We all have a routine that we do every morning to get ready for our day. We brush our teeth, fix our hair, and choose our clothes, yet we often neglect the most important accessory we own: our faces. First and foremost, good skin requires consistency.
That means washing your face every morning and evening and applying your anti-acne medication in a sophisticated fashion. Never spot-treat only; always cover your entire face. Not only are you are clearing up your acne, you are also repairing your wrinkles and fighting the breakouts you don’t see yet.
This program not only treats your active acne, it will also address the discoloration associated with adult acne as well as the annoying early lines and wrinkles that are adult acne’s bedside companions.
Phase 1: Cleanse
Proper cleansing of your skin is a lot like the dilemma of Goldilocks in search of the perfect porridge. Too much cleansing of the skin can be just as damaging as too little cleansing; it has to be done “just right”.
The sebum is the body’s self-made moisturizer. It also protects you from bacteria such as MRSA, viruses (like those that cause warts), and fungi. Removing too much sebum from the surface of the skin will not lower its production and will either over dry the skin, leaving more dry skin cells to mix with existing sebum which can then clog pores, or cause a reflex oiliness.
If the skin is not adequately cleansed, dirt and bacteria will cling to the sebum, which is sticky by nature, and contribute to acne formation.
Although salicylic acid doesn’t slow down oil production or kill bacteria, it is an ideal ingredient in an over-the-counter acne-cleansing preparation because of its ability to clear away the buildup of dead skin cells and unclog pores.
Preparations that contain salicylic acid are particularly useful in controlling blackheads and whiteheads. Because it’s an anti-inflammatory (in the form of aspirin, it lowers a fever and relieves pain), it can be drying or irritating, so look for a product with a 2 percent concentration. Sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to acne.
To get the most benefit from your salicylic acid cleanser:
- Wet your skin.
- Put a dollop of the cleanser in the palm of one hand or onto a soft, clean washcloth.
- Apply to the entire affected area, which may include not only your face but also your upper neck, back, and chest. Avoid the area under the eye.
- Brush your teeth, check your text messages, or update your Facebook page so that the product can stay on your skin for a few minutes.
- Rinse with copious amounts of warm (not hot) water.
Phase 2: Kill Bacteria
Now that your skin has been cleansed, you need to apply a topical acne treatment to kill the acne culprit, P.acnes.
The workhorse of over-the-counter acne treatments, benzoyl peroxide, attacks P.acnes bacteria and speeds up the removal of dead skin cells. Because it is available without a prescription as a lotion or a gel, benzoyl peroxide has been the mainstay of acne treatment.
The treatment must be continued even after flare-ups have subsided. Before using benzoyl peroxide, be sure to patch-test it on the inside of your arm to make sure you don’t have an allergy. To get the most benefit out of benzoyl peroxide:
- Choose your product with 2.5 to 5 percent strength in a delivery form that is designed to reduce irritation, such as micro sponge or extended release.
- Apply a very thin layer, just enough to cover the entire affected area.
- Lightly blot off any excess with a clean white washcloth. (It will bleach a colored washcloth.)
Phase 3: Reduce Inflammation
Adult acne can be highly inflammatory, leaving red welts on your skin. Reducing the inflammation is best done with a combination approach, using botanically derived antioxidants as well as members of the alpha-hydroxy family.
These antioxidants act directly to reduce the production of the cell-mediated cytokines that are released at different stages of acne-genesis. They also capture free radicals.
Lactic acid and glycolic acid are the two alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) most commonly found in over-the-counter acne preparations. As exfoliants, they strip the skin of dead cells, giving a smooth texture to the skin and allowing it to look more luminous.
They also draw moisture to the surface, which can alleviate the drying effects of other acne medications. In addition, AHAs are able to dissolve sebaceous plugs inside closed pores. Next to retinoic acid, AHAs are possibly the most versatile of active skin ingredients. By exfoliating and loosening clogged pores, they enable the penetration of acne medication.
They increase the production of complex sugars in the skin (the glycosaminoglycans), plump the skin, and can even out the pigment layer.
There are numerous antioxidants available in serums, lotions, creams, and mists. You can also make your own at-home version. Choose a vehicle that is compatible with your skin type. For example, a serum is best for dry skin, whereas a mist is ideal for oily skin.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C have been shown to stimulate collagen production, which makes them an ideal choice for adults who suffer from both acne and signs of aging such as lines and wrinkles. To get the most benefit out of AHAs and antioxidants:
- Apply a thin layer of a serum or a lotion that contains an antioxidant or spray an antioxidant mist over the entire affected area.
- Apply a thin layer of a low-strength AHA (8 to 10 percent) to the entire affected area.
- Apply a moisturizer, if needed.
Watch how to do an At Home Peel with Glycolic Alpha Hydroxy Acid
in just 15 Minutes
Phase 4: Treat Resident Acne, Brown Spots, and Wrinkles
If four weeks have passed and you don’t see any improvement in your acne or you have been left with discoloration from previous acne blemishes, you need to try a retinol. Retinols will also address the wrinkles that you are certain weren’t there a month ago.
Vitamin A derivatives
At prescription levels, vitamin A derivatives are powerful anti-acne weapons, normalizing the process of skin-cell turnover and development. At over-the-counter levels, retinoids are still effective, but vitamin A in the form of retinol is highly unstable, and the concentrations are difficult to maintain in the presence of light and air.
Unless vitamin A is listed as one of the top five ingredients and the retinol is in an airtight opaque bottle, the product is unlikely to be effective.
Retinoids bring your skin cells’ turnover cycle back into alignment, preventing the buildup of sticky dead cells in the hair follicles and promoting the growth of healthy cells that slough off naturally. Some early retinoid formulations were extremely irritating, causing intense redness and burning, while the newer preparations do not.
Most likely, you’ll still notice some stinging, redness, and peeling, particularly in the early days of treatment. Stick with it, and you’ll see results. I’ve seen the power of retinoids work an extreme makeover on the skin, and I believe that anyone with resistant acne in mature skin-no matter what type or degree of severity-should be treated with some form of topical retinoid.
To get the best results when using a retinoid:
- Use a non-detergent facial cleanser.
- Start with a low percentage and work up as your skin begins to respond and becomes more tolerant of the irritating effects.
- Always apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 25.
- Exercise caution. Discuss any retinoid treatment with your doctor if you are pregnant or breast-feeding or if you have a darker skin tone.
- Expect a flare. About two or three weeks into retinoid treatment, you may see an acne eruption. That’s the result of all those buried microcomedones being pushed to the surface as the retinoid works to normalize skin-cell turnover and clear the pores.
- Expect to look younger. The retinoids used to control your adult acne will also have a noticeable anti-aging effect on your skin.
Sulfur has been used for centuries to fight infection and soften scaly skin. It was one of the earliest anti-acne drugs. Combined with resorcinol-an ingredient that strips the skin of dead cells-it is still used in a number of spot treatments.
Avoid resorcinol if you have darker skin tones, because it can be discoloring. Some fair-skinned people find sulfur less irritating than benzoyl peroxide.
Alcohol, often combined with acetone
Normally found in cleansers and toners, alcohol and acetone are intended to remove extra oil and make your skin feel cleaner. There are specific types of alcohol products that are more beneficial to the skin than others.
Alcohol is a mild disinfectant, and acetone is a degreaser. If your skin is dry or if you’re over forty, you may find these products too drying or irritating. Use witch hazel if you like the feeling of a bracing but mild toner.
Herbal or “natural” ingredients
A number of over-the-counter acne products include botanical essences, herbs, and other so-called natural ingredients. On their own, they have not been definitely shown to fight acne, although some do have antioxidant or antibacterial properties. They may be added for extra soothing or, if fragrant, aroma- therapeutic purposes.
You’ll usually find natural ingredients listed last on the label, which means that they’re present only in trace amounts. If you have plant-based allergies such as hay fever, herbal ingredients may cause a sensitivity reaction and you should test them on your arm before applying to your face.