There are many ways to treat acne and, particularly in more severe cases, one should consult a professional first.  Regardless of the prescribed regimen, there are several ingredients that are used consistently to treat acne.  Here are the main ones:

Benzoyl Peroxide: This ingredient is often used to treat mild acne and other skin conditions. When applied, it reduces the amount of acne causing bacteria and usually causes the skin to dry, flake, and peel. It usually comes in the form of a topical serum or ointment, or it can be mixed within a cleanser. There are also different percentages, and a dermatologist may be able to prescribe you something fairly strong in severe cases.  What’s especially great about benzoyl peroxide is that bacteria does not easily develop a resistance to it, as can be the case with antibiotics, so you can use it for a more prolonged length of time if required. The tough part about this ingredient is it #1.) unstable which causes the flakiness and dryness (which can leave your skin raw or worse causing more breakouts) #2.)  it’s not natural, plant-based and #3.) it is not clean due to its composition and bleaching ability.  It is technically considered a toxic ingredient by Credo’s standards which is a tough red list. 

Salicylic Acid: While Sal Acid has a lower rating for treating acne than BP, it is cleaner, safer, and less harsh on the skin. It helps naturally exfoliate the skin by allowing the skin cells to “unstick” from one another.  When used in conjunction with a scrub or chemical exfoliant, for example, it can really help improve the texture of your skin, wrinkles, and treat acne.  It generally takes a bit longer than BP to start working and, because it is not as strong, may require some additional steps or ingredients to improve your skin; however, like with all clean, holistic medicine or beauty it’s a marathon not a sprint in terms of the treatment process. 

Retinol: This ingredient, derived from Vitamin A, is often included in over the counter serums, overnight creams, and moisturizers to treat acne (among other things). Retinol works in a few ways. On the skin’s outermost layer (epidermis), retinol exfoliates to remove dirt, dead skin cells, and oil from pores. This can help prevent the formation of pimples.  It also works by literally getting under your skin, unlike many other acne treatments. Tiny molecules penetrate the middle layer of your skin (dermis), where retinol stimulates the production of collagen and elastin.  Both of these compounds fight acne indirectly by reducing the appearance of pores and acne scarring over time.  This is a great product to use in conjunction with Sal Acid. 

Glycolic or Lactic Acid:  Both of these are very effective and can be used alternatively or in conjunction with the above ingredients. When applied to the skin, glycolic acid works to break the bonds between dead skin cells and the next skin cell layer. This creates “shedding” that can make the skin appear smoother with a more even complexion. For people with acne, the benefit of glycolic acid is that the peeling effect results in less “gunk” that clogs the pores. This includes dead skin cells and oil. With less to clog the pores, the skin clears and you usually have fewer breakouts. Also, glycolic acid can affect the outer skin barrier, helping it retain moisture instead of drying your skin out. This is an advantage for acne-prone people because many other topical anti-acne agents, like salicylic acid, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide, are drying. Lactic acid, which is found in milk, is also an AHA chemical exfoliator, so it works similarly to glycolic acid at sloughing off dead skin cells. The difference is lactic is more gentle, so it's great for those with sensitive skin

There are several others but these are at least some of the meat and potatoes.  My recommendation would be to use a product that contain both Salicylic Acid and Retinol such as our Serum 11, spot treat a really bad pimple with BP (so that it is used minimally like with a hormonal, period blemish) such as Vivant Skin Care BP 10% Treatment, and then use an at home Glycolic or Lactic Acid peel (depending on which is better for your skin type) once maybe twice a week such as Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel 30 Pk.

Written by Allyson Welch

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