Have you noticed that a lot of acne skincare is a scam? But the real question is – how are so many companies getting away with creating ineffective products and false marketing claims? There are even reputable brands that Cassandra loves that have great ingredients but still, they aren't necessarily good for acne. So, we need to talk about skin anatomy, how ingredients truly work on acne, and the four ingredients that have been medically proven to help with breakouts.
Salicylic acid is known as BHA, and it's phenomenal because it's oil-soluble. Our skin barrier is composed of oil, and it has a layer made of sebum called the acid mantle. The acid mantle is a protective the sebaceous glands produce to protect your skin. Sebaceous glands are located in the pilosebaceous unit, and in each pilosebaceous unit, there is a hair. Sebum inches up this little hair until it reaches the skin's surface.
From there, it spreads across the top, provides nutrients, waterproofs the skin, and helps to prevent dirt, bacteria, and pathogens from entering. It even helps spread antioxidants in oil form. However, this oil is consumed by acne bacteria, and after it's consumed, the bacteria create waste products, causes inflammation, and leads to pimples. Fortunately, salicylic acid is oil soluble, meaning it can penetrate pores and break down sebum. Salicylic acid is also an exfoliator. It helps to remove dead skin cells on the top level of our skin.
Benzoyl peroxide is another fantastic option because of the way it works on acne bacteria. The natural acne bacteria on our skin can become a problem. That’s where benzoyl peroxide comes in.
How does Benzoyl Peroxide work?
Acne bacteria cannot exist in the presence of oxygen. Acne bacteria is anaerobic, meaning oxygen kills acne bacteria. Thankfully, benzoyl peroxide can get oxygen into the skin and can kill the bacteria. When benzoyl peroxide gets into the skin, it is introduced to heat. At that point, the benzoyl peroxide molecule breaks and releases oxygen deep inside the pores. So, benzoyl peroxide is fantastic, especially if you are super oily. However, it can be very drying and irritating for some.
When it comes to treating acne, sulfur is an unsung hero because people often forget how amazing it is. Sulfur works by drying out pimples, and once it's introduced to acne bacteria, it transforms into hydrogen sulfide. Although we're still not sure how, hydrogen sulfide kills acne bacteria.
Similar to benzoyl peroxide, sulfur can be a little bit drying and a little irritating to some, but it is so fantastic for cleaning out oil and treating acne at the source. Sulfur has been used in medicine for so long, and it is a fantastic option that is medically proven to work. You can ask your doctor for prescriptions, or you can OTC sulfur products. But, if finding an effective ingredient has been a challenge, try sulfur because not a lot of products have this ingredient.
Blemish Buster Sulfur Spot Treatment Sonya Dakar - $35
Did you know retinoids or vitamin A tell your skin cells to make more of themselves? Retinoids are fantastic for acne, but they also help with wrinkles, fine lines, and pigmentation. Vitamin A is made naturally by our bodies, and when applied topically, retinoids bind to certain receptors in our skin. This causes a chain of reactions to happen in the stratum basale layer. This is where new skin cells are formed.
Retinoids stimulate these layers to produce thicker and healthier skin cells. Retinoids thicken the skin from the bottom and cause the skin's top layers to slough off. At the same time, this can cause redness and flakiness, especially if you use the prescription stuff and put it all over your face. This is why doctors suggest using a pea-sized amount.
Doctors also suggest that you titrate. Titration is when you gradually increase your use of retinoids to prevent irritation.
So, ceramides do not treat acne, but they definitely support the skin barrier. Ceramides are very soothing and hydrating after you've used something like a benzoyl peroxide cleanser. Ceramides help with redness, and they protect your skin from inflammation even though they won't fight acne.
When looking for acne products, these are the major ingredients to that work. Seeing them on the ingredient list will help discern whether a product will truly yield results for acne. You'll also want to look for reviews, and make sure that the product is sold by a trusted retailer. Of course, there are products without these that still support acne-prone skin, but the ones we’ve discussed have been medically proven to treat acne regardless of what marketing claims tell us. This is why turning and learning ingredients is so important. When you feel empowered by knowledge, it makes a huge difference when shopping for skincare.