Over-The-Counter Acne Treatment 101: Esthetician's Guide
Sep. 23, 2020
Many of us have found ourselves in the same position: It’s time to revamp your skincare routine or simply replace one of your holy grails. You watch a couple of youtube videos, read some product reviews, and you feel ready to take on the drugstore. But as soon as you arrive, you find yourself overwhelmed by all of the choices in the skincare aisle. Suddenly, the acne cream you were set on is being overshadowed by the appeal of a similar product from a different brand. The only concern? They have two very different active ingredients.
With the rise of skincare influencers, dermatologist YouTubers, and beauty bloggers, it’s easier than ever to find accessible recommendations for treating acne. And even better: they are beginning to recommend more and more drugstore products and simplified routines. Yet, it can still be hard to differentiate what’s actually in those products that are helping your breakouts. We are going to get into some of the common ingredients offered OTC and online and which types of acne they treat. First, it's important to know which type or types of acne you're trying to treat.
Different kinds of mild acne.
*Note: Severe cystic and nodular acne should be treated by a dermatologist.*
Salicylic acid is somewhat of a star in the skincare realm. You see it mostly in cleansers and toners, although it can be splashed into almost anything. Salicylic acid is in a group of acids called beta hydroxy acids or BHA’s. It is great at gently exfoliating the epidermal layer, effectively revealing the fresh skin cells underneath to give you a smoother texture. It has anti-microbial (fights bacteria) and antifungal properties and can penetrate through oil in the pore, making it ideal for treating whiteheads, blackheads, small bumps, closed comedones, and even light hyperpigmentation. It is typically less irritating compared to AHA’s or alpha hydroxy acids (glycolic acid, lactic acid, etc..) My personal favorite is Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid because it's extremely effective yet gentle.
Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ~ $29.50 USD
*Pro Tip: Opt for a leave-on product with salicylic acid, and make sure to apply before serum or moisturizer. This will allow the product to come in direct contact with your skin. Moisturizing after will prevent you from getting dry!
Benzoyl peroxide is really great for some, and a no-go for others due to its irritating potential. It is anti-microbial and works especially well for inflamed acne that contains pus. Benzoyl peroxide works by exfoliating deep within the pore, allowing for skin turnover to happen unhindered, and preventing dead skin cells from clogging in the first place. But this deeper exfoliation means that it can be more prone to irritating skin. Benzoyl peroxide works best for cystic acne, whiteheads, pustules, and papules. This cleanser from CeraVe is a great way to introduce benzoyl peroxide into your routine. Because benzoyl peroxide is very strong, a cleanser is short enough contact that it can do its job without staying on your skin for too long. https://www.target.com/p/cerave-acne-foaming-cream-cleanser-with-benzoyl-peroxide-5-fl-oz/-/A-76545850
*Pro Tip: Studies have shown that benzoyl peroxide at 5% is just as effective as at 10%. To avoid flaky skin and irritation, stick to 5% or lower concentrations.
*Pro Tip: Benzoyl peroxide is notorious for bleaching clothes, towels, and pillowcases. Try to use only white face cloths when using benzoyl peroxide or designate a few cloths that you don’t mind getting bleached. Sleep with a towel or old t-shirt on your pillow at night to keep your pillowcases bright!
Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid or AHA. Glycolic acid is also an exfoliant, one that may be better suited for people who have moderate acne that is too sensitive for benzoyl peroxide. Glycolic acid is great for closed comedones or bumpy skin, whiteheads, pustules, papules, reducing pore size, and even fine lines and wrinkles. It is also great for treating acne scarring and hyperpigmentation to reveal more even-toned skin. Like all acne treatments, glycolic acid can be irritating if used in high doses or too frequently. The Ordinary has a cost-effective glycolic acid toner, with other skin-loving ingredients in it. https://www.ulta.com/glycolic-acid-7-toning-solution?productId=pimprod2007097&AID=165150&PID=10078&CID=af_165150_10078_&clickId=SjuSpcSMwxyOTt8wUx0Mo3bwUkiX9QQUVVIj0U0&SubID=byrdie.com&irgwc=1
*Pro Tip: Like salicylic acid, you’ll want to find a leave-on product containing glycolic acid (like a toner or serum), as a cleanser doesn’t stay on long enough to absorb into your skin.
*Pro Tip: A glycolic acid mask can be ideal if you are too sensitive for a leave-on product. Just make sure to use glycolic acid in whichever form at night!
Retinol or retinoids are commonly found in over-the-counter products geared for anti-aging. But people sometimes don’t know that it can be fantastic for acne as well! With Differin being sold at drugstores now, it’s never been easier to get your hands on a high concentration, proven acne treatment; one that you used to need a prescription for. Most anti-aging products don't have enough retinol in them to make much of a difference. But I highly recommend giving Differin a try if you are experiencing difficult-to-treat acne or have inflamed acne, pustules, papules, closed comedones or rough texture, and/or fine lines and wrinkles. https://www.walgreens.com/store/c/differin-adapalene-gel-0.1-acne-treatment/ID=prod6388971-product
*Pro Tip: Start SLOW. Retinol is notorious for giving dry, flaky, irritated skin. It’s tempting to use it every day, but 1x per week to start out with is more than enough. Make sure to moisturize generously. You’ll thank yourself later!
Azelaic acid is another exfoliant. In a clinical trial, it proved effective against mild inflammatory acne, closed comedones, whiteheads, hyperpigmentation, and hormone-induced melasma. Positively, it’s very effective for redness caused by rosacea! Azelaic acid is considered a better option for very sensitive skin. This acid would be ideal for someone who has inflamed and red breakouts, and who is prone to acne scarring.
Sulfur works similarly to benzoyl peroxide in the way it prevents excess oil. Sulfur is really great for oily or combination skin and is an awesome option for light breakouts or breakouts from your period. Sulfur works best for whiteheads, closed comedones or small bumps, and texture. A sulfur mask can be a very effective spot treatment overnight as well. Sunday Riley has a sulfur mask that also has niacinamide, tea tree oil, and bentonite clay to help reduce oil production and pore size. This particular mask works well for me as a spot treatment or in-shower mask.
Sunday Riley Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask ~ $20 USD for travel size.
*Pro Tip: Use as an in-shower mask, apply before you hop in, and rinse off at the end of your shower. The steam will help it penetrate better, and it’s super relaxing!
Acne pimple patches have gained a lot of popularity over the past few years, and with good reason! Most pimple patches are actually small hydrocolloid bandages. Many people think that acne needs to be dried out, which is not the case for some types of acne. Hydrocolloid patches work because they keep wounds (or in this case, your pimple) moist, which allows for it to heal quicker and without interference from outside elements. They can actually suck the pus and fluid out of your pimple without you having to squeeze (which is a big no-no in itself), and do so without drying the skin around the pimple. By using pimple patches, you’re less likely to pick at your face and less likely to end up with an acne scar. Hydrocolloid patches are best for whiteheads, or pimples that have visible pus in them. They can also help a pimple that you’ve picked at heal quicker. They will not work for cystic acne, blackheads, or inflamed pimples that don't have any visible pus. Another form of pimple patches is treatment patches. These usually have salicylic acid or another active ingredient in them and work similarly. These ones are better for inflamed acne, and will still work on whiteheads. Treatment patches are great for overnight, as they prevent the active ingredient from wiping off and allow it to penetrate deeper into the skin. Treatment patches shouldn’t be used on cystic acne, blackheads, or pimples without pus either. COSRX is my personal favorite, as they are comfortable to wear, clear, and come in mulitple sizes for differently sized pimples. https://www.amazon.com/Cosrx-Pimple-Master-Patch-24patches4sheet/dp/B014SAB948
*Pro Tip: Most pimple patches are small and clear, meaning you can wear them all day while quarantined, if you work from home, or overnight. They work best when worn for many hours (think 8-12) but you will be able to wash your face and moisturize over them because they stick to your face!
*Pro Tip: Apply the patch of your choosing directly on top of your whitehead, and make sure your skin is freshly washed before you apply. Moisturize after it’s already on!
Over the counter acne treatments have never been more plentiful. Remember to patch test your products (apply a small amount on your inner wrist and wait 24 hours to see if you react poorly) before you apply to your whole face. This can save your skin from a negative reaction! Start slowly with your treatments, 1x per week to begin should be enough until your skin acclimates. After that, you should be able to incorporate it more consistently throughout the week. If you see any type of irritation, cut back on use. It’s extremely important to note: If you are introducing any type of acne treatment or active into your routine, try to apply them at night, and make sure to wear a broad-spectrum SPF every day!! Even if you aren’t treating acne, wear sunscreen every day! You’ll thank yourself in 30 years.
Clear skin the gentle way?
Thank you @cheriefor this amazing gift 🤩 “buh-koo-chee-all” HERBIVORE - Bakuchiol Anti-Aging Serum I’ve already become a diehard Herbivore lover. So to receive this beauty was super exciting. When I started my acne journey on Cherie I was (and still am) a Differin Acne Gel stan. This was my choice of retinol and I wanted it strong to treat acne and boost my cellular turnover. Now that my acne is currently under control and it’s getting hot again, I definitely want something smooth and gentle. Bakuchiol is a gentler alternative to the very popular ingredient retinol. So essentially you’ll get overall youthful results for your skin. I haven’t tested this on my acne theory yet, but overall my face has been smooth and irritation free. This serum does not have a smell which I love for products of this caliber. I also love that it’s light and not drying at all. I use this at night and since i have a tolerance to retinol I use it every night. I haven’t been using it long enough to see results (about 12 weeks) but I definitely can’t wait to finish this. Have you tried Bakuchiol?
A Journey of Self 🌹
I figured Black History Month was as good as any opportunity to talk about my self finding. Growing up in a small yet old family, I always had questions about my roots and family history. I also struggled with self conscious doubts about my appearance. Why is my nose this big? Why is my hair this curly? Why am I taller than average? These weighed heavy on my mind growing up because honestly, sticking out sucked. So, I finally dove deep into my family’s origin and decided to do an Ancestry DNA analysis. I immersed myself with every corner of the site. I only got the chance to finish my maternal grandmas side of the family tree, but even that has plenty of gaps. Yet, when I received my DNA results I was stoked. Then I realized, I don’t know much about any of these places. So I dug even deeper. I have a little journal of things I’ve learned and want to know, but this was quite the experience. It was heartbreaking and satisfying at the same time. I highly recommend for every race and background to do this DNA Test. The best part of this was scrolling through photos of the people of the respected countries I was DNA matched to. I swear I saw a girl who looked like me, but everyone else thinks I’m tripping lol. In the end, I’m satisfied with my results and findings. Relatively speaking, this way of self discovery has been the most effective.
Double Your Lash Length With Sky High Mascara!
I bought this mascara after seeing a post about it on Facebook. I love trying out new mascaras but rarely do I find one that I will use regularly like my beloved tarte - Maneater Mascara However this stuff is good. MAYBELLINE - Lash Sensational Sky High Waterproof Mascara It gave my lashes so much volume & length they literally doubled in size! My lashes are already pretty long to begin with but this made them look amazing. The photo is after applying only one coat so I can only imagine how good they will look after two or three coats! It also didn’t clump up my lashes at all. I applied it really quickly & lazily too because I was in a rush to get ready & I was still amazed! I honestly think this is going to be my new daily mascara. It is waterproof but not the annoying kind that leaves your eyes completely black when you go to take it off. It came off really easily with my POND'S - Facial Moisturizers Dry Skin Cream which is what I’ve always used to remove my eye makeup, since I was a kid! @cherie@Cheriebeauty@CheriePick
HOLY GRAIL SPF 🌞🌞🌞
Okay guys as I have said before I am guilty of rarely ever wearing sunscreen. I just never liked the feel of it on my skin. I always felt like it made me greasy & clogged my pores. However, once I heard about this product I was very intrigued. NIOD - Survival 30 It actually isn’t sold in the United States for some reason so I had to purchase it on a UK website. (Beauty Bay) It is an antioxidant serum with SPF 30. At first, it appears to be tinted but it’s actually not. On NIOD’s website they state: “The slight tinted appearance is derived from the active technologies including Lutein, Fractionated Melanin and Pycnogenol.” It blends in with your skin so easily & does not leave a white cast like some other SPF products. However this serum literally makes my skin tone soo even & perfect! It also contains silicone so it completely smooths over my pores. AND besides all that great stuff, it’s a mineral sunscreen! So it protects against environmental & lifestyle issues. Like UV rays, blue light, etc. I have never loved a product as much as this one! I literally cannot believe how good my skin looks while using this stuff! For a 30ml bottle, I paid $33 on the Beauty Bay site. For me, that is completely worth it! It comes in this adorable packaging & pretty glass bottle. It also has a pump dispenser & squirts out the perfect amount for a single use! I really can’t recommend this stuff enough guys! It’s wonderful!! @cherie@Cheriebeauty@CheriePick
Wednesday Wellness 🙏🏾
This past week has been rather hard and long for me. I ultimately decided to get back on track with my wellness plan. My main wellness goal for 2021, is to indulge in myself more. I definitely am a firm believe in “as within, so without”. I started my day with: #Four Sigmatic - Mushroom Elixir Mix with Chaga[products]#[FiveStars] I have been getting back into adaptogen and herbal medicine. What we put into our bodies is just as important as what goes on the outside. Adaptogens are apart of ancient medicinal traditions traced all over the world. I also drink Tulsi “Holy Basil” Tea. If you need a pick me up or emotional boost I highly recommend! SUNDAY RILEY - U.F.O. Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil is my treatment of choice I used during the day. Do not be afraid to use salicylic acid during the day. I applied plenty of sunscreen afterwards as well! This is a GODSEND for clearing up acne and acne scarring. It’s by far the best acne treatment I’ve tried and its mostly due to the immediate results I get. This is a dry oil, so it should be used before a heavy moisturizer or sunscreen. THE BODY SHOP - Spa of the World Thai Makrut Lime Firming Oil is a staple in my night time routine. When I want to relax and really unwind I use a body roller with this oil. It smells like a fresh key lime pie and it’s so hydrating. This is great for firming, especially when paired with a body tool. What do you do for wellness?
Self-Expression, Beauty Rituals, and Uplifting The Trans Community With Mariana MarroquinLearn about LA's Trans Wellness Center and how to become a better ally for the trans community.Jun. 24, 2020
How Cherie's Skin Report Can Help Users Get Advice from their PeersCherie's beauty community offers solutions to all of your skincare questions!Jun. 18, 2020
15 Beauty Brands You Should Get To Know In 2021Fresh new beauty brands are coming our way! Check out which one’s you’ll be eagerly awaiting on launch day for.Jan. 13
My Mental Wellness Improved Through My Self AcceptanceWhen I was around 13 or 14 years old, I remember routinely taking one of my older sister’s black eyeliner pencils before school every morning. I’d arrive early so that I could slip away to the girl’s bathroom to apply a single black line to my eyelids. My parents didn’t allow me to wear any makeup at the time. Although this smudgy line on my eyelids didn’t make me look all that much different, I never felt comfortable at school without it. My teenage mind convinced myself that I needed some sort of cosmetic symbol in order to appropriately express my femininity. Up until that point in my life, society had told girls that looked like me - tall, Black, and with kinky hair - that we somehow weren’t as beautiful as the other girls. For far too long, I believed it too.Feb. 17