Anti-Acne products that actually work + A Skincare routine
The aim of this list is to recommend acne products that will work on the vast majority of the population. Most product recommendations I have gotten from YouTube or articles seem to always have the redundant aspect of working for some people while breaking out the skin of others. I have therefore picked the products by taking into consideration (1) the fact that they should not be overly stripping (Witch Hazel, which seems to often be recommended to people with acne, can actually disrupt your skin barrier which might make you break out more for example), (2) they should work for the vast majority of acne types (Cystic/Hormonal/Fungal), and (3) the hydrating/calming products - which are also a big part of any acne routine because you aim to calm down your skin not just fight it- have, for the most part, ingredients that are tested through and through and proven to not be comedogenic, nor fungal or bacterial inducing.
I have had hormonal acne on and off for about 5 years. I also test Skincare products all the time, so some of them trigger it. The longest period of time I had acne for continuously was about 2 years. I’m at a point in my life where I really know how to treat any kind of pimple or cystic flare-ups I have, whenever I see a zit appear, I no longer get alarmed. Please make sure to read the end of this article, as it also specifies how you should be using these products, as using them all together would really irritate your skin and be counterproductive.
‘‘CLEANSING WITH A GOAL BEHIND IT’’
1.Bioderma Sebium H2O Micellar Water
What you get: 500 mL/16.7 oz
I have tried several cleansing balms and oils to remove makeup and I recommend none to people with active acne. Some have broken me out and others that had no reaction on my skin, but broke out my friend’s skin. Cleaning is the harshest step of any Skincare routine, and while cleansers can be formulated to target acne, oils and balms incorporate ingredients that are more prone to actually cause a breakout. Acne is very complex because it can be caused by a variety of issues, including hygiene, hormones, bacteria, eating habits, and more… While I have found products to recommend for each ‘step’ of a routine, the oil&balm makeup remover category will stay empty. If your skin has acne, you should not be wearing makeup, to begin with, since it has a high chance of clogging up your pores, but if you insist on doing so, Micellar waters are your best bet. Particularly the Bioderma Sebium H2O Micellar Waters - the one with a green cap is targeted towards combination/oily skins, the pink cap towards sensitive skins and the blue one for dehydrated, sensitive skins, if you don’t know your skin type, your best bet is to go with the pink cap. Check out the general ingredients list here, as you can see, all of them are non-comedogenic and won’t strip your skin of any essential moisture, while still being able to get rid of the majority of your makeup.
For a more in-depth review of this product: [REVIEW] Bioderma Sensibio H2O Micelle Solution (Before and After)
2.Hada Labo Tamagohada face wash
Price: 39$ on Amazon, but you can get it for much cheaper in stores in South East Asia (but you’ll have to really look for it).
Texture: Thick grainy cream
What you get: 130 mL/ 4.6 oz
Cruelty-free : Yes. But its parent comapny: Rohto Pharmaceutical does test medicine and other healthcare products (not skincare) on animals.
The Hada Labo Tamagohada face wash is the best acne cleanser I have ever used in my entire life. Having been prescribed acne cleansers in the past by different dermatologist and having tried a lot of different cleansers on my own, I can confidently say that this one is the most effective. It has a combination of AHAs and BHAs which are a class of acids that reduce cell adhesion at the top layer of the skin. AHAs work on the surface to loosen up dead skin (they ware water-soluble), and BHAs penetrate deeper (they are oil-soluble) into the layers of the skin to unclog pores. It also contains Salycic Acid (a BHA), which is a superstar anti-acne ingredient. While other cleansers do contain these types of ingredients, the majority I have tried are usually too harsh or too soft on the skin. This one falls right in the balance, between being exfoliating enough, yet also suitable for sensitive skin. Even if you don’t have acne - since this helps with skin cell renewal - it’s also extremely suitable for people whose routine targets brightening or anti-aging. If you have very sensitive skin, I’d recommend alternating between this cleanser and something mild like the Pyunkang Yul Low pH Pore Deep Cleansing Foam (it’s not anti-acne in any way but very suitable for sensitive skin to give your irritated skin a break).
Closest dupe for it: Rohto Mentholatum - Hada Labo AHA+BHA Face Wash, it’s owned by the same parent company that owns Tamagohada. It’s effective, but not as much as the one I’m recommending.
‘‘DIRECTLY TARGETING ACTIVE PIMPLES’’
3.Pyunkang Yul Acne Spot Cream
Price (using this link): 9.90$ (If you use my code: DEWILDE you can get up to 5% off on any Yesstyle purchase at checkout)
Texture: light, almost liquid-like soft cream
What you get: 15ml
The Pyunkang Yul acne spot cream is perfect for any type of acne. The majority of acne medications are over-drying to the skin, and some of them are even colored (Pink clay targeting spots), so you can’t exactly use them during the day and go on with your life. The solution to this problem (and that of acne in general), is found in this spot cream treatment. It’s very gentle, immediately gets absorbed into the skin and doesn’t dry it out in any way. It’s almost as if you were using a normal moisturizing lightweight cream on your face, which initially made me extremely skeptical of it, but it has become - by far - one of the best anti-acne cream I have ever used (and again, I've tried a LOT). I used to think that this would only work on smaller pimples, but since then my skin got a reaction to a few products and I had some cystic acne for a few months and this even worked on them!
For a more in-depth review of this product: [REVIEW] Pyunkang Yul Acne Spot Cream (Before and After).
Tip: Buy 2 if you have a lot of acne because you’ll finish the product quite fast.
4.COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch [or] Clear Skin Shield Patch by Wishtrend
Texture: Thin. Sticky on one side and smooth on the other.
Cruelty-free: Yes, both.
What you get: Wishtrend: 36 patches. Cosrx: 24 patches.
If you have acne with the majority of the white gunk showing (pustule), calming it down with the above-mentioned cream might not be the smartest thing to do because it’s already ready to pop, so extracting it is a better idea. However, extractions can really damage the skin when not done under the appropriate conditions, and they tend to be expensive when administered by professionals. So here’s your best solution: acne patches. I have tried many, and the ones that stick out (no pun intended) are the COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch and the Clear Skin Shield Patch by Wishtrend. These both really stick to your face - the Wishtrend is more sturdy, while the Cosrx one has more chances of it sliding off - and absorb all the gunk of your acne - I personally found the Cosrx one more efficient, but a good portion of people actually prefer the Wishtrend one, both are good anyway. When you wake up after using them, your pimple is visibly less red and inflamed and the majority of the gunk will be absorbed by the patch. The important thing to remember is that when you remove these patches you’re essentially left with an open wound, which is prone to becoming infected again, so what I do is usually follow up with the Pyunkang Yul acne spot treatment which almost guarantees that the inflammation will go down and keep the area of the pimple sanitized.
For a more in-depth review of the Wishtrend patch: [REVIEW] Clear Skin Shield Patch By WISHTREND (Before and After)
‘‘PREVENTING THE acne from appearing in the first place’’
5.pyunkang yul acne toner
Price (use this link): 14.90$ USD (If you use my code: DEWILDE you can get up to 5% off on any Yesstyle purchase at checkout)
Texture: Exactly like water
What you get: 150ml
The Pyunkang Yul acne toner: this one isn’t as powerful as the cream, but it works very well as a preventative measure for acne. The issue with acne products is that no one wants to keep using them when they don’t actually have acne, no one wants to keep slathering on acne creams on a clear face. But the problem becomes that if you have acne-prone skin, you won’t really be preventing future acne from acting up. This is where this toner comes in, it’s perfect because it’s not drying, not irritating, and it’s easy to incorporate into any routine because it has the same exact consistency as water. It works to prevent new breakouts, and you’ll see its effects after about a month of using it as it will help to regulate your skin. If you’re actively fighting acne, you can use this every day, and when you’re just preventing new acne from forming, you can use this a couple of times a week.
For a more in-depth review of this product: [REVIEW] Pyunkang Yul Acne Toner (Before and After)
6.retinoids if you can handle it
Retinoids are the holy grail of any skincare regimen. What they do is basically instruct the cells to keep on renewing themselves, this fixes hyperpigmentation as newer cells emerge, act as an anti-aging agent since it keeps and regulates skin cell renewal (The mechanism goes down and accumulates errors with age), and also treats acne since acne is essentially a problem of a clogged pore. The big issue with tretinoin is that in the majority of cases, your skin will get worse before it gets better. Here’s a little more explanation:
Retinoids are molecules that are able to penetrate into the deep layers of your skin and bind to the surface of receptors on your cells and activate them to induce transcription of genes involved in skin cell renewal (they influence the secretion and transcription of growth factors). They also protect against collagen degradation as they inhibit Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) which are enzymes that degrade different skin matrix components (and get particularly inhibited when you expose your skin to the sun). Pertaining to acne more directly, retinoids also decrease the activity of enzymes involved in lipogenesis and greatly diminish the differentiation and cellular divisions of sebocytes (sebum-producing cells). When it comes to scar formation, retinoids block the transport of melanin to epidermal cells, so you’re left with less hyperpigmentation and visible scaring.
The difference between retinol and tretinoin is that retinol gets converted into retinoic acid as it gets absorbed by the skin, while tretinoin is a pure form of the acid, hence more efficient. Retinol is usually more suited for sensitive skin types.
However, the problem with retinoids is that they cause the skin layers to peel off so rapidly, and penetrate the layers so deeply that your skin will need to adjust to the product. You will experience redness, flakiness, and peeling if you’re not careful, and this can last for up to 8 weeks (sometimes more). And you probably won’t really see any results until about week 24. You need to let your skin adjust to the product and only apply a pea-size to your whole face once every 5 to 6 days for at least 6 weeks (as recommended by most dermatologists). People end up with retinoids horror stories because they’re too eager and dab it on their entire face every day, don’t see any irritation and continue to do so, but with retinoids, the irritation isn’t immediate but gradual, you might feel fine for 1 week and wake up the 8th day with ruby-red peeled skin.
If you can get your hand on Retacnyl, which is a tretinoin cream available in different percentages, this is the one I use (it’s cheap and effective), and you can get it over the counter in a lot of countries. If you can’t get your hands on it, these two work just as well (but are more expensive by miles): Redermic R Retinol Cream by La Roche Posay (available in 1.0% formulation but formulated for sensitive skin), or the Retinol Cream by Skinceuticals (available in 0.3, 0.5 and 1.0 % formulation). No matter what you end up buying, always start with the lowest percentage if available (0.3 or 0.5, never ever jump directly to 1.0).
7.skinceuticals blemish + age defence
Texture: Watery but with a slight texture to it
What you get: 30 ml / 1 oz.
This product got rid of my acne so fast I was shook. In my opinion, it is quicker and more efficient than tretinoin when it comes to getting rid of acne. It’s a chemical exfoliating product and gets rid of your dead skin cells and practically makes it impossible for any new acne to develop. Whenever I use this product my skin is at its best, but since it’s quite expensive, I don’t use it often. The only reason I keep on using tretinoin instead of it is that  the tretinoin I get is less expensive and  even though it shows me a wonderful result when it comes to fighting acne, it doesn’t have as much research as tretinoin does to back up any of its anti-aging claims. If you have active acne and you’re worried because the retinoid takes a much longer time to show results, you can use this every day, but make sure to follow it with a hydrating and moisturizing product like the one mentioned below. If you have any doubt of this product working, try not washing your hands after applying it on them and on your face, you’ll notice that your hands will peel whenever the product is left on them overnight.. But it’s formulated as to be mild enough to minimize any risk of irritation on the skin of your face.
!Do not under any circumstances combine this product with any retinoids! if you want to incorporate it into a retinoid routine, use it a couple of days after it and alternate between them!
Dupe: I have found none that work mildly as well.
‘‘TREATING THE SCARS and dryness’’
8.Elensilia Escargot Original Repair Cream
Price (use this link): 30.51$ USD (If you use my code: DEWILDE you can get up to 5% off on any Yesstyle purchase at checkout)
Texture: Gooey and lightweight but not sticky.
What you get: 50ml
Cruelty-free: can’t find any information on this
The Elensilia Escargot Original Repair Cream is holy grail cream that has extremely low chances of irritating you. It’s not formulated for acne-prone skins, but it’s the best cream I’ve ever used to fade acne scars and it has worked wonders on me. Do note that this has a higher chance of not working with your skin than any other products on this list, so use it with caution. I don’t feel like Elensilia has gotten a lot of hype in the skincare industry and that’s mainly because the brand doesn’t seem to really focus on marketing nor the aesthetics of their packaging, but rather on word of mouth. The only reason I found out about them is that I was trying out a sea of snail products at some point in 2018 and stumbled upon this one. It’s enriched with 80% of concentrated snail extract, the gel formula is super absorptive and the results are visible within a month.
9.Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence
What you get: 50mL
Price (use this link): 29.90$ (If you use my code: DEWILDE you can get up to 5% off on any YesStyle purchase at checkout)
While the majority of products I’m recommending do not irritate nor dry out the skin, Retinoids and the blemish age defence serum do tend to cause irritation. There’s also the human error of getting over-excited and using all these products at the same time or just the fact that your skin might get sensitive. The bottom line is you need a hydrating product to balance out your skin and this is the only one I will recommend because it’s very simple and straightforward. It’s mainly composed of Propolis Extract (63%), Honey Extract (10%), Royal Jelly Extract (10%), which all have data that supports them being antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal as well as having wound healing and anti-inflammatory properties, which makes honey-based products perfect for acne-prone skin. Other honey products don’t contain as much honey as this one does or are advertised as honey products while their main ingredients are actually something else ( like the Polyphenols in Propolis 15% Ampoule, which actually contains 59% of another ingredient: Houttuynia Cordata, a plant) that is not as well researched and might actually cause you to break out. The point is, unless you’re somehow actually allergic to honey, this serum will not irritate or clog up your pores. While it won’t directly fight your acne, it will take care of your skin barrier, and a healthy and happy skin barrier makes for healthy and happy skin.
For a more in-depth review of this product: [REVIEW] Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Enrich Essence (Before and After)
10.Klairs Midnight Blue Calming Cream
Texture: Silky and glossy
What you get: 30ml or 60ml
While the honey product above can be used every day to prevent your skin from freaking out, the Klairs midnight blue calming cream should be used whenever your skin actually does freak out (if you see too much peeling, if it’s red, irritated, scratchy, burning, …). This contains special ingredients that actively diminish the inflammation response of your skin. For example, the majority of reviews, videos, and instructions concerning retinoids application recommend using it in conjunction with a moisturizing cream. While this does work, I’ve personally found that using the midnight blue cream on top of the retinoids works just as well (if not much better), as it will actively calm down your skin and chances of complications. The cream itself is not particularly targeted to fight acne, it’s just there to treat freaked out skin.
For a more in-depth review of this product: [REVIEW] Klairs Midnight Blue Calming Cream (Before and After)
You can change the routine depending on how sensitive or not your skin, this is only to get you started with.
Use the Bioderma Sebium H2O Micellar Water only when you have makeup to remove. Yes, I know cleansing is important and the double cleansing method is a thing, but relax.
Use the Hada Labo cleanser alternatively (once every two or three days) but when you use it, use it morning and night. (Alternate with a mild cleanser suitable for sensitive skin)
Use the Pyunkang Yul Acne toner every day and night, but skip it on the days and nights where you’re using either the retinoids or the SkinCeuticals serum if you bought them. (They are not a necessity, but will considerably speed up your journey to acne-free skin)
Use the Pyunkang Yul Acne cream every day and night wherever you have active pimples, slather it on your targeted areas and let it get absorbed. Don’t use it if you’re using retinoids/the SkinCeuticals serum on a particular night, but you can use it the day after.
Use the Skinfood propolis essence every day and night, alternatively, you could use it once every two days, but the point of this product is to make your skin barrier and hydration functions healthy.
Use the pimple patches every night wherever you have acne full of white gunk that shows. Make sure to follow with the Pyunkang Yul Acne cream the second day to make sure the spot doesn’t get affected.
Use retinoids exponentially, first using it maybe once every 5 to 6 days, and always use them with the Klairs midnight blue calming cream on top or below (depending on how sensitive your skin is). As your skin progresses, start by incorporating it more frequently into your routine, switching from every 5 days to every 4, every 4 to every 3 so on, but then use it every 2 days, using it every day doesn’t show notable extra benefits, but is potentially more irritating. Keep on incorporating the blue cream with it to be sure that your skin won’t react badly to it in any way (use them together for at least a month). When using retinoids at night, don’t use any acne-fighting skincare alongside it, the acne toner will make your face peel a lot more, and the acne cream will irritate it. Instead, use the patches if you need to (by clearing up your skin with a Q tip before you stick them on), and use the skinfood essence on top or below it if your skin is really sensitive. (Depending on how sensitive your skin is, the more you put hydrating barriers between retinoids, the less sensitized your skin will be, but the less the product will work too, so try to use these hydrating/soothing products only on top of the retinoids if you can)
If you can’t get your hands on retinoids or if you want faster results, use the SkinCeuticals every 2 days, your skin shouldn’t get irritated by it but it will peel a lot so make sure to incorporate the midnight blue calming cream and some of the propolis to calm it down. DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE USE BOTH THE RETINOIDS AND THE SKINCEUTICAL SERUM TOGETHER.
Be careful when first starting to use the Elensilia Escargot Original Repair Cream, the chances of it breaking you out are slim but there. Slowly incorporate it into your routine, and if it turns out to work for you, you can use it every night, it will make the wound healing process faster, enhance the efficacy of the other products by giving your skin the ability to heal itself, and it will also fade out acne scars.
Use the Klairs midnight blue calming cream only to calm down irritated inflamed skin, or as mentioned above. This isn’t a hydrating or moisturizing cream, it’s a product specially designed to combat irritation and soothe down the skin and should be used as such. Slathering it on won’t amount to much if you don’t actually need it.
Use a sunscreen! I know I haven’t recommended any, but that’s because I haven’t tried one out that I can confidently recommend knowing that the chances of it making you break out are slim. Different types of acne can get triggered by different types of sunscreens, choosing one suitable for the type of acne you’re experiencing is up to you.