If you deal with frequent breakouts or clogged pores, there’s a good chance you’ve spent hours on the computer trying to find the best pimple spot treatment or the best acne products—and you’re not alone. That said, skincare is a science—and if you don’t have a great understanding of the whole picture, you may have a hard time figuring out what acne products are right for you.
Thankfully, we’ve been doing this for a while (almost 170 years, to be specific). And throughout that time, we’ve gained a comprehensive understanding of what ingredients work best for pimples and other blemishes. Ahead, we’re breaking it down for you. Read on to discover the best ingredients for treating acne and how to use them in your skincare routine for acne-prone skin.
The Ingredient: Salicylic Acid/BHA
Why It Works: Salicylic acid is one of the best acne ingredients, thanks to its efficiency and relative gentleness on skin. Chemically, salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid, or BHA. It is typically used as an exfoliant to help remove pore-clogging dead skin cells and oil from the skin’s surface. This helps to prevent breakouts from forming.
Salicylic acid is also unique in that it is lipid-soluble, which means it can dissolve in oil. This allows skincare treatments with this ingredient to penetrate clogged pores and dissolve the contents, reducing active blemishes. As such, salicylic acid is effective at both treating existing acne and preventing new breakouts.
Try It: If you’re breaking out, we recommend washing your face with a gentle cleanser specifically formulated for oily, acne-prone skin, such as Blue Herbal Acne Cleanser Treatment. This face wash contains salicylic acid to help clear blackheads, whiteheads, and other types of blemishes, and prevent new ones from forming. Use it morning and night for clearer, smoother-looking skin.
For stubborn individual pimples, try a targeted spot treatment, such as Blue Herbal Spot Treatment, which contains 1.5% salicylic acid. The potent formula targets problem areas to help clear blemishes, blackheads, and whiteheads. Apply a small amount onto breakouts one to three times daily or as needed for clearer-looking, more comfortable skin.
The Ingredient: Sulfur
Why It Works: Sulfur is a naturally-occurring mineral that can be used to help manage a wide array of skin concerns, including blemishes. It works by drying out excess oil, which helps to shrink active pimples, like whiteheads. It also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help promote healing in minor wounds. Research indicates sulfur treatments are associated with very few side effects, so they’re ideal for those with sensitive or reactive skin.I
Try It: Since sulfur works by drying out the skin, it’s best to avoid using it all-over (especially if you have combination skin). Instead, treat problem areas directly with a pimple cream, like Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. This unique formula features 10% mineral sulfur and exfoliating glycolic acid. Dab it problem areas once to three times daily as needed for clearer-looking skin.
The Ingredient: Niacinamide
Why It Works: Niacinamide, also known as nicotinamide, is a form of vitamin B3. Research indicates that there are several ways this unique ingredient can benefit the skin: It enhances the absorption of antioxidants, has anti-aging properties, helps repair and maintain the ever-important skin’s natural moisture barrier, and decreases redness.II Studies also show it is effective at reducing sebum production—an excess of which is directly linked to clogged pores, blackheads, and other types of blemishes.III
Try It: Keep blemishes at bay by swapping out your daily moisturizer for a version formulated specifically for oily or acne-prone skin. We recommend Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion, which contains niacinamide and salicylic acid. The lightweight moisturizer helps diminish active breakouts and prevent new ones from forming. This unique formula is also clinically-demonstrated to reduce rough texture and minimize dullness for a clearer, smoother-looking complexion.*
*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.
The Ingredient: Aloe Vera
Why It Works: If you’ve ever had a sunburn, you’re probably intimately familiar with aloe vera’s effectiveness at soothing inflammation and minimizing the look of redness. As it turns out, it’s also useful for treating some types of blemishes. Aloe vera is packed with vitamins, including vitamin C, vitamin A, and vitamin E—all of which are powerful antioxidants. Research shows aloe vera is also a natural source of salicylic acid and zinc, the latter of which helps tighten pores for a smoother, clearer-looking complexion. Finally, in addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, aloe vera has antibacterial properties, which can help prevent acne breakouts.IV
Try It: While aloe vera is super effective at treating acne and inflammation, we wouldn’t recommend rubbing it directly on your skin every day. Instead, reach for a soothing toner formulated with the powerful plant, such as Blue Astringent Herbal Lotion. This iconic formula (a Kiehl’s favorite since the 1960s) also contains cooling camphor and menthol. It helps soothe the skin after cleansing for a more balanced appearance.
The Ingredient: Amazonian White Clay
Why It Works: Clay has been used as a traditional remedy for various physical ailments and skin concerns throughout history. The absorbent, mineral-rich substance is a natural detoxifier, and some research indicates it boasts antibacterial properties.V Clay works by absorbing excess sebum, making it useful for managing clogged pores and blackheads. Because of its thick, mud-like texture, clay is most frequently used in face masks.
Try It: Reap the benefits of clay with Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, which stars Amazonian white clay sourced from the mouth of the Amazon river. This top-rated formula draws out dirt, oil, and other impurities that can clog pores and lead to breakouts. It also helps reduce surface oil production and minimizes the appearance of pores for a more refined complexion. We recommend incorporating it into your skincare routine two to three times per week to keep pores clear and thoroughly detoxify the skin.
I.Gupta, Aditya K, and Karyn Nicol. “The use of sulfur in dermatology.” Journal of drugs in dermatology : JDD vol. 3,4 (2004): 427-31.
II.Levin, Jacquelyn, and Saira B Momin. “How much do we really know about our favorite cosmeceutical ingredients?” The Journal of clinical and aesthetic dermatology vol. 3,2 (2010): 22-41.
III.Draelos, Zoe Diana et al. “The effect of 2% niacinamide on facial sebum production.” Journal of cosmetic and laser therapy: official publication of the European Society for Laser Dermatology vol. 8,2 (2006): 96-101. doi:10.1080/14764170600717704
IV.Surjushe, Amar et al. “Aloe vera: a short review.” Indian journal of dermatology vol. 53,4 (2008): 163-6. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.44785
V. Moosavi, Maryam. “Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review.” Iranian journal of public health vol. 46,9 (2017): 1176-1183.