3 Most Effective Acne Ingredients, from a Product Formulator


Cosmetic chemist Javon Ford makes beauty products for a living, which means he knows a thing or two about the ingredients that go into the formulas lining your beauty shelves. And as far as acne-treatment ingredients go, there are a few common, skin-drying culprits that he wants you to keep far, far away from your face.

“I’m against anything drying,” says Ford. “Acne is usually caused by oily skin that gets clogged, and a lot of people think the solution is to add astringents and drying agents to counteract that, but what they don’t realize is that the body’s response to skin that’s deprived of oil is to make even more oil. Your skin needs water, and if you’re drying it out, your body’s going to rebel and produce more oil to save whatever water you’ve tried to strip away.” Because of this, he suggests steering clear of benzoyl peroxide, witch hazel, and alcohol-based toners—all of which are drying, and run the risk of doing more harm than good to acne-prone skin.

Instead, Ford is a fan of stacking your routine with a combination of three ingredients that will address acne-related concerns at every level. Namely, salicylic acid, which unclogs your pores; niacinamide, which fights inflammation; and vitamin C, which prevents the dark spots and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation that come after a breakout. Keep scrolling to find out why all three of these truly effective acne ingredients deserve a place in your routine.

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For quashing pimples: salicylic acid

Kate Sommerville EradiKate Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment — $60.00

Salicylic acid has landed the top spot as both Ford and Dr. Pimple Popper’s favorite acne-fighting ingredient, and it’s for good reason. The ingredient is a beta-hydroxy acid that crystallizes down to a small size that allows it to get way down deep into your pores, clearing away dirt and grime from the inside out. It’s also got exfoliating properties, which helps to prevent the pore-clogging accumulation of dead skin cells. “Salicylic acid is gentler than benzoyl peroxide,” says Ford. “It’s still acidic, you can spot treat it and don’t have to use it over your whole face, and you can get it at an affordable price.”

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For inflammation: niacinamide

For discoloration: vitamin C

The Ordinary Ascorbic Acid 8% + Alpha Arbutin 2% 75 units — $10.00

While vitamin C itself isn’t technically a pimple-quashing ingredient in itself, it’s still a good idea to use the antioxidant every morning as part of your acne-fighting routine. “I recommend vitamin C to anyone with acne,” says Ford. “If you have a breakout, it might cause inflammation, which leads to dark spots. But if you’re using vitamin C concurrently with your other acne treatments, it can prevent those dark spots from ever forming.”

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For more tips on how to deal with acne as an adult, check out the video below. 

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