If you have acne, chances are you've spent hundreds of pounds and lots of time trying to curate a suitable skincare routine. One wrong ingredient can tip skin over the edge, resulting in oil slicks and clogged pores, so it pays to stick to a handful of tried and tested, dermatologist-approved components.
First up: acids. AHAs like glycolic and lactic acid exfoliate the top layer of skin cells, minimising skin staining left behind by spots, and BHAs like salicylic acid penetrate deeper, turfing dead skin cells and oil out of pores before they can cause blockages. Ingredients like niacinamide (which regulates oil production), retinol (exfoliates the skin at lightning speed) and vitamin C (an antioxidant which also targets hyperpigmentation) are recommended by experts as part of a regular acne skincare ritual, too.
Brands like The Ordinary and The INKEY List serve up all of the above and at ridiculously low prices, which often means products like the Granactive Retinoid 2% in Emulsion, £8, and Glycolic Acid Liquid Toner, £6.99, sell out completely among skincare obsessives. Your next port of call? Garden of Wisdom. If you're a regular on Reddit, you might already know about the cruelty-free, vegetarian brand (owned by Victoria Health, which also boasts LixirSkin and de Mamiel), as there's a huge buzz around the affordability and, of course, the efficacy. There are 19 products in the line, including serums and cleansers, and just like INKEY and The Ordinary, they eschew strategic marketing plans (which could explain why you've never heard of them) and #shelfie-worthy packaging, which means prices start at a humble £9 and don't exceed the £20 mark – but the results speak for themselves.
As a beauty editor with very temperamental skin (blackheads, whiteheads, closed comedones – those flesh-coloured bumps under the skin that can turn into mega zits – and the odd patch of eczema on my eyelids), I'm reluctant to introduce new products into my routine, which consists of a handful of tried and tested buys recommended by dermatologists – but the reviews swayed me.
For my slight skin staining left behind by years of spots, I started off with the Vitamin C 23% Serum, £10, applying it in the morning before my usual moisturiser (Medik8's Refining Moisturiser, £45) and SPF (Heliocare's Gel Oil-Free SPF50, £31). The percentage means it tingles ever so slightly, but it fades marks faster than any retinol or acid in my routine and provides antioxidant protection against pollution and other environmental aggressors.
I also felt like my skin had become a little sensitive to the 10% lactic acid serum I've been using (characterised by flakiness and tightness) and so swapped it out for the PHA Plus Serum, £14, in the evening. PHAs, or polyhydroxy acids, break down the paste-like mixture of oil and dead skin cells before they can cause blockages and inevitably breakouts, but thanks to their large molecular structure, they're a little gentler on skin than AHAs or BHAs, making them better for reactive skin types. The result? Fewer clogged pores and less irritation than before. In my opinion, definitely give GoW a go if you have any skin bugbears. Here's what's worth buying.
Niacinamide, otherwise known as vitamin B3, is a brilliant oil regulator according to the experts, but it also has exfoliating properties, so works to fade hyperpigmentation. Dermatologists also tout it as a powerful skin hydrator, banishing the taut feeling some oil-minimising products can leave behind.
After cleansing in the evening, apply this to dry skin. BHA salicylic acid has the ability to dig deep into blocked pores (rather than exfoliating on the surface of skin), dissolving sebum and dead skin before they can cause blockages. It's also a proven anti-inflammatory, bringing down angry red spots.
According to consultant dermatologist Dr Anjali Mahto, as well as helping with acne and hyperpigmentation, azelaic acid is also beneficial for minimising the redness associated with rosacea. Apply this serum to clean, dry skin in the evening and follow with a moisturiser if your skin feels like it needs something extra.
Dermatologists hail chemical exfoliators glycolic acid and lactic acid as extremely helpful for oily and acne-prone skin. They dissolve the upper layer of dead skin cells and prevent spots and uneven skin texture with consistent use. Apply directly to clean, dry skin after cleansing in the evening and be sure to wear sunscreen in the daytime, as acids can make skin sensitive to UV.
With 1% stabilised retinol (which means it won't break down when exposed to air or light), this speeds up cell turnover, minimising fine lines and wrinkles, as well as working to fade hyperpigmentation and prevent breakouts. The strength is quite high, so introduce it into your routine once or twice a week in the evening.