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  • Apply nightly for happy, healthy skin

9 acne-fighting products to help prevent breakouts

Help keep pimples in the past with these acne-fighting products.

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Curology Team
Aug 08, 2022 · 8 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.
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Ever wandered the aisles of your local pharmacy, wondering, “What acne products should I use?” If so, we hear you! Acne is a prevalent skin condition, one that millions of people experience at some point in their lives. There are so many options for acne products that it might seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. We’re here with expert-approved recommendations to treat pesky pimples you’re currently experiencing and help prevent future breakouts.

But first, let’s take a closer look at some of the more common factors contributing to acne.

What causes and contributes to acne?

Many factors could be at the root of what's causing your acne. Acne starts when excess amounts of your skin’s natural oil (sebum) and dead skin cells clog your hair follicles. Then, in some cases, a bacteria known as C. acnes, which usually lives on our skin, crashes the party, triggers an inflammatory response, and a pimple is born.¹ There isn’t one simple answer to why this happens, but there are some well-known pimple-creating culprits.

  • Hormones: Hormonal changes (caused by anything from puberty to birth control) could be one reason you're experiencing breakouts.² Either during adolescence or around menstrual cycles, fluctuating hormone levels can impact sebum secretion and trigger breakouts. 

  • Genetics: You could just be more genetically disposed to developing acne.³ The good news: acne is very treatable, even when there’s a hereditary component.

  • Diet: Some studies suggest what you eat is possibly linked to acne. For some, low-glycemic diets may help improve breakouts, and dairy may trigger acne breakouts in some people. That said, everyone is different. This doesn’t mean you need to completely cut out your favorite latte. Instead, try taking a break from certain foods or drinks and observe any changes in your skin to see if you notice any connections.

  • Stress: Stress doesn’t directly cause acne, but it can worsen a breakout.⁴ The whole “keep calm and carry on” mantra may often seem lit'sit’s easier said than done, but try to do what you can to keep stress at bay and keep your skin happy.

What are some acne products that work to help prevent breakouts?

When it comes to products that can treat and help prevent acne, from the drug store to custom skincare, there are endless options out there. But with so many acne treatments out there, it can be hard to find the right products for you. (Remembeveryone'sne's skin is unique!) To hewe'vee’ve compiled some of our favorite go-to products that meet our licensed dermatolproviders'ers’ expert standards.

Cleansers

Finding the right cleanser is the first step in helping to prevent future breakouts. Here are a few for your consideration.

  • The Curology Cleanser: The Curology Cleanser is designed to help gently cleanse your skin while keeping moisture locked in, leaving your skin feeling refreshed and hydrated all at once.

  • Cerave Hydrating Cleanser: When it comes to skincare routinwe'ree’re all about keeping it as simple as possibCerave'sve’s gentle and hydrating cleanser contains only the necessary ingredients.

  • Vanicream Liquid Cleanser: Made to gently cleanse and hydrate, this face wash is perfect for sensitive skin.

Moisturizers 

Another key part of any skincare routine is a great moisturizer to help keep your skin hydrated. This is especially important if you’re using any active ingredients that could dry out your skin.

  • The Moisturizer by Curology: The moisturizer’s lightweight formula helps keep your skin hydrated. It’s perfect if you want to use a light layer of moisturizer with oily skin. Our moisturizers are non-comedogenic, which means they don’t contain any pore-clogging ingredients—ideal for acne-prone skin.

  • The Rich Moisturizer by Curology: If your skin tends to be dry, the Curology Rich Moisturizer has a formula that offers deeper hydration.

  • Neutrogena Hydro Boost water gel: Another great option is this lightweight moisturizer by Neutrogena, which contains hyaluronic acid to help give your skin a healthy-looking glow.

Serums

Serums aren't an essential part of your skincare routine, but they can be a great extra step to help address specific skincare concerns (like dryness).

7 ingredients to look for when treating acne

When it comes to some of the best acne prevention products, it’s all about finding the right ingredients that are proven to be effective against breakouts. These are the ones that can help you say goodbye to blemishes. 

Over-the-counter options

  • Benzoyl peroxide: Benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter topical treatment that can help zap inflammatory acne lesions. This is because benzoyl peroxide targets the bacteria that contribute to breakouts. You can find benzoyl peroxide in face wash or as a spot treatment.

  • Salicylic acid: Another ingredient you can find in cleansers at most retailers, salicylic acid exfoliates the skin and helps prevent pores from clogging. Salicylic acid tends to be particularly helpful for comedones (i.e. whiteheads and blackheads).

  • Zinc: Topical zinc can be an effective topical treatment for acne vulgaris. Zinc may help reduce inflammation and fight the bacteria C. acnes.⁷

  • Sulfur: Sulfur can also be an effective acne treatment due to its antifungal and antibacterial properties.⁸

Prescription options

If over-the-counter acne treatments aren’t effective enough, it may be best to consult a medical provider for alternatives like these:

  • Tretinoin. You might have heard of topical retinoids and how they can not only help with acne but also signs of aging. Tretinoin is a prescription retinoid that not only treats but also helps prevent acne by blocking inflammatory pathways and encouraging cell turnover.⁹ Topical retinoids like tretinoin (one of our in-house faves!) can not only help with acne but can also improve signs of aging like fine lines, texture, and hyperpigmentation. Tretinoin is available by prescription only, but you can find other retinoids, like adapalene (aka Differin), over the counter.

  • Clindamycin. Clindamycin is a topical antibiotic that can treat and help prevent acne through its anti-inflammatory properties and by targeting C. acnes, the bacteria that contributes to breakouts.¹⁰

  • Azelaic acid. Another topical acne treatment that has been used to reduce acne lesions,¹¹ azelaic acid is available over-the-counter and through a prescription.

Ingredients to avoid when treating acne

In general, when treating acne, you’ll want to avoid products that contain comedogenic ingredients that could clog your pores, as well as potential irritants like added fragrances. That goes for makeup and hair products, too. Some ingredients that are known to be comedogenic include:¹²

  • Acetylated lanolin

  • Anhydrous lanolin

  • Lanolin alcohol

  • Myristyl lactate

  • Isopropyl myristate

  • Myristyl myristate

  • Laureth-4

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate

We know that seems like a long list, and it's probably full of names you've never even heard of, but it's generally a good idea to check your makeup and skincare products for these ingredients. If you have sensitive skin that's prone to irritation, you’ll likely want to avoid common irritants such as added fragrance and denatured alcohol (aka alcohol denat).

When to see a doctor

If you’re struggling to find acne prevention products or treatment options that work for you, a dermatology provider can offer insight and guidance when it comes to treatment options. They can also help if you’re experiencing acne scars, painful acne lesions, or personal discomfort from your acne.

Curology can help

When it comes to knowing how to prevent acne, there is no one magic answer because everyone’s skin is different. At Curology, we’re all about making customized, dermatologist-designed skincare accessible to everyone—and we’re there throughout your skin journey. As a Curology member, you receive guidance from a licensed dermatology provider to help achieve your goals and skincare products designed specifically for your unique skin. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

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If Curology is right for you, we’ll send you a 30-day supply of your personalized prescription formula with a mix of active ingredients chosen for your unique skin concerns, plus any of our recommended products, for free—just pay $4.95 (plus tax)* to cover shipping and handling on your first box. After that, you can cancel at any time or choose the subscription plan that works for you. Sign up for your free Curology trial here

FAQs

What causes and contributes to acne?

There isn’t one simple answer why this happens, but there are some well-known pimple-creating culprits:

  • Hormones

  • Genetics

  • Diet

  • Stress

What are some acne products that work to help prevent breakouts?

When it comes to products that can treat and help prevent acne, from the drug store to custom skincare, there are endless options out there. Remember, everyone's skin is unique! Most of the more common are:

  • Cleansers

  • Moisturizers 

  • Serums

When to see a doctor?

If you’re struggling to find acne prevention products or treatment options that work for you, a dermatology provider can offer insight and guidance when it comes to treatment options. They can also help if you’re experiencing acne scars, painful acne lesions, or personal discomfort from your acne.

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. Elsaie M. L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology. (2016).  

  2. Elsaie M. L. Hormonal treatment of acne vulgaris: an update. Ibid.

  3. Zaenglein, A. L., et al. Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016). 

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: Who gets and causes. (n.d.). 

  5. Papakonstantinou, et al., Hyaluronic acid: a key molecule in skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, ( July 2012).

  6. Telang P. S.Vitamin C in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal. ( April-June 2013).

  7. Gupta, M., Mahajan, V. K., Mehta, K. S., & Chauhan, P. S. Zinc therapy in dermatology: a review. Dermatology research and practice, (2014, July 10).

  8. Gupta, A. K., & Nicol, K. The use of sulfur in dermatology. Journal of drugs in dermatology. (July-August 2004).

  9. Leyden, J., Stein-Gold, L., & Weiss, J. Why Topical Retinoids Are Mainstay of Therapy for Acne. Dermatology and therapy. (2017, June 5).

  10. Pradhan, S., et al. Anti-inflammatory and Immunomodulatory Effects of Antibiotics and Their Use in Dermatology. Indian journal of dermatology. (2016).

  11. Katsambas, A., Graupe, K., & Stratigos, J. Clinical studies of 20% azelaic acid cream in the treatment of acne vulgaris. Comparison with vehicle and topical tretinoin. Acta dermato-venereologica. Supplementum. (1989, n.d.).

  12. Fulton J. E., et al. Comedogenicity of current therapeutic products, cosmetics, and ingredients in the rabbit ear. Clinical Review. (January 1984).

*Results may vary.

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Our policy on product links:Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Meredith Hartle, DO

Meredith Hartle, DO

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