How to Use the Best Acne-Prevention Products
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How to Use the Best Acne-Prevention Products

Let's face it, just as showing off your killer body skyrockets your confidence, nothing quite beats having gorgeous not-a-spot-in-sight skin. Whether acne is your daily nemesis or an occasional WTH, here's a simple derm-approved regimen that will keep your complexion in the clear for good.

Your Routine

Give Skin a Clean Sweep

Acne happens when the excess sebum from overactive oil glands builds up in your pores along with dead cells and bacteria. So it's no surprise that cleansing is the most crucial step, because it removes the gook -- oil, sweat, dead skin cells, makeup -- that can lead to pimples. Trouble is, you're probably not using the right face wash, says Neal Schultz, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Most of us reach for an acne cleanser with 1 to 2 percent skin-sloughing salicylic acid when we spot a pimple, and then we go on a crazy cleaning mission using it several times a day. The breakout doesn't budge, plus our skin becomes irritated. "You're barely leaving the cleanser on for a minute, which is not enough time for salicylic acid to exfoliate," Dr. Schultz says. "And it can potentially strip your skin of moisture when you overuse it." On the flip side, a too-gentle cleanser might not have enough oil-removing power, and a creamy kind could have extra moisturizers that pimple-prone skin doesn't need. Instead, use a gel cleanser, like Simple Refreshing Facial Wash Gel ($7,, or a foam, such as Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser ($7, drugstores), in the morning and before bed. The only exception: If you work out, cleanse pre -- and post -- sweat sesh. Then use a cotton pad saturated with an alcohol-free toner, like BeautyRx Clarifying Toner ($30,, to remove residue.

Make Breakouts Disappear

To zap a zit, first use your will-power not to pop it. "When you squeeze the sides of a pimple, you can push the infection deeper into the pore," says Dennis Gross, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. Spot treat the blemish twice a day. Use pore-clearing 1 to 2 percent salicylic acid, found in Alba Botanica Acnedote Invisible Treatment Gel ($10, drugstores), or apply bacteria-banishing 2.5 to 5 percent benzoyl peroxide, found in Mary Kay Clear Proof Acne Treatment Gel ($10, If neither ingredient works on its own, try both. Alternate between them to reduce redness and flatten a zit, says Gervaise Gerstner, MD, a consulting dermatologist for L'Oreal Paris in New York City. Focus on the pimple-prone area, like your chin. "Give over-the-counter treatments three weeks to work, then go to a dermatologist to discuss prescription-strength options," Dr. Gerstner says.

Prevent Pimples

So your skin looks gorge -- no need to layer on any blemish medicine, right? Wrong. Skin pros agree that keeping your complexion clear is all about gentle and consistent exfoliation. "A blemish may begin to form two to three weeks before it appears on the surface of the skin," Dr. Gross says. While salicylic acid is the acne-aisle MVP, most derms prefer that you save it for spot treating and use glycolic acid or retinols for full-face buffing, which in turn helps control oil, says dermatologist Hema Sundaram, MD, a FITNESS advisory board member and the author of Face Value. To avoid irritation, start with a low-dose glycolic acid -- about 8 or 10 percent -- or a pea-size amount of retinol three times a week. Try Renee Rouleau AHA Smoothing Serum 10% ($39, But don't overexfoliate, because "your skin will respond by producing more oil, which can lead to more breakouts," Dr. Gross says. And while this might seem like an acne oxymoron, light oil-free moisturizer can be a clear-skin game changer. (Do the dry-skin test, Dr. Schultz says. If your cheekbones feel tight when you smile, apply a thin layer where you need it and keep the areas bare where you don't.) Use a gel formula that has a subtle hydrator like squalene, a natural emollient found in skin; niacinamide, an antioxidant that soothes; or a humectant like hyaluronic acid, which draws moisture from the air and keeps it on the skin. Try PCA Skin Clearskin Moisturizer ($34, or Proactiv+ Complexion Perfecting Hydrator ($30,

How to Hide a Zit

Get the red out: Apply foundation where needed to even your skin. We like Hourglass Immaculate Liquid Powder Foundation ($55,, which contains oil-absorbing kaolinite clay. If acne is a constant battle, try a tinted moisturizer laced with salicylic acid, such as Hydroxatone Anti-Acne CC Cream ($39, or Miracle Skin Transformer Acne Control ($48,

Cover like a pro: Put concealer only on the spots that need it, says Troy Surratt, a makeup artist in New York City. "The shade should be a perfect match so you don't draw more attention to them," he says. Skip liquidy textures in favor of tackier versions. "These are less likely to move around and can adhere to a very small area of skin," says Surratt, who swears by Kevyn Aucoin The Sensual Skin Enhancer ($45, Apply it with a concealer brush that lets you dab color in the center, making small up, down, and crisscross motions.

Smudge-proof it: A final dab of translucent powder, like Revlon PhotoReady Translucent Finisher ($13,, not only locks concealer in place, but it also absorbs excess oil that your skin may still be churning out, helping to keep your complexion shine-free, Surratt says.

Brighten Up

Got a pesky mark that lingers long after your pimple goes away? Because your skin has been traumatized, it may produce a surge of pigment that makes the spot red or brown. Luckily, it's often just in the superficial layers and will go away as your skin heals. Speed up the repair by using a treatment with ingredients that spur cell turnover, such as retinol or azelaic acid; soothing antioxidants; and melanin blockers, including licorice root, mulberry extract or kojic acid. Our fave: Dr. Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution ($85,

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, October 2013.