I’ve had acne nearly all my life, and I still deal with it in my early 30s. I know firsthand the less-discussed side effects that come with the skin issue, including depression, depleted mental health and a lack of self-confidence.
Fortunately, the acne-positive movement has been working to destigmatize skin conditions and talk openly about harmful side effects that affect our self-worth. The focus is on healing acne safely, debunking myths and stereotypes about the condition and providing a community where people can discuss their own concerns, share product recommendations and more.
According to a 2019 article from Business Insider, skin care is a $532 billion industry … and that was three years ago! With so many skin products and brands selling the false promise of perfect skin, it can feel overwhelming trying to navigate the waters of this giant industry. A simple search pulls up thousands of blogs, influencers, Instagram pages and TikTok videos talking about or selling various products, but finding actual dermatological or medical advice can be a lot more difficult.
Medical aesthetician Courtney Stewart of Las Vegas’ Advanced Aesthetics med spa says treating acne isn’t a “one-size-fits-all thing,” and that if it’s within someone’s budget, consulting a dermatologist or a medical aesthetician can lead to a comprehensive solution to the problem.
At Advanced Aesthetics, Stewart says, “We’re trying to go at it a little slower and fix [the problem] gradually,” all while addressing other things like aging or hyperpigmentation. A dermatologist, however, can address more major skin concerns, like severe acne, eczema, dermatitis and more. It’s up to the individual to decide what kind of professional to see, if not both.
First, do no harm
If medical treatment isn’t an option, there are other avenues to combat acne. Science has come a long way, and there are plenty of ingredients to treat whatever skin condition you’re facing.
First, pay attention to your skin barrier. If your skin is dry, red, itchy or flaky—even with acne—chances are your skin barrier has been compromised. This can happen when you use too many products at once, or overexfoliate with harsh chemicals or abrasives.
“Keep it very minimal,” Stewart says. And remember that 10-step skin care regiments aren’t backed up by science—that’s simply marketing. Stewart goes on to say that layering too many products can “strip the barrier of your skin and cause other problems”—and probably won’t help reduce acne. “Keep it very basic. Cleanse, use something that isn’t abrasive. I wouldn’t layer a ton. Stick with one thing,” she says.
That can be difficult given the industry’s appealing packaging and promises to cure skin concerns, but remember, there isn’t a universal miracle product on the market. Invest in skin care with nourishing, healing ingredients like ceramides and lipids (which naturally occur in skin but get depleted as we age), peptides, niacinamide, azelaic acid and hyaluronic acid.
Listen to your skin
Retinols and vitamin C are two often-hyped ingredients that can do wonders for the skin, but people with sensitive skin should be extra cautious with them. Retinol can cause irritation before skin gets better (that means more redness, dryness and, possibly, more breakouts at first). And Vitamin C, while great for some, simply can’t be tolerated by others’ bodies.
“Acne is so different for everyone,” says Stewart, who typically recommends something lighter for someone with “very oily skin” and something heavier if a patient is on the drier side. No matter what, remember that even if you have oily skin, your face needs moisture.
As for exfoliating at home, Stewart says she doesn’t love it. Even though there are countless exfoliating products in the market, “for the most part, you’re probably going to wreck a lot more than you’re going to fix,” she says. If you really want to incorporate an exfoliant into your routine, Stewart recommends starting with one type of exfoliant, like an AHA or BHA chemical exfoliant. Be careful, though. Salicylic acid is a common chemical exfoliant found in many products, so you could be layering multiple exfoliating products without knowing it. When in doubt, check the label.
If you’re still not sure what products to purchase or what treatments will help with your acne or skin concerns, that’s what experts are for. Stewart advises making an appointment with a licensed dermatologist or a trained medical aesthetician to help create a tailored plan unique to you, so you don’t have to do the guesswork yourself.