Acne is the most common skin concern, but clear skin is achievable for everyone. Here are some tips on how to choose active ingredients in your skincare regimen that will gently, but effectively, help by addressing several root causes of breakouts.

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EVE LOM Morning Time Cleanser

Eve Lom Morning Time Cleanser image

Eve Lom Morning Time Cleanser

Thorough cleansing is fundamental to both treating and preventing breakouts. Harsh cleansers are not the best choice because dehydrating the skin's surface with aggressive detergents can trigger more oil production to compensate. Oil-based cleansers are often an excellent choice because oil dissolves readily in oil (think about how oil and water separate out in salad dressing). This means that the oil down deep in the pores will dissolve readily in a balm cleanser. This version from the U.K. is enriched with fruit enzymes to soften dead skin cells plugging pores, which is the first step to achieving a clear complexion since one of the essential elements of acne formation is dead cell accumulation in the pores.

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Natura Bissé Stabilizing Cleansing Mask

Natura Bissé Stabilizing Cleansing Mask image

Natura Bissé Stabilizing Cleansing Mask

Beta hydroxy acids dissolve in oil to penetrate into pores to break up congestion. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect which makes them excellent for treating red bumps. This mask from Spain incorporates kaolin clay which has a wicking action to draw oil out of the pores without overly drying the surface of the skin. The large size of the tube makes this excellent for both face and body breakouts. This is best applied after cleansing when skin is patted dry, and can be left on for 1-5 minutes depending on the intensity of the treatment desired. Hormonal changes (whether stress hormones or estrogen/angrogen hormones) make oil produced by the skin stickier, so a decongesting mask like this is a good skincare step to include when treating hormonal acne.

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La Mer The Moisturizing Gel Cream

Gel cream is a new category of moisturizer that is more hydrating (water-rich) than classically moisturizing (oil-rich), making it a great choice for acne-prone skin. Skin that is inadequately hydrated not only will overproduce oil but is less able to tolerate targeted acne treatments since it is more prone to irritation, so finding a gentle moisturizer is an important skincare step. "Non-comedogenic" is the labeling term indicating that the moisturizer didn't cause acne in clinical testing. This gel cream from La Mer has proprietary seawater minerals that are renowned for their soothing properties. Because the redness and bumpiness of acne breakouts are the result of inflammation, antioxidant-rich treatments such as this are beneficial because they reduce the inflammation associated with the acne and therefore reduce the appearance of the acne bumps themselves. Whereas acne used to be considered a predominantly bacterial process and was treated with antibiotics, newer science has shown that it is driven by inflammation in the skin directed at dead skin cells mixed into the oil built up in the pores, and so newer treatments are driven at reducing this inflammation.

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Indie Lee Blemish Stick

Indie Lee Blemish Stick image

Indie Lee Blemish Stick

A multi-ingredient spot treatment is a mainstay of a gentle-but-effective acne regimen. Rather than relying on a high concentration of any one ingredient, this spot treatment by natural U.S. skincare brand Indie Lee employs a synergy of several ingredients: salicylic acid, glycolic acid, zinc, and witch hazel. A conventional ingredient for many blemish treatments is benzoyl peroxide, but this pro-oxidant can be pro-inflammatory for many skin types, and so this is a good alternative if spot treatments have previously caused red peeling skin (which can be more attention-grabbing than a blemish itself). For mild occasional acne, sometimes a good spot treatment is all that is needed to keep skin clear. For moderate acne, a spot treatment can up the intensity of a preventative treatment regimen by layering extra active ingredients over breakout-prone areas.

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Verso Super Facial Serum

Verso Super Facial Serum image

Verso Super Facial Serum

The gold standard ingredient to include in your regimen for preventing acne is a retinoid. This retinol serum from Stokholm-based Verso, has added antioxidant polyphenols: this anti-inflammatory ingredient has been shown in European studies to be effective in calming inflammatory acne, so it makes an excellent addition to a retinol product not only for its skin-calming effects but also for its acne-fighting benefits. Retinoids work by improving skin cell turnover so that pores don't become so readily clogged, and also help to fade marks left behind by prior acne. Whereas older formulations were harsh and left skin chapped and raw, this retinol is gentle enough to be used every night (sensitive skin types should start with every other night and work up to this). Retinol has the added benefit of stimulating collagen production to smooth the skin, so it is ideal for more mature skin that is dealing with both acne and aging concerns at the same time.