Pimples, blemishes, and acne are common skin problems that span far beyond puberty and the teen years. I’ve personally suffered with quite a bit of acne as an adult, most of which began when I started getting ‘professional’ facials and experimenting with a lot of high-end skincare products. Back in 2006, I experienced one of the worst acne breakouts ever. At this point, I decided to consult with one of Chicago’s best dermatologists.
I’m so glad I did!
During my visit, he recommended a simple regimen that took me from severe acne flare-ups to clear skin in a matter of weeks. And, for over a decade, he’s continued to equip me with an ever-growing list of practical tips, tricks, and techniques that have allowed me to keep my acne at bay.
I’m excited to share some of them with you!
First, let me be clear, these are my own personal beauty hacks enhanced with research in experimental dermatology, so they might not work for everyone. But, if you’re looking to maintain healthy, soft and clear skin, without necessarily breaking the bank, this is definitely worth a read.
The simple truth is that a good skincare routine involves three basic steps: cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing. I’ll discuss each of these in the following paragraphs. Since many people use over-the-counter acne products as a first attempt to treat acne, I’ll highlight a lot of these. Also, keep in mind that if you have multiple skincare concerns, it’s always best to consult with a good dermatologist as I did.
Facial cleansing is critical for achieving a youthful, healthy looking complexion, as it improves the texture, clarity, and overall radiance of your skin. Cleansing should be done once in the morning and once at night. Creams or lotion-based cleansers are generally best for normal and dry skin whereas gel-based and bar cleansers are better for oily and combination skin, the latter of which refers to skin that tends to be oily skin in some areas and dry skin in others.
I’d definitely describe my skin as oily and I personally swear by Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream cleanser, which is actually one of the first cleansers recommended by my dermatologist. Formulated with salicylic acid, which I’ll discuss a little later, this one’s perfect for acne-prone skin as it functions as a deep cleanser and helps to prevent future breakouts. While I might get a pimple here or there, I haven’t experienced a massive breakout during my 10-plus years of using Neutrogena.
If your skin is normal or dry, you might benefit from using Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Gel cleanser. Its formula is similar to the cream version but it does a much better job of locking in moisture. Some other good cleansing options include Paula’s Choice Clear Acne for oily or combination skin and Cleanser CeraVe Hydrating Cleanser for normal or dry skin.
When it comes to bar soaps, the Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Bar and Neutrogena Transparent Facial Bar are winning solutions. Both formulas are free of fragrances and dyes, and contain exceptional rinsing formula that won’t leave any pore-clogging residue. Similar to Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream and Gel cleansers, the Clinique Acne Solutions Cleansing Bar is made with salicylic acid while the Neutrogena Transparent Facial Bar is made with glycerin.
When glycerin is applied to the skin, it seals in moisture that might otherwise escape, so the Neutrogena Transparent Facial Bar is definitely the better choice for normal or dry skin.
Now, I was recently introduced to the Fresh Faced Skin Care Purifying Bar and I highly recommend this one as well. Made with natural ingredients it contains two kinds of clay designed to absorb excess oil and fight breakout-causing bacteria. It’s also formulated with natural anti-inflammatory ingredients designed to soothe and pamper even the most the sensitive skin. This bar works as both a face and body cleanser and makes for a great shaving cream replacement.
Regardless of which cleanser you choose, it’s important to wash your face once in the morning and once at night. If you sweat heavily during recreational exercise, sports or work, an additional wash is definitely warranted.
For best results, pre-moisten your face with lukewarm water and then apply your chosen cleanser in a circular motion for thirty seconds to a minute. If you wear makeup, you might want to apply a high-quality coconut oil or makeup remover as needed. You can then rinse your face with lukewarm water and pat it dry with a soft towel.
Gently exfoliating your skin speeds up cell renewal by removing dead skin cells, enabling new ones to grow. This’ll improve your skin’s tone and texture in ways that promote the appearance of more youthful skin. There are tons of exfoliating products available on the market, many of which can irritate sensitive, acne-prone skin.
In general, you can exfoliate your skin using gentle scrubs like Clinique Exfoliating Scrub or Neutrogena Deep Clean Gentle Face Scrub. These contain tiny granules as opposed to larger ones that can damage your skin.
Believe it or not, you can also exfoliate your skin naturally and effectively by using a clean, rough-textured washcloth. Simply wet your washcloth with warm or hot water, apply a cleanser that’s free of fragrances, dyes or alcohol, and exfoliate your skin by gently rubbing it in a circular motion, caring to work over any areas where you generally apply makeup. Exfoliating with plain old water is an option as well, so long as your skin is pre-moistened and thoroughly cleaned.
To reduce unnecessary exposure of your skin to fungus and bacteria, dedicate a washcloth for exfoliation purposes only. Also, be sure to wring out your towel and always allow it to dry at room temperature.
Facial sponges are another great option for exfoliating. I’ve been using Studio 35 Facial Cleansing Sponges for years, which is one of Walgreen’s generic brands. And, using this facial sponge with Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Cream cleanser has done absolute wonders for my skin! But, I’ve just recently started using Dew Puff Facial Sponges in place of the Walgreen’s brand, as they are available in Bamboo Charcoal and Asian Clay infused varieties, which come with added benefits.
The Bamboo Charcoal Dew Puff is my personal favorite. This one helps renew the overall appearance of oily, blemished skin and doesn’t necessarily require use of a facial cleanser. The Asian Clay Dew Puff is equally as effective for soothing, cleansing and moisturizing dry, flaky skin.
Dew Puff Facial Sponges dry hard like a pumice stone, but become soft and lush after being rehydrated. Simply run the sponge under warm water for a couple seconds and then add your favorite facial cleanser or go without. You won’t believe how smooth and soft your skin will feel afterwards.
Regardless of the type of facial sponge you use, be sure to let it dry, and stand it on its end instead of letting it lie flat in order to reduce potential exposure to any dirt or dust on your bathroom counter. Dew Puff Facial Sponges are conveniently built with a small string that enables you to hang it up to dry between uses.
If you have oily or combination skin, it’s important to exfoliate 2-4 times a week. However, if your skin is normal to dry, it’s better to exfoliate 1-2 times each week as needed.
Facial moisturizing has its own unique place in daily skincare, particularly since the skin itself is vulnerable to all the negative effects of environmental conditions like cold and hot weather, humidity, pollution, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. A good moisturizer will act as a barrier, protecting the skin from such environmental exposures. In addition, skin hydration inherently promotes a healthy glow and complexion.
Personally, my skin has always been very oily, so I never really wanted to use any moisturizer on my face. When I did, it seemed as though I would always have some massive flare-up. Obviously, I wasn’t using the right products. So, my dermatologist suggested I use Neutrogena Oil-Free Moisture lotion. Neutrogena’s formulas are water-based, lightweight, non-comedogenic (non-clogging or non-greasy) and by far among the best for acne-prone skin.
It’s been over 10 years and I’ve never switched it up!
After gleaning insights from research and my own personal experience, it’s pretty clear that moisturizing lotions are best for oily and combination skin while creams are most appropriate for normal and dry skin due to their relatively higher oil content. But, whether your skin is normal, dry, oily or combination, any formula you choose should be non-comedogenic so as not to cause blocked pores.
This holds especially true if you’re already prone to breakouts.
While I’m a bit biased to Neutrogena products, there are some great all-around options for all skin types, many of which come highly recommended by dermatologists. These include:
- Clean & Clear Essentials Dual Action Moisturizer
- Aveeno Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer
- CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion
- Cetaphil DermaControl Oil Control Moisturizer
- Clinique Acne Solutions Oil-Free All-Over Clearing Treatment
Now, supplementing your facial moisturizing routine with high-quality products containing alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) can improve the overall look and feel of your skin by helping reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Many of the products I’ve highlighted are already formulated with AHAs and BHAs.
If you have normal, dry or even sensitive skin, AHAs like lactic or glycolic acid can help reduce the appearance of age spots while evening out the look of your skin tone. For oily or more acne-prone skin, BHAs like salicylic and benzoyl peroxide acids are great, as they are natural exfoliators that help control oil, eliminate shine, and balance out the skin while also helping to keep blemishes away.
In addition to AHAs and BHAs, using products that contain retinoids (derivatives of vitamin A) is also beneficial for reducing the appearance of wrinkles and enhancing skin firmness and elasticity.
Retinol is a common ingredient found in over-the-counter lotions and creams while prescription treatments are generally comprised of Retin-A. My dermatologist originally prescribed Retin-A (tretinoin) for my initial breakouts and the results were almost immediate. To this day, I still use it for acne prevention and to treat dark spots, blemishes, and wrinkles. Since aggressive use of Retin-A can cause skin peeling, sun sensitivity, and redness, I generally use it once at night, every other day.
In the absence of a prescription, over-the-counter moisturizers containing retinol are just as beneficial. These include Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair Moisturizer, Vichy LiftActiv Retinol HA Concentrate, RoC Retinol Correxion Sensitive Night Cream, just to name a few. When absorbed by the skin, retinol is converted to retinoic acid, which is the same active ingredient found in Retin-A. Retinol is less potent, which is an added benefit since it generally comes with less side effects.
And, finally, because most sun damage results from everyday exposure, sunscreen is an absolute must, regardless of your skin type. As a rule of thumb, any moisturizer with an SPF between 15 and 30 will suffice.
For effective moisturizing, simply dot your moisturizer in various areas of your cleaned and/or freshly exfoliated face and thoroughly blend it in, giving special attention to your eyes, cheeks, and other drier areas.
If your skin looks or feels slick or oily, you’re applying too much.
If you have acne-prone skin, you can also apply a pea-sized amount of either a benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid-based spot treatment to breakout-prone areas at night in order to prevent blemishes. For severe breakouts, reapply your spot treatment after cleansing and prior to moisturizing in the morning.
I use Neutrogena On-the-Spot Acne Treatment but other good options for spot treatment include Claror Acne Treatment, Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10, Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment, and Clinique Acne Solutions Emergency Gel-Lotion.
And, these are my own personal beauty hacks for maintaining healthy, soft, and clear skin!
In addition to considering these hacks, I highly recommend checking out The Best Natural Homemade Skin and Hair Care Products by Mar Gomez. This book highlights over 100 all-natural recipes for cleansers, scrubs and moisturizers suitable for your face, body and hair.
Again, it’s definitely a good idea to consult with a dermatologist to determine your own unique skincare needs, as the products and strategies I’ve highlighted just might not work for you.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of good nutrition for healthy skin. Indeed, eating a diet largely comprised of nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich foods, can greatly improve the clarity, texture, and overall appearance of the skin. Check out this article for tasty ways to boost your skin’s vitality.
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Disclaimer: The information provided is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Any reader who is concerned about his or her health should contact a physician for advice.