Look for these pimple-fighting ingredients in your skincare
If, like me, you failed to draw the winning ticket in the genetic lottery and have less than perfect skin, you have probably dealt with acne at least once in your life. (For the record, I always get it once a month, pre-period.) In fact, you may be dealing with it even now. If it’s something that has plagued you from your teenage years all the way into adulthood, you know how incredibly frustrating and downright demoralizing it can get to try out all the well-meaning advice and not have any one of them work in the long-term.
Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t help to simply tell someone to “just wash your face!” Not only is it useless, but it is also hurtful. People can be quick to assume that acne sufferers simply have bad hygiene when in reality, acne has very little to do with poor hygiene or diet. The Propionibacterium acnes bacterium is a natural resident in our skin, and causes inflammation when it infects a hair follicle that has been plugged by a hodgepodge of excess sebum and dead skin cells. This overproduction of sebum is brought about by hereditary and hormonal factors, and occurs beneath the skin’s surface. Hence, acne can form regardless of how often or thoroughly you clean your face. If anything, washing your face more than twice a day is even counterproductive, because too much friction can aggravate your skin.
With all that said, treating acne for the long-term is a layered and somewhat arduous process. The first and best advice is always to first consult a dermatologist. They can help you with your skin problems more than anyone else, and should be able to recommend products to treat and prevent pimples. These products usually contain known anti-acne ingredients such as:
Benzoyl peroxide. This chemical works as an antibacterial against P. acnes and is commonly present as a gel or a cream topical, in concentrations of 2.5% to 5%. It may also be infused in a facial wash. BP is considered one of the milder acne treatments and can be bought without a medical prescription. Its side effects can include dryness, irritation and bleaching upon contact with clothes. Dermatologists recommend to start from the lowest concentration possible and build up as appropriate. Panoxyl® and Benzac® are some of the BP medications available in the Philippines.
Salicylic acid. Like BP, salicylic acid comes in many forms and concentrations and may be bought without a medical prescription.Though not an antibacterial, it works by unclogging pores and shedding the dead skin cells that lead to pimple formation. It is commonly employed as the active ingredient in anti-acne facial washes and toners. Most BHA products on the market has salicylic acid as the BHA component.
Antibiotics. Obviously, antibiotics work by killing the bacteria that cause acne. They could be applied topically or taken orally. Topical antibiotics (clindamycin, erythromycin) are commonly used on mild acne, while oral antibiotics (doxycycline, minocycline) are more suitable for acne that is moderate to severe. If you are looking to establish a skincare regimen dedicated to managing mild acne, VMV Hypoallergenics has a line of skincare that contains Clindamycin. I have tried the facial wash and the toner myself, and they’re ok. They work gradually and gently—but please follow the instructions to avoid side effects!
Retinoids, such as tretinoin and adapalene. Retinoids exfoliate the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, hence preventing them from building up within hair follicles. Despite having a similar mode of action to salicylic acid, retinoids are more potent and may require extra caution with its usage. Apply them sparingly and avoid sun exposure when using them, as they can cause extra sensitivity. Personally, what helped me manage my acne was a dermatologist prescription called Epiduo®, a topical mixture of benzoyl peroxide and adapalene. Side effects included itching and dryness, but I can honestly say that the positives outweighed the negatives. I don’t get those nasty cystic pimples so often now.
Tea tree oil. Also written in labels by the scientific name Melaleuca alternifolia. This is one of the well-acknowledged natural remedies for acne due to its disinfecting and soothing properties, and if you are all about natural products, you’re in luck! Many anti-acne products in the market contain tea tree oil. Despite being natural, tea tree oil may still cause the common side effects associated with acne treatments such as dryness and sun sensitivity, so take care not to overuse. The Body Shop has a Tea Tree Oil line for acneic skin, and many people swear by it.
Witch hazel extract. Also written in labels by the scientific name Hamamelis virginiana. This ingredient is actually commonly used in conjunction with tea tree oil. It is a natural astringent, meaning that it can shrink and tighten pores, making them less susceptible to clogging. Witch hazel is also great at reducing inflammation. All good things for acne, we can agree!
A final word of caution: some of these ingredients are regarded unsafe for pregnant women, especially salicylic acid, retinoids, and oral antibiotics. You should also make sure to check with your doctor first if you can use benzoyl peroxide, clindamycin, erythromycin or tea tree oil while pregnant. Opinions on witch hazel are mixed, but I suggest to steer clear of it just to be safe.
Any acne-related stories or other treatments you found to be effective? Share in the comments!