Piecing together the best skincare routine can be puzzling, and when you have acne it can be even more overwhelming trying to figure out which products are helping, hurting, or simply doing nothing for your complexion. For many people, a multipronged approach is best – instead of picking one or two products dedicated to acne-prone skin, creating a whole routine that’s built for targeting spots, clearing away excess oil, and nourishing skin that’s been through the wringer is often a better approach and more likely to bring relief.
This guide will provide you with a whole regimen that prioritizes acne-prone skin and its needs. Acne is a finicky beast and doesn’t confine itself to one skin type so whether your skin is oily, dry, or mature, you need products that target spots without sucking moisture or depositing too much oil. From a gentle but effective cream cleanser to a zit-zapping clay mask, here are the essential skincare products for acne-prone skin.
For more permanent acne solutions and medical treatments, consulting a specialist, like a dermatologist or your GP, is always the best course of action. This guide can help you keep pimples under control on a daily basis, but should be used in conjunction with advice from your medical practitioner.
READ NEXT: The best creams to clear up spots and prevent breakouts
Best skincare for acne: At a glance
- Best toner: REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic | Buy now
- Best moisturizer: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (+) | Buy now
- Best exfoliant: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid | Buy now
- Best serum: The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% | Buy now
- Best mask: The INKEY List Kaolin Mask | Buy now
How to choose the best skincare for acne
Though skincare products might not be a cure for acne, creating a routine that’s right for your skin type and needs may help you and your skin feel better in a multitude of ways. Learn more about the most common products available below, and discover what features make the most significant impact.
What types of skincare for acne are available?
While acne products are typically lumped into one group, within the world of acne skincare there are several types of options – moisturizers, serums, masks, cleansers, and toners all specifically formulated for acne-prone skin. There are also exfoliants and spot treatments available for handling pimples.
Depending on the brand, you may find products targeted towards specific skin types – normal, dry, oily, combination (both oily and dry) and sensitive – taking all this into consideration you can build a skincare routine that not only targets acne, but any other skin stresses you may experience.
What features should I look for in good skincare for acne products?
Choosing skincare products for acne is a personal choice, but these features will help guide you in finding the ones that are the right fit for you:
- Ingredients: Skincare products that aren’t explicitly for acne may still be great for your skin, but there are ingredients out there that are specifically made for treating acne and might produce better results. Ingredients such as niacinamide, acids (like salicylic acid), benzoyl peroxide, and retinol are all popular options for skin with acne.
- Skin type: Acne can appear on oily, dry, mature, combination and normal skin. It’s caused by a variety of different factors and isn’t beholden to one skin type so, when searching for acne products, make sure they’re a good match for your skin type to avoid causing additional concerns.
- Concerns treated: Acne skincare products might sound similar, but there are several different types of acne out there. If you have blackheads or whiteheads, you’ll want to find serums, moisturizers or masks that target these. While pustules, cysts and other types of spots may need a different combination of products or formulas.
Find formulas and skincare products that feature these ingredients and work on several skin types up ahead.
READ NEXT: Slough away dirt and grime with our best exfoliants
The best skincare products for acne to buy in 2022
1. REN Clean Skincare Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic: The best toner
Price: £28 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
Aside from annoying spots, acne can leave skin feeling dull and looking uneven. This is where a good acid comes in handy. Deliver alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) to your complexion through this toner that will take out spots and help restore your dewy glow. AHA is typically related upon for smoothing out tone and texture as well as targeting wrinkles. Skin that feels congested or full of clogged pores will find that this can help pull out impurities while smoothing rough and bumpy texture.
Though it’s a bit spenny compared to other toners, one bottle lasts for quite a while. It’s fit for applying morning and night, but can work just as well dabbed on once a day with a cotton pad or clean flannel. AHA is the star of this formula’s show, but it’s not the only acne-fighting ingredient – lactic acid, willow bark extract, and azelaic acid are also part of the toner and provide a little extra exfoliating action.
Key details – Key ingredients: AHA, lactic acid; Format: Liquid; Use: Daily – morning and night if needed
Buy now from Cult Beauty
2. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo (+) Moisturizer for Sensitive Blemish-Prone Skin: The best moisturizer
Price: £18 | Buy now from Look Fantastic
Oily and sensitive skin types often have to walk a fine line when finding a moisturizer, and when you bring acne into the picture it’s even harder. There are moisturizers out there that are over-engineered and could be too specialized for acne-prone skin – they don’t provide exactly what’s needed or they feature ingredients that could exacerbate spots. However, La Roche-Posay’s formula won’t cause trouble for oily, sensitive, or acne-prone skin types.
The gel texture is fragrance-free and lightweight enough to boost hydration without making skin feel oily or heavy. (Pilling on your face? No, thank you!) An everyday moisturizer like this is excellent for acne-prone skin as it has ingredients known to be beneficial for treating and healing spots, such as niacinamide and salicylic acid. And clogged pores won’t stand a chance against this moisturizer either, as it’ll keep the skin feeling fresh and supple without causing more blockages.
Key details – Key ingredients: Salicylic acid, niacinamide and glycerin; Format: Gel; Use: Morning and night
Buy now from Look Fantastic
3. Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant: The best exfoliant
Price: £31 | Buy now from Cult Beauty
More potent than a toner, exfoliants provide the deep cleansing and detoxifying action acne-prone skin often needs. Though it feels gentle, these skincare products are powerful when it comes to sucking out impurities and ridding the skin of dead cells, grime, and oil. You need to be careful though as physical exfoliators can cause more harm than good. One exfoliant that’s particularly useful for acne, and won’t cause tears or irritation by beads or scrub particles, hails from Paula’s Choice.
In the arena of acids that create a clean slate for your skin, beta hydroxy acid (BHA) is another top contender and this exfoliant has it. BHA unclogs and brightens without causing dryness. Salicylic acid is part of this lineup too and assists in clearing the skin. As well as treating spots, it’s great for faces prone to clogged or enlarged pores and complexions with wrinkles. This is a leave-on format, so it doesn’t need to be rinsed afterwards.
Key details – Key ingredients: BHA and salicylic acid; Format: Liquid; Use: Every other day, one to two times
Buy now from Cult Beauty
4. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%: The best serum
Price: £5.60 | Buy now from Boots
We all know that vitamins are good for us (though whether we get enough is a different story), but outside of supplement tablets and a healthy diet, there are topical versions worth trying too. Vitamin C, retinol (aka vitamin A) and other antioxidants have all gained popularity in skincare and now niacinamide – otherwise known as vitamin B3 – is having its moment in the spotlight. The Ordinary’s fan-favourite niacinamide serum is proof.
Shoppers with acne-prone skin will appreciate niacinamide’s ability to treat breakouts, smooth skin, and create an appearance that looks and feels more even. This serum also contains zinc which is another helpful mineral for banishing bacteria and calming the appearance of blemishes. If you do use vitamin C skincare products, it’s best to alternate them with this serum to prevent any issues, and working in a thicker moisturizer after applying the serum can also help counteract any dryness.
Key details – Key ingredients: Niacinamide and zinc; Format: Liquid; Use: Morning and night
Buy now from Boots
5. The INKEY List Kaolin Mask: The best mask
Price: £5.49 | Buy now from Look Fantastic
Masks aren’t an everyday thing, but they still play an important part in any acne-prone skincare routine. There are many to choose from, whether it’s a peel-off cream or a single-use fabric mask, and, while clay masks are often known to be drying, this formula from The INKEY List is an exception. It won’t sap your face of its moisture or cause extra irritation – so sensitive skin types, you’re safe to use this too, especially since it’s fragrance-free.
Kaolin is a brilliant ingredient for sopping up excessive oil and sebum, but it does so without wiping out all the hydration in your skin, and congested pores will rejoice once this mask unclogs them. Post-cleansing, the mask can be slathered on, then it only needs 10 minutes to do its job before it can be rinsed off and followed up with a moisturizer. Aside from kaolin clay, there are several other skin-loving ingredients featured, including aloe, sunflower seed oil, and glycerin.
Key details – Key ingredients: Kaolin; Format: Paste; Use: Once or twice a week
Buy now from Look Fantastic