I honestly can’t remember not having pimples. Not to say that my skin hasn’t come a long way in the years since I walked the halls of my local middle school. I’ve gone from daily breakouts to the random zit, but either way, pimples have been a mainstay on my face my whole life. They come in different shapes, sizes, and textures depending on the day—usually under the skin—and the majority of the time, the pimples leave love notes—in the form of dark marks—behind on my face after they’re gone.
I have my go-to brands that have made vast improvements in my skin’s texture and number of surprise zits. But finding them hasn’t always been easy. There have been countless times where I thought a cleanseror exfoliator would clear up my stubborn acne for good, then find that a few days later I had a new zit coming in. Let’s just say that in the process of trial and error, there’s been a lot of error.
To help the rest of you hone in on creams, cleansers, and exfoliators that won’t break you out, we rounded up 20 of the best products for acne-prone skin, according to dermatologists and women who’ve put them to the test IRL. Bonus: You can get many of these at the drugstore for under
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Clay Mask for Oily Skin, $20
This mask is so effective, it won best mask in this year’s Healthy Beauty Awards. “I’ve tried a lot of clay masks to help with the huge pores around my nose, and one thing that I hate is that my face always feels super dry after using them—like I want to dunk my face in a gallon of moisturizer. This one didn’t leave my face that way,” explains one Healthy Beauty Awards 2018 tester. “It’s not a thick mud. It has a more creamy texture.”
Cetaphil Dermacontrol Foam Wash, $9
This foaming cleanser is recommended by Sejal Shah, M.D., and doesn’t have the regular salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Instead, it’s formulated with zinc to make it more tolerable for sensitive skin.
LovelySkin Luxe Mattifying Antioxidant Moisturizer, $60
According to Joel Schlessinger, M.D., this moisturizer is a lightweight lotion that works to eliminate excess oil and shine at the skin’s surface, while offering just the right amount of moisture.
The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Daily Solution, $22
Beauty blogger Tammi Clarke counts this solution as one of her holy-grail items, telling SELF that the product not only helps prevent spots and acne, but also helps with skin texture and appearance.
Clinique City Block Purifying Charcoal Mask and Scrub, $28
Dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., often recommends Clinque’s City Block Purifying Charcoal Mask and Scrub to clients, which uses natural bamboo charcoal to clear away dirt and kaolin clay to polish skin for a deep-clean treatment.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash, $7
Dermatologist Michele Green, M.D., recommends this classic Neutrogena face wash—which contains salicylic acid—for acne-prone and oily skin types.
Bioré Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser, $4
For a great drugstore cleanser, Green also recommends Bioré—created with 2 percent salicylic acid—which helps to exfoliate skin, and keep pores from clogging.
Aveeno Clear Complexion Foaming Facial Cleanser, $8
Dermatologist Heidi Waldrof, M.D., likes this Aveeno facial wash as a drugstore solution for acne-prone skin. It’s got a lower dose of salicylic acid to treat acne without irritating skin.
Neutrogena Clear Face Liquid Lotion Sunscreen, $11
Dr. Green recommends this drugstore brand for a daily sunscreen that won’t cause breakouts. Since this product was tested on acne-prone skin, you won’t have to sacrifice sun protection to avoid an annoying pimple.
Nip+Fab Glycolic Fix Exfoliating Pads, $10
If you’re a fan of using pads for quick exfoliation, Dr. Shah suggests these glycolic and hyaluronic acid-based pads that work to retexture skin while simultaneously moisturizing it. “I do tend to recommend more chemical exfoliants, especially in pads because I find that people don’t over use them as much,” Shah says.
Neutrogena Acne Proofing Scrub, $7
I used Neutrogena products back in the day when my first pimple popped up, but I fell off the brand as I got older and discovered new brands (there are so many to try!). But I’ve been getting hooked on Neutrogena products all over again ever since I tried the Light Therapy Mask a few months ago. And after using this scrub, my skin feels instantly smoother and not overly dry, which is why it’s no surprise this product took home this year’s SELF Healthy Beauty Award for best exfoliator.
PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash, $10
If bacne or other body acne is an issue, Shah sends her patients to get PanOxyl wash, which has 10 percent benzoyl peroxide.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foam Gel Cleanser, $15
For teenage patients, Dr. Shah recommends the entire Effaclar system, which includes a moisturizer and spot treatment in addition to a cleanser, since it is affordable and easy to find in most drugstores.
Vichy Normaderm Daily Anti-Acne Hydrating Lotion, $25
“This is a great oil-free moisturizer for normal, combination, and oily skin types,” says Joel Schlessinger, M.D. “As an added benefit, glycolic acid and LHA gently exfoliate to minimize the appearance of blemishes, large pores, and shine.”
ReveSkin Acne Purifying Cleanser, $60
Dermatologist Jason Emer, M.D., recommends his acne patients alternate between two different cleansers in order to get maximum benefits without irritating the skin. First, he likes Restorsea’s Pro Facial Cleanser wash (which is only available at doctor’s offices) because it has a gentle exfoliating formula. Then he suggests this ReveSkin pick. “Colloidal silver, salicylic acid, lady’s mentle extract, and bitter orange extract pack a punch when it comes to killing bacteria and reducing inflammation,” he says. “They are all found in Reveskin’s acne line of skin-care.”
Jan Marini Skin Zyme Mask, $60
Dr. Emer also recommends Jan Marini’s Skin Zyme. The product uses papain from green, unripened papaya to exfoliate without drying skin or causing more irritation.
Avène Mineral Ultra-Light Hydrating Sunscreen Lotion, $28
This drugstore mineral sunscreen with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide is another favorite from Dr. Shah. It’s super lightweight and won’t leave a white cast or greasy feeling on the face.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Three-Step System, $30
This three-step system includes a cleanser, toner, and spot treatment. The set has salicylic, glycolic, and lipohydroxy (LHA) acids as well as a micronized benzoyl peroxide—so you’re getting a lot of different exfoliants in one system. “With continued use, this acne system improves the appearance of blemishes in as little as three days,” says Dr. Schlessinger. “Best of all, this system is oil-free, non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, paraben-free, dermatologist-tested, and suitable for sensitive skin.”
CeraVe Foaming Facial Cleanser, $15
“Often if patients are on acne medications, I recommend a plain gentle cleanser such as CeraVe so as to not overly dry their skin out,” Dr. Shah says.
Clinique Moisture Surge 72-Hour Replenishing Hydrator, $39
You know that feeling when you put on moisturizer and it feels like you just put a thick layer of Vaseline on your face? It’s like you can feel the breakout coming in a matter of hours. According to one of our testers for this year’s Healthy Beauty Awards, this hydrating face lotion is nothing like that, which is part of the reason it won our award for best moisturizer.
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