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5 things you can do about acne

By Georgia Seago
9th June 2022

June is Acne Awareness Month, and while acne mostly goes hand in hand with puberty and teenage angst, the skin condition can follow us through into adulthood or just pop up whenever it fancies when your hormones are out of balance – with your period, when you’re feeling rundown or stressed, as a reaction to something you’ve put on your skin that clogs your pores… it doesn’t always take a lot to send your skin’s sebum production into overdrive. But acne doesn’t have to be distressing and complicated to treat. By swapping just a few targeted products into your routine or booking in for an effective treatment (or even better, both) you’re likely to see a big improvement in your skin. To take out the guesswork, we asked some of our fab expert practitioners for their favourite acne solutions.

1. A decongesting peel

A purifying skin peel is a great way to deep clean pores and balance the skin, getting an overactive sebum production under control. Dr Catharine Denning offers a comprehensive version that combines “a clay mask to prepare the skin, followed by a combined salicylic acid, lactic acid, and resorcinol [which has anti-septic and disinfectant properties] peel which is left on the skin to resurface and decongest it. A retinol peel is then applied as the last step to reduce sebum production and up-regulate cell turnover,” she explains.

There’s a reason why cosmetic doctors love peels so much – they can be tailored exactly to your skin and what it needs at that moment in time. Dr Steven Land, founder of Novellus Aesthetics in Newcastle, often recommends a medium depth peel to tackle breakouts. “Something like the Perfect Peel – with its combination of peeling agents – can target many of the consequences of acne. It has a multitude of ingredients that also target pigmentation, fine lines and uneven skin tone, and is packed with antioxidants to help protect your skin,” he says. Better yet, Dr Land says that generally, only one peel is needed to produce great results.

2. Retinol

The holy-grail skincare ingredient is also brilliant at sorting out acne. Retinol and other retinoids (derivatives of vitamin A) encourage clearer skin by speeding up cell division and renewal, producing an exfoliating effect and ushering up fresher layers of skin from underneath. Dr Ana Mansouri, lead aesthetic doctor at Kat & Co Aesthetics in Birmingham, says that her first point of call for active acne is a medical-grade skincare routine “to control the oil production, reduce inflammation and repair the skin barrier”.

“I recommend a routine that includes a topical retinoid 1-4 times per week as tolerated, like Skinceuticals 0.5-1% Retinol, or tretinoin if something prescription-strength is required,” says Dr Mansouri.

Dr Denning is also an advocate for retinol in an acne skincare routine. She says: “Tretinoin is the gold standard but sometimes it isn’t that well-tolerated, and so I tend to use a slightly weaker preparation so that it can be used with greater frequency and causes less sensitivity.” She likes Retinol Skin Brightener from ZO Skin Health. It comes in varying strengths and can be stepped up gradually while skin acclimatises. “This product is also great at reducing the red marks and pigmentation that acne can cause,” says Dr Denning.

3. A non-comedogenic moisturiser

The idea that all hydration needs to be eliminated from the skin in order to clear acne is outdated and false. Instead, a lightweight, oil-free moisturiser should be an essential component of any acne-clearing routine to repair the skin barrier and get it functioning healthily again. Hydration is always needed for healthy skin – acne or no acne. The key is feeding skin with the right kind for what it’s dealing with. Both Dr Denning and Dr Mansouri prescribe their acne patients a non-comedogenic (won’t clog pores) moisturiser as part of their daily routine. Dr Denning’s advice is to look for one “rich in antioxidants and soothing ceramides, as it’s a good way to reduce any inflammation and maintain a good skin barrier,” she says.

4. Acne-clearing laser

The power of laser knows no limits when it comes to skin concerns. One of its lesser-known superpowers is its ability to clear up acneic skins and deal with the aftermath, too. One of Dr Mansouri’s top choices for acne is a laser treatment to reduce sebum and clear the skin of acne-causing bacteria, while she also turns to laser to improve acne scarring. “With little downtime, fractional ablative laser is a technique that involves creating micro-columns of perforations in the skin, leaving the surrounding tissue intact. The body then stimulates a healing process inclusive of production of new collagen, elastin, and healthy skin,” she explains. She regularly combines this type of laser treatment with peels for optimal results.

5. A salicylic face wash

The right cleanser is the starting point in getting acne under control. A product with salicylic acid is the best bet – this BHA (beta hydroxy acid) does a fab job at deep cleaning pores and munching away at all that excess oil, and it’s also anti-inflammatory, which is just what inflamed skin needs. “My go-to is a salicylic face wash,” says Dr Land. “One that’s medical-grade, with a good percentage of salicylic acid will help reduce oils, unblock pores and get acne under control. And as a sufferer of adult acne myself, one that combines some anti-ageing ingredients is fantastic. My personal go-to is Nektar’s Eris face wash – salicylic and glycolic acids to both help with acne and refresh tired-looking skin. A perfect combination.”


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