if you have sensitive oily skin. At US $36 for 1.7 ounces, this is one of the more expensive products on this list, but its unique formula may be worth it.

References:

  1. Over-the-counter acne products: What works and why [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
  2. Acne Lotion. Drugs & Medications. Webmd.com. 2019
  3. Gerber PA, Kukova G, Bölke E, Homey B, Diedrichson E. Severe hyperpigmentation and scarring following glycolic acid peel treatment in combination with low-dose isotretinoin. Eur J Med Res. 2014 Nov 7;19(1):60.
  4. Bondi CA, Marks JL, Wroblewski LB, Raatikainen HS, Lenox SR, Gebhardt KE. Human and Environmental Toxicity of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS): Evidence for Safe Use in Household Cleaning Products. Environ Health Insights. 2015 Nov 17;9:27-32.
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