How to Treat Acne with Skincare
How do you effectively treat acne and spots with skincare? What are the best ingredients and in what concentrations? Should you squeeze spots? What type of spots should you never pick? What is the difference between teen and adult acne? Can you use oils and moisturisers if you have acneic skin? All of this and more in the latest #skincarescience chat between Maleka and Chris, our favourite cosmetic scientist.
Please bear in mind this doesn't constitute medical advice. Maleka speaks from the perspective of a brand founder, who also had a problem with acne. Chris talks from the perspective of a cosmetic scientist.
What is acne?
The primary manifestation of acne is through spots, and there are different types. Comedo is a spot, and there are two main types:
- Open spots are blackheads.
- Closed spots are whiteheads.
Clogged pores are the cause of acne. They get filled with dead skin cells, residue, debris, and bacteria. A reaction in the pores triggers acne. Propionibacterium acnes is the name of the bacteria that causes acne. It is always present, but clogged pores can trigger a reaction. Pores get clogged, the oil doesn't reach the surface of the skin, and bacteria cause a reaction. It then manifests on the surface of the skin.
The bacteria get triggered in some people and not in others due to several factors - from hormonal to hereditary.
Things you can do to keep acne under control:
- prevent clogging
- control the oil
- prevent bacteria invasion that can lead to infection
- reduce inflammation
Skincare ingredients that can help with acne
Any acne regime requires consistency. Learn what your triggers are and keep your skin in good condition to avoid spots in the first place. In some cases, you'll need to seek medical help. However, the principles of what you should look for in skincare products are the same.
Alpha and Beta Hydroxy acids
Alpha-Hydroxy acids are water-based, gently exfoliate the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin, and improve the cell turnover. Be mindful of the formula and the dose. You want a product that softens and soothes at the same time and includes hydrating ingredients and anti-inflammatories.
Beta-Hydroxy acid (Salicylic acid) is oil-based and gets inside the pores to de-clog them. It also decreases inflammation, boosts exfoliation, and cell turnover.
Gentle Exfoliating Toner can be used once or even twice per day if your skin can handle it. Do be mindful of how much exfoliation your skin can take and be careful about using two or more exfoliating products at the same time. The goal is to reduce inflammation. You can end up using too many acids or retinol if you are layering products or using several products from different brands.
It bears repeating - you don't need to treat your whole face the same, especially if your acne tends to be in one area.
Likewise, little and often is the way to go. You don't need a super high percentage of AHAs.
Scientists developed retinol as a treatment for acne, and it works by increasing cell turnover and boosting collagen production. Retinol can have side-effects like dryness and flaking. If you are already dealing with inflammation, a high percentage of retinol can leave the skin red and sore. Again, go for a formula that includes anti-inflammatories. First, calm the skin, and then you have the basis to start treating it effectively.
People often overlook anti-inflammatories, but they are the most vital ingredients when treating various skin conditions. They are the fastest way to see improvement. Merumaya products contain a variety of anti-inflammatories, from our hero ingredient Echium oil to antioxidants.
Benzoyl Peroxide is an effective treatment for acne because it addresses both the bacteria and inflammation. It is widely available in the United States. In the EU, there is a ban on using Benzoyl Peroxide in cosmetics, only in professional products.
Niacinamide is vitamin B3 and a popular ingredient in the skincare community. It is an antioxidant, brightens and soothes the skin, and can help regulate sebum production. While it is a good ingredient and can contribute to the health of the skin, it won't do enough on its own.
Sunscreen doesn't cause spots in its own right. But, some formulas can be thick and greasy, and can indirectly lead to acne. Also, there is no ideal sunscreen for acne. You need to clean your skin effectively.
Cleansing is the key
Cleansing is a massively important step in any skincare routine. In Asian skincare, there are a couple of cleansing steps (first with an oil-based and then with a water-based cleanser). Natural oils are vital in keeping the skin healthy. Your cleanser needs to remove makeup and sunscreen but also treat and soothe the skin.
Maleka's Tip - in the mornings, choose a cleanser depending on how your skin feels right now. She suggests having a few cleansers in your skincare stash.
If her skin is feeling dehydrated, she will go for Melting Cleansing Balm or the Luxury Facial Wash. Of course, you need to treat the acne, but you also need to become aware of how your skin is behaving daily. You can mix and match, Maleka suggests mixing a bit of Mineral Cleansing Paste into the Melting Cleansing Balm.
Should you use oils and moisturisers if you have acne?
There is a misconception not to use any oils on the skin when you have acne, but that is not the case. The old way of treating acne was harsh and stripped the skin of all oil, but that exacerbated the problem. Dehydrated skin starts overproducing sebum to compensate. That, in turn, can make acne worse.
When Maleka's skin was oily, she only used the Iconic Youth Serum and no moisturiser. It is full of beneficial ingredients to help us age youthfully but also deals with acne at the same time. It all goes back to the quality of the formula. Iconic Youth Serum contains anti-inflammatories and supports the moisture barrier. Many serums contain a lot of silicones. While they are not bad ingredients and they don't cause spots on their own, it all goes back to effective cleansing.
We don't advise squeezing spots. Resist the temptation if you can. An open spot is an open wound. Bacteria and dirt can get in and cause inflammation or, in some cases, it can lead to scarring.
If you do plan to squeeze a spot, first make sure your skin is clean. You can also soak some compresses with warm water and place it on the area to soften it. Don't squeeze with your nails. Use some loo roll or tissues to create two blunt areas (Maleka's demonstrates what she does). Then go down and then out. Afterward, clean the area and apply Concentrated Spot Treatment.
The spot will only pop when the pustule contains puss. If you have angry red bumps, do not (DO NOT) squeeze those, you will only make it worse.
How fast can you expect results if you are using a skincare regime for acne?
Inflammation will reduce within a few days. To get rid of the spots, it will probably take a few weeks.
Things to bear in mind:
- Most likely, you won't see results overnight. It takes time, patience, and persistence with your skincare regime. Likewise, be aware of other things in your lifestyle that might be contributing to spots. Stress can be a huge factor. In some cases, you might need to implement dietary changes.
- Start with anti-inflammatories and spot treatment. Once the skin isn't as inflamed, go for acids and retinol.
When should you seek medical advice?
If your spots are predominantly below the surface and you can feel the bumps deep underneath the skin.
Would you recommend supplements for acne?
Many recommend supplements from Zinc and fish oil to vitamins A and B. One nutrient won't treat spots, give multivitamin a try. Some people notice an improvement in acne when they cut out dairy. While there is no conclusive science behind it, it is worth trying to see if it'll help.
Get some solid advice, educate yourself, and learn what helped other people. Teen and adult acne usually have the same causes. It can be hormonal, stress-related, or caused by medication. The advice on how to treat acneic skin is the same regardless of age - treat with anti-inflammatories, cleanse properly without stripping the skin and be patient.
MERUMAYA products to try:
Concentrated Spot Treatment contains ACNet to control clogging, reduce inflammation, and help prevent bacteria. Sytenol is Bakuchiol, which has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Salicylic acid exfoliates and unclogs the pores.
Gentle Exfoliating Toner with Lactic, Tartaric, and Citric acid to gently exfoliate the dead skin cells from the surface of the skin. Hyaluronic acid hydrates and helps protect the moisture barrier.
- With Sweet Almond oil and high in vitamin E, Melting Cleansing Balm goes from balm to oil and effectively removes sunscreen, makeup, and grime. Echium oil calms and soothes acne prone and sensitive skin.
- Luxury Facial Wash with Pomegranate enzymes gently exfoliates the skin without stripping it dry. It eases congestion and brightens the skin. It is ideal for combination and oily skin prone to blackheads and spots.
- Mineral Cleansing Paste polishes and revitalises the skin. It contains a variety of minerals - Zinc to heal the spots, Magnesium to target fatigue, and Iron for oxygen. The formula also contains fine granules and Sweet Almond oil to polish, smooth, and protect.
- Iconic Youth Serum is packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to boost collagen production, soothe, and comfort the skin.
- Retinol Resurfacing Treatment with 0.3% Retinyl Palmitate, a slow-releasing retinol, to get all the benefits of retinol without irritation. Matrixyl peptide and Hyaluronic acid improve signs of aging, and powerful anti-inflammatories calm and soothe the skin.