Welcome to Acne Week, a five-day stretch where we get real about pimples, zits, cysts, and every bump or blemish in between. From skin-soothing products R29 editors swear by to exclusive deals on the most breakout-friendly beauty brands, we’re kissing the concept of “bad skin” goodbye and exploring why acne is so much more than skin deep.
Here at Refinery29, we're not interested in demonizing acne. We're all human, we have skin, and sometimes it gets a little inflamed or irritated — and there are a myriad of reasons why this happens and all are specific to you. Still, many of us our interested in reducing the likelihood of acne, be it a pimple, or a more nuanced forms of irritation, like body acne or hyperpigmentation left after a pimple you've picked dry.
Ahead, some of our editors talk about our own skin types, where and when we're acne prone, and the cleansers, sunscreens, and toners we've found help prevent against our personal garden-variety breakout. Read on to find our favorite acne-care products — which are really just good skin-care recommendations.
The Best Products For Ultra Dry Skin
Megan Decker, Beauty Editor
Skin Type: I'm very dry. My skin-care routine consists of light layers of hydration, like serums and moisturizers with peptides, vitamin E, and hyaluronic acid.
How I Break Out: I will occasionally get a pimple on my cheeks or chin — the lower part of the face — if I'm stressed, or I haven't washed my silk pillowcase or sanitized my phone in a while (talker, not a texter). Facialists have told me I'm also prone to nose blackheads and congestion.
Top Acne Picks:
REN Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Toner: In my experience, the best way to prevent acne is to find a toner that you like. It helps with cell turnover and gentle exfoliation so that I'm not getting buildup that would otherwise cause a breakout. I came to this one by way of a recommendation from makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes, whose skin is so dewy and bright. I use it at night, after double cleansing but before my HA hydrator and heavier moisturizer or night cream.
Image Skincare Vital C Hydrating Enzyme Masque: I like to use this mask twice a week, post shower. Similar to the toner, it exfoliates to dissolve dead skin, helping with dullness and congestion. I like that it uses fruit enzymes, so the exfoliation is super gentle and not drying.
Mario Badescu Drying Patch: If I feel a spot coming on or there's a clear and present pimple, I'll use a pimple patch. I'm not picky. I like the Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch and I appreciate Starface ones because they're cute, but have probably found the most consistent overnight results with the Mario Badescu Drying Patches. Though, my co-worker Karina has a great, cheap rec (below).
The Best Products For Inflammatory Body Acne
Amanda Mitchell, Senior Beauty Writer & Stories Creator
Skin Type: Normal/dry on face, dry on my body
How I Break Out: I... uh, have never had a pimple (on my face), and I likely get less than 5 zits a year, in total. Yes, I'm annoying. However, I'm not free from acne! I get a good amount of back acne, and I have a form of acne inversa, aka Hidradenitis suppurativa, which a chronic inflammatory type of acne that happens in places where skin rubs together, like your armpits, and it's, for lack of a better word, acne that develops under the skin. That happens mostly during extremely warm weather and/or moments of stress.
Top Acne Picks:
Topicals Faded Mist: Dealing with hidradenitis suppurativa, plus having melanated skin means that I am prone to scars, specifically scars in places you really don’t want them — internal acne is not fun, y’all! But I love this mist because it allows me to get in every nook and cranny of my body, while treating my acne problems and helping the already existing scars fade away. I’d swim in this stuff, if I could.
Pixi Glow Tonic: My love affair with Pixi Glow Tonic is nearing its tenth anniversary, and is proof that I am not as much of a committment-phobe as I believed I was. Truly, when people ask why my skin is so good, I don’t say “water” or “sleep”, because that’s a lie. It’s Pixi Glow Tonic. It made me a believer in toners — it gets rid of all the gunk in my pores while softening and removing surface cells that may lead to further breakouts. Like a gin and tonic, this tonic is full of botanical extracts, as well as ginseng, aloe vera, and glycolic acid. I use it once a day, daily — but my skin is resilient. For a beginner, I’d say once or twice a week is a good place to start. But yes, I will likely leave everything I have I owe to Pixi Glow Tonic when I die. It means that much to me.
Paula's Choice Retinol Skin-Smoothing Body Treatment: Because body acne is my eternal struggle, I am constantly looking for ways to treat it ahead of time, and this body treatment is a cute little gift to myself. Once or twice a week, I’ll use it on its own — typically on the days I use my facial retinol — and I really feel like incorporating it into my routine has been a game changer, even more than any exfoliating scrub has been. In the winter time, when my skin is especially dry, I’ll mix it with a heavier body cream for even more nourishing goodness for my body. Baby soft skin without a blemish, come through!
The Best Products For Oily, Acne-Prone Skin
Karina Hoshikawa, Beauty & Wellness Market Writer
Skin Type: Oily, acne-prone, kind-of sensitive; in general, a less-is-more approach to my skin-care routine has immensely helped me stay in the clear.
How I Break Out: Smallish breakouts along my jawline and chin. I also am prone to texture and sebaceous filaments in the same area. Breakouts usually leave reddish-brown hyperpigmentation in their wake.
Top Acne Picks:
Tula Clear It Up Gel: I'm a big fan of Tula’s biodegradable salicylic acid pads, but this gel-serum is another standout from the brand. (Not to mention, highly slept-on, IMHO.). In addition to a concentration of 2% salicylic acid, in addition to two of my favorite ingredients ever: Niacinamide and azelaic acid, which help brighten my complexion and gently fade hyperpigmentation. In other words, it’s a formidable foe against breakouts past, present, and future.
Skinceuticals Silymarin CF: Skinceuticals (of C E Ferulic fame) can truly do no wrong, so when they added a new vitamin C-fueled serum to their lineup — one specifically targeted towards blemish-prone skin — I jumped at the chance to test it out. I virtually have no complaints about the product (aside from its triple-digit price tag); the watery texture absorbed within seconds, and the combination of silymarin (aka milk thistle extract) and vitamin C delivered on its promise of clearer, brighter skin. My advice for justifying the splurge: Opt for a drugstore cleanser (I love CeraVe, personally) and allocate your monies towards serums and moisturizers that are packed with top-tier ingredients.
Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser: While this isn’t a new product — in fact, it’s one of Tata’s bestsellers — I have recently re-discovered it and have to say, I’m more in love with it than ever before. My skin doesn’t always respond well to intense peels and masks, so a little exfoliation on a regular basis has worked wonders to keep my skin clear. My skin feels softer and smoother after just one use of this stuff, but isn’t the least bit irritated. I genuinely look forward to using it every single time.
Soko Glam Soft Shield Pimple Patch: We’ve gone deep in the world of acne pimple patches, and I’ll admit that there are plenty brands that I love and use regularly. However, one of most affordable — without compromising quality — are the ones by Soko Glam’s in-house brand, The Klog. At $6 for 42 patches in two sizes, it won’t break the bank, even if you buy multiples at a time. Plus, they are almost undetectable on thanks to the beveled edges that disappear into your skin. Best of all, they work fast (like, within hours) to draw out the contents of your zit and minimize scarring.
The Best Products For Oily, Sensitive Skin
Nadia Ebrahim, Assistant Editor, R29 Style
Skin Type: Acne-prone, oily, and sensitive (especially to new products)
How I Break Out: Mainly on my cheeks, whiteheads pop up frequently along with hormonal breakouts during my period. Every pimple leaves a mark so hyperpigmentation/ dark spots come into play after.
Top Acne Picks:
Topicals Faded Brightening & Clearing Serum: This product has not only reduced my breakouts, but has also helped fade my dark spots. It's quite strong and has a relaxer-like smell, so I had to build up a tolerance to use it. I started using it 1-2 times a week, then built my way up to every other day to daily use over the course of about 5-6 weeks. I use it in combination with turmeric products, which have helped brighten and balance my skin.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion SPF 50: Faded did a lot of the heavy lifting when it came to my hyperpigmentation, but that wouldn't have been possible without sun protection. In recent months I've become more serious about sunscreen application and this one is my go-to because it doesn't feel heavy on my oily skin. The product can migrate a little, especially if I apply too close to my eye but it still works great. Another option I find that moves around less is the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen, which is more matte compared to the dewy finish of the Hydro Boost formula.
Shiseido Vital Perfection Uplifting and Firming Cream: This is the latest edition to my routine (also my first "anti-aging" product) and I'm super impressed with the results thus far. After a month of use, I can say my skin feels more hydrated and bouncy. It absorbs nicely and leaves my skin feeling smooth immediately after application. I mainly use it at night before bed, and I wake up in the morning with skin looking more refreshed and less reactive than before I used this product.
The Best Products For Very Oily Skin & Hyperpigmentation
Jacqueline Kilikita, Senior Beauty Editor Refinery29UK
Skin Type: Very oily. I'm prone to whiteheads, blackheads, and deeper under-the-skin spots, thanks to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and hormones.
How I break out: I break out quite a bit just before (or sometimes after) my period, but thanks to PCOS, waking up with a small daily cluster of spots on my cheeks is normal for me. My skin is really sensitive to new skincare and makeup, too. Anything with oils or shea butter in it will break me out quickly.
Top acne picks:
SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment: One swipe of this cooling rollerball distributes a light layer of salicylic acid (great for bringing down redness and swelling) and witch hazel, which is antibacterial. It minimizes angry red spots in a matter of moments — so much so, I'm convinced it's actually magic.
Differin Adapalene 0.1% Acne Treatment: Using adapalene gel regularly is the only thing that keeps my breakouts at bay. It was recommended to me by a top dermatologist — but there are rules. It can be pretty strong, so I use it maximum three times a week, in the evening. It also pays to wear a high factor SPF during the daytime to protect your skin against the sun's damaging rays. Even when it's cloudy! I love the Thank You Farmer Sun Project Water Sun Cream, as it's so lightweight.
The Inkey List Fulvic Acid Cleanser: I notice a huge difference in my skin texture and oil production when I use this cleanser on a daily basis. The star ingredient is fulvic acid, which has proven anti-inflammatory properties and is said to help smooth over uneven skin tone — useful, as my zits tend to leave behind red marks.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.