Last Updated on August 15th, 2019
Neutrogena acne products are some of the most well-known and affordable over-the-counter acne treatment options out there, but which ones work best? Are there any products that might actually make acne worse? Should certain skin types stick to certain products? We went out and did all of this research for you and put it together in this handy guide. Read on to discover the pros and cons of some of Neutrogena’s most popular acne products.
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The Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask is actually so popular that we wrote a full review for it, which you can read by clicking on the link above. But we still thought we should mention it here, since this is an ultimate guide to Neutrogena’s acne products and it is one of the most popular options out there right now.
Basically, the Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask uses blue and red light to fight acne bacteria and reduce oil production, both of which cause acne. Due to its frequency, blue light can be used to kill certain types of bacteria, including p. acnes1, the bacteria most commonly associated with acne. Red light, on the other hand, is essentially a very gentle source of heat that reduces the amount of oil released by our oil production glands2. When used together, red and blue light can reduce all kinds of acne, from blackheads and whiteheads to cysts, though at-home devices may not be strong enough to effectively treat cystic acne yet.
For more information on the Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask, check out the link to our review above.
By far the best way to treat acne and get clear skin long-term is with a gentle, consistent skin care routine, like Neutrogena’s Complete Acne Therapy system. It’s a three-step system that focuses on cleansing, treating, and moisturizing the skin.
The first step in the Neutrogena Complete Acne Therapy system is the Skin Polishing Cleanser, which contains 2% salicylic acid, a powerful acne-fighting ingredient. It is derived from willow bark, wintergreen, or sweet birch trees, and its primary function is exfoliation, though some studies suggest it can also reduce inflammation3. Exfoliation is vital for proper acne skin care because it removes excess dead skin cells that might otherwise clog pores and lead to increased acne.
The second step is the Acne Control Lotion, which contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide effectively kills p. acnes bacteria, which helps treat and prevent pimples, and a 2.5% concentration is the ideal amount for acne treatment. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, concentrations over 2.5% rarely increase effectiveness, but they often increase skin irritation4. The only downside to this product is that it contains laureth-4, a highly pore-clogging ingredient. It is used to help ingredients mix well, but it is not a good ingredient for acne-prone skin.
The final product is the Oil-Free Moisture with SPF 15, a moisturizer that doubles as a sunscreen. It is vital to moisturize even the most acne-prone skin because the better moisturized the skin, the less likely it will become irritated and inflamed, which can lead to acne. It’s also important to sunscreen because many acne-fighting ingredients make the skin more sensitive to sun damage. Best of all, it’s suitable for all skin colors, no matter how light or dark, because it does not contain zinc oxide, the ingredient that often makes sunscreen far too white to blend in with dark skin.
Peel off masks sound fun, and the Pink Grapefruit Acne-Prone Skin Peel Off Mask from Neutrogena smells amazing, but they aren’t for everyone. Studies show that peel off masks have the potential to work5, but because they adhere to the skin slightly, they are often too harsh for those with sensitive skin. They may result in irritation and inflammation, which in turn may lead to more acne, not less. You may have sensitive skin if your skin is often red or blotchy, or if it tends to react strongly to certain chemicals or new products.
Even if your skin is fairly resistant, the Pink Grapefruit Peel Off Mask still isn’t our top recommendation on this list. Sure, it contains great ingredients like glycerin to moisturize the skin, but it also contains several types of alcohol, which are incredibly drying. It includes a little bit of citric acid and glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin, but they’re at the bottom of the ingredients list, meaning there likely isn’t enough of them to actually do much exfoliating. Basically, this mask is a way to make skincare fun, but it is unlikely to make a significant difference in your acne.
The Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub is one of Neutrogena’s signature products, but it’s actually not our favorite Neutrogena product. Although the Pink Grapefruit products smell lovely, their ingredients lists are often full of fillers that don’t do much to treat acne or improve the skin. This particular foaming scrub contains 2% salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin, glycerin to moisturize it, and grapefruit extract, which has a high vitamin C content to brighten the skin. If you have relatively mild acne, this might be enough to improve your skin, but if you have moderate to severe acne, you want to look for something that can do more. We recommend Exposed Skin Care products because they contain all kinds of scientific and natural active ingredients that reduce acne, including tea tree oil, sulfur, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and aloe vera.
You typically won’t see us recommend a product with the word “scrub” in the title for people with sensitive skin, but Neutrogena Naturals Acne Foaming Scrub is one of the gentler options on the market for people with both sensitive skin and acne.
The tricky part about having sensitive acne-prone skin is that you need the product to be strong enough to treat your acne, but not so strong that it irritates your skin. This foaming scrub walks that line very carefully. It contains 1% salicylic acid, which is slightly less than the 2% in most of Neutrogena’s other acne-fighting products, but still well within the effective range. It also contains citric acid, which may help exfoliate the skin further. Then there are all of the moisturizing and protective ingredients. It contains jojoba esters, an emollient which helps keep skin flexible and hydrated, glycerin, an excellent moisturizing ingredient, water, and portulaca oleracea extract, an extract taken from a succulent that has been proven to help speed wound healing6, which could help acne heal more quickly and reduce scarring.
However, it isn’t perfect. It still contains fragrance which often causes irritation in those with any kind of chemical sensitivity, and it’s a scrub. However, if your skin can handle the fragrance, and if you apply it to the skin gently with minimal scrubbing, it may be an ideal treatment for sensitive skin.
As someone who has always struggled with keeping up a steady skin care routine, despite constant acne from my teens well into my 20s, I can appreciate the usefulness of the Rapid Clear Treatment Pads. If you have a hard time remembering to wash your face before you get all comfy in bed, you can keep these pads in your nightstand, run one over your face real quick, and go to sleep without leaving your skin completely untreated before bed. Or if you’re not exactly an early-riser and don’t always have time to wash your face in the morning, you can use a Rapid Clear Treatment Pad on your way out the door.
It’s true, washing your face and applying your treatment and moisturizing creams would be better, but some treatment is better than no treatment at all. These pads contain 2% salicylic acid to help exfoliate your skin on the go, but they also contain denatured alcohol and fragrance, which means they may not be well-suited for those with sensitive skin. If you have relatively resilient or oily skin, these pads are a great way to fill in any potential gaps in your skin care routine.
The Rapid Clear Treatment Pads are a convenient, innovative addition to any skin care routine, but that doesn’t necessarily apply to the rest of the Rapid Clear product line as well. The Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Cleanser is definitely not a product we would recommend because it contains far too much benzoyl peroxide.
As we mentioned previously, after 2.5%, benzoyl peroxide doesn’t get any more effective, it only gets more irritating. Neutrogena’s Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Cleanser contains a whopping 10% benzoyl peroxide, which we simply cannot recommend. The best way to treat acne, and prevent it from coming back, is to treat your skin as gently as possible, and 10% benzoyl peroxide is not gentle at all. The cleanser includes glycerin and petrolatum, two ingredients that can help protect the skin, but that won’t make up for the incredibly harsh levels of benzoyl peroxide present. Plus, to make matters worse, it also contains laureth-4, the pore-clogging ingredient we mentioned earlier. Although it may work for some people, we definitely think there are better products in Neutrogena’s acne treatment line.
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