How To Get Clear Skin Once & For All, According To An Expert

Illustrated by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

My skin type has been the same my whole life: never not a handful of spots (maybe only one or two on a really good skin day), a bit uneven in texture and basically, I feel better when I have quite a thick foundation on. I never bothered really getting into skincare as I thought my skin would clear up when I got out of my teens, but I’m well into my 20s now and it shows no signs of improvement. So my question is: how do I get clear skin?
Ella, 25
'Clear skin' is a funny old thing. Firstly, it’s a totally subjective concept. For someone who’s battled with cystic acne, clear skin might mean getting their breakouts down to an infrequent occurrence; for someone who struggles with rosacea flare-ups, clear skin might mean freedom from inflammation. What clear skin means to you will be heavily coded in your expectations of your skin and what it’s historically been like. Plus, it’s something of an ever-moving goalpost – if you manage to get your breakouts under control for a week or two, does that mean you’ve unlocked 'clear skin' but if a pimple pops up, you’re back to square one? One thing is for certain though: for all of us diligently double cleansing and layering on serums, there will always be that friend who washes their face with dish soap and has baby skin. It’s not fair. Try not to dwell on it, for the sake of your blood pressure.
Anyway, let's consider perennial bothersome breakouts that don’t respond to hormonal shifts. I asked Dija Ayodele, expert aesthetician and founder of the Black Skin Directory, to tell me what she’d advise if you were her client. "Some people just have oily skin regardless of hormones, whether that’s full-on oiliness or what I’d call 'oily-ish', so perhaps large pores and regular spots but not full-blown, cystic breakouts," she explained. "Step one is controlling the oil production and then you can start to see results."

Happily, Dija said that you wouldn’t need a complicated regime and recommended a few simple steps that could make a dramatic difference without layer upon layer of product. "The first thing I’d recommend is a cleanser with some exfoliating acids to help shift some of that oil. My clients absolutely love and always repurchase the Skinbetter Science Oxygen Infusion Cleanser, which is a sort of gel-cream texture. It foams up a little bit but it doesn’t have any soap in it. Instead it has glycolic, salicylic and lactic acids to help counteract the oil production, and help scoop debris from your pores," Dija explained.
The emptier the pore, the smaller it appears, so the benefits are twofold here: fewer breakouts and tighter-looking pores. Dija also noted that people often overlook the importance of cleansing and that it can almost do the job of a toner and a mask, too. "Toners and masks are fine but not necessary. If you apply your cleanser and leave it on while you clean your teeth, give it a good two minutes, then rinse it off, you’ll see much better results. It needs the warm water and your hands to manually activate it and really brighten the skin."
If you’ve had lots of breakouts before, you’ve probably been left with some spot scars – this is especially true with darker skin tones, which are more prone to hyperpigmentation thanks to higher stores of melanin. "If you’re on a budget, La Roche-Posay Pure Vitamin C10 Serum or The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA are two good options to help fade these marks but I would recommend splashing out a bit more on either NeoStrata Enlighten Illuminating Serum or Skinbetter Science Even Tone Serum. They’re pricier, but you’re getting a really sophisticated cocktail of ingredients for faster results."
Dija actually has a handy ebook on her website which will be useful for more information if you’ve got some stubborn scars. Then, you’d just need to finish with a sunscreen (most sunscreens would be hydrating enough for your skin type). Dija loves Glossier Invisible Shield, and I’d also recommend Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen.
Before bed, you can repeat the above (after removing your makeup, of course. Double cleansing is best practice for all but especially for my oily friends, as traces of SPF, makeup and sebum can linger for a long time on the skin). A good retinoid will be the final core tenet of your regime. As Dija said: "Retinoids can do almost everything. They decongest, sort out textural irregularities, help slow oil production and make the skin plumper and smoother-looking." Dija suggested the Osmosis MD Clarify Retinal Serum, which she said is targeted for acne-prone skin and works quickly with less irritation.
For nighttime hydration, something as simple as CeraVe Moisturising Lotion ought to work, or a hyaluronic acid like Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense. "I really would encourage you to stick with your new routine for at least a few months," added Dija. "If this is your first time ‘doing skincare’ so to speak, you might also get a bit of a purge a couple of weeks in and have another breakout, but this is just your skin clearing what was beneath the surface a bit faster. After four to five weeks you should be seeing some progress."

Be patient! And good luck!
Got a question for our resident beauty columnist Daniela Morosini? No problem, qualm or dilemma is too big, small or niche. Email, including your name and age for a chance to have your question answered. All letters to 'Dear Daniela' become the property of Refinery29 and will be edited for length, clarity, and grammatical correctness.
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Illustrated by Olivia Santner

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