Acne-Fighting Ingredients 101: Best Ones And What You Should Avoid

May 7, 2020
If you’re new to acne then don’t worry, just know you are not alone and it’s very common. It’s actually the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans yearly. It mainly occurs during puberty, when the sebaceous glands activate, but it can occur at any age. It is not dangerous, but it can leave skin scars.
Considering which acne product to buy can be as stressful and confusing as purchasing a new mobile phone. There may be an abundance of options, but for both cell phones and breakout remedies, you have to understand all of the features before you buy.
We will discuss the different types of acne and the best and worst ingredients to combat the condition.
Acne: All Shapes and Sizes
Just like our bodies, acne also comes in all shapes and sizes and can vary in color and level of pain.
 The following types of acne are possible:
  • Whiteheads: These remain underneath the skin and are small
  • Blackheads: Clearly visible, they are black in color and appear on the surface of the skin
  • Papules: Small pink bumps, these are visible on the surface of the skin
  • Pustules: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are red at their base and have yellow pus on the top
  • Nodules: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are large, solid, painful pimples that are embedded deep within the skin
  • Cysts: Clearly visible on the surface of the skin. They are painful and filled with pus. Cysts can sometimes cause scars.
Each type of acne requires a different treatment. Receiving quick and correct treatment can reduce the risk of long-term skin issues, such as dark spots and scarring.
Acne-Friendly Ingredients
There are many friendly ingredients for your acne. From over the counter treatments to prescribed medication, take a look at the list below on some safe ways to target your spots.
Over-the-Counter Acne Treatments
Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs).
AHAs remove dead skin cells that cause pimple-producing clogged pores and leave you with smoother, softer skin. These types of AHAs include glycolic and lactic acid.
Salicylic acid.
This acid is a powerful exfoliant that helps keep pores clear by exfoliating from inside the hair follicle. Salicylic acid is in aspirin’s family, as it has anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to pick an acne treatment with around 2% salicylic acid included.
Benzoyl peroxide.
Usually referred to as the most effective over-the-counter ingredient for actually treating acne as opposed to only preventing it. Benzoyl peroxide eliminates bacteria, removes excess oil, and exfoliates dead skin cells away. You'll find it ranging in strength from 2.5% up to 10% in spot-fighting cleansers, lotions, creams, gels, and treatments.
It's not just for recreating your favorite scene from Ghost - clay is a calming ingredient in acne treatments thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties. The clay helps to soothe your skin and temporarily reduce oil production. Apply a clay-based mask every Sunday night to start the week off right.
Hyaluronic Acid.
This water-loving ingredient can hold 1000x times its weight in water and doesn't clog pores, making it the perfect hydrator for acne-prone skin. One of the most important aspects of reducing acne is making sure the epidermis, skin’s top layer, is healthy so it can keep bacteria, dirt, and pollution out. Hyaluronic acid is different from normal hydrators because it acts like a water magnet and maintains skin’s oil and water balance. 
The mineral condenses excess oil, reduces inflammation and assists to exfoliate dead skin cells. Usually sulfur smells like rotten-egg smells but you will usually find products that pair sulfur with other ingredients to help combat the odor. Eggcellent!
Tea-tree oil.
One of the most popular and natural blemish-fighters which has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties to help calm acne. Research has shown that 5 percent tea-tree oil has results comparable to 5 percent benzoyl peroxide. But this natural remedy can be too harsh for some; people with sensitive skin or eczema should use tea-tree oil sporadically.
Prescription Acne Treatments
Prescription antibiotics kill the bacteria that bring on breakouts. They come in oral and topical form and are often used in conjunction with other acne medications such as sulfur and tea-tree oil.
Azelaic acid.
This type of acne treatment kills bacteria and exfoliates the dead skin cells that can plug up pores.
Oral and topical retinoids.
Isotretinoin is an oral pill form of a retinoid designed to treat severe acne after all other treatments haven’t worked. The vitamin-A-derived retinoids, including tretinoin, adapalene, and tazarotene not only smooth fine lines and wrinkles, but they also exfoliate the dead skin cells that cause clogs and lead to acne. Ask your doctor for more information on these options.
Acne-Unfriendly Ingredients
One of the most common mistakes we find is people not understanding their true skin type. All breakouts are not equal and certain products respond well to certain acne ingredients while other ingredients won’t work at all.
Synthetic perfumes.
Be careful of labels stating they include fragrance, parfum, or perfume anywhere on the ingredient list as this may aggravate your acne even more.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate.
This is commonly found in most cleansers. It can damage the skin's protective barrier resulting in worsened irritation for acne sufferers so make sure to read your cleansers label first.
Isopropyl Myristate and Isopropyl Palmitate.
These ingredients won't necessarily affect already inflamed spots but can lead to clogged pores.
Ethanol and Alcohol.
This is mainly used in toners and exfoliating products which are applied over the entire face. These forms of alcohol dry out the skin and can irritate the overall complexion of the skin.
Coconut Oil and Cocoa Butter.
They are extremely comedogenic and therefore likely to clog pores.
Essential Oils.
Most of the 'natural' skincare products will be full of essential oils, and many of these can be irritating to already inflamed skin.
Algae extracts are particularly sneaky because there are so many different species of them, they are available in many different names so check out every ingredient on your treatment first.
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