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Whether it’s full-blown breakouts or just a pesky pimple or blackhead, everyonehas dealt with acne at one point or another. And today, there are tons of products and ingredients on the market that aim to help you kiss those spots goodbye for good.
But not all acne products were created equal, and certain ingredients are only suitable for particular skin types or acne concerns.
Here’s everything you should know.
What it is:Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s derived from willow bark. As a BHA, it’s oil-soluble(compared to its water-soluble AHA counterparts like glycolic acid).
How it works:Both AHAs and BHAs work to exfoliate the skin and dissolve the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of the skin. That said, salicylic acid’s oil-soluble nature makes it more effective at penetrating the skin’s sebum and lipid layer. Translation? Deep work at unclogging pores.
Plus, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. The combination is what makes salicylic acid such an effective ingredient for targeting acne.
The final verdict:Though salicylic acid is super effective, it can cause dryness, peeling, redness, and irritation -- particularly for those with dry or sensitive skin. As a result, we recommend that you practice care when trying salicylic products - and avoid it altogether if you have a sensitive skin type, you’re pregnant, or if your skin is particularly dry.
What it is:The all-star of the AHA world, glycolic acid is a gentle chemical exfoliant that increases cell turnover and dissolves the bonds that hold dead skin cells to the surface of your skin. It’s a water-soluble molecule, and it’s widely considered to be the most effective AHA because of its small molecule size.
How it works:Glycolic acid increases cell turnover, helping your skin heal from breakouts, fade scars, and rid itself of any dirt and impurities that have tried to pack themselves in.
The final verdict:As an effective, gentle AHA, glycolic acid can be a great part of your everyday skincare regimen (particularly if you have blemish-prone skin). If not, or if you just want some light, consistent exfoliation, start by working it into your routine once or twice a week. We recommend you add it into one step of your routine, like your cleanseror in a gentle exfoliating serum.
You’ll be able to increase the frequency as your skin adjust, and it can lead to brighter, smoother, and healthier skin over time.
You can also read more about the differences between AHAs and BHAs here.
What it is:Tea tree is a well known antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal essential oil that’s extracted from the tea tree plant. It’s a natural blemish fighter and a go-to ingredient for people trying to fight odor, fungus, or bacteria.
How it works:Studies show that tea tree oil can effectively address acne-related concerns.
This has to do with the fact that it’s a rich source of antioxidants and antibacterial ingredientsthat effectively neutralize fungal, yeast, and bacterial skin issues.
Our rating:It’s not all great news here. Like all fragrant essential oils, tea tree oil can be an irritant when applied topically - particularly if it’s used in high concentration. To avoid any reaction, you’ll want to patch test a spot on your skin first. Also, try to find products that have low concentrations (1% or lower) to avoid any redness or irritation.
What it is:Another well-known go-to, benzoyl peroxide is one of the more controversial acne-fighting ingredients on the list. It’s available both over the counter and in prescription-strength treatments and it has antibacterial properties.
How it works:Benzoyl peroxide works by both killing the bacteria that causes acne and removing excess oil and dead skin cells. It does this through oxidizing activity on the skin,meaning that - like hydrogen peroxide - it releases oxygen on the skin to destroy bacteria. Additionally, it’s a comedolytic and an anti-inflammatory, meaning that it also opens up pores and decreases skin inflammation.
This bacteria-killing ability makes benzoyl peroxide a good alternative to antibiotics in many cases, particularly if you’re dealing with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
The final verdict:Benzoyl peroxide can cause many side effects, including dry skin, burning and stinging, redness, and scaling - particularly if you have sensitive skin. That’s why we recommend that you only use benzoyl peroxide if you have oily or more resilient skin.
Also, keep in mind that the peroxide can bleach hair and clothing - so you may want to apply when you’re fresh out of the shower.
What it is: A mineral-rich paste drawn from the earth, clay has been used as a purifying skin ingredient for centuries - and for good reason. The right clay product can draw out oil and debris without stripping skin, leaving you with clear skin and acne-free pores.
How it works: While some clays can be pretty intense, a gentle clay like kaolin clay lightly adsorbs impurities from the skin - holding them on its surface like a magnet - without really removing any of the skin’s natural oils. In this way, it naturally detoxifies, exfoliates, tones the skin and reduces inflammation without overdrying the skin or stripping it of its natural oils. We recommend you find a high-quality kaolin mask or a gentle clay cleanser to leave you fresh-faced for the day.
The final verdict: This is definitely an ingredient that you should incorporate into your routine at least on a weekly basis - but be careful that you don’t choose a clay variety that’s too harsh.
You can read more about different clay types and how to choose the right one for your skin here.
What it is:Sulfur is an abundant element that’s been a staple in natural medicine for hundreds of years. More recently, it has been used as a popular acne treatment.
How it works:Sulfur removes dead skin cells that clog pores and helps remove excess oil. More specifically, it’s keratolytic, meaning that it works by softening and thinning the epidermis to prevent clogged pores. It also reduces bacteria growth.
It's often combined with other ingredients, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide or resorcinol.
The final verdict:Products containing sulfur may cause dry skin. And some products have an unpleasant odor.
At Eight Saints, we’re all about gentle, scientifically-backed, effective ingredients. That’s why, when it comes to acne-fighting ingredients, our all-star is glycolic acid. As a natural exfoliant and antibacterial ingredient, it can encourage healthy cell turnover, fade dark spots, clean pores, and allow for better penetration of other products.
Plus, it’s far less likely to irritate the skin than many of its counterparts, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.