This Acne-Proof Routine Took 10+ Years To Perfect

·6 min read

Welcome to Acne Week, a five-day stretch where we get real about pimples, zits, cysts, and every bump or blemish in between. From skin-soothing products R29 editors swear by to exclusive deals on the most breakout-friendly beauty brands, we’re kissing the concept of “bad skin” goodbye and exploring why acne is so much more than skin deep.

For half of my life, I've dealt with varying degrees of having acne. From all-over, aggravated teenage skin (that only cleared up after a brutal round of Accutane) to my present-day hormonal breakouts, I've had over a decade of testing products in the name of showing pimples the door. From drugstore to high-end to prescription topicals, I've poured a lot of time (and money) into finding out what works — and what didn't. (All of this, mind you, predated — but heavily influenced — my career as a beauty journalist.)

All that's to say, I've made it my mission to demystify what the heck is going on when I'm dealing with a flareup — and at last, have finally cracked the code on what works for me: A 28-year-old oily-skinned, acne-prone gal. As many a dermatologist will tell you, treating acne is a tricky beast; what works for me might not work for you depending on your age, skin type, sensitivities, etc. However, one thing I can say with total confidence is this: Great products can be found at any budget.

Ahead, join me as I share my personal skin-care routine featuring some of my all-time favorite products.

Sincerely,
Your trusty skin-care-loving, acne-having beauty whisperer.

At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.

<h2>La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser</h2><br>I've recommended this <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/face-wash-for-oily-skin" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:gel cleanser" class="link ">gel cleanser</a> to anyone who will listen, and for good reason: Not only is the stuff itself worth its weight in gold (IMHO), it strikes a rare balance between leaving my greasy skin feeling clean but not dry. Also, it's <em>very</em> generously sized for the price point — I think one bottle lasted me easily four months with daily use. (TL;DR Buy this face wash!!)<br><br><strong>La Roche-Posay</strong> Toleriane Purifying Foaming Facial Cleanser, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3b8axY7" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Cleanser


I've recommended this gel cleanser to anyone who will listen, and for good reason: Not only is the stuff itself worth its weight in gold (IMHO), it strikes a rare balance between leaving my greasy skin feeling clean but not dry. Also, it's very generously sized for the price point — I think one bottle lasted me easily four months with daily use. (TL;DR Buy this face wash!!)

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Purifying Foaming Facial Cleanser, $, available at Amazon
<h2>The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%</h2><br>If you ask me, the true measure of a product's quality is in the number of times you repurchase it. I've probably gone through four or five of this serum from The Ordinary, which is basically unheard of given the fact that I try out new products almost every <em>day</em> for my job. After years of blasting my skin with the highest concentrations of drying ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide I could find, I found the most success with a gentler approach to keeping dirt and oil at bay. I couldn't tell you why, but my skin cannot get enough of this wonder potion's hero ingredients: The power couple of niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3 that helps clarify and brighten skin) and zinc (an anti-inflammatory mineral that addresses redness and moderate breakouts) has dramatically reduced my frequency of severe breakouts. In other words, the game has been changed.<br><br><strong>The Ordinary</strong> Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ulta.com%2Fp%2Fniacinamide-10-zinc-1-oil-control-serum-pimprod2007111" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ulta" class="link ">Ulta</a>

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%


If you ask me, the true measure of a product's quality is in the number of times you repurchase it. I've probably gone through four or five of this serum from The Ordinary, which is basically unheard of given the fact that I try out new products almost every day for my job. After years of blasting my skin with the highest concentrations of drying ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide I could find, I found the most success with a gentler approach to keeping dirt and oil at bay. I couldn't tell you why, but my skin cannot get enough of this wonder potion's hero ingredients: The power couple of niacinamide (a form of vitamin B3 that helps clarify and brighten skin) and zinc (an anti-inflammatory mineral that addresses redness and moderate breakouts) has dramatically reduced my frequency of severe breakouts. In other words, the game has been changed.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum, $, available at Ulta
<h2>Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer</h2><br>As wild as it is, there was once a period of my life when I thought it wise to forgo moisturizer altogether. (Shocker: It made my acne worse!) Nowadays, I still tread lightly with thick creams and thrive in the world of watery gel-creams for daytime hydration. You can find these pretty much everywhere (Neutrogena's Hydro Boost is a budget-friendly pick) but my very favorite has to be this soft, luxe one by Summer Fridays which leaves my skin feeling dewy, not shiny.<br><br><strong>Summer Fridays</strong> Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sephora.com%2Fproduct%2Fsummer-fridays-cloud-dew-oil-free-gel-cream-P466153%3F" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sephora" class="link ">Sephora</a>

Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer


As wild as it is, there was once a period of my life when I thought it wise to forgo moisturizer altogether. (Shocker: It made my acne worse!) Nowadays, I still tread lightly with thick creams and thrive in the world of watery gel-creams for daytime hydration. You can find these pretty much everywhere (Neutrogena's Hydro Boost is a budget-friendly pick) but my very favorite has to be this soft, luxe one by Summer Fridays which leaves my skin feeling dewy, not shiny.

Summer Fridays Cloud Dew Oil-Free Gel Cream Moisturizer, $, available at Sephora
<h2>Drunk Elephant Protini™ Polypeptide Moisturizer</h2><br>Okay, this one is expensive. Sorry about that. But I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't believe in it — and TBH, I generally think moisturizers are a good step to splurge on compared to cleansers — which are on your skin for maybe a minute, max. During the winter (or if I'm just feeling dry) I always go back to this peptide-infused cream, which really hydrates my skin but doesn't feel heavy. My skin drinks the stuff up and instantly feels softer and glowing. I also mix it into foundation sometimes for the ultimate glow.<br><br><strong>Drunk Elephant</strong> Protini™ Polypeptide Firming Moisturizer, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sephora.com%2Fproduct%2Fprotini-tm-polypeptide-cream-P427421%3F" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sephora" class="link ">Sephora</a>

Drunk Elephant Protini™ Polypeptide Moisturizer


Okay, this one is expensive. Sorry about that. But I wouldn't recommend it if I didn't believe in it — and TBH, I generally think moisturizers are a good step to splurge on compared to cleansers — which are on your skin for maybe a minute, max. During the winter (or if I'm just feeling dry) I always go back to this peptide-infused cream, which really hydrates my skin but doesn't feel heavy. My skin drinks the stuff up and instantly feels softer and glowing. I also mix it into foundation sometimes for the ultimate glow.

Drunk Elephant Protini™ Polypeptide Firming Moisturizer, $, available at Sephora
<h2>EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46</h2><br>EltaMD broke the mold with its celebrity- and editor-beloved UV Clear formula (which also comes in a tinted version that I also love). Not only does it have niacinamide (see earlier slide), but the stuff is basically incapable of breaking me out. In addition to having SPF 46 protection, it has an amazing, almost-whipped texture that doesn't just sit on top of your skin — it melts into it with a barely-there sheen.<br><br><strong>EltaMD</strong> UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.dermstore.com%2Feltamd-uv-clear-broad-spectrum-spf46%2F11370303.html%3F" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:DermStore" class="link ">DermStore</a>

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46


EltaMD broke the mold with its celebrity- and editor-beloved UV Clear formula (which also comes in a tinted version that I also love). Not only does it have niacinamide (see earlier slide), but the stuff is basically incapable of breaking me out. In addition to having SPF 46 protection, it has an amazing, almost-whipped texture that doesn't just sit on top of your skin — it melts into it with a barely-there sheen.

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $, available at DermStore
<h2>Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Invisible + Acne Pimple Patches</h2><br>I don't love these just because they’re nearly undetectable on skin. (On the contrary, your girl loves a <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/cute-acne-pimple-patches" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:cute pimple patch" class="link ">cute pimple patch</a>.) Compared to other brands, <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/best-acne-patch" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Hero Cosmetics' dots" class="link ">Hero Cosmetics' dots</a> work <em>fast</em> to draw out gunk from deep within the depths of your pores. These also stick on really well, as opposed to others where the adhesive tends to wear off after a few hours. (Another plus: You can find these at your local Target!)<br><br><strong>Hero Cosmetics</strong> Mighty Patch Invisible+, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3Ot3mrU" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Invisible + Acne Pimple Patches


I don't love these just because they’re nearly undetectable on skin. (On the contrary, your girl loves a cute pimple patch.) Compared to other brands, Hero Cosmetics' dots work fast to draw out gunk from deep within the depths of your pores. These also stick on really well, as opposed to others where the adhesive tends to wear off after a few hours. (Another plus: You can find these at your local Target!)

Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Invisible+, $, available at Amazon
<h2>Mario Badescu Drying Lotion</h2><br>If I'm not using a hydrocolloid patch, this is the spot treatment I reach for — I've been buying this stuff since I was in high school and it still holds up years (and scores of products) later. True to the name, it really works to dry out juicy whiteheads (sorry) overnight without irritating the area surrounding the breakout. Magic stuff, I tell you.<br><br><strong>Mario Badescu</strong> Drying Lotion, $, available at <a href="https://amzn.to/3OfSe1M" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Amazon" class="link ">Amazon</a>

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion


If I'm not using a hydrocolloid patch, this is the spot treatment I reach for — I've been buying this stuff since I was in high school and it still holds up years (and scores of products) later. True to the name, it really works to dry out juicy whiteheads (sorry) overnight without irritating the area surrounding the breakout. Magic stuff, I tell you.

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $, available at Amazon
<h2>Blume Meltdown Acne Oil</h2><br>I was admittedly slow to the <a href="https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/face-oils-for-acne" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:face oil" class="link ">face oil</a> trend, but now that I've integrated it as a final step in my nighttime routine, I can never go back. The key for me is finding one that absorbs fast and has clarifying benefits. This Blume one checks both boxes thanks to rosehip, tamanu, and blue tansy oils which help nourish skin and address inflammation. I like to mix it into my night moisturizer to wake up with baby-soft skin.<br><br><strong>Blume</strong> Meltdown Acne Oil, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ulta.com%2Fp%2Fmeltdown-acne-oil-pimprod2024300%3Fsku%3D2579265" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Ulta" class="link ">Ulta</a>

Blume Meltdown Acne Oil


I was admittedly slow to the face oil trend, but now that I've integrated it as a final step in my nighttime routine, I can never go back. The key for me is finding one that absorbs fast and has clarifying benefits. This Blume one checks both boxes thanks to rosehip, tamanu, and blue tansy oils which help nourish skin and address inflammation. I like to mix it into my night moisturizer to wake up with baby-soft skin.

Blume Meltdown Acne Oil, $, available at Ulta
<h2>Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask</h2><br>For a spa night in, I love treating myself to a clay mask, sometimes followed by a sheet mask for an instant glow. This Kiehl's one is a forever fave since it really balances my oilier areas and leaves my face feeling soft and smooth.<br><br><strong>Kiehl's</strong> Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask, $, available at <a href="https://go.skimresources.com/?id=30283X879131&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.sephora.com%2Fproduct%2Frare-earth-deep-pore-cleansing-mask-P422002" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Sephora" class="link ">Sephora</a>

Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask


For a spa night in, I love treating myself to a clay mask, sometimes followed by a sheet mask for an instant glow. This Kiehl's one is a forever fave since it really balances my oilier areas and leaves my face feeling soft and smooth.

Kiehl's Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask, $, available at Sephora

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