How to treat minimal to mild acne.
This is how to get your minimal/mild acne under control.
Not sure what kind of acne you have and how best to treat it? Read this first.
Read on for a thorough(!) guide.
The most important thing is to keep your skin routine simple and full of effective ingredients. Since your acne isn’t too bad, it’s a good idea to try and get away with using as few products as possible.
Remember that with any stonger anti-acne routine (if you use retinoids or benzoyl peroxide), your skin may get a little worse before it gets better. This is called ‘purging‘ and occurs when your acne treatment pushes out all the acne embedded deep within your skin. This process should last a maximum of 2 weeks. If you’re experiencing increased breakouts any longer than that you should ditch whatever you’re using and try something else.
As with any routine, i’ll start with the framework in Skincare 101.
Now we’re going to go through each category and find products to fit each of the above slots.
Since you’ll be using some stronger treatments for your face, it’s good to start off with a gentle cleanser.
From left to right…
- Cetaphil/CeraVe Cleanser – See a dermatologist about acne and these are the cleansers they’re likely to recommend right off the bat – and for good reason! They clean skin thoroughly without aggravating acne or making it worse.
- Acne.org Cleanser – Again, this is another gentle yet thorough cleanser – can’t really go wrong with it!
- Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash – This really gets your face clean, great if you wear sunscreen during the day and need a quick way to get it off at night. Problem is that it’s also quite drying so I’d only recommend this if you have oily skin.
- Mario Badescu Acne Cleanser - Soothing, non drying and it contains an acne treatment that’ll get rid of mild clogs as you wash. It’s not going to cure your acne but it’ll leave your skin really clean. I really like this one.
- DDF Blemish Foaming Cleanser – This is a great foaming cleanser. Wash your face for at least a minute to get the full benefits from this AHA/BHA combo cleanser – it’ll help to calm down blemishes as well as brighten up your complexion.
- St Ives Green Tea Cleanser – A great drugstore treatment cleanser, nice gentle formula and a bit of salicylic acid in there to help to calm down blemishes.
Next up, treatments. This is where you’ll be doing most of your acne-fighting. Treatments provide your skin with a concentrated shot of acne-fighting goodness – with as little fillers and useless stuff as possible.
There are three main types of treatments you can use to fight acne, BHAs, Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinoids.
When it comes to choosing which one to use, it depends on how much acne you have. If you have minimal acne, try simply using a BHA product day and night to keep your blackheads and occasional pimples at bay. You’ve probably heard of BHA billed at ‘Salicylic Acid’ in tonnes of acne-fighting products. BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) are gentle on the skin but pack a very powerful acne-fighting punch at higher concentrations – they also have the added benefit of soothing razor burn and preventing ingrown hairs!
If you have a little more acne than that (mild acne) try incorporating a Retinoid or Benzoyl Peroxide product at night and a BHA product during the day. Benzoyl Peroxide destroys the acne bacteria and is well known for its acne fighting abilities. Retinoids are a stronger option and (save for one product that i’ll mention) can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor or dermatologist – since you have mild acne your doctor will probably prescribe Differin, the weakest prescription retinoid. In terms of efficacy, both are very effective in treating acne.
BHA Products – to use twice a day (minimal acne) or once a day (mild acne).
From left to right…
- Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid – I recommend this stuff so often I feel like Paula’s Choice should be paying me a monthly wage. Unfortunately they aren’t but i’m still going to plug this amazing stuff. This is a highly effective treatment for pimples and blackheads and I use it myself to keep them well away. The great thing about this is that it’s a liquid so it’s not heavy at all – just apply it with your hands or a cotton pad and you’re good to go. There’s also a slightly moisturising Lotion version if you have dry skin and 1% options if you have sensitive skin.
- Peter Thomas Roth AHA/BHA Acne Clearing Gel - This has all the bnefits of 2%BHA but they’ve thrown in 10% AHA too. The AHA in this helps to gently exfoliate the skin, getting rid of potentially clogging dead skin as well as dimishing acne scars in the process! A good combo product, don’t use this if you’re using Retinoids or Benzoyl Peroxide or it’ll probably irritate your skin too much.
- Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum – It’s simple and a milder option that’s great if you have sensitive skin.
- Skinceuticals Blemish Control Gel – A highly effective, milder option – this is very slightly moisturising too, perfect if your treatments leave your skin a bit dry and flaky.
- Stridex/Clearasil/Neutrogena – All these brands make really good BHA products. Stridex makes acne clearing pads (in a red box) with a 2% BHA solution that you just swipe on and Clearasil Ultra also makes a similar product. As for Neutrogena, they have toners in their Acne ranges that’re all great for the price.
Benzoyl Peroxide/Retinoids – mild acne.
Most of the time I like to give you as many options as possible but there’s only one product in each category (barring, of course, retinoids you can get from your doctor) that I can wholeheartedly recommend to you guys.
- Acne.org 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide – This is pretty much the gold standard when it comes to topical benzoyl peroxide treatments. This acne.org product is a light, clear gel with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide and nothing else that could potentially make your acne worse. There are lots of products out there with a higher concentration of benzoyl peroxide (lots of drugstore brands come to mind) but I think concentrations that high are very damaging to skin and not that much different in terms of how effective they are. So yeah, if you have mild acne – give this stuff a shot. I recommend using this only at night and using a BHA product during the day since this stuff makes skin more sensitive to sunlight. If your acne isn’t too bad, you may only need to use this 3 or 4 times a week and then use a regular moisturiser on the other days.
- Avene Diacneal – The only retinoid product you can buy without prescription that’s worth buying – that’s thanks to a special form of retinol used at a good concentration. The addition of 6% glycolic acid helps the retinol to penetrate deeper and also helps to fade acne scars. This is a personal favourite of mine and I have a full review here. This is a nice retinoid product but still nowhere near the strength you’ll find in the retinoids available through prescription. Just ask your doctor or dermatologist about them for more information!
After treating your skin comes moisturising! Acne treatments tend to be pretty harsh on the skin which can lead to some pretty unattractive flaky patches on your skin. Even if your skin is oily, it’s good to use a light moisturiser just to balance out your oil production. When you’re using your benzoyl peroxide or retinoid product at night, it’s a good idea to wait about half an hour to an hour before moisturising so that the treatment has time to really sink into your skin.
Firstly, hyou should be using a moisturiser with sun protection in it during the day. This helps because products like Benzoyl Peroxide and Retinoids make your skin more sensitive to burning in the sun. Besides, sun exposure will cause your acne scars to become darker – the only way to fade them is by using a sunscreen. I highly recommend these ones if you’re acne prone:
From left to right…
- Olay Complete Sensitive SPF15 – This is a well-loved moisuturiser amongst those with acne. Not the best sun protection but it’s still decent and best of all it shouldn’t break you out.
- DDF Ultra-Lite Oil-Free Moisturizing Dew – This is a great moisturiser with SPF, again it doesn’t have amazing ingredients but it’s an excellent option if you have acne prone skin. It moisturises but it’s lightweight and very comforting on the skin.
- Elta MD UV Clear – Great sun protection and it’s specifically formulated for people with acne. It’s light and it contains the acne-fighting ingredient Niacinamide in a large enough concentration to be effective.
- Japanese sunscreens – Japanese sunscreens in general tend not to aggravate acne prone skin, probably because they’re very very light and don’t contain a tonne of chemical filters. Despite that they offer fantastic sun protection and a finish that’ll stay matte all day. Click here for my top 5 recommendations and information on how to buy them. If you can’t order online, try the Shiseido Sun Protection Lotion which is available in-store internationally.
- Another option that I haven’t pictured is the Peter Thomas Roth Mineral Sunscreen SPF30 – This is a powdered sunscreen that you simply brush onto your skin over your regular moisturiser. The sun protection isn’t great at all (since you need to apply a crapload to get the labelled SPF) but it’s a fantastic option for those whose skin just doesn’t agree with sun protection. Also great to carry around and powder away shine whilst bumping up your sun protection.
You need to have a regular moisturiser to use at night over your treatment to ensure your skin doesn’t get dried out. If you’re using Benzoyl Peroxide or Retinoids, go for a simple moisturiser as a treatment one will just overload your skin with acne medication and probably make the problem a lot worse.
Here are my top picks, a few of which feature in my Simple Moisturisers for acne-prone skin post. I’m dividing this into two categories:
Simple moisturisers: Ones just provide your skin with moisture and shouldn’t break you out.
Treatment moisturisers: These are moisutrisers that also contain acne-fighting ingredients.
From left to right…
- Cetaphil/CeraVe/Acne.Org Moisturiser – These are all quite light and well known for being acne-friendly. Not much to say apart from the fact that they shouldn’t break you out and they’ll leave your skin feeling nice and smooth.
- La Roche Posay Toleraine – This is a great moisturiser if you have drier skin, La Roche Posay is known for its very gentle skin-friendly products. One of the most recommended product lines by dermatologists here in Europe and available at most drugstores.
- Korres Yoghurt - The Korres Yoghurt Cream is an intreresting moisturiser. It looks creamy but it’s actually quite light and refreshing. This is particularly good if you feel as though your skin feels dry even though it looks oily. Love this one.
- Clinique DD Line – The entire Clinique Dramatically Different line of moisturisers are great staples for acne-prone skin. Best thing is that they have different formulas for different skin types; a cream for dry skin, a gel for oily skin and a lotion for those in between!
- Jojoba Oil – If you have oily skin, moisturising with an oil may be the last thing you want to do but Jojoba Oil in particular is an amazingly effective moisturiser for any skin type. Just splash a few drops into your hand (or into another moisturiser if you have dry skin) and massage into your face. The oil absorbs instantly and leaves your skin feeling fresh, moisturised and not oily at all. This has become a cult fave amongst acne sufferers and you can grab a bottle at any health store.
- CeraVe PM – I reviewed this product here and I still stand by my claims that this is a fantastic light moisturiser for acne prone skin. Especially good if your skin tends to look a little bit red thanks to your retinoid.
- Alpha Hydrox Soufflee/Acne.Org AHA – AHA moisturisers are great because while moisturising they also exfoliate your skin to prevent dead skin from clogging pores and creating acne. Used in conjunction with a sunscreen during the day, AHA moisturisers will gradually fade your acne scars too!
- Proactiv Mild Night Creams - Note that i’m taking about the mild line of Proactiv products, not the regular sort. These moisturisers (one called Repair Lotion and a slightly heavier Night Cream) contain a good amount of acne treatment ingredients whilst providing your skin with a little moisture too.
So that’s more or less the products you’re going to need. Next up are some treatments you can use weekly just to boost your routine a bit.
Every week you can use a face mask to help calm down and dry out your acne. You can apply these all over your face or simply apply the mask to the areas with acne. My two favourites are the DDF Sulfur Therapeautic Mask and the Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask.
It’s also a good idea to exfoliate your skin once or twice a week to prevent the build up of dead skin cells. If you’re using an AHA product then you can get away with doing this just once every one or two weeks. Good scrubs are plentiful, just avoid anything that contains grains of walnut shell or other ‘natural’ products – they can be harsh on the skin. A few of my favourites include the Menscience Face Scrub, the Shiseido Face Brush used with any cleanser, Neutrogena Oil Free Daily Scrub and Clinique Men’s facial scrub. These are all nice and grainy.
If you have a particularly large spot pop up and you want to heal it as quickly as possible, it’s a good idea to apply a spot treatment product at night. Read this post for my recommendations.
So that’s it! A complete guide to building your own anti-acne routine for minimal to mild acne!
Once you’ve chosen what you think would work best for you out of the categories above, you can then slot them back into the routine I posted right at the beginning.
Here are two (one for minimal, one for mild) that i’ve made from chosing products listed above.
And you’re done!
Hope that was helpful, if you have had any successes or failures with products please leave a comment or send me an email and i’ll add it to a future post. Thanks for reading!