I’ll just come right out with it: I’ve done ridiculously gross and grossly ridiculous things in the name of banishing acne. When those little red dots appear, my beauty inhibitions fly right out the window and I’m off trekking the drugstore, health food store, and internet for solutions. I’ve taken overdoses of vitamin A and zinc, slathered on raw egg yolk, and even tried to hypnotize myself in hopes that I would one day soon have clearer skin. In the course of these misadventures, I’ve found the best over-the-counter and do-it-yourself remedies for the scourge of the face. And now, I’m going to share them with you.
After abrading my skin to numerous scrubs and industrial-strength treatments, I began to associate painful stinging and burning with quality acne treatment. If it didn’t hurt, it probably wouldn’t get rid of zits. It only took three years this before I realized that not only did I still have acne, but my face often felt like someone had set fire to it. Then Cetaphil ($9.99 at drugstores) came into my life. The cleanser for normal to oily skin removes make-up and dirt with a light, soap-free, fragrance-free lather and leaves skin quiet. No fires, no stinging – Just a good, simple cleaning that gives tired skin a rest.
I’ve had several products promise practically overnight results. (ZapZyt, I’m talking to you.) Sadly, after using them religiously for months, my skin would look no better that the day I started. You can understand my skepticism when I broke the seal on the Clean and Clear Advantage Blackhead Eraser Exfoliating Cleanser ($19.99 at drugstores.)
This little hand-held massaging cleanser promises fewer blackheads instantly. I rolled my eyes at that claim, but dutifully attached the medicated cotton pad to the battery-powered device and used it to exfoliated and clean my face. After I had splashed away the residue of the pad (which contains a blackhead-fighting serum) I regarded my face with some surprise. My skin had cleared. Not completely, of course, but this little dynamo had made a noticeable difference in my complexion. A product that actually delivers on its promise – I’ll take it.
Proactiv ($19.95 for the 3-piece system at proactiv.com) came to being when Drs. Rodan and Fields sought to create a program that consumers could get without a pricey dermatologist’s referral. Several years and celebrity endorsements later, the system offers a combination of prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide and botanicals to banish acne. The Renewing Cleanser contains said benzoyl peroxide and exfoliates with small beads of a finer grain than what you’ll find in Neutrogena and St. Ives scrubs, while the Revitalizing Toner uses witch hazel, aloe, and chamomile to tighten pores and soothe skin. Unlike the harsher Sea Breeze astringents of our youth, this toner contains no alcohol and won’t dry skin to the point of flakiness.
The Repairing Lotion contains another hit of that benzoyl peroxide, but here’s the real beauty of the Proactiv system: You get to customize your program. The Repairing Lotion was too harsh for my skin, so I opted to have just the cleanser and toner delivered to me. It’s a great base to an acne-fighting regimen.
If we must slather on a product to quell acne, it might as well do other amazing things – hence, Philosophy’s Help Me ($45 at sephora.com) retinol treatment.
This nighttime cream releases retinol gradually into skin so you don’t have one rush of irritating product. It clears pores, but also keeps fine lines, wrinkles, and discolorations at bay. This is a worthy option for those of us without access to the heavy-hitting prescriptions such as Tazorac and Retin-A.
So, we have a beautifully cared-for canvas of skin. We have avoided drying face washes and oily moisturizers. Now, to go out into the world, it’s time to paint on . . . heavy, creamy concealer? Sometimes just looking at pancake makeup makes my skin break out. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with our grandmother’s makeup anymore.
To prime the skin, and so to make foundation and concealer perform better, Bare Escentuals bareVitamins Skin Rev-ver Upper ($21 at sephora.com) contains salicylic acid, anti-irritants, and anti-oxidants. Translation: It keeps skin clear and paves the way for easy make-up application. The hard-to-please make-up maven Paula Begoun states in her encyclopedia of cosmetic reviews, Don’t Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me, that this product “ . . . is highly recommended for normal to oily skin battling blemishes or blackheads.” Enough said.
And now for the coverage: The same company makes the wonderful bareMinerals Matte spf 15 Foundation ($28 at sephora.com.) Thanks to its talc-free formula, this powder blends onto skin without irritating or clogging pores and best of all, it really, truly covers with a matte finish. To make this foundation double in its duty, use two brushes: a small, synthetic concealer brush to cover individual blemishes and a large, fluffy powder brush for standard application. Congratulations, clear skin!
3. Treatments from the Kitchen
Sometimes the old ways have more to offer than we credit. In Return to Beauty, Narine Nikogosian reminds us of several old-world recipes to take care of our modern skin and its woes. Her Simply Clean Face Wash involves combining ¼ c. warm water, 1 tsp. Lemon juice, and 1 tsp. Baking soda, then applying to the face with a wash cloth or sponge, followed by a thorough rinsing. The no-frills formula uses lemon juice activated by the baking soda to give pores a good solid cleaning. As for spot treatments, Nikogosian recommends mashing up a little fresh onion and applying it to a pimple. It’s an economical option to the pricier drying potions out there.
Another favorite of mine, ripped from the pages of Glamour magazine, uses aspirin to form a mask. Mash two aspirin tablets, then add a drop of water and a drop of honey. Spread the paste on any acne-inflamed areas, let it dry for ten minutes, then splash it off with warm water. The honey softens while the aspirin takes the swelling and redness down several levels.
I’ve distilled twelve years of juggling treatments into a concise guide to the best available acne treatments. Cautious experimentation has led me to find that the sensible solutions really are the best; those crazy remedies are only useful if you end up writing an article and need humorous anecdotes. So start your own cautious experimentation: Take a deep breath, wipe that egg yolk off your face, put down the hypnosis book, and go do something for which your skin will really thank you.
– Katharine McKenzie