The best skincare routine for acne

Acne is an inflammatory skin condition, with blackheads, whiteheads and pus-filled spots found most often on the face, chest and back.

According to Dr Justine Kluk of British Association of Dermatologists, as many as 95 per cent of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne at some point in their lives, and for many, it continues well into adulthood.

“It is also a condition which can have an enormous psychological impact on people. A recent survey found that 54 per cent of British adults who have had acne feel that it has had a negative impact on their self-confidence,” she says.

Dr Kluk also adds: “If you have acne-prone skin, seek to use non-oily products and look for products that are labelled non-comedogenic, which means that it is less likely to cause acne.”

Non-comedogenic is a term used to describe skincare and make-up products that won’t clog pores that often lead to further breakouts.

While acne typically presents during puberty due to the sudden increase in hormones, there are other triggers in adulthood too as, Dr Justine Hextall, a consultant dermatologist, explains.

“It is common to see acne suddenly in women in their thirties who have stopped a long term contraceptive pill or implant in order to become pregnant.”

She adds: “Sometimes work stress or moving to a new city with more pollution or different water can exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions. A great routine, medical treatment and getting to the root of the problem can go a long way to treating acne.”

While there’s no cure for acne, these are steps you can take to fine-tune your skincare regimen to reduce breakouts and manage them when they occur. To equip you with the best tools, this is the expert-approved routine to follow.

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Simplicity is key for treating acne and it’s important to be gentle with your skin to avoid further irritation.

Consultant dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting told The Independent: “A lot of people still think acne is a hygiene problem – in fact over-cleansing can deplete the skin’s barrier and promote clogging, so gentle cleansing is really the key approach here.”

You should be using a cleanser every morning and evening. We’d recommend the La Roche-Posay toleriane dermo-cleanser (Look Fantastic, £12.50), a fragrance and alcohol-free, milky formula that will remove make-up, dirt and grime.

If you wear make-up, experts recommend double-cleansing in the evenings to ensure pores do not become clogged, which can exacerbate acne. If you don’t remove make-up properly, it will also render any products you use after less effective as they’re required to be applied to a completely clean face in order to work.

This means using a balm or oil-based cleanser to remove make-up and SPF, followed by a lighter gel or milk cleanser to thoroughly cleanse the skin. The Inkey List oat cleansing balm (Cult Beauty, £9.99) is an affordable, effective option that also suits sensitive skin.

To apply, massage into damp skin and remove with a lukewarm flannel.

Acne treatments and retinols

“Breakouts are best treated with a combination of non-comedogenic skincare,” says Dr Bunting who recommends using a retinoid at night.

As explained in our guide to the best retinols, you may have come across the term “retinoid” used almost interchangeably with retinol.

In fact, retinoid is the umbrella name for a group of ingredients that all derive from vitamin A, including retinol, tretinoin and a whole host of others; some are gentler than others, and some are prescription only.

Retinoids work by increasing cell turnover, making it harder for oil and dirt to block pores. This also means by using retinoids, you’ll also see a brighter complexion too.

Dr Bunting explains that retinoids exfoliate dead skin cells inside pores, so they don’t clog and lead to more spots.

“They may also have some anti-inflammatory benefits and they help eliminate the dark marks blemishes leave behind”, she says

“As an added bonus, they also have great anti-ageing benefits, which is of huge reassurance to the many facing the conundrum of premature ageing at the same time as dealing with breaking out.”

If you’re new to using them, try the Indeed Labs retinol reface (Boots, £13.33). As our tester noted: “It doesn’t have the luxury feel of more expensive offerings, with its squeezy tube, thin consistency and lack of fragrance, but its results match products five times the price.” This is a great place to start if you’re looking to test the waters without spending too much.

If you’re using a specific acne treatment, Dr Kluk advises to apply them after cleansing, before waiting 15 minutes before layering a moisturiser on top to allow it to fully absorb.

“Some acne treatments are best applied at night as they can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, but always check with your pharmacy or healthcare provider if your treatment should be applied in the morning, evening or both,” she says.

The Aesop control serum (Look Fantastic, £15) is packed with highly effective ingredients: niacinamide, sodium ascorbyl phosphate and salicylic acid. In simple terms: vitamin B3, which reduces the appearance of spots and congestion, a stable derivative of vitamin C that is great for fighting acne, and a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that clarifies pores.

We discovered that unlike other, coloured, chalky formulas, this is a clear gel so can be applied under make-up and at day or night.


Dr Hextall recommends using a hydrating, non-comedogenic moisturiser to calm acneic skin. “This will enable the user to tolerate some of the active but often irritant products used to treat acne, such as topical retinoids,” she says.

Oil-free formulas will work best, as they minimise oil production, which can clog pores and increase breakouts and won’t add extra shine.

Try the Dr Dennis Gross Skincare hyaluronic marine moisture cushion (Look Fantastic, £59), a lightweight gel texture in a hyaluronic-acid rich formula that will prevent water loss without leaving your skin feeling greasy or overloaded.


Using sunscreen not only reduces your risk of skin cancer, but it is also vital to preventing hyperpigmentation and onset ageing and regardless of your skin type, should be applied daily.

Dr Kluk reveals that sun exposure can have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, which is why people report that their acne improves when they’ve been spending time in the sun.

However, she stresses that it’s not a legitimate solution: “Exposure to the sun often occurs during holidays when stress levels are lower so this may also contribute to any improvement in acne.

“It’s important to remember that excessive sun exposure is the largest risk factor for skin cancer so you should not spend time in the sun without protection as a way to manage acne,” she adds.

When looking for an SPF that won’t clog pores or leave skin feeling greasy, look for oil-free products such as this Heliocare 360 oil-free gel SPF50 (Sknclinics, £30). Its mattifying finish will ensure there’s no greasy residue left on the skin which could clog pores and increase breakouts, and the lightweight gel texture makes it fast absorbing and hydrating.

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