I have seen an increase in interest of my posts on The Ordinary, so I thought it may be helpful to create my own version of a user’s guide and which products to use together. Today I am starting with a skin routine for acne prone or acneic skin. This is just my two cents and by no means an official guide! Please listen to your skin and watch for any signs of irritation when using products that contain Active Ingredients like some of The Ordinary products. Hope this may help some of you navigate how to use these magical little serums!
First let me say, I have combination skin that is acne prone. Like most teenagers I had active breakouts that led me to seek help from a dermatologist, which was the worst mistake for my skin! I left with some really bad advice and products that didn’t work for my skin. Although my skin eventually improved in my 20s, I still had active breakouts frequently. It wasn’t until I really started taking care of my skin in my mid-to-late 20s and learned what it needed to be healthy did my skin finally improve. I would still say I am blemish prone, I still have the occasional hormonal breakout every once in a while. However, nothing like the younger days of active acne. I do however struggle daily with clogged and enlarged pores. I fear they will be with me for as long as I breathe! So I say all of this because these are the products that I use on my skin when I feel like my skin is congested or I am battling an active blemish or cyst.
Let’s just start straight away with the routine then I will explain a few things below.
- Acid. I would personally alternate between the Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution and the Salicylic Acid 2% Solution.
- Hydrate: Buffet, Marine Hyaluronics or Hyaluronic Acid 2%.
- Serum: Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%.
- Moisturize with Retinol 0.2% in Squalane or Granactive Retinoid 2% in Squalane.
- Serum: Alpha Arbutin.
- Hydrate: Buffet or Hyaluronic Acid 2%.
- Serum: Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%.
- Moisturize/Prime: High Adherence Silicone Primer.
An acid is generally your first step after cleansing. Luckily, with a brand like The Ordinary, acne prone skin has several great options to choose from! You honestly can’t go wrong with any of the available acids from TO, unless they are irritating to your skin. The goal is to not dry out, strip, irritate, and further compromise your skin barrier. Acne Prone and active acneic skin should be treated gently. Somewhat like a wound you want to heal!
My personal recommendation is to use the Salicylic Acid 2% Solution nightly, if needed. Salicylic Acid is very gentle, even at higher concentrations. Then to use an Alpha Hydroxyl Acid (Glycolic, Lactic, and the Peeling Solution are all AHAs.) as a retexturizing treatment. Depending on which one you choose, once or twice a week. The reason I chose both is because I had great success and clearer skin using both an AHA & BHA in rotation. All AHAs work similarly by sloughing off old, dead skin cells and stimulating the production of new, acne-free cells. An AHA will smooth the surface of skin helping get rid of any bumpiness or unwanted texture. They also help with any hyperpigmentation. The BHA, or Beta Hydroxyl Acid (Salicylic Acid) can penetrate the lining of the pore, something an AHA cannot do. A BHA is also lipid soluble, both very important qualities to have! This means it can clean out the pore, remove any debris and OIL. By clearing out this debris, it makes pores appear smaller and prevents new blemishes! Plus, Salicylic Acid also has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce redness and inflammation from breakouts.
My recent post, The Ordinary Acids: Which One is Right For Me? will help you better decide which chemical exfoliator would be a better fit for your skin type. It includes more information on every acid made by The Ordinary and what each one should be used for. However just to be brief Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution will offer quicker results with a possibility of irritation because glycolic is a small molecule that penetrates the skin layers faster than the other acids. However it is a good option for dry skin types. Lactic Acid is gentler because the molecule size is 50% larger than Glycolic so it is an excellent option for those who cannot tolerate Glycolic Acid. The Ordinary’s Lactic Acid comes in two concentrations 5% and 10%. Lactic Acid 5% is for mild exfoliation, Lactic Acid 10% is more potent and probably should not be used every night. If your concern is brightening those dark marks that hang around after a spot is gone (called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation, or PIH) then Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% is your savior. Azelaic Acid also helps to kill the bacteria causing acne, so a double win! The Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% can be used during the day under your sunscreen.
The Glycolic Acid Toner will resurface the top layer of your skin, sloughing off any dead skin cells that have accumulated, and will promote cell turnover (new cells.) No scrub needed anymore! Glycolic acid is fantastic for helping with any texture issues you may have or any of those old acne scars. Just make sure to use sunscreen, everyday. You don’t want to damage that new skin! You can read more about the Glycolic Acid Toner here.
If you are an experienced acid user you may even use a stronger acid once a week or whenever you want an extra boost. Two products that can be used for this purpose are the Lactic Acid 10% +HA or the AHA 30% + BHA 2% Peeling Solution. The Lactic Acid is the gentler of the two and is used in place of your regular acid and left on overnight. The Peeling Solution is an acid mask that is only left on for 10 minutes. Both will make your skin softer and smoother. Just please remember my warnings…overexfoliation is real and sunscreen is a must!
I chose two targeted treatment serums for acne prone skin, Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% and Alpha Arbutin. You don’t have to use both, but you absolutely can. They both are very gentle formulas. I chose Alpha Arbutin to use during the day and its purpose is to brighten any discoloration. Niacinamide 10% is chose for both its brightening capabilities, but also its ability to reshape the lining of the pore. The results? Smaller pores! And it does work. I still use Niacinamide at least five times a week in my own morning routines.
Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is fantastic for helping to shrink enlarged pores and brightening dull skin. There are a host of other benefits from using Niacinamide that you can read about here. With this serum, less is more! When too much product is used it can cause this weird foamy texture that makes application somewhat bothersome. The texture is why I would apply it as the last gel textured serum.
Hydration for Acne Prone Skin
Using a light, gel textured Hyaluronic Serum to deeply hydrate my skin is the best decision I ever made for my skin! The Ordinary actually has several hydrating serums available and one more to be released shortly. Buffet, Hyaluronic Acid 2%, and Marine Hyaluronics are all similar serums in the sense that they all work in the same way. However, the texture of each is very different. Whichever one you chose is completely up to you, which texture you prefer, and if you want a hydrating serum with any additional benefits.
Hyaluronic Acid 2% +B5 is a very basic hyaluronic acid serum. When skin is dehydrated it causes our cells to shrink. By applying Hyaluronic Acid, which occurs naturally in the body, it delivers desperately needed hydration to those thirsty cells and plumps them back up! This creates healthier, plumper, glowing skin. Even oily skin can be dehydrated! Some people find this serum to be tacky, while others do not. I personally think the consistency is like a thin syrup that feels very sticky on my skin. I think it is all about personal preference, some people really love this serum and cannot live without it!
Buffet is a more advanced version of Hyaluronic Acid 2%, you do not need both. Buffet has a host of peptides, amino acids, a probiotic complex, and includes Hyaluronic acid. It is one of my favorite products from The Ordinary. Even acneic or acne prone skin needs hydration so adding a lightweight gel like Buffet of HA 2% is the perfect way achieve this. One of these products in the morning may be enough for some people to not use an additional emollient moisturizer, which is why I chose High-Adherence Silicone Primer for daytime.
I wrote an entire post dedicated to Buffet and Hyaluronic Acid 2% serums here. I think you may find it helpful if you are having trouble choosing between the two. It also contains more information on Hyaluronic Acid in general.
Another options is the new Marine Hyaluronics serum. It is touted as a lightweight, faster absorbing alternative to the original Hyaluronic Acid 2% Serum. It doesn’t actually contain Hyaluronic Acid, but it still attracts and holds water like HA does to hydrate the skin. Marine Hyaluronics is super lightweight, like the consistency of water, and literally disappears on skin. This formulation is perfect for oily, combo, or anyone who loves lightweight products. I am still testing its longer term effects, so let’s hope it holds up to those claims! The formula for Marine Hyaluronics is actually really impressive for The Ordinary. Sophisticated. It contains amino acids which help to strengthen and repair the skin barrier, which are hard ingredients to find in a lightweight texture. The only other skincare product I have tried personally that has achieved this rarity is the Drunk Elephant Protini Polypeptide Cream which I wrote about here.
Sealing with an Oil
Instead of choosing a typical moisturizer, I chose a treatment oil in the place of an emollient moisturizer for night time. Using a low strength Retinol at night will help with cell turnover. Also, using in an oil medium is actually an excellent choice for acne prone skin, it is gentler on skin. An oil like Squalane doesn’t contain heavy emollients (think heavy cream moisturizers) that can sometimes be counterproductive and clog pores. There is a possibility that even at 0.2%, the Retinol in the formula can cause irritation at first, especially if you are a Retinol newbie. Start off slow, using every other night at first if you skin can tolerate it. Some people just cannot use any Retinol, no matter the concentration. However, I have found that Retinol in oil form has been much more gentle for me to use than other lotion-type Retinols. Retinol included in an oil is my preferred method of using the ingredient and I have found several different products that I love and use often. You can eventually work up to using every night and even start the Retinol 0.5% in Squalane, if you so choose. You can read my entire review of Retinol 0.2%/0.5%/1% with more details about Retinol here.
Signs of Retinol irritation are redness, flaky skin, and sensitivity to touch, almost like a sunburn. Some people power through when they experience these side effects, I personally lay off the gas. Some believe your skin will eventually acclimate to the Retinol, but for some it never does and you’ve caused your skin a lot of discomfort. It is harder to repair you skin barrier than to just take it easy the first go. If you cannot or do not want to use Retinol, a gentler option is to use a Retinoid. Like the Granactive Retinol 2% in Squalane. It is another Squalane based oil. The famous Sunday Riley Luna Night Sleeping Oil is an example of a Retinoid based oil. A Retinoid works slower because it is a retinol derivative that has to be converted before it is able to be “processed,” if you will, by the skin. The slower conversion also means there is less possibility of irritation which is a good thing for skin that is already compromised by acne. Remember: slow and steady wins the race!
I have been using (and loving) the new Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane, which is a gentler option than the Retinol 0.5% in Squalane. Both feel similar in texture, but the Granactive Retinoid soaks in a bit better. If you cannot use Retinol, I definitely think the Retinoid is a great option. I have seen the same improvement in texture that I do while using my Retinol in Squalane oil.
The best tip about using an oil, any oil, someone told me earlier this year is to use a facial mist before applying the oil. Something like La Roche-Posay Serozinc is an excellent option for acne prone skin, and isn’t extortionately expensive either. Then only use a few drops of the oil and press it into the skin with fingertips. This helps the oil to absorb better so there’s not an oil slick on your face, no one likes that feeling!
Again I am going to take an unconventional approach and suggest the High-Adherence Silicone Primer instead of a typical moisturizer. By using one of the hydrating serums we talked about earlier, your skin is already hydrated and adding an emollient moisturizer can sometimes be counterproductive. Also, a good sunscreen with an spf of 30 or above should be used every morning too. The primer adds a bit of moisture plus preps skin for makeup. If you do not wear makeup, you can still wear the Primer. It will give your skin a soft, matte finish. Or you can skip the Primer altogether and apply your regular sunscreen. This is a guide, not meant to be followed step-by-step. Make changes, experiment, find what works best for you!
Cleansing for Acne Prone Skin
One of the biggest lessons I learned in early 2017 is to put away my nice, foamy facial cleansers. Depending on their ingredients, they may be stripping your skin causing an overproduction of oil. That was exactly what happened to me! Every morning I would wake up and my t-zone would be so oily! Gross. I was using Kate Somerville’s ExfoliKate Daily Foaming Face Wash after I removed my makeup with Bioderma Micellar Cleansing Water. Sounds really crazy, but once I started using an oil cleanser to remove my makeup and properly double cleansing with a second non-foaming cleanser, no more oil in the morning!
One of the best cleansers for acne prone skin is the iS Clinical Cleansing Complex. It is a gel cleanser that isn’t foamy and has a low pH to protect your skin from being over stripped. Low pH cleansers are always a good option when it comes to acne prone skin because it prevents the growth of bacteria that causes acne. Another excellent low pH option is the Glossier Milky Jelly Cleanser. Bioderma Micellar Cleansing Water is still a good option for removing makeup. A more affordable option is the Garnier Skinactive Micellar Cleansing Water, which is gentle enough that I use it on my 8 year old. (The pink top is the one most like Bioderma, Garnier can also be found on Amazon.) Also, since this routine contains acids go easy if you are using a cleansing device like a Clarisonic or Foreo. Gentle is always the best policy!
Where to Purchase
The Ordinary can be purchased from the following retailers:
Click here to find other retailers worldwide.
Links to specific products above in bold.
These are my suggestions, but please keep in mind I am not an expert or a professional. These are all products I have used for my own fight to keep blemishes away. I believe these products would be the best fit for Acne prone skin types, No matter if you also have dry, oily, normal or combination skin. This routine I have put together is to show how to use The Ordinary products, it does not contain other treatments that may be beneficial for acne prone skin. (Like antioxidants and Vitamin Cs.) I will be doing a routine post for Hyperpigmentation containing The Ordinary products, so stay tuned! Below are infographics for reference later. You can click on them to enlarge the text and of course pin them to Pinterest for future reference! Thank you for reading and I wish you all the best dealing with acne. It is very frustrating, but be patient and you will see improvement, I did. I would be more than happy to answer any questions below in the comments!
Stay Happy & Beautiful!
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