From where to start with an acne-busting skincare routine, to how to prevent breakouts, and what to use get rid of those troublesome under-the-skin spots and lingering scars, we asked a dermatologist to break down all there is know to about treating acne.
It doesn't matter if it's a single pimple on your cheek or a cluster of cystic spots on your jawline, there's nothing fun about dealing with acne. When you first break out, it's almost second nature to layer on every lotion, gel and cream you have on your shelfie – and you may even consider sticking on a pimple patch for good measure.
But smearing on layers and layers of skincare is only going to make matters worse. "The majority of us like instantaneous results for a lot of things including skin, therefore introducing lots of new skincare products at once does not always lead to the rapid skin results we hope for," says consultant dermatologist at the Institute of Dermatologists, Blackrock Clinic and Mater Private, Dr Nicola Ralph. "If someone has acne-prone skin and uses products that are too heavy for their skin such as oil-containing products, this can lead to more breakouts."
Instead, Dr Ralph says to keep things in moderation, picking one or two products that are specifically formulated to fight acne. "The most important thing you can do for your skin is to double cleanse. This will also ensure if prescription products (such as topical antibiotics/retinoids/OTC treatments) are to be applied afterwards, that they will penetrate the skin more readily," she explains.
With the help of Dr Ralph, we've broken down the ultimate acne skincare routine PLUS the best everyday products for acne-prone skin.
STEP ONE: DOUBLE CLEANSE
As is the case with anyone’s skin-care regimen, everything should begin with a thorough cleanse. "Ideally one should double cleanse. First, with micellar water which removes oil-based products such as sunscreen and makeup. Secondly, cleanse with a gentle cream-based cleanser which enables a deeper cleanse of the pores," says Dr Ralph.
Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water, €16.99, Available at Boots
Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser, €23, Clinique
STEP TWO: EXFOLIATE
Exfoliation is a crucial skincare step for acne-prone skin. Although Dr Ralph insists that you should avoid harsh scrubs and over-drying skin as this will result in your skin increasing its own natural production of oil to compensate for the dryness caused by the products, further exasperating the problem.
Instead, opt for a chemical exfoliator, which is an enzyme or acid-based formula. Chemical exfoliants have a smaller molecular structure, which means they can penetrate deeper into the skin to dissolve and dislodge the glue that binds dirt in your pores and causes dead skin cell build-up. "My go-to exfoliant is Biologique Recherche P50 which is designed to balance the skin and regulate oil production," says Dr Ralph.
Avoid exfoliating more often than three times a week, and on the days that you do exfoliate, avoid using your products that contain AHAs and BHAs.
Lotion P50, From €25, Biologique Recherche
STEP THREE: TREATMENT PRODUCT
This step in your routine is where the work truly happens. Treatment products are the powerhouse of any skin-care routine and can either be an active serum that has antioxidants, peptides, or retinol, or it can be a prescription acne treatment from your doctor. You can’t go wrong with some form of retinol—either OTC or prescription-based—since they take care of clogged pores by increasing cell turnover. Benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and niacinamide are all super helpful acne-fighting ingredients which can be applied to the skin via a serum, toner or cream.
Acnecide 5% w/w gel, €14.95, Available at McCabes Pharmacy
STEP FOUR: MOISTURISE
Next up? Seal everything in with a moisturiser. A moisturiser will replenish the skin, hydrate your skin cells, and protect your skin. But not just any moisturiser,"Always choose an oil-free, non-comedogenic moisturiser," Dr Ralph recommends.
Oil-free moisturiser, €64, Kate Somerville
STEP FIVE: SPF
Applying an SPF every single day is a non-negotiable, regardless of your skin type. Yes, even in Ireland. Yes, even on cloudy days. Yes, even if you are stuck in the house all day. The only problem? Many sunscreens can clog pores.
Look for an oil-free formula like this mineral sunscreen from Revision Skincare, advises Dr Ralph. Although it is zinc-based, it doesn't leave that infamous mineral SPF white cast as it has a light, glowy tint.
Intellishade TruPhysical, €60, Revision
Whatever you do: never, ever squeeze your spots
You've heard it from your doctor, your mother and best friend but it's worth repeating: do not squeeze, pick or burst your own spots. No matter how many episodes of Dr Pimple Popper you’ve binged during lockdown, you need to be careful when performing these procedures as you can lead to more inflammation and even cause infection if done incorrectly.
Instead, Dr Ralph suggests using a retinoid regularly and to apply slightly more retinoid to a large spot to help it dry out more quickly.
Retinol Complete 1.0, €135, Revision
Main image by @lounorthcote on Instagram