If you deal with oily or acne-prone skin, you’re probably familiar with the most common acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, AHAs, or retinol (sometimes listed on product labels as vitamin A). These ingredients are acne-fighting superstars and definitely still deserve a spot in your routine. Still, other ingredients you may be less familiar with can also help improve acne (or better, stop it in its tracks).
Here we spoke with two dermatologists about under-the-radar acne ingredients you can pair with your old faves for the ultimate acne-fighting routine.
Meet the Experts
Marina Peredo, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Hadley King, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
Niacinamide is a buzzy ingredient right now, and for a good reason. A form of vitamin B3 and sometimes called nicotinamide. Niacinamide is a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient. One study in the International Journal of Dermatology found that topical 4% niacinamide can be just as efficacious as a prescription anti-acne gel medication for patients with moderate inflammatory facial acne. Our B3 Nice 10% Niacinamide Serum is formulated with 10% niacinamide — which is the maximum (read: most effective) rate before you experience irritation. “Ten percent niacinamide gets you a reduction in pore size, fine lines and wrinkles, excess sebum, and hyperpigmentation,” says founder Sunday Riley.
Bentonite is a brownish-green clay that’s derived from volcanic ash and is often found in face masks. When mixed with water and applied to the skin, it helps draw out impurities and minimize sebum and bacteria, all of which can minimize acne. It works especially well when followed with other acne-fighting ingredients, like salicylic acid.
While bentonite can be great for drying up existing breakouts, it may also dry out the skin, so be sure to look out for a formula that also pulls in hydration or pair with a heavy-duty moisturizer or oil (bonus points if your hydrating product also has anti-acne ingredients, like the Sunday Riley U.F.O Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Face Oil).
Sulfur is usually associated with funky smells, but it’s actually super helpful for fighting acne. “Sulfur will work to eliminate the bacteria that causes acne while also removing oil from the skin. It exfoliates dead skin cells, which in turn prevent blackheads,” says Marina Peredo, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in N.Y.C. She adds that sulfur tends to be less irritating than another well-known acne ingredient, salicylic acid.
4. Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is an ingredient that’s easily found at the drugstore, and you may see it on the ingredient list for toners or drying lotions. “Witch Hazel is a plant-based compound with anti-inflammatory properties and acts as an astringent, which dries out acne. I recommend using it after cleansing the face to increase the effectiveness,” Dr. Peredo says.
Ginger does much more than add a little kick to sushi; the food can also be pressed into an oil and used in skincare. “Ginger is high in gingerol, a bioactive compound with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties,” says Hadley King, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in N.Y.C. “Anti-inflammatory ingredients are helpful to decrease [swelling] in the pimple.” She adds that many find anti-inflammatory ingredients to be less harsh on their skin, so if you have sensitive skin that seems to be getting more irritated from anti-acne products, try something with ginger or other anti-inflammatory ingredients.
Turmeric sometimes gives products a vibrant orange hue, but it won’t stain your skin (be careful of your towels, though). The ingredient has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help remove excess oil and bacteria from the skin. King recommends using an oil or a mask that contains turmeric as it can reduce acne and scarring. C.E.O. Glow Vitamin C and Turmeric Face Oil leaves your complexion brighter by calming surface redness and encouraging evenness.
7. Probiotics & Prebiotics
You likely already know that probiotics are important for your gut health (especially if you’re taking an antibiotic that can disrupt the microbiome), but probiotics are important in skincare too.
“We are learning more about the important role that the microbiome plays in skin barrier function and conditions like acne, rosacea and eczema,” says Dr. King. One thing is for sure, and the microbiome influences the health of the skin and its appearance.
CBD is a buzzy ingredient these days, but it may be here to stay. Dr. King says CBD has anti-inflammatory and anti-sebum properties, which can be helpful for oily and acne-prone skin. CBD may actually be better at stopping acne before it happens rather than working to heal a breakout. CBD is also a powerful antioxidant, so it can help your skin fight free radicals like pollution, which may cause breakouts.
Bakuchiol is another ingredient gaining mainstream popularity in the last few years, though it has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine. Bakuchiol comes from the Psoralea Corylifolia plant and it’s effective for refining skin texture, and it’s pregnancy-safe. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects too (acne is an inflammatory response often triggered by bacteria), so these properties can help minimize acne.
10. Benzoyl peroxide
Benzoyl peroxide is an antiseptic ingredient. It can help fight bacteria and unclog pores, leading to fewer breakouts. Dr. King says that benzoyl peroxide has “antibacterial properties and mild comedolytic properties (meaning it inhibits the creation of comedonal pimples), which make it a great choice for [many different types of] acne.”
Benzoyl peroxide can be drying, so it’s a good idea to pair products that contain benzoyl peroxide with a moisturizer or oil.
11. Honey and propolis extracts
In addition to being a moisturizing humectant, meaning it can pull moisture into the skin from the air, honey and other bee products, specifically propolis extract, can be powerful ingredients in the fight against acne. “Propolis and honey have antibacterial properties and may help [destroy] bacteria that contribute to acne,” Dr. King says. Bee products are known to be hydrating with anti-inflammatory properties, which help calm breakouts.
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