This Is the Skincare Regimen You Need to Clear and Prevent Acne

We’ve all had a pimple—or a colony of them—every one as unwelcome as the last. Sometimes they’re fleeting, a result of poor post-gym hygiene, while other breakouts are chronic, a result of genetics or stress.

Regardless of the origins, or if you’re already panicking about the appearance of the next ones, you can make an effort to maximize your skin health. But, with so many mixed messages it’s hard to know what works and doesn’t, including the most effective products for warding off breakouts.

The Skincare Products a Dermatologist Travels With

That’s why we sourced unbiased experts—a pool of board-certified dermatologist, actually—and asked them for the best products that round out an anti-acne regimen, be they preventative, reactive, or both. Here’s the regimen you should put into practice immediately. You’ll notice long-standing, skin-clearing effects some 2-3 months down the line—as well as far fewer breakouts and remnants along the way.

Start with the right cleanser—and cleanse 2x per day

Salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide: These are three ingredients you should memorize. Each one is effective at preventing and minimizing breakouts.

“An effective salicylic acid wash (such as CLn Acne Wash) is a great way to start the day,” says Rhonda Klein, M.D.

Salicylic acid and glycolic acid work to dissolve dead cells that might clog pores.

“And a benzoyl peroxide 2-5% wash is a great anti-acne evening cleanser (such as PanOxyl),” she adds, since it fights the bacteria that take residence in your pores during the day.

The lower grades, around 2%, are good for your face, and the higher grades, nearing 5%, are good for your body.

The Best Minimalist Skincare Regimen, According to Dermatologists

Kassie Gaitz, M.D., suggests benzoyl-peroxide cleansers in particular to her patients who suffer from acne breakouts on the back, chest, and shoulders.

You might hear about benzoyl peroxide topical creams that can be worn overnight. Speak with your dermatologist about whether or not this is a good route for you. They tend to be high grades that can dry out your skin, plus they bleach your towels and pillowcases, which can make it an expensive habit.

There’s another overnight solution anyway, one that nearly every single dermatologist recommends; we’ll get to that later down the list.

Only use scrubs preventatively

Marisa Garshick, M.D., warns that scrubs will only aggravate acne. They should instead be used cautiously on skin that’s already clear—preventatively, that is—and you should rely on the other products on this list to minimize existing breakouts.

Use a non-comedogenic moisturizer

If you are prone to acne, then you might want to avoid oil-based moisturizers, says Jennifer S. Kitchin, M.D. They are comedogenic, meaning they clog your pores and lead to one-off pimples or bigger breakouts. Instead, stick with oil-free, non-comedogenic products (look for that term), like Olay Complete Lotion All Day Moisturizer With SPF 15.

Use retinol products overnight

Retinol is the miracle cream. It’s universally accepted as the best defense against signs of aging, and an essential pillar of a minimalist skincare regimen. It’s also going to be your key defense against acne, since it minimizes pores, balances the skin, and even reduces deep acne scars that otherwise take months to get rid of. It’s important to use them overnight for a couple reasons: 1.) They work with the body’s regenerative cycle to expedite healing and improve your skin. 2.) They make you sensitive to light and are deactivated by UV exposure. (So you need to cleanse thoroughly and use an SPF–packed product the next morning.

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Kimberly Jerden, M.D., recommends speaking with your dermatologist first and foremost, to decide if a prescription-grade retinoid is best for you. That being said, “aside from my favorite prescription retinoids, I am picky about buying over the counter retinoids because many aren’t strong enough or not proven to convert,” she says.

But there is one she endorses wholeheartedly: PCA Intensive Clarity Treatment 0.5% Pure Retinol.

Do a mask once per week

An at-home face mask feels incredible, and that’s because it’s doing good to your skin: It absorbs all the grease and gunk that accumulates in your pores—deep from within the pores, that is—and gives you a very clean canvas from which to start your week. Dhaval Bhanusali, M.D., warns against doing masks too often though.

“Masks are strong. They often have salicylic acid, which, given the occlusion of the mask, really helps get the acid into the oil glands of the skin,” he says. “This then decreases oil production.”

In a bad way, since your skin’s oil is what keeps it hydrated. It’s merely the excess oil you want to eradicate. So, limit yourself to once a week on deep-cleaning masks in order to avoid excessive drying.

However, you can’t really overdo the ultra-hydrating masks, since they have a different and pro-nourishment objective.) Precede a cleansing mask with an actual cleanse, follow it with a rinse, then a moisturizer (or a retinol if it’s the end of the day). Have a look at our favorite masks, as well as the favorites of our dermatologists.

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The Best Minimalist Skincare Regimen, According to Dermatologists

Your skincare regimen doesn’t need to comprise an expensive rotation of exfoliators, masks, serums, tonics, and night creams. You do, however, need to meet the baseline requirements of cleansing and moisturizing.



Such a regimen will help prevent aging, acne, and improve the overall look and feel of your skin. 

So, what’s the minimum amount of products you can use to reap these benefits without breaking the bank and crowding your sink ledge? We ran the same question by some board-certified dermatologists. Here are the three key things that nearly every one of them suggested.

The Best Skincare Regimen For Runners

1. In the morning, use a moisturizer with broad-spectrum SPF 30+

It’s no surprise you need to moisturize in the morning after cleansing. It rehydrates the skin after all its natural oils wash away with the excess grime, in addition to nourishing it with vitamins and antioxidants. A moisturizer also creates a defensive layer atop the skin to shield it from toxins.

It’s also no surprise you need an SPF—one that defends against both categories of ultraviolet rays (skin-aging UVA rays, as well as sunburn- and cancer-causing UVB rays). The higher the SPF, the mightier the defense, though it’s not a proportionate scale (SPF 30 doesn’t necessarily cover you twice as effectively as SPF 15, though it does cover you significantly more). Either way, most doctors agreed that you need an SPF 30 (or greater) in your regimen. That’s easily folded into the moisturizing step by getting an SPF-packed moisturizer. So long as it’s one that is SPF 30+ and offers broad-spectrum coverage.

The Best Skincare Regimen For Runners

“The sunblock should have a physical block such as titanium or zinc,” adds Dr. Jennifer S. Kitchin. “It reflects the UV rays off your skin, and protects you from the long-term effects of photo-aging, such as skin cancer, wrinkles, and brown spots.”

Dr. Avnee Shah recommends Elta MD moisturizer with SPF 30 + 7% zinc oxide.

2. Cleanse twice a day

Before you apply moisturizer, you need to cleanse—a minimum of twice daily. Do this any time after sleeping, sweating excessively, and before bed. This flushes away the sweat, grime, toxins, and excess oil that make your face shiny, greasy, and prone to pimples (since all those bad things can clog your pores). Every dermatologist you will ever encounter will repeat all of this, as did the dozen-plus experts we spoke with. Some specified the most optimal cleansers for different needs, however:

Shah suggests a foaming cleanser for oily skin (like Avène’s), and a gentler, non-foaming cleanser for dry skin (like Philosophy’s).

Dr. Holly Hanson says if you have sensitive skin (as in, easily irritable), pick a gentle cleanser like Neutrogena’s which won’t disrupt your skin’s pH levels and will still allow you to wash twice daily without punishment.

Dr. Kassie Haitz likes cleansers with salicylic acid (like from La Roche Posay), since they help to dissolve dead skin cells and thus do the job of an exfoliator by unclogging pores (sans scrubbing).

The Skincare Products a Dermatologist Travels With

3. Use a retinol product at bedtime

While this may seem like an extraneous step, it’s the most agreed-upon necessity from dermos. You can combine your bedtime moisturizer with retinol in order to reverse fine lines, acne, and sunspots on your skin. For real, it actually reverses those things (and makes many go away) when you use it for 3+ months and continue to use it. Retinol is a vitamin A-derived product that comes in prescription grade doses, or in smaller amounts over the counter (and blended into night creams). By applying before bed, you maximize its powers, because it works in tandem with your body’s regenerative process.

Talk to your doctor about the best retinol approach for your specific needs, especially so you can avoid inverse effects. (Mainly: added sensitivity to sunlight, hence the increased importance of SPF.)

Differin’s retinol gel would be my pick,” says Shah, adding that it was a prescription product that only recently became available over the counter. But talk to your dermatologist first before picking a retinol.

The Ultimate Skincare Regimen

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The Best Anti-aging Regimen, According to Dermatologists

Fighting age is like fighting gravity. But just as you can hop into an anti-gravity chamber to float weightlessly, you can start an anti-aging regimen to thwart fine lines, wrinkles, enlarged pores, dark spots, and loose skin. (There’s a lot to look forward to—as early as your 20s.)



We went to the experts to learn the best ways to prevent (and reverse) these superficial signs of aging. Here’s what our group of board-certified dermatologists suggest you do routinely if you want to look as young as possible—and naturally so—for as long as possible.

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Basic Daytime Skincare

1. Stay Hydrated

Use a moisturizer at least twice daily—morning and night, after cleansing—to keep your skin looking firm and smooth.

“When skin is dry, our fine lines and wrinkles are much more noticeable,” says Jennifer S. Kitchin, M.D. That’s why she recommends calming, nutrient-rich facial moisturizers like Avene’s Tolerance Extreme Emulsion and Cicalfate Post-Actate. The former absorbs quickly and soothes the skin, and the latter is great to use after shaving or exfoliating.

2. Wear Sunscreen

“The most important anti-aging tip is to use sunblock, sunblock, and sunblock,” Kitchin says. “Use SPF 30 or greater on a regular basis. Reapply every few hours when you’re outside, because, if you’re sweating or swimming, your water-resistant sunblock will only last about an hour and twenty minutes.”

Kitchin recommends an SPF-packed moisturize, like MD Solar Sciences SPF 30. The most important factor in any sunscreen is that the product has a physical blocking ingredient, like titanium or zinc.

Lauren Meshkov Bonati, M.D., of Edwards, CO, likes SPF moisturizers that can be found at almost any drugstore.

“Most of my male patients prefer an easy morning regimen, so I typically recommend Eucerin Daily Protection Facial Moisturizing Lotion with Broad Spectrum SPF 30, CeraVe AM Facial Lotion SPF 30, or Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 50,” she says. “These products are lightweight, unscented, and non-greasy so they don’t feel like makeup or traditional cosmetic products. They’re also affordable and easy to find, making them accessible to virtually everyone.”

And remember: Using sunscreen isn’t the only way to shield harmful UV rays.

“Wear SPF even when it isn’t sunny, because UV rays that cause sun damage still come through year round,” says Sonoa Au, M.D. You should also wear protective clothing, like hats, sunglasses, or long sleeves to protect the skin from direct exposure, she adds.

The Anti-Aging Workout

3. Use a Retinoid

Nearly every dermatologist will tell you to use an anti-aging retinol at bedtime. This vitamin A-derived cream is proven to smooth fine lines, even out your complexion (eradicating acne and dark spots), and shrink pores. They’re potent, so you wear them at night, then wash them away in the morning before any sun exposure.

“Men are more tolerant of retinoids than women, as their skin tends to be a little thicker,” Susan Bard, M.D., says.

4. Try Serums

Antioxidant-rich serums are also proven to brighten and smooth complexion, while acting as a natural defense against signs of aging (when combined with the rest of this regimen, especially SPF).

“I recommend ones such as Skinceuticals CE Ferulic (which is rich in vitamins C and E),” says Meshkov Bonati.

Diet and Behavior

1. Eat More Antioxidants

You can boost your aging defense system with an antioxidant-rich diet.

“I recommend antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation,” says Kitchin. “When left uncontrolled, inflammation contributes to aging as well as many disease processes in the body.” She suggest eating a diet heavy in fruits and vegetables—namely berries, spinach, and kale.”

2. Kick the Habit

Want to prevent your skin from aging faster than it should? Quit smoking, advises Tina Kinsley, M.D.

“It’s not sexy, but that’s what really is going to keep men firmly in silver fox territory when that time comes.”

There’s Always Botox

Outside of a routine, you can prevent superficial wear with a tiny subcutaneous injection. Botox isn’t the hack job you think it is, especially if done in moderation.

“Botox can help reduce the deep furrows that develop in between the eyebrows, on the forehead, and around the eyes,” says Avnee Shah, M.D.

It prevents the skin from wrinkling and thus can be used as prevention against signs of aging and wear. Ask your dermatologist about the options best available and most appropriate for you, as well as the short- and long-term effects.

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