An effective skin care routine for acne is the first step to winning the fight against breakouts. A good skin care routine for acne-prone skin involves cleansing, exfoliating, toning, brightening and moisturizing. The main goals are to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells from your skin, maintain oil-water balance, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the skin’s natural barrier against environmental stressors.
However, not all acne breakouts are the same. First, identify whether your type of acne is non-inflammatory, which is caused by oiliness and characterized by blackheads and whiteheads. The other common type is inflammatory, which results in painful cysts and is caused by hormones or bacteria.
You also need to know your skin type: Do you have oily, dry, combination or sensitive skin? You might need to treat different parts of your face with different products. The below describes a typical Korean skin care routine for acne but I strongly advise you to consult a dermatologist in severe cases.
There’s no single solution to curing acne, and there is a lot of trial and error. It can even come back when you think it’s gone for good. Be patient, and stop using any of these products if they’re unsuitable for your skin.
1. Gentle Foaming Cleanser
Since acne is caused by clogged pores, begin by cleansing your skin regularly to prevent further inflammation. A gentle foaming cleanser is ideal. Look for salicylic acid in the product ingredients to help remove excess sebum especially if you’re prone to blackheads or whiteheads, or choose a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide to kill bacteria if you suffer from cystic acne. Cleanse your face every morning and night. Unless you’re engaged in heavy-duty sports or use heavy makeup, there’s no need to double-cleanse.
2. Chemical Exfoliator
Use chemical exfoliators instead of physical exfoliators like scrubs and brushes to prevent oil build-up without hurting your skin. AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and BHA (beta hydroxy acid) are two common chemical exfoliators you can use to treat your skin. AHAs buff away dead skin cells to eliminate whiteheads while BHAs remove excess oil to reduce blackheads. Examples of AHAs include glycolic acid, lactic acid and citric acid, while salicylic acid is commonly known as a BHA.
You can opt for COSRX’s AHA/BHA Clarifying Treatment Toner or Hada Labo’s AHA+BHA Face Wash, both of which contain the two acids. There’s no need to double-exfoliate if your cleanser or toner already contains these. Exfoliate twice a week instead of daily, depending on the weather and your skin condition. Since AHAs are photosensitive, don’t forget to wear a sunscreen if you’re using AHA-based products.
3. Alcohol-Free Toner
An acne cleanser or exfoliator can also take away moisture from your skin, so the next step is to soothe and moisturize using a toner. Opt for a fragrance- and alcohol-free toner if you have dry, flaking and sensitive skin. Hyaluronic acid is a safe and powerful humectant so I highly recommend it to help retain moisture. Etude House’s AC Clean Up Toner leaves you feeling refreshed and is especially useful when your skin is irritated. If you have very oily skin, Innisfree’s Jeju Volcanic Pore Toner can help minimize excess sebum. Remember to apply a moisturizer afterwards.
4. Spot Treatment
When your toner is completely absorbed, apply topical treatment to the acne spots. I use tea tree oil or witch hazel on inflamed areas. Avoid areas where you plan to put acne spot patches. It’s essential to keep these areas dry so the patches can stick firmly overnight.
The next step is fading acne scars. Avoid using wash-off, peel-off or overnight mask packs to prevent any residue from clogging your pores. Vitamin C-based products can help fade acne scars and prevent pores from clogging. Avoid using products with high levels of AHA, BHA or retinol when using Vitamin C products since it’s also photosensitive. Switch to other brightening ingredients like galactomyces ferment and niacinamide instead.
6. Oil-Free Moisturizer
Many acne medications tend to dry out skin, so it’s important to finish your skin care regimen with an oil-free gel or lotion. Look for non-comedogenic moisturizers containing aloe, ceramides or snail filtrate. Use a few drops of serum followed by a light cream if you have dehydrated skin.
7. Acne Patch
Waterproof hydrocolloid pimple patches draw sebum and fluid from inflamed spots while preventing further infection and scarring. They’re extremely convenient and effective. Apply them on your pimples before going to bed and leave on overnight. Make sure your skin is dry when doing so.
Wear sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 50 PA+++ to prevent sunburn, premature wrinkles, dark spots and skin cancer. Acne medications like topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, antibiotics, isotretinoin (Accutane), Vitamin C and AHA all make your skin more photosensitive, so wearing sunscreen is crucial. Cleanse off your sunscreen thoroughly every night if it comes with cosmetic functions, such as being tinted or waterproof.
Here’s a video showing a night skin care routine for acne using COSRX products. I hope you’ll eventually find the way to better skin!