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Skincare Routine for Acne Prone Skin

Has your skincare routine been making your skin problems worse without realizing it?

Now, after we discussed what might be the root cause of the most common skin issues like acne and rosacea, let’s see how skincare play a role in helping these conditions or, on the contrary, make them even worse.

The most widely recommended, conventional products for acne prone skin usually contain exfoliating acids (AHA and BHA), astringents and harsh, stripping surfactants (think face wash products).

It is likely that at the beginning of your healing journey you thought that acne and rosacea are strictly external issues and therefore can be managed with topical products only. Typically, when talking about acne we think cleansing and exfoliating as much as possible and avoiding all oils and moisturizers because they might clog pores and make your skin oilier, leading to more problems.

If you have been doing this chances are you have made your acne worse and your skin more vulnerable and susceptible to issues.

Here is why:

The 3 most important factors to consider when taking care of our skin and when choosing face products are:

  • Skin barrier integrity
  • Skin pH
  • Skin microbiome

When we constantly wash and exfoliate our skin (especially with soap or surfactant based washes) hoping to clear our acne and lower our sebum production but don’t moisturize after that we create perfect conditions for damaging our skin barrier. The skin barrier is what protects the skin from the outside world and it is basically our skin’s immune system, it is responsible for maintenance of water content, reduction of the effects of UV light, and mitigation of the effect of oxidative stress. Damaged barrier will lead to dehydrated, irritated and inflamed skin and disturbed and vulnerable to bacteria overgrowth skin microbiome. On the other hand, nourishing and boosting our skin barrier will result in stronger, healthier and more resistant skin that is able to maintain a balanced and healthy microbiome and optimal hydration levels.

Another reason to moisturize, especially after washing with conventional cleansers is to bring the skin pH back down to its healthy level (4.5 – 5.5).  Soapy cleansers are usually alkaline and research has been shown that the skin pH increases significantly after washing with products containing strong surfactants. Keeping the skin pH at its optimal range is important for both skin barrier integrity and healthy skin microbiome as most bacteria tent to overgrow given the right conditions, one of them being skin pH.

Finally, skin microbiome is extremely important and until recently not very well researched. The skin microbiome is basically all microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and fungi that naturally live on our skin. Most of these microorganisms are beneficial and necessary for human’s skin health. Disturbing the skin microbiome balance could lead to infections and skin issues like acne, rosacea, eczema, fungal infections, dandruff and so on. You can compromise and disturb the microbiome by what you put on your skin and what you put in your body. Certainly, washing with conventional, detergent based face washes and over exfoliating with acids is the #1 way of messing up with it. Healthy microbiome thrives at a pH of about 5, soap has a pH of 10. Finally, what happens in your gut and influences your gut microbiome also corresponds with what is going on with your skin, as everything in our bodies is connected.

Everything you use on your skin needs to be barrier strengthening and biome balancing.

  1. Look for skin-identical ingredients in your skincare products. "Skin-identical"ingredients are naturally part of the structure of our skin (few examples are ceramides, cholesterol, free fatty acids, hyaluronic acid, glycerol, squalane and proteins). Supplying “skin-identical” ingredients to the stratum corneum supports the skin immunity and barrier function, reduces trans epidermal water loss (TEWL), and restores epidermal homeostasis.  
  2. Choose oil cleansers instead of traditional surfactant-based washes
  3. Don’t over exfoliate and always moisturize


Most people agree that you have to wash and exfoliate a lot when you have acne so your skin stays clean and bacteria free. This may sound logical and we agree that the face has to be kept clean but the way the mainstream skincare industry got you to believe is the best is actually harmful.  Over-cleansing the face with products containing surfactants and soaps, as we already discussed, strips away the skin’s own oils leaving it vulnerable and very often irritated, tight and dry. This also stimulates more sebum production instead of balancing it out and creates even bigger problems for people with acne and rosacea. Human skin needs a sufficient amount of sebum to maintain its barrier function and ability to fight common skin bacteria like Propionibacterium acnes. The body knows how much sebum it needs and when it detects that these levels are low (like after washing for example) it will try to compensate by producing more sebum, so you see the vicious cycle here.  The sebum is an important part of the skin’s immune system and stripping it away can only cause bacteria overgrowth, formation of lesions and inflammation

Now, we are not saying don’t wash your face, on the contrary, cleansing is important but we believe is that the best way to wash away dirt, excess oil buildup and draw impurities out of your pores is actually oil cleansing. SHOCKING? I know, it is counter intuitive but it works wonders. Oil attracts oil, and since sebum and make up are both oil based, oil cleansing is the healthiest and most effective solution.

  • Oil cleansers – thankfully the industry is starting to understand the power of oil cleansing and there are more and more options on the market. Look for an oil to milk cleanser that will rinse clean with water without leaving a greasy feel after use. Oil cleansing is by far the best way to remove makeup and mineral sunscreen. They can also be formulated with fruit enzymes that can gently exfoliate the skin and anti-inflammatory ingredients that all acne sufferers can benefit from.
  • Micellar waters - The second best thing after oil cleansers are micellar waters. They are fantastic for toning and hydrating the skin if formulated with the right ingredients. Micellar waters are basically tonners with added surfactant (cleansing agent) but the difference between a micellar water and a regular face wash is in the % of the surfactant. In a face wash the surfactant would be between 10% and 30% which is way too much for the purposes of just cleansing the skin but it creates the foam and squeaky-clean feel so many people associate with clean skin. Micellar waters only contain around 1-2% which is enough to clean the skin and even remove light makeup but it will not disturb the skin’s pH and over strip the skin and it doesn’t need to be rinsed off, therefore it can also act as a vehicle for active ingredients and moisturizing gents. You can use micellar water for double cleansing, this is a method of cleansing where you first do an oil cleanse and after you double cleanse (or remove any excess oil) with micellar water. If you decide to try this you don’t even need to buy a special oil cleanser, simply use jojoba or olive oil, massage it into the skin and remove with a soft, wet washcloth. After that you double cleanse with your micellar water and voilà. 
  • Traditional cleansers - If you however can’t get around the idea of oil cleansing and still prefer traditional face washes try to avoid these ingredients:

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium Laureth Sulfate

These are very common detergents but unfortunately very well-known irritants, they are harsh and stripping and will for sure aggravate your acne. Try looking for a natural product with very mild surfactants and if your dermatologist recommends product chances are they will recommend something with these 2 ingredients so be aware.  Also, moisturizing after washing with a traditional cleanser is a must if you want a balanced pH and well working skin barrier.


Another controversy, mechanical (or physical) exfoliation is a BIG NO for acne and rosacea sufferers. It might be great for people with healthy skin when it is done in a very gentle way and only once a week but in general it is irritating and contraindicative for compromised skin.

Still, exfoliating may be beneficial for keeping the pores clean and cell turnover and this is best done with chemical exfoliation. There are 2 main groups of acids used in the cosmetics for exfoliation – Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) and Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA).

  • AHA are ingredients like glycolic, citric, malic, tartaric and lactic acid, they work on the surface of the skin and are fantastic for sun damaged skin with have brightening and anti-ageing properties.
  • BHA is salicylic acid which is oil soluble and therefore able to penetrate deeper into the pores and exfoliate much better any sebum build up and dissolving black heads. Salicylic acid would be much more effective for acne than AHAs even though AHAs can boost the exfoliation further.

Both these are good but for acne we recommend BHA, it is from natural origin (present in Willow Bark and other plants), it is also mild enough for sensitive skin (up to 2%) and it doesn’t make the skin sensitive to UV light.

AHAs will require wearing a sunscreen after use so be aware if using. And again, always moisturize after exfoliating.


The most important thing for the skin is to be MOISTURIZED and HYDRATED, and this is true for acne skin as well. Most acne sufferers overlook and avoid this skincare step thinking it will aggravate their breakouts and will make their skin oilier. This is not true and in fact moisturizing is one of the most important steps of your routine, it supports your skin barrier function by hydrating and replenishing lost intracellular lipids, it balances the skin’s pH and it gives your skin another layer of protection from the outside world. Choosing the right moisturizer for acne prone skin is important, as well as, knowing what ingredients to look for and what to avoid. A moisturizer consists of 3 main ingredient groups – emollients, humectants and occlusives. In brief, emollients provide softening and moisturizing properties, the humectants draw moisture from the atmosphere to the skin and therefore contribute to the skin’s hydration and occlusive ingredients provide a protective barrier – keeping moisture in and the world out. The best moisturizer will have all of the 3. Other ingredients could be any actives like plant extracts, vitamins, anti-oxidants and so on.

Emollients/Oils – no doubt you have heard the constant “oil-free” mantra when it comes to anti-acne products but oils (the right kind) are extremely important for many reasons:

  • Healthy skin depends on the integrity of the stratum corneum (outer layer of the skin) which consists of ceramides, cholesterol and free fatty acids. The free fatty acid dominating in our skin is linoleic acid. Oils rich in linoleic acid are called dry oils, they are very easily absorbent, penetrate the skin rapidly and fully, do not clog pores and can even leave a dry feel on the skin (hence the name).
  • In moisturizers they are the most natural emollients (there are synthetic once in oil free formulas), they soften and moisturize the skin
  • Unrefined oils could be a power house for vitamins, phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants. Oils are made of fatty acids mainly but also contain phenolic compounds, flavonoids, lignans, terpenes, and vitamins, all of which hugely beneficial for our skin and overall health.

Humectants – glycerin, hyaluronic acid and propanediol are top all natural picks for an acne appropriate humectant. All are naturally derived and highly effective. Hyaluronic acid has additional anti-ageing properties and propanediol is a penetration enhancer (meaning it helps other ingredients to penetrate in the skin and deliver their benefits). 

Occlusives – There are three approved barrier ingredients recognized by the FDA, dimethicone (not natural and potentially pore clogging), cocoa butter (potentially pore clogging), and allantoin. There are other ingredients that can provide occlusive properties like butters, oils, esters and hydrolyzed plant proteins. We recommend allantoin and hydrolyzed plant proteins for acne prone skin.

Active ingredients - beneficial for acne prone skin to look for in skin care products.

Here are some of the best and most effective active ingredients for acne (aside from the approved for over the counter or prescription medications).

  • Salicylic acid
  • Micro Silver
  • Willow Bark extract
  • Ceramides
  • Zinc
  • Bakuchiol (this is all natural form of Vitamin A, minus the side effects. Amazing for acne and anti-ageing products)
  • Retinol (Vitamin A) – this is the gold standard when it comes to anti-ageing or anti-acne actives but it could be very irritating ingredient for many of us and have unwanted side effects. Use with caution or look for alternatives like Bakuchiol or Granactive Retinoid.
  • Chamomile
  • Green Tea
  • Echinacea
  • Cucumber
  • Mangosteen
  • Resveratrol
  • Niacinamide
  • Clays
  • Dead Sea Mud
  • Thyme extract
  • Manuka honey or Manuka extract

Ingredients that may clog pores (these are ingredients used in the clean and natural skincare realm but may be problematic for your skin)

  • Beeswax
  • Butyl Stearate
  • Capric acid
  • Cetearyl alcohol (slightly comedogenic)
  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Glyceryl Stearate SE
  • Lauric acid
  • Isocety Stearate
  • Isopropyl Isostearate
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Isopalmitate
  • Shea butter (not comedogenic for most people, but it is for some)
  • Sulfated castor oil (not regular castor oil)
  • Sodium Chloride

And here is a list of oils that might clog pores and be problematic for acne prone skin:

  • Cocoa butter
  • Coconut butter
  • Coconut oil
  • Shea butter (not comedogenic for most people, but it is for some)
  • Sulfated castor oil (not regular castor oil)
  • Avocado oil
  • Carrot seed oil
  • Chia seed oil
  • Cottonseed oil
  • Evening Primrose oil
  • Macadamia nut oil
  • Marula oil
  • Moringa oil
  • Palm oil
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Wheat germ

To summarize, look for clean, non-toxic skincare products, try oil cleansing, make sure to moisturize and don’t over exfoliate. Always remember – skin barrier boosting ingredients, pH and skin microbiome balance are extremely important.

In addition to your skincare routine make sure you clean your makeup brushes regularly and change your pillow cases few times a week as well.