Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 5/25/2021
Shopping for acne products can get overwhelming very quickly. Between acne creams, face wash for every type of skin, lotions, spot treatments and more, the trip to the store can be frustrating if you don't know what to look for.
Struggling with acne doesn’t mean you should have to spend a fortune on skincare products or an eternity on your daily skincare routine.
Fortunately, the best skincare routine for acne is a simple one. Before you stress out about the perfect acne cleansers or the most impactful active ingredients, get to know the basics. Keeping your skin clean, hydrated, and protected is a good place to start.
Enlisting the help of a dermatologist to identify prescription and over-the-counter products to introduce into your acne routine can take your acne-fighting powers to the next level.
Generally speaking, there are a handful of factors that contribute to acne: hormones leading to excess oil production, pores clogged by dead skin cells (follicular hyperkeratinization), inflammation, bacteria, lack of hydration and genetic predisposition.
Several different things can aggravate or worsen these factors. These include UV radiation, cosmetics, diet, obesity, stress, smoking, sleep problems, medications, endocrine diseases, and even excessive face washing.
The journey to healthy skin and the best skincare for acne, in particular, begins long before you stand before your bathroom sink for your nightly or morning routine.
That said, perfecting your skincare regimen for your skin needs can help you manage your acne breakouts.
Read more about what causes acne.
The best skincare routine, period, is one that you’ll stick with. The American Academy of Dermatology says, “Today, virtually every case of acne can be successfully treated.
Dermatologists can help treat existing acne, prevent new breakouts, and reduce your chance of developing scars.” Keeping your routine simple is a good place to start.
Wash your face one to two times daily, and when it is dirty. As stated earlier, excessive face washing can worsen acne, so don’t be tempted to cleanse more often just because your skin is oily or you’re having a breakout.
A facial cleanser marked as “gentle” and non-comedogenic is a good place to start. A gentle cleanser will be less likely to aggravate or interfere with any other acne treatments you’re using.
While occasional exfoliating isn't a bad idea, avoid regular use of abrasive exfoliants. Too much scrubbing can lead to irritation and dry skin (especially if you have sensitive skin).
Rinse the face wash with lukewarm water (not too hot or too cold) and pat dry gently with a clean towel. Using the same towel day after day can reintroduce bacteria and impurities to your skin.
If you struggle with acne, chances are you’re using some form of acne treatment. Once your face is clean, use those as directed. Be sure to consult your dermatologist before combining over-the-counter treatments with prescription treatments.
OTC acne products can often do more harm than good when used too much, and while they delay you seeking medical treatment for your acne, they can worsen your complexion.
Your healthcare provider may recommend you use topical benzoyl peroxide or a retinoid once or twice daily depending upon how bad your acne is. Follow their instructions above all else, and use those products only as directed.
Anti-acne medications can dry the skin, which can put you in a vicious cycle of too dry, then too oily complexion.
To break the cycle, don't skip the moisturizing step. Instead, find the right hydrating moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated without worsening your oily skin.
To hydrate your skin in the healthiest way, look for moisturizers that:
won't clog pores
contain sunscreen/SPF 30 or above
Learn more about the best moisturizer for acne prone skin.
Acne skincare routines don’t begin and end at the bathroom sink. Here are additional steps to take throughout your day to minimize your acne breakouts and troublesome pimples:
Spreading bacteria around your face can only worsen your acne, so as tempting as it is to get in there and pop pimples and blemishes, or squeeze out those blackheads and whiteheads, don’t touch your face.
Acne treatments take time to work, and moving from one solution to the next doesn’t give any of them the time to work, and can actually worsen your complexion.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends giving a product six to eight weeks before giving up on it.
Seek out cosmetics that won’t worsen your acne. Look specifically for makeup labeled as non-comedogenic or “won’t clog pores.”
Wash your face before bed, every time. Not only will sleeping in your makeup dirty your pillowcase, but it can also worsen your skin.
Don’t use your hand to wipe sweat from your face, as you could be spreading bacteria around. Instead, keep a clean towel in your gym bag.
Stress can wreak havoc on your skin, so make sure you’re taking steps to manage stress, including getting a good night’s sleep, every night.
Harsh UV radiation can already cause damage to the skin. If you're adding in products that may dry your skin out, a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher is a good choice to avoid skin dryness or sunburn.
If you've finally decided to make the dreaded trip to the drugstore, make sure you look for products with the following active ingredients:
Dermatology experts recommend that retinol in combination with other treatments have seen great success. Combined with other ingredients, retinol may help you on your acne-fighting journey.
You don’t need to suffer with acne in silence. A dermatologist or healthcare provider can help you find treatment options that can keep troublesome breakouts at bay.
Both prescription medications and over-the-counter acne treatment products may be part of what they recommend.
Taking care of your skin is important, no matter your skin type. But if you struggle with acne, understanding how to best treat your complexion becomes even more important.
If you have bad habits when it comes to your skincare routine, it can worsen your acne and make your skin concerns even more pressing.
In short, the best skincare routine for acne involves: keeping your face clean by gently cleansing twice daily, applying healthcare professional-recommended acne treatments, and using a moisturizer with sunscreen.
Beyond that, there are many things you can do to boost the effects of your daily regimen -- getting plenty of sleep, choosing the right cosmetics, and talking with a dermatologist will all help you maintain clear skin.