Do you suffer from acne? If your answer is yes, then you have probably scoured the best acne treatments out there. I hear you. I suffered from acne for most of my 20s, and it’s thoroughly depressing. It knocks your confidence, too. The trouble with acne is that the cause is different for everyone. For one person it could be diet and lifestyle, for another, it could be hormones and stress. If you can work out what triggers your acne, you’ll be in a better place. If you don’t know, don’t panic. There are topical treatments, prescribed medicines and lifestyle changes that will help to treat and improve your acne symptoms. We called on three skincare experts to share their knowledge—two are dermatologists and one is a natural expert, in case you want to avoid the chemical and medicine route.
Keep scrolling for their tips on the best treatment for acne.
1. Products and Ingredients
You can tackle acne with over-the-counter products or prescribed medicines. When my acne got really insufferable, my dermatologist prescribed me Duac, an antibiotic gel that targets the acne bacteria, as well as Differin, a 0.1% retinoid. “One of the best ingredients for acne (and skin in general) are topical retinoids,” says Alexis Granite, MD, Mallucci London. “Retinoids help gently exfoliate the skin, fade pigmentation from old spots and also stimulate collagen. So not only are they anti-acne, but they’re also anti-ageing. There are milder formulations available over-the-counter and higher-strength prescription versions.”
There are also medicines you can take orally such as antibiotics, hormonal medications like contraceptives and spironolactone, as well as Roaccutane (which is a vitamin A derivative like retinol). Treatments like Roaccutane should be last resort measures, Pedro Catalá, founder of Twelve Beauty, says. “Having worked as a pharmacist, I personally believe the side effects (dry skin mainly) outweigh the benefits.”
So what can you do at home with over-the-counter products? David Jack, an aesthetic doctor, suggests using topical acids to treat and prevent acne, “Use a face wash containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide (around 7.5% to 15%), and look to peels and serums containing glycolic acid.”
These ingredients can be drying on the skin, so look to lightweight oil-free serums or moisturisers with hydrating hyaluronic acid that will soothe and plump the skin, relieving some of the potential dehydration. Some people find that oils help with their acne, Catalá suggests using thyme, lemon, lemon balm, cypress, geranium or lavender essential oils and adding them to your favourite purifying clay-based mask.
If you’re keen to go down the natural route when treating your acne, Catalá recommends keeping an eye out for the following ingredients, “I personally have observed great results with burdock root extract, which is an excellent antiseptic and has purifying properties,” he tells Byrdie UK. “Also propolis can be used as an antibacterial and is also very soothing if your acne is painful.
“Another ingredient I use for acne is epilobium extract. It is packed with a tannin called oenothein B, which neutralises the enzyme responsible for excessive production of sebum (5-alfa reductase). Azelaic acid also inhibits the same enzyme. I have observed the best results with these ingredients.”
On the flip side, Catalá suggests avoiding some occlusive (pore-blocking) ingredients such as “propylene glycol, silicone (dimethicone, cyclomethicone), mineral oil, paraffin, lanolin and beeswax.”
If your acne isn’t responding to over-the-counter products, Granite recommends consulting a dermatologist, “We have the tools to help. Many clinics offer blue light and LED treatments, chemical peels and steam extractions, all of which can be helpful in treating acne.”
There are a couple of in-clinic treatments Jack recommends for acne, too. “Theraclear, for example, uses a vacuum-assisted IPL light to suck out pores and destroy the acne bacteria (P. acne) directly at the base of the pores. Heat-based treatments such as Fractora use fractional radio-frequency to heat up and destroy the bacteria and reduce acne scarring.”
A few lifestyle tweaks can help to reduce the severity of your acne, and all three experts agree that diet is the best place to start. Says Catalá, “Reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates and increase the amount of fibre. Limit salt and alcohol, too. If you want to try supplements, the best options for acne are the ones indicated for liver detox such as artichoke or boldo.”
“There is mounting evidence that limiting high glycemic foods in your diet and supplementing with a probiotic may be helpful in preventing and treating acne,” says Granite. “Many functional medicine doctors advocate a largely plant-based diet with low amounts of processed foods, meat products and dairy, and often patients find this helps,” says Jack. “That being said, it is not failsafe, and acne can have a hormonal cause, so often further investigation is required to exclude any treatable conditions, such as PCOS.”
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