Exactly How to Treat and Prevent Breakouts, According to a Dermatologist

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Let’s face it: We’ve all experienced a gnarly pimple before, and unfortunately, acne can occur at almost any age. Even worse, if you consider the lengthy list factors that can lead to a flare up, it can feel like treating and preventing acne is a futile uphill battle.

But before you start spiraling about how difficult it can be to treat acne-prone skin, we have some good news. With the right skin-care products, it’s possible to achieve dramatically clearer skin. Here, we tap New York dermatologist Julie Russak, MD to answer all our pressing pimple questions—including the best products to combat breakouts—just in time for Acne Awareness month.

What causes acne in the first place?

“Acne is an inflammatory skin condition where pores get plugged with oil, dead skin cells and bacteria,” says Dr. Russak. “The main causes of acne are excess sebum production, follicles clogged with oil and dead skin cells, bacteria and inflammation.”

Now, not all acne is created the same. There are different types of breakouts, with flare ups ranging from mild whiteheads to deep cystic acne, But regardless of the severity or type of acne you’re experiencing, the right skin-care routine can help.

What ingredients work best for combatting acne?

According to Dr. Russak, retinol, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide are three of the most important ingredients to treat acne. “Retinolspeeds up the turnover of skin cells, getting rid of dead skin which helps unclog pores that are full of sebum which leads to breakouts,” she says. “There are even some prescription retinoids that have been found to decrease the size of the pores, which in turn will reduce the amount of oil your skin expels.”

More so than retinol, the most popular treatment for oily and acne-prone skin is salicylic acid. “Salicylic acid can break down blackheads and whiteheads and keep acne at bay,” adds Dr. Russak. “Salicylic acid softens and exfoliates the skin, cleans out the pores and reduces inflammation, which will in turn help the skin balance itself and reduce oil and inflamed cysts.”

Finally, benzoyl peroxideis another great option for acne treatment. It is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, which means it will kill bacteria on the skin when used topically and decrease inflammation in the pores.

What are the best acne-fighting products on the market right now?

There are an overwhelming amount of acne products currently available, which can make it difficult to know which products will work best for you. Luckily, there are options that are both effective and affordable. Our current favorites? The CeraVe Acne Control Cleanser and CeraVe Acne Control Gel.

“CeraVe Acne Control Cleanser and Acne Control Gel contain salicylic acid, so this is a great face wash and daily treatment for acne patients,” explains Dr. Russak. In addition to the 2 percent salicylic acid that both products contain, they also feature three essential ceramides, which help to keep the skin’s protective barrier intact and giving your skin a healthier glow post-treatment.

To use these products, simply apply the cleanser every morning and night to wet skin before rinsing it off. When using the gel, simply cover the entire area with a thin layer once a day. If your skin reacts well, you can increase your usage to two to three times daily. Dr. Russak also recommends pairing these products with CeraVe Moisturizing Cream to counteract any dryness that may come along with the salicylic acid use.

The bottom line

If acne is a part of your life, it’s a good idea to give these picks a try. Not only do they use science-backed ingredients to help clear out clogged pores, they’re also affordable and easily accessible (you can find them at your local drugstores!). As a bonus, they’re also the number-one dermatologist-recommended moisturizer brand for acne, so if the experts love them, they’re certainly worth the try.

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