What Is The Best Product For Acne

While we typically think of acne as a normal (and incredibly annoying) part of adolescence, the condition is becoming increasingly common in adults. It's an even bigger issue in the female population: According to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, up to 22% of women in the United States suffer from adult acne, compared to 3% of men.

Controlling acne can be difficult, depending on the severity of your condition, but it is not impossible. This summary is the result of discussions with board-certified dermatologists about skin care ingredients that can combat acne, inflammation, and dark spots. We also gathered some of their recommendations for the best acne-prone skin products. By the way, on "What Is The Best Product For Acne?" Let’s get into it.


Best For Acne-Mediterranean Beauty
Best For Acne


What are the best ingredients for acne-prone skin?

The dermatologists we spoke with emphasized four key acne-fighting ingredients: salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, adapalene, and azelaic acid. These are available as prescriptions for more stubborn acne, but there are numerous over-the-counter products that contain these ingredients in lower concentrations.

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta hydroxy acids (BHA) are two other acne-fighting ingredients found in over-the-counter products (BHA). According to Dr. Mary Stevenson, a board-certified dermatologist and associate professor at NYU Langone Health's Department of Dermatology, these compounds can "help with clogged pores like blackheads and can cause the top layer of dead skin cells to shed." However, experts agreed that you should consult with your dermatologist to determine what works best for your skin and will not irritate it (or worsen your acne).


Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a BHA, which means it exfoliates the skin chemically. According to Stevenson, the compound "helps shed the top, dead layers of our skin and can help with inflammation." According to Dr. Eileen Deignan, a board-certified dermatologist and chief of dermatology at Emerson Hospital, these products "unclog pores that are the cause of some acne lesions and help to remove excess oils." Dr. Tracy Evans, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director, suggests using salicylic acid every other day or twice a week because it can be drying, especially on sensitive skin.

Lipohydroxy acid (LHA) is a salicylic acid derivative that works similarly to salicylic acid in terms of unclogging pores and exfoliating the skin. According to Dr. Emmy Graber, president of The Dermatology Institute of Boston and a board-certified dermatologist, LHA is more gentle and less irritating.


Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide inhibits the growth of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) on the skin, which is responsible for acne inflammation and lesions. According to Evans, this ingredient is especially beneficial for inflammatory acne.

According to Graber, many benzoyl peroxide products contain 10% of the ingredient, but higher concentrations have never been proven to be better for acne. "Higher strengths only irritate the skin more, so look for a lower strength," she advised, especially if you're just starting out. Evans also stated that people with sensitive skin or dermatological diseases such as eczema or rosacea should avoid using the ingredient. Remember that benzoyl peroxide will bleach your clothes and towels.



Adapalene is a type of retinoid (or retinol) that is used to treat acne and blackheads. Adapalene is available in 0.1% and 0.3% strengths and is the first OTC retinoid treatment approved for acne, according to Deignan. It works to regulate the turnover of cells lining the pores to reduce clogging. Evans cautioned that adapalene can be very drying to the skin and that it should be used in conjunction with an oil-free moisturizer and a gentle cleanser.


Azelaic acid

Azelaic acid, like salicylic acid and adapalene, works to unclog pores. According to Dr. Lindsey Bordone, a board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, it is gentler than salicylic acid and adapalene and may be a better option if you have sensitive skin. "It can also lighten the brown spots left by old acne marks, which we see most often in people with darker skin tones," Graber added. She pointed out that while prescription-level azelaic acid is available in 15% and 20% strengths, it is also available in OTC products at a 10% strength.


Best products for acne-prone skin in 2022 (August Update)

For acne-prone skin, dermatologists advised looking for products containing salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, adapalene, and azelaic acid. We've highlighted a variety of face washes, moisturizers, sunscreens, spot treatments, and face masks that contain these ingredients, as well as other acne-fighting ingredients like niacinamide and zinc oxide, in the list below. Each of the following brands and products was recommended by experts.


Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Wash

To clean out pores and calm acne, Deignan recommended this salicylic acid cleanser from expert-favorite brand Neutrogena. It contains LHA, which Graber recommended as a gentler acne treatment. According to the brand, it is suitable for most skin types because it is free of oils, fragrances, and parabens.


Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Wash-Mediterranean Beauty
Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Wash


CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser

Deignan recommends CeraVe, a popular brand among our experts, for a lower-strength benzoyl peroxide wash. According to Deignan, it contains 4% benzoyl peroxide to help clear acne, hyaluronic acid to help retain the skin's natural moisture, and niacinamide for a natural anti-inflammatory effect.


CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser-Mediterranean Beauty
CeraVe Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser


La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash

This fragrance-free acne face wash from La Roche-Posay contains a 2% concentration of salicylic acid — Evans explained that the ingredient was combined with LHA to "balance the cleanser" and make it gentler on the skin. It also contains glycerin, which Stevenson described as an AHA that hydrates and soothes the skin.

Because of its drying component, Evans recommends this face wash for people with oily skin; for those with more sensitive skin, she recommends the brand's Toleriane Hydrating Gentle Cleanser, which is less stripping, contains niacinamide, and "provides hydration along with cleansing the skin."


La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash-Mediterranean Beauty
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash


Neutrogena Clear Pore Face Mask

Graber recommended this Neutrogena product containing 3.5% benzoyl peroxide. According to the brand, it can be used as a daily cleanser or a weekly mask to kill bacteria and prevent future breakouts.


Neutrogena Clear Pore Face Mask-Mediterranean Beauty
Neutrogena Clear Pore Face Mask


EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen with SPF 46

Deignan prefers the EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen because it is free of heavy moisturizers that can clog pores and contains the natural anti-inflammatory ingredient niacinamide. EltaMD's mineral-based sunscreen has an SPF of 46 and contains zinc oxide, which experts previously told us provides UVA and UVB ray protection while soothing the skin.


EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen with SPF 46-Mediterranean Beauty
EltaMD UV Clear Sunscreen with SPF 46


Mario Badescu Drying Mask

According to Graber, this Mario Badescu face mask contains sulfur, "the oldest known ingredient to help with skin inflammation." According to Mario Badescu, the combination of sulfur and zinc oxide in this mask draws out impurities and excess oil, while calamine and cucumber can cool the skin and ensure you don't feel irritated afterward. It should be applied twice or three times per week, and it can also be used as a spot treatment on stubborn breakouts, according to the brand.


Mario Badescu Drying Mask-Mediterranean Beauty
Mario Badescu Drying Mask


Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

This highly rated liquid leave-on exfoliant from Paula’s Choice contains 2% salicylic acid to help remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. It also has green tea, which the brand says can help soothe irritated skin and improve visible signs of aging.


Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant-Mediterranean Beauty
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant


La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel

Another adapalene gel recommended by Campbell, La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Adapalene Gel also contains 0.1% adapalene to unclog pores and fight blackheads and whiteheads, the brand says. La Roche-Posay’s gel is also slightly gentler and more moisturizing than the Differin gel, according to people who have used both.


The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Serum

Graber said she usually recommends The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Serum to her patients since it can help improve both blemishes and dark spots. The serum, which contains 10% azelaic acid to help brighten your complexion, is cruelty-free, vegan and gentle enough to use up to twice a day, according to the brand.


CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion

“Products that offer hydration and are oil-free can be very helpful for acne, such as a CeraVe everyday moisturizer,” said Evans. This oil-free nighttime moisturizer from the brand features niacinamide, hyaluronic acid and other ceramides to provide essential moisture throughout the night, according to the brand. You can also get the brand’s AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion, which has SPF 30.


Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion

Bordone told us Cetaphil is a trustworthy brand for those dealing with acne. This face and body moisturizer from the brand features a non-greasy, paraben-free formula with no added fragrance to avoid irritation for sensitive skin types, according to the brand. Cetaphil says the moisturizer can provide up to 24 hours of hydration, and it comes in four sizes ranging from 4 ounces to 20 ounces.


What to know when buying products for acne-prone skin

Acne-fighting products, according to experts, can be used every day — salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid, for example, can be used both in the morning and at night. Adapalene can be used during the day because it is "more stable than older retinoids," according to Bordone; however, if you plan on getting a lot of sun during the day, use it at night because it can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Bordone recommended using acne-fighting products every other day at first and patch-testing them to ensure there is no allergic reaction.

OTC products can help with mild to moderate acne, but "regular daily use for three months to see results," according to Deignan. It's also safe to combine all of the aforementioned acne-fighting ingredients, but keep in mind that this can cause a lot of irritation — and layering products on top of each other, according to Graber, won't make them more effective.

Other factors to consider when using skin care products on acne-prone skin, according to the dermatologists we spoke with.

  • Look for non-comedogenic products. When shopping for acne-prone skin care products, our experts advised looking for a non-comedogenic label, which indicates that the item will not clog pores.
  • Be gentle on your skin. Our experts recommend being gentle when washing your face and applying products when using any type of product. "Avoid scrub washes and mechanical scrubbing devices — these products and devices tend to cause more irritation, which can exacerbate acne rather than help it," Deignan informs.
  • Use sunscreen. In the morning, after using any acne-fighting product, apply a non-comedogenic moisturizer and sunscreen. "I recommend sunscreen every day," Graber said, "but a lot of these [ingredients] thin the top layer of the skin, making people more susceptible to sunburn." According to Stevenson, sunscreen also helps prevent dark spots after a breakout and fade pigmentation. During the day, experts advise using a mineral sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.


What causes acne?

Acne can be caused by a variety of factors, whether you are a teenager or an adult. "Acne is a complicated disease with many triggers, such as genetics, hormonal influence, and bacteria," Evans explained. Acne can be caused by hormonal changes and fluctuations (especially during puberty or menstruation), eating certain foods like dairy, or being under a lot of stress, according to experts. All of these factors can cause an increase in oil production, which clogs pores and promotes the overgrowth of the bacteria Propionibacterium acnes, resulting in an inflammatory response.


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