The Right Ingredients to Look for In Acne-Fighting Skin Care


During an active acne breakout our skin needs change. Trying to find the right products to get you back to clearer skin can be overwhelming. And in the era of masks and ‘maskne,’ the more we know about how to treat our skin, the better we look and feel. To get skin back on track, we asked three top skin experts to give us their best prescriptions for over-the-counter ingredients that help get breakouts under control. 

The Main Defenders: Benzyl Peroxide, Salicylic Acid and Adapalene

“The ingredients we look for in over-the-counter products are benzyl peroxide (BPO), salicylic acid, and adapalene or Differin,” explains Spokane, WA dermatologist Wm. Philip Werschler, MD. “These been proven to be effective for the treatment of acne and they are part of the FDA-approved OTC acne monograph. The P. Acnes bacteria is oxidized, or killed, by the oxygen in the BPO. Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid and breaks up oil in pores. Adapalene speeds the sloughing of dead skin cells, which reduces the chances of forming new acne by keeping pores unclogged while calming redness and inflammation in the skin.”

Azelaic Acid, Turmeric and Ceramides

Vienna, VA dermatologist Brenda Dintiman, MD says a specific combination of azelaic acid and calming ingredients have helped her patients who are experiencing different types of maskne. “I rely on compounds that help the red, irritated white heads around the mouth and also the classic plugged pores or blackheads. I like azelaic acid to decrease the pigmentation and cysts triggered by masks, stress and sweating and find tumeric and ceramides to be effective in calming inflammation.”

Niacinamide and Zinc

Two other acne ingredients to have in your arsenal are niacinamide, which acts as an anti-inflammatory, and zinc oxide which can reduce oil production says New York dermatologist Amanda Doyle, MD of Russak Dermatology. “Niacinamide-vitamin B3 also stabilizes epidermal barrier function by reducing water loss and increasing ceramide production, which helps to maintain the skin’s hydration and barrier level. This makes it a helpful ingredient to combat acne. I also like zinc for reducing oil, killing bacteria and reducing inflammation. When you add niacinamide, you produce even more anti-inflammatory effects.”

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