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Skincare is not a one-size-fits-all situation and choosing the right skincare products for acne-prone skin can be a massive challenge. Which is why I highly recommend seeing a dermatologist. Otherwise, you have to experiment to find what works for you. My initial approach at the beginning of my acne journey was to search “the best skincare products for acne-prone skin,” and “top rated acne products at Sephora” on google. Those results weren’t necessarily bad, but I was missing the point.

Eventually, I stopped focusing on name brands, fancy packaging, and lofty promises, and started focusing on addressing the root causes of my acne and what specific ingredients were scientifically proven to work. Guess what? It wasn’t the most expensive skincare products at Sephora or some a mask made from a weird concoction of household food items. (Yes – I see you…Put down the avocado, honey, and coffee grinds and step away from the mixing bowl.)

Keep reading for the ingredients I look for in skincare products that have helped me treat my sensitive acne-prone skin.

Hyaluronic Acid

Hyaluronic Acid is a naturally occurring substance that helps your skin cells retain moisture by pulling in moisture from the air. The molecules of hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1000x their weight in water, so it’s commonly used in skincare products that promote hydration. 

Formulas with low, medium, and high molecular weight molecules are better able to penetrate the layers of skin to provide the most hydration.

The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is formulated with all three molecular weight molecules!

How it Helps Acne:

Hydrating the skin is a huge step in the right direction for people suffering from acne and Hyaluronic Acid is one of the best ways to accomplish that. Oily skin isn’t always an indicator of hydrated skin and sometimes overactive sebaceous glands (oily skin) can indicate a lack of hydration because your skin is trying to compensate for its lack of moisture.


Niacinamide (AKA Vitamin B3) is a naturally occurring powerhouse skincare ingredient known for its ability to improve a number of skin concerns including acne. Applying Niacinamide topically helps to energize cells for improved function which translates to healthier and brighter skin.

Niacinamide is the precursor to coenzymes that boost cellular metabolism and are involved in tons of biochemical processes including cell turnover.

How it Helps Acne:

Niacinamide can help with a number of acne-related issues like rebuilding the skins lipid barrier to increase hydration, helping the skin regulate oil production, and improving the look of acne and redness by reducing inflammation.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% combines two skin-loving ingredients in one formula for your convenience and best skin yet!

Alpha-Hydroxy-Acids (AHA’s) & Beta-Hydroxy-Acids (BHA’s)

AHA’s and BHA’s are chemical exfoliants that promote cell turnover by breaking down the bonds in the top-most layer of the skin that trap dead skin cells, excess sebum, and built up debris from the environment. AHA’s are water soluble and the most common ones are glycolic acid and lactic acid. BHA’s are oil soluble, which means they penetrate deeper into the skin, and the most common one is salicylic acid.

How it Helps Acne and Hyperpigmentation:

Chemical exfoliation is gentler on the skin than physical exfoliation. Physical exfoliants (scrubs with beads or ground fruit seeds – think the old St. Ives Apricot Scrub) can irritate active acne and potentially cause more acne and inflammation by creating microscopic tears in the top layer of the skin. By using a chemical exfoliant, you’re not only promoting cellular turnover, but you’re also gently clearing away dead skin cells and debris to allow your skincare products to penetrate deeper into the skin.

For an AHA toner, I like the Ole Henrikson Glow2Oh or The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Toner.

For an AHA/ BHA treatment, I like The Ordinary AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution.

Note: Overuse of AHA’s and BHA’s can negatively effect the skin and cause dryness and irritation. Read my post on My Acne Skincare Routine to see how I safely and effectively introduced an AHA/BHA toner into my skincare routine.

Alpha Arbutin

Alpha Arbutin is the most stable and effective version of Arbutin and has been proven effective in reducing the appearance of dark spots and pigmentation in general.

How it Helps Hyperpigmentation:

Alpha Arbutin slows down the process by which the body produces melanin in response to UV-light; therefore, it reduces the likelihood of hyperpigmentation as a result of acne and slowly dissipates existing hyperpigmentation with continued use in combination with sunscreen.

The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA includes Hyaluronic Acid to help with increased hydration and absorption deeper into the layers of skin.

Azelaic Acid

Azalaic Acid is a naturally occurring acid that is known for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It is not an AHA or BHA.

How it Helps Acne & Hyperpigmentation:

Azalaic Acid promotes cell turnover and similarly to Alpha Arbutin, it also inhibits the body’s ability to produce melanin in hyperpigmented areas of the skin. The antimicrobial properties in Azelaic Acid help keep acne at bay too.

The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% provides the ultimate concentration of this super effective skincare ingredient.


Zinc is one of the trace minerals humans need everyday for maintaining efficient bodily functions at the cellular level. It can be found in foods, supplements, and of course skincare, and the skincare benefits of Zinc are huge.

How it Helps Acne and Hyperpigmentation:

Zinc can help your skin regulate sebum production, bring down inflammation, regulate cell production, and fight off free radicals from harmful UV rays. Zinc is most commonly found in physical sunscreen formulas designed to block UV light from penetrating the skin, but it can also be found in other skincare products to help boost the effectiveness of the formula.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% which was mentioned before, includes Zinc in the formula to enhance the sebum regulation properties of the Niacinamide.

Acne Skincare Rules:

Start With One Problem

I’m sure you have a bunch of skincare woes that you want to treat and they’re all linked to each other, but you likely have to work on one at a time. When I started my acne journey, I knew I wanted to get rid of my acne, reduce my hyperpigmentation, even my skin tone, improve my skin texture, and hydrate dry patches, but I couldn’t address them all at once. Start with one issue and slowly build up your routine.

Patch Test Before Applying it to Your Face

It’s annoying especially if you’re excited to get rid of your acne, but trust me, you will thank yourself later if something doesn’t jive with your skin. Always do a patch test to make sure that whatever new product you use won’t irritate your skin.

Be Consistent

Much like anything worth doing in life, consistency will take you further than skipping from one product to another every week. Nicacinamide took nearly a month to work on my skin and it took a solid four months of consistent skincare to get my skin to where it is now.

Wear Your Stinking Sunscreen!

If you follow any of these acne rules, let it be this one. Wear your sunscreen everyday, and reapply when needed. You might as well toss your skincare practices out the window if you don’t wear sunscreen, especially if you are trying to reduce the appearance of scars or hyperpigmentation. Sunscreen is by far the most important skincare product you can use to improve the look, feel, and overall health of your skin.

Shop my Skincare Picks

Now that you’re armed with knowledge on ingredients to look for in skincare products for acne-prone skin, go out there and get the skin of your dreams!

I didn’t want to make this post super long, so I’ll be releasing a post next week about ingredients I stay far far away from in my skincare products. Some might surprise you!

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