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The best skincare routine for acne prone skin

Discover the best actives and daily practices to help look after your acne-prone skin, according to dermatologist and nutritionist Dr Thivi Maruthappu

In her debut book, Skin Food Your 4-Step Solution To Healthy Happy Skin, £14.99, consultant dermatologist and nutritionist Dr Thivi Maruthappu, reveals how to achieve a healthy, glowing complexion. Here, she shares the best skincare ingredients and daily habits that will target acne and help you wave goodbye to your spots.

A consistent and effective skincare routine, that ensure you’re cleansing and gently exfoliating daily goes a long way to keeping acne in check. When it comes to your cleanser, look for a gentle, soap-free cleanser that won’t strip the skin’s natural barrier. If your skin is oilier, a foaming cleanser is more suitable.

If your skin is drier, a lotion or cream cleanser would suit you better. Remember to look for non-comedogenic products, as this means that the ingredients are much less likely to block pores and worsen breakouts. Some cleansers contain active ingredients such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, but, depending on your skin type, these can be a little drying. The other thing to keep in mind is that for these active ingredients to work they need to stay in contact with the skin. They won’t work as well if you just do a quick rinse and run, so leave the cleanser on your face for a few minutes before rinsing it off.

Keep it clean

In the morning, a single cleanse is suficient; however, in the evenings, a double cleanse is required to remove SPF (which I assume you are, of course, using) and any make-up. Your first cleanse can be a simple micellar cleansing water (avoiding fragrance) applied to a cotton pad or a creamier cleanser massaged in well to remove all traces of grime. Please steer clear of oil-based cleansers, including natural oils such as coconut and almond, as these will only serve to block pores and worsen breakouts. Massage your cleanser for about 3–5 minutes for maximum benefits. Pat your skin dry with a soft, clean flannel and avoid rubbing.

Be gentle

It is easy to be tempted by harsh exfoliating scrubs in an attempt to clear acne, but these can actually make things worse in the long term by damaging the skin barrier and increasing overall sensitivity. If you have overdone it on scrubs and peels, don’t worry – your skin will recover. Support its recovery with barrier-boosting ingredients, such as niacinamide and ceramides, and dial back on harsh exfoliants.

Instead opt for exfoliants like azelaic acid. This is one of my go-to skincare ingredients. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, but it also helps to reduce hyperpigmentation and redness, and it is safe for use during pregnancy. You can buy skincare products containing azelaic acid over the counter, and we tend to use a 15–20 per cent concentration on prescription. I find that it helps to improve skin texture, brightens and reduces redness by targeting stubborn pigmentation and post-inflammatory redness.

While, salicylic acid, an exfoliant you’ll find in almost all pimple-fighting products is highly effective when treating acne prone skin. In strengths of up to 2 per cent it is anti-inflammatory and can penetrate the hair follicle to help unclog pores. It’s able to target acne by reaching deeper blockages than other acids used on the surface of the skin.

Prescription vs over the counter

Retinoids are some of the most effective skincare ingredients for treating acne, and I love these for evening out skin tone, reducing congestion and preventing breakouts. They help to increase cell turnover, unclog pores, regulate oil production, reduce inflammation and tackle pigmentation and scarring. It’s no wonder that retinoids are a Holy Grail skincare ingredient.

In the clinic I use prescription-strength retinoids: adapalene, tretinoin and trifarotene as the basis for any acne routine, unless someone is pregnant or trying to conceive. Not only do they target each step in the formation of a pimple, but they also help to tackle scarring and pigmentation too.

Acne busting skincare routine 

The following daily schedule incorporates cleansing, applying treatments and moisturising…

1 Cleanse with a gentle cleanser for your skin type. You could use a product that contains benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but leave it on for a few minutes to maximise the benefits.
2 Next apply an azelaic acid treatment. Allow 10–15 minutes for it to be absorbed.
3 Moisturise and apply SPF (non-comedogenic, of course).

1 Double-cleanse to remove SPF and make-up using a suitable cleanser for your skin type.
2 Apply a thin layer of retinoid treatment.
3 Apply a targeted benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid treatment on individual spots where necessary.
4 Allow the products to absorb for 10–15 minutes before applying a moisturiser.

This is an example routine and certainly not the only routine for acne, but it’s a good place to start.

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