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Acne Creams: What to Look for and What to Avoid

When you're looking for an acne cream that works for you, you'll need to understand the ingredients found in acne creams, how they work, and what they can offer you based on your skincare needs.

Acne creams that combine ingredients that can cleanse and shrink pores, fight bacteria, and soothe the skin are typically best. Find products with salicylic acid, utilize the correct (not too high) concentrations of ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and retinoids, and avoid fragranced or oil-based products.

Before identifying which ingredients you should specifically avoid or seek out, you need to know what your goals and limitations are.

A woman with acne cream on her blemishes.

How To Find the Best Acne Creams

Understand Your Acne Triggers

While acne is a complex phenomenon, you can identify the main causes as:

  • Overactive oil glands or excessive oil on the skin

  • Excess of dead skin build-up

  • Excess of certain types of bacteria

In order to understand what sort of acne creams might work for your skin, try to identify the issues you need to tackle by finding likely triggers.

  • Do you tend to break out after exposure to certain surfaces or objects (hands, face masks, pillowcases, etc.)?

  • Do you tend to break out in the same areas?

  • Do you use birth control or otherwise take or use hormonal medication?

Answering those questions might help you rule out potential culprits for your acne so that you can limit them, such as by changing your birth control method or buying new razors that you use to shave your face.

Active Ingredients to Look For in Acne Creams

Active ingredients do the brunt of the work in acne creams; these are the ingredients that interact with bacteria and inflammation to unclog and cleanse pores, remove dead skin, and prevent future pimples.

Not all acne creams or their ingredients are created equal, especially not if you have specific skincare concerns like sensitive skin.

Take care to use only products with ingredients you know and trust that work together, like those from Exposed, to address your concerns effectively but gently.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a popular addition to most acne creams. This mild, yet incredibly effective, acid can both unclog pores and shrink them to help prevent future breakouts.

In order for your acne cream to effectively sink into your skin, you should cleanse your face before applying heavier cream products. The Exposed Facial Cleanser is a great option to try if you're interested in seeing what salicylic acid can do for you.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a key part of nearly all acne creams.

Its ability to kill bacteria both on the skin's surface and deep within its pores makes it a strong fighter against existing, developing, and future breakouts.

It's hard to create an effective oil-free acne-fighting skincare routine without benzoyl peroxide. Our Acne Treatment Serum combines the benefits of benzoyl peroxide with healing ingredients like green tea extract to fight acne-causing bacteria while also soothing the skin and preventing inflammation. Elements of science and nature work together seamlessly in this acne cream to treat skincare concerns and prevent future blemishes.

Retinoid for Acne

Retinoids are a popular type of active ingredient found in many acne creams, especially those aimed at moderate or cystic acne. They are used on the skin for a variety of reasons, from anti-aging to treating acne, but they function the same way regardless.

Unlike benzoyl peroxide, retinoids are not bactericidal (able to kill bacteria), but they do regulate cell production and cell death. Retinoids ensure that skin cell regeneration happens at a balanced rate so that the skin's pores don't clog and cause acne.

Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A. They are powerful, but their strength means that they're not always right for everyone. It is typically recommended to start with a low dose on fewer days per week to see if the skin can adjust.

Another serious side effect of retinoids can be photosensitivity, in which skin is particularly sensitive to the sun after using a retinoid treatment. Being more sensitive to the sun can be detrimental to your skin and your overall health, as it can increase your chances of premature aging, and even skin cancer. Alternately, using azelaic acid, as found in the Exposed Clearing Tonic, similarly increases skin turnover without these kinds of side effects.

Exposed Clearing Tonic

Finding a treatment regimen from a trusted brand that uses lower doses of chemical ingredients and utilizes natural remedies to soothe the potential effects of acne-reducing ingredients could be the key to your success.

What to Avoid in Acne Creams

It's important to be aware of ingredients that tend to irritate, clog, or otherwise interact negatively with the skin so you can avoid worsening your acne.

Commonly problematic culprits include:

Fragrances. Artificial fragrances can be very bothersome to the skin, especially if yours is sensitive:

  • Keep an eye out for fragrance ingredients that could be irritants or allergens, like linalool, citronellol, and limonene.
  • Many products will not specifically list out the ingredients that cause fragrances, so trigger words like "parfum" or "scented" could be your clue to a potentially irritating fragrance-related ingredient.

Aggressive Chemicals. Stay away from heavily concentrated products in general. If you're introducing something new into your routine, start slow and work your way up to regular use:

  • For example, even recommended ingredients like retinoids and benzoyl peroxide can be very effective at their optimal doses but could cause dryness or irritation at higher doses. In one study, patients noticed an improvement in their reaction (dryness, scaling, etc.) to benzoyl peroxide when its concentration was reduced from 5% to 2.5%.
  • Patients on a product containing 0.05% tretinoin, one form of retinoid, experienced less skin irritation, particularly dryness, versus those using 0.1%.
  • When it comes to chemical concentrations, consider starting low and working your way up. Jumping right to a high concentration could result in unexpected side effects.

Oils. Not all oils tend to cause problems, but some can clog the pores, as do products that are heavily oil-based or aren't formulated to be noncomedogenic. An oil-free product is referring to a lack of mineral or vegetable oils as ingredients, which can block the pores of someone prone to acne. They could commonly be listed as petrolatum, lanolin, or general mineral oil, among others.

How to Incorporate Acne Creams Into Your Routine

The best acne cream is one used in conjunction with other products, including the many options offered by Exposed Skin Care. Both our Acne Treatment Cream and Clear Pore Serum are great options for acne treatment, but they work even better when combined with our Facial Cleanser and Clearing Tonic, available together in the Basic Kit.

A before and after photo of Exposed Skincare's results.
Mesa Coral saw significant improvement in her acne after using the Exposed Skincare kit consistently.

All of our products bring you the best of what science and nature have to offer. By combining the strength and capabilities of chemical ingredients like those discussed above with natural ones like tea tree oil, aloe vera, and more, our products get the job done without irritating your skin. We care about keeping your skin healthy just as much as we care about getting rid of your acne.

Set yourself up for success by creating and sticking to a consistent routine that puts your skin first.

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