Exactly When To Use Your Acne Products
Skincare plays a major part in solving the acne management equation. Sure, it can all be baffling at times, but figuring out the best time to incorporate skincare products into your routine is an integral part of achieving success. And if anyone tells you that prescriptions are the only true remedies, I’m here to let you know that research has found that topical skincare has been shown to reduce symptoms of irritation associated with acne. 
I know that a big part of my job as a dermatologist is to teach my patients how to treat their skin at home—what to use and how. It’s not just about prescribing medications. It’s really about talking to the patient, examining their skin, and developing a management plan that will provide the best chance for success. For example, many therapies used to treat breakouts like benzoyl peroxide can affect the skin’s barrier so it’s important to use other products to keep it healthy. And since you’re the best manager of your own skincare plan, I’m going to share with you how to make the most out of your skincare routine.
First, know that acne is personal
My trainer in dermatology, Dr. David Horowitz taught me early on that when it comes to acne, you have to explain to patients the why, how, and when—and keep it simple. Acne can happen to anyone—and it’s not your fault. Most importantly, you should know that treatments can vary from person to person. Some of what’s recommended will be related to lifestyle, age, skin tone, or your own most pressing issue. For example, my patients with darker skin are often more bothered by the brown spots left behind by acne than the acne itself. In general though, the recommendations here are a solid foundation for treating your bumps and blemishes.
Cleanse your face twice a day—AM and PM
If you’re using medication—whether it’s over the counter or prescription—gently prep your complexion twice daily. The purpose of cleansing twice a day is to remove all the oil, dust, dirt, and skin cells that have been accumulating on your skin so that whatever medications you apply will be better absorbed. Most well-formulated skincare products will include on the label whether it’s appropriate for dry, normal, or oily skin. If you’re unsure of which one to choose, select the option for normal skin or ask your dermatologist.
The best time for skincare can vary
Some medications or over-the-counter products are applied once daily and others twice—it really depends. But typically, it’s not just about spot treating. You’re putting a thin layer on the entire area to try to prevent new acne from cropping up. It’s so important to treat what’s visibly there as well as what looks like normal skin because acne may eventually develop in those areas a month or two from now. Different pores get affected at different times—it’s cyclical.
Twice a day: Moisturize
Applying a thin layer of moisturizer day and night is important—and it’s often a step that people with oily, acne-prone skin skip because they don’t think they need it. This is what I was referring to above when I said how important it is to keep your skin’s protective barrier intact. Some acne medications can be drying to skin, and patients who experience this often discontinue using those medications, and that definitely won’t help them get their acne under control. Moisturizer can really help here: Using a moisturizer has been shown to reduce transepidermal water loss (TEWL) and boost hydration in those patients using topical acne medications, which decreases skin irritation.
Don’t forget your sunscreen
Sunscreen is an important part of protecting yourself from the cumulative effects of light that can absolutely take a toll on your skin, including compromising your skin barrier. For people with fair skin who burn easily, it’s often part of their routine regularly. But everyone—including those with darker skin—needs to apply sunscreen every day. If you’re already using a moisturizer with an SPF of 15 or higher daily, then you’re all set. You can use a different moisturizer at night as you don’t need sun protection while you’re asleep.
When to use retinol
When I have patients that are treating mild acne on their own, there’s no scarring, they don’t need to be treated more aggressively at the present time, and there are limitations to using prescription treatments, I may suggest adding a topical retinol to help superficial skin cells turn over more quickly, preventing the formation of blackheads and whiteheads. Some are for night and others can be used during the day—it’s really about what the patient will actually use. Skin can look irritated for the first few weeks, but, again, using moisturizer will help. I typically recommend building up usage from a couple of nights a week to every other night, and then every night if tolerated well.
How long should you use an acne product?
You have to allow a good six to eight weeks before you might visibly see a difference, which means fewer new acne lesions are developing. It’s not going to be like one of those TV commercials that show a miraculous improvement in just a few days. Check your progress by running your fingers over your skin with your eyes closed once a month to feel if it’s getting less bumpy. If it’s getting more severe and you’re not already seeing a dermatologist, it’s time. You definitely don’t want to cause permanent damage to your skin, especially scarring. And if a medication is really bothering you, tell your dermatologist so the two of you can figure out a work-around—there are always other options.
James Del Rosso, D.O.
Dr. Jim Del Rosso is an internationally renowned dermatologist who has been practicing dermatology since 1986 and a member of the Acne Store Board of Dermatologists. He is Clinical Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, has published multiple peer-reviewed articles and textbook chapters, and was President of the American Acne & Rosacea Society, American Society of Mohs Surgery, and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. He is Adjunct Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the Touro University Nevada in Henderson, Nevada. Currently, Dr. Del Rosso is Research Director of JDR Dermatology Research and practices at Thomas Dermatology in Las Vegas, Nevada and also serves as Senior Vice President of Clinical Research and Strategic Development at Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery in Maitland, Florida. He served as Head of the Section of Dermatology at the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine after receiving his D.O. degree from the same medical school in Athens, Ohio, interning at Doctors Hospital in Columbus, completing a dermatology residency at Atlantic Skin Disease and Skin Surgery in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and completing a fellowship in Mohs micrographic surgery and cutaneous oncology at OSU.
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