How To Layer Your Drugstore Products To Get Rid Of Acne For Good

Illustrated by Elysia Berman.
Ahh, so you woke up with a Magic Mountain-sized zit (or a whole range of them) on your face. As cringeworthy as that sounds, it happens to a lot of us. And while spot-treating them with acne cream is often the first line of defense, it’s sometimes not enough to keep them from popping up again. You have to get to the root of the problem, which starts with a regular skin-care regimen.
Aside from washing your face first, it can be confusing to figure out the order in which other skin-care products — like toner, moisturizer, sunscreen, and acne treatments — should be used in your daily routine. Finding an effective method will not only help you get the most out of your products and maintain a clear and healthy complexion, but it also reduces the risk of inflaming skin further.
New York-based dermatologists Dr. Joshua Zeichner and Dr. Carlos Charles say that when it comes to your skin-care routine, your best bet is to keep it simple. “Keeping things streamlined ]ensures[ compliance, which leads to the best results,” says Dr. Charles.
Click ahead for their guidelines for a spot-free complexion.
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When it comes to acne, vigilance and care are key. Both derms recommend scrubbing up at least twice a day, as well as after working out or any heavy sweating. While there are a slew of face washes out there, Dr. Charles suggests sticking with a gentle cleanser, like Ceravé’s Hydrating and Foaming Cleansers, to remove dirt, makeup, and excess oil — and not risk any additional irritation.

If you love getting glammed up daily, Dr. Zeichner says double cleansing can be very useful in keeping pores clear. Simply wipe away the day with a makeup remover wipe or an oil-based cleanser to get every last stitch of concealer and mascara before moving on to your daily cleanser.

CeraVé Hydrating Cleanser, $10.99, available at Target.
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Toners are a subject of debate amongst beauty buffs and skin-care experts. Some swear by them; others argue they’re stripping. When it comes to acne-prone skin, Dr. Charles says they might need to stay on the shelf and not by your sink. “Toners may not be entirely necessary, as they can simply cause excessive irritation and dryness,” he says. Toners are often formulated with alcohol, which can dry out the skin further, causing it to produce more oil and making you more prone to pimples.

Dickinson's Original Witch Hazel Pore Perfecting Toner, $3.99, available at Walgreens.
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But if your skin is already feeling extra greasy, Dr. Zeichner suggests reaching for water-based toners like Dickinson's With Hazel or others that are packed with skin-loving ingredients like antioxidants, vitamins, and ceramides to calm inflammation and kickstart the skin repair process. Or you can simply swipe on micellar water (which is great for sensitive skin) after you wash up to balance the skin without stripping any moisture and keep pores clean.

Simple Cleansing Micellar Water, $7.99, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Acne Treatments

But washing or toning isn’t enough to banish blemishes completely. Having a tried and true acne treatment that works for your skin-care needs is the secret to a clear complexion, whether you’ve snagged a prescription treatment from your dermatologist or you’re giving retinoids like Differin a spin. (They not only unclog pores but also increase cell turnover, so you won’t have to worry about exfoliating.)

Sticking to the instructions and not using them as spot treatments when a pimple magically pops up is also important. “Acne treatments should be used on the entire face because you do not know where the next pimple will pop up,” says Dr. Zeichner. “You want to get rid of what you currently have and prevent new pimples from arising.”

Differin Gel, $13.99-$29.99, available at CVS.
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If you’re looking for something to get rid of that zit ASAP, both derms recommend using spot treatments formulated with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to kill bacteria and keep pores clear. Benzoyl peroxide, which you can find in Oxy's On-The-Go Acne Stick, is a great solution for red, inflamed pustules, while salicylic acid works best on surface pimples, which you can find in Neutrogena's Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Gel.

Oxy On-The-Go Acne Stick, $5.69, available at Target.
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It might seem counterintuitive to apply moisturizer when your face is already oily, but slathering some on will actually reduce the shine factor. In fact, most skin-care experts say that the more hydrated your skin is, the less oil it’s likely to produce to compensate for that lack of moisture.

As with cleansing, you need to apply moisturizer two times a day. (Both derms suggest sticking to non-comedogenic formulas, which means they won’t clog your pores.) But that doesn’t mean you should use the same formula morning and night, as you need a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 for the day to not only protect skin from damaging UV rays, but to also prevent darkening any acne scars.

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Clear Skin SPF 60 Sunscreen, $19.99, available at Ulta.
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At night, the derms suggest applying a light moisturizer to hydrate and repair the skin’s natural protective barrier. Though if you do have dry or sensitive skin, Dr. Zeichner suggests turning to Neutrogena’s array of oil-free moisturizers to quench skin’s thirst while addressing your specific skin concerns, so you can wake up fresh-faced and zit-free.

CeraVé Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM, $12.99, available at Target.
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