I didn’t get my first pimple until I turned 25. This was a rude awakening since I thought only teenagers got acne, and I had successfully navigated through that portion of my life without so much as a red bump on my face. It turns out though, adult acne is real and what’s worst: my skin, overall, became more reactive to beauty products, dust, and pet dander as I got older. To relieve my issues, I had to develop a more thoughtful skin care routine and within this, I needed to find acne products for sensitive skin that didn’t irritate my face.
For me, I only break out in the days leading up to and during my period. Dealing with hormonal acne can be tricky, as some flare-ups stick around while other pimples go away in a day or two. One of the first products my dermatologist recommended to me was Persa Gel 10, which was affordable and effective, but ended up being too strong. (It dried out my skin and I noticed dark spots would appear after the acne went away.) The gel contains 10% benzoyl peroxide, which, I think, was too harsh for me (compared to my preferred La-Roche Posay treatment, which has 5.5% benzoyl peroxide and sits way better on my skin).
“When trying to calm pimples and acne, low percentage retinols, salicylic acid, and benzoyl peroxide are great, but you have to be extremely careful not to overuse them,” says Dr. Shereene Idriss, Founder of Idriss Dermatology and the #PillowtalkDerm Series. “Try to only include these ingredients in one step of your skin care routine. For example, if you use a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, make sure there isn’t any benzoyl peroxide in your cleanser.”
Dr. Idriss also stressed that if you have sensitive skin and are trying to treat acne, stay away from harsher products and ingredients that can cause inflammation or additional breakouts if not used correctly, like high percentage retinols. If you want to use a retinol, however, she recommends starting with a low concentration like 0.25% and then increasing the percentage little by little if needed to help build your skin’s tolerance to it.
Though I likely won’t be experimenting with the aforementioned product anytime soon — I don’t think my skin needs it yet — I have tested other acne-fighting products, face washes, masks, and the like. I learned, gradually, that a simplified beauty routine helped to keep my skin in check every time my monthly cycle rolled around. More is not always better.
“The more products a person uses, the more likely they are to disrupt the skin barrier function of the skin, alter the pH, and disrupt the skin microbiome, all of which play a role in keeping skin healthy and free of blemishes,” says Dr. Brendan Camp, MD.
When I do suffer breakouts, I immediately do a clay mask, then apply on the aforementioned La Roche-Posay product at night and in the morning. If the pimple looks like it’s coming to a head, I stick a spot cover on it over night (or during the day, if I’m working from home). To keep my skin hydrated daily, I use my CeraVe PM moisturizer and finally, if it’s the daytime, I’ll cover up with a gentle sunscreen. (I skip applying on any makeup such as concealer or foundation during my flare-ups.)
Additionally, I try to maintain a healthy diet and get plenty of ZZZs (at least eight hours every day) in the week leading up to my period. I’ve found that going to bed on the weekends at 4 a.m., coupled with alcohol and late-night McDonald’s, stresses out my skin and makes it more prone to acne. “Recent studies have confirmed a new variant of acne linked to stress levels with lack of sleep as the biggest trigger. When you are stressed your body releases cortisol that triggers acne breakouts,” explains dermatologist Dr. Azadeh Shirazi.
I know my basic routine won’t work for everyone, as every individual has their own skin concerns, but I have stuck with these habits in the last six months. And the result? My complexion has been super clear and bright. I do still get a pimple here or there every other month, but the red bumps typically vanish after a day or two with the treatment steps I mentioned above.
To purchase the exact acne products I use on my sensitive skin — along with dermatologist recommendations — keep scrolling. These items are my staples now, and I’ll gladly buy all of them again in a heartbeat.
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