As we kick off our Clear Skin Challenge this week, the topic of treating breakouts, blemishes and blocked pores is very much front of mind. With treatment, the goal is 2-fold - firstly, we want a plan that gets us better quickly. Life is tough, so let’s not suffer needlessly!
But equally, we want a plan that keeps skin clear long-term, so that rather than reacting to your skin, you’re taking charge of your skin so breakouts aren;t always on your mind. This is why I talk endlessly about skin mastery: you control your skin, rather than it controlling you. This is the secret sauce for a healthy, life-enhancing relationship with your skin. More a supportive girlfriend, than a toxic lover!
So let’s get into what an ideal acne treatment plan looks like!
How do I treat acne?
Creating a plan is critical. Fail to plan and plan to fail.
My tried-and-tested acne strategy looks like this, no matter where you sit on the severity spectrum.
Non-clogging basics - this is your barrier support toolkit. It’s essential - you will get dry at times and you will need moisturiser, no matter how oily your skin. Remember that an upset skin barrier promotes unstable skin - just reflect on how many of us break out after a long flight. That’s barrier upset in action.
Whilst it might seem coutner-intuitive, sunscreen is vital if you’re to prevent any dark marks getting darker and to partner with your Actives routine. Worried about clogged pores? Then seek out sunscreen enriched with pore-clearing niacinamide for the ultimate in reassurance.
Now you have your Basics, you need some Actives. First up is your anti-inflammatory step - your fire extinguisher, if you will!
This is to help control the blemishes you have in the here and now - this is the step that will get you to a better place quickly.
But as we said, we don’t just want to react to blemishes today, we want to stop the breakouts of tomorrow. That’s where your Preventor comes in - this is to help reduce new clog formation, and therefore new breakouts. As long as your skin tends to form these, you’ll need a Preventor active that stops clogging from happening. The good news is, these ingredients have multiple benefits beyond simply preventing congestion.
Which acne treatment is the best?
The ingredients that work haven’t changed that much - but the access to them has, which is amazing.
For actual product recommendations, please download my Acne Solved Cheatsheet which is a great tool to aid you in your journey.
The ingredients that are my absolute heroes for your Fire Extinguisher are:
Benzoyl Peroxide - it also helps break down existing clogged pores, known as secondary comedolysis. Aim for 2-5% strength - stronger isn’t betetr and will be more drying.
Salicylic acid - fantastic for those with oily or combination skin, it also helps break down existing clogged pores. Go for 1-2 % strength.
Niacinamide - as an added benefit, it may also help reduce oil production. Strengths of 5-10% work well.
Finally, topical antibiotics (on prescription) work well but are best used in combination with benzoyl peroxide to avoid resistance developing.
My Preventor heroes are:
Retinoids - dive into these more with my Retinoid Revelations video series, which will help you understand they way they work and how to choose the right one for you.
Azelaic Acid - this is the active ingredient where access has changed dramatically over the last 5 years. I have done multiple dedicated videos so do go check those out if it’s new to you as it’s *amazing*.
How do you use your acne treatment?
In a nutshell - less product than you think and in more areas than you might expect!
I’m obsessed with this aspect of treatment because it’s so rare that products come with accurate instructions on how to use them (much like with sunscreen). It’s *everything* when it comes to getting results. That’s the reason I developed my 13 Dot Technique. It just makes it so easy. I use this for my Preventor step.
For your anti-inflammatory step, we might “zone” it depending on where the breakouts are.
What’s the biggest mistake in acne treatment?
What is vital is that you don’t simply spot treat if you’re prone to breakouts and congestion on a regular basis. I see lots of people in clinic who are using retinoids on individual spots or aren’t using azelaic acid on large enough areas of the face. Remember that for best results we want to prevent and that means applying Actives over the whole trouble-zone.
We’ve covered why acne happens, what it looks like, what makes it worse and how we can approach treating it over the last 2 weeks. It can be hard to have hope when you’ve suffered for a long time - but I can tell you it’s never too late!! I have patients in their 50s who get clear skin for the first time in their lives and it’s game changing for them so there’s no time to lose wherever you are in your journey. I’m here to help so let’s do this! Glowy, acne-free skin is closer than you think - join me over on instagram over the next 2 weeks for more tips on achieving glowy, blemish-free skin!