Having suffered from acne almost all my life, I know how frustrating acne can be. Back in the days, choices for acne treatments and skin care products were limited, but today, it’s a totally different ball game. We are now being spoiled with too many choices and presented with too much info that it becomes overwhelming and at times, confusing to determine the best acne treatment for ourselves.
I used to have a very interesting case of acne. I had very oily skin, for the most part on my T-zone (forehead, nose and chin) although my forehead and nose were relatively clear most of the time. My problem areas were my chin and jawline which usually worsens during my menses. I used to get chronic acne on the lower half of my cheeks. To complicate matters, I have sensitive skin so I don’t respond well to harsh medications. So, you can imagine that selecting the right acne treatment for me was a complete chore.
After having experimented with countless products and acne treatments, I realized that the key to maintaining clear skin was to stick to an effective acne treatment regime. That simply means staying true to your skin care regime day in day out, and never giving up even if the results don’t happen overnight. It also means that you continuously maintain your acne treatment regime, even after your acne starts to clear out.
Acne Treatment Regime
Selecting the Right Acne Products
Harsh cleansers (especially those that contain exfoliating beads), alkaline bar soaps and alcohol-based products may actually do more harm than good for your acne. Cleansers that have coarse exfoliating beads may cut your skin or lead to redness and rashes with too frequent washes. Bar soaps tend to over dry your skin and alcohol-based products may irritate the skin and lead to even more oil production.
Your best bet is to select products that are non-comedogenic, “for acne-prone skin”, water based or oil-free. Choose cleansers that are gentle to your skin to prevent further skin irritation. Your skin is already irritated with acne as it is, so it doesn’t need any more irritation, thank you. I love Cetaphil’s Gentle Skin Cleanser and St. Ives Naturally Clear Green Tea Cleanser (with salicylic acid). I find that products containing green tea, aloe vera, and chamomile have a soothing effect on my skin.
Be very careful when choosing sunblocks, moisturizers and cosmetics for yourself. These products usually contain ingredients or oil that are more likely to clog pores and lead to breakouts. These ingredients include isopropyl palmitate, isopropyl myristate, butyl stearate, isopropyl isostearate, decyl oleate, isostearyl neopentanoate, isocetyl stearate, myristle myristate, cocoa butter, acetylated lanolin, and D & C red dyes. If you must use makeup, try to source for something like Neutrogena’s Skin Clearing oil-free makeup.
Treat Acne Correctly
I’ve mentioned this before in my other posts, but I just have to stress the importance of having patience with healing acne. Although acne outbreaks often occur fast without prior warning, healing acne may take a matter of 2 to 6 weeks. Just because your acne does not heal overnight, does not mean that you should slather insane amounts of product on your skin or apply one product after another. I know how some manufacturers, including trusted brands like Neutrogena which claims that their Rapid Clear range can reduce breakouts in 8 hours but I would advise you to take it with a pinch of salt. I’ve tried it and I still can’t quite figure out what they mean by “reduce” – clear the existing acne or prevent new ones from forming? If it’s the former, then I’m sad to say that 8 hours is a little far-fetched.
When treating acne, always perform a spot test first to see how your skin responds to it. Some acne treatment products may cause minor irritation or sensitivity during the first few weeks of application until your skin starts adapting to the treatment. In some cases, your skin may actually get worse before it gets better. You may want to continue the treatment until up to a month and if you see any improvement, stick to it.
Most of the time, products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are effective against acne. Salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is oil-soluble which allows it to penetrate pores that contain sebum and help to exfoliate the pore itself. Benzoyl peroxide on the other hand, is a powerful ingredient that is effective against all kinds of acne lesions as it is bactericidal; meaning it kills bacteria. However, if you are sensitive towards benzoyl peroxide, then a topical antibiotic such as erythromycin may just do the trick. I normally apply a thin layer of salicylic acid on problem areas, and then spot treat with benzoyl peroxide. You can try using both at the same time, but just be careful not to use too many products at once to prevent skin irritation.
My skin also responds better when washed with cold or warm water – never hot. It’s the same idea behind putting an ice cube on a swelling acne cyst to calm the redness and inflammation. According to Dr. Ordon, the most effective means of treating acne-prone skin is to first wash your face with warm to hot water to remove dirt, oil and makeup and to open up the skin’s pores, and then rinsing with cool water to shrink the pores and stimulate circulation.
Even after your skin starts to clear out, this does not give you an excuse to become lazy and take shortcuts with your skin care regime. You’ll still want to pay attention to your skin to prevent acne from recurring and heal existing acne marks or scars. If at anytime you feel an acne forming, spot treat it immediately with benzoyl peroxide. Stick to your acne treatment regime and slowly taper off – for example, reducing usage from twice a day to once a day for a while, then once every other day, and then stop.
If you haven’t already done so, introduce a gentle facial scrub 2-3 times a week to your routine to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Use a mask immediately after the scrub to allow the ingredients of the mask to penetrate easily into your skin. I prefer masks containing sulfur, kaolin or zinc as they help to deep clean the pores and absorb excess oils. You might love Proactiv’s Refining Mask if you don’t mind the smell of sulfur. Peel off masks and mask sheets are also effective in soothing, moisturizing and brightening the skin.
If you wish to get rid of unsightly acne marks, you may speed up the process by using a microdermabrasion cloth. I use Exposed’s Derm-X cloth twice a week as it doesn’t irritate my skin. Using a skin lightening product containing lemon extract, arbutin or kojic acid can also expedite the lightening of dark spots. Again, don’t expect a miracle to happen overnight – the marks will heal over time.