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Ingredients for acne: 8 Ingredients to Look For

8 Ingredients to Look For

Written by Sharlene Tan

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 11, 2021

Acne is a cause of agony for many people. It affects not just teenagers but also adults. With so many skin care products available that treat acne, it’s important to know what ingredients to look for and to avoid.

Benzoyl peroxide is a widely used acne treatment. It can be found as over-the-counter or prescription medicine, in the form of a gel, cream, lotion, face wash, and soap.

Benzoyl peroxide works by killing the bacteria on your skin. It also helps to unclog pores by removing dead skin.

Doctors often recommend starting with skin care products that have benzoyl peroxide. It’s usually well-tolerated by most people.

But one disadvantage of benzoyl peroxide is that it causes bleaching. This can lead to bleaching of hair and discoloration of fabrics like bed linens and clothes.

Many over-the-counter and prescription skin care products for acne-prone skin contain salicylic acid. It’s a beta hydroxy acid, which is an exfoliant and removes dead skin. This helps prevent your pores from becoming clogged. 

Alpha hydroxy acids (AHA) treat acne by removing dead skin cells and reducing inflammation. They also improve the appearance of acne scars by stimulating the growth of new skin. Two types of alpha hydroxy acids found in acne products are glycolic acid and lactic acid.

Sulfur is often combined with other ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. It removes dead skin cells that clog your pores. It also helps remove excess oil (sebum) that may cause breakouts.

Sulfur traditionally has a rotten egg smell, so you may want to test sulfur products to make sure they don’t smell unpleasant.

Adapalene is a topical retinoid used to treat acne. Retinoids are Vitamin A-based products that are best known for treating aging skin. 

Adapalene can help prevent new breakouts and unclog pores. It’s available in different forms and strengths. A 0.1% gel can be found as an over-the-counter treatment. You can get a prescription for a 0.1% lotion, cream, and 0.3% gel. 

A naturally occurring compound, azelaic acid has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also helps prevent buildup of keratin, a protein that can clog pores.

Officially known as ascorbic acid, Vitamin C is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties. It can help decrease redness and swelling in acne-prone skin. 

This is an essential oil made from the leaves of the tea tree. A gel with 5% tea tree oil may be as effective on acne as one containing 5% benzoyl peroxide. But tea tree oil may not work as fast as other ingredients. 

Side effects. Some of these ingredients, like salicylic acid, adapalene, and azelaic acid, have common side effects, including: 

  • Dry skin
  • Skin irritation like scaling and redness

To avoid these side effects, try a product with lower strength ingredients. In some rare cases, there may be allergic reactions to these ingredients. Seek immediate medical help if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Swelling of face, lips, or tongue
  • Hives or itching
  • Skin rash
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Feeling faint

Be patient. Give any acne treatment at least four weeks to work. It can sometimes take a few months or longer before your skin begins to clear.

Sun protection. Many of these ingredients may make your skin sensitive to the sun. Try to stay out of the sunlight. If you can’t, wear sunscreen and protective clothing. 

If your skin is prone to acne, be careful with products that contain occlusive agents. These are ingredients that form a film on your skin surface that helps to seal in moisture. They can be found in many moisturizers and can be greasy.

These occlusive agents include: 

  • Cocoa butter
  • Lanolin
  • Mineral oil
  • Paraffin
  • Petroleum jelly 
  • Silicone derivatives like dimethicone and cyclomethicone. These silicones are often used together with petroleum jelly, which can make them greasy. 

When buying skin products, sunscreens, and cosmetics, look for those that say “non-comedogenic” or are water-based, as it won’t clog your pores and make your acne worse.

Be careful with hair products too. If you use hair care products that contain oil, the oil can make its way to your skin. This can lead to clogged pores and acne.

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The Best Ingredients for Fighting Acne, According to Dermatologists

  • The best ingredients for acne are benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, alpha-hydroxy acids, retinol, tea tree oil, and sulfur.
  • Ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, alpha-hydroxy acids, tea tree oil, and sulfur have antibacterial properties, which help kill acne-causing bacteria.
  • Salicylic acid removes the top layer of dead skin cells, which helps unclog pores and reduce breakouts.
  • This article was medically reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with a private practice in New York City.
  • Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.

Acne is extremely common in the United States, affecting around 50 million Americans every year. Acne can be stubborn and hard to get rid of, but there are many treatments available, both over the counter and via prescription, that can help you get clear skin. 

With a huge assortment of anti-acne products out there to choose from, how do you know which is best for you? Many acne treatments differ mainly by their active ingredients. We’re breaking down 6 ingredients, from how they work to how to use them. Here’s what you need to know. 

Benzoyl peroxide

How it’s beneficial for acne: Benzoyl peroxide is an over the counter topical medication that reduces the amount of acne-causing bacteria that lives on the skin, says Teo Soleymani, MD, FAAD, a board-certified faculty dermatologist and Mohs Micrographic surgeon at UCLA. 

By killing acne-causing bacteria, it can reduce the number of whiteheads and larger pimples, as well as reduce the frequency of breakouts, says Soleymani.

A large 2020 meta-analysis published in Cochrane Library looked at almost 30,000 participants and found that benzoyl peroxide is more effective than a placebo in treating acne.  

How to use this product: You can find benzoyl peroxide in cleansers that should be used once or twice daily. 

What concentration you should use: Less is more in the case of benzoyl peroxide. Soleymani says using benzoyl peroxide with a concentration of  2-5% should work just as well for facial acne at higher concentrations of 10% or more. Lower concentrations will not be as harsh or drying to the delicate skin on your face.

With that in mind, acne on the chest and back may require higher concentrations of benzoyl peroxide to see results, says Cliff Perlis, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Keystone Dermatology Partners outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While a higher strength like 10% may be too much for the face, it can do the trick for pesky acne on the back or other parts of the body.

How long it takes to work: It takes about two weeks or more to start seeing improvement, says Perlis. 

Salicylic acid

How it’s beneficial for acne: Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that removes the top layer of dead skin cells, says Soleymani. It is able to do this by deeply penetrating the pores, thereby unclogging them. 

By unclogging your pores, Soleymani says that salicylic acid can reduce the number and size of blackheads. It can also help rid your skin of excess oil, thereby preventing new pimples.  

A 2015 comprehensive review published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology determined that salicylic acid is safe and effective in treating acne. 

How to use this product: You can use this product in a cleanser, gel, moisturizer, or cream. Perlis says it should be used once or twice a day, depending on the particular product you are using. Read the label for suggested use.

What concentration you should use: As with the benzoyl peroxide, a higher concentration of salicylic acid does not mean it will be more effective. You’ll likely see concentrations available ranging from .5% to 5%. Soleymani says 1% to 2% is a good target to use. 

How long it takes to work: You’ll see results in one to two weeks, Soleymani says.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

How it’s beneficial for acne: AHAs are a group of chemical exfoliants. They remove dead skin cells, prevent the collection of sebum (oil) and prevent bacterial overgrowth, Perlis says. There are different types of AHAs such as:

  • Lactic acid
  • Mandelic acid
  • Glycolic acid

By removing dead skin cells and getting rid of excess oil, AHAs can help to unclog pores thereby reducing breakouts.

Studies have shown AHAs to be moderately beneficial. A 2010 study published in the Official Journal of the Italian Society of Dermatology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases examined 248 participants with mild to moderate acne over the course of 60 days and found that the effectiveness was high in 64.2% of patients, decreasing the prevalence of mild to moderate acne in participants, and that it was very tolerable on the skin.

How to use this product: Soleymani says AHAs are best used at low concentrations in a once-daily cleanser. Alternatively, you can use it as a chemical peel exfoliant once a week or so at higher concentrations, like 10-15%, but Soleymani recommends checking with a dermatologist first since it may irritate skin.

At first, when you use AHAs, you might experience tingling, itchiness, and dryness, Perlis says. If this happens, decrease your usage to every other day or every third day until you get used to the product. Once you’re used to it,  you can increase the frequency. Perlis also stresses the importance of using sunscreen if you are using AHAs in your skincare routine since AHAs make your skin more sensitive to UV radiation.

What concentration you should use: In a cleanser, Soleymani says you should look for 3% to 8%. Concentrations higher in peels and masks should be used with caution since they can cause serious damage if used incorrectly.

How long it takes to work: AHAs work pretty quickly, and you can see improvement in a week or less, Soleymani says.


How it’s beneficial for acne: Retinol is a type of retinoid, which is a vitamin A derivative, Soleymani says. It can increase the skin-cell turnover rate by getting rid of the top layer of dead skin cells, and promoting the growth of new collagen and healthy new skin cells.   

Soleymani says retinol is great for reducing the size and frequency of blackheads, whiteheads, and even deeper painful pimples, due to its skin-cell turnover abilities. Plus, it will improve the overall texture and tone of your skin. 

A 2017 review published in Dermatology and Therapy stated that retinoids should be a mainstay treatment for acne since it has been shown to be effective in treating different types of acne in “many thousands” of patients. 

How to use this product: Retinol is typically available in gel form. Perlis says the rule of thumb is to “start low and go slow,” meaning start with low concentrations and not applying every day, since retinoids can cause redness, itching, dryness, and sun sensitivity. 

Perlis suggests applying every other night or every third night when you first start out to reduce irritation, then you can eventually increase the frequency to every day. 

It should always be applied to dry skin. Applying to wet skin can increase irritation. Perlis says. Additionally, Soleymani says it is best to apply retinol at night before bed, and to use a moisturizer after to combat the dryness that may occur. Additionally, they should not be used during pregnancy.

What concentration you should use: It is not common to see the concentration of retinol in OTC products since it is an inactive version of retinoic acid, says Soleymani. However, Differin, the most common OTC retinol has a concentration of .1%. 

But if you get a prescription-strength retinoid from a dermatologist, the concentration will range from 0.025% to 1%, and the right strength for you will be determined by your dermatologist. 

How long it takes to work: It takes a longer time for retinoids to work. Regardless of if you are using an OTC retinol like Differin or a prescription-strength retinoid, it will likely take 4 to 6 weeks or more to see results, Perlis says. 

Tea tree oil

How it’s beneficial for acne: Perlis says that tea tree oil has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which may be helpful for acne. “I stress the word “may,” because the studies supporting it are small and much lower quality than the research for some other [acne] treatments discussed,” says Perlis. 

One 2017 study published in the Australasian Journal of Dermatology examined 18 people with mild to moderate acne, and found that a tea tree oil gel was effective in reducing acne. However, more larger-scale studies are necessary to really determine the efficacy. 

How to use this product:  Soleymani says to use tea tree oil in a cleanser. Tea tree oil as an essential oil should not be applied straight to the skin because it can cause a rash.

What concentration you should use: Perlis says the lack of standardization across tea tree oil products makes it difficult to provide guidelines for concentrations or application. 

How long it takes to work: Based on the Australasian Journal of Dermatology study saw slight results after 4 weeks, and even more after 12 weeks.  


How it’s beneficial for acne: Soleymani says it reduces the frequency of both blackheads and whiteheads. This happens because it removes the top layer of skin cells, which unclogs pores. Additionally, Perlis says it can decrease the redness and size of pimples. 

A 2009 review published in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology stated that sulfur was effective as a drying and antibacterial agent for acne and that it was suitable for sensitive skin.

How to use this product: Sulfur is available in cleansers and maks or spot treatments that are meant to just be applied to problem spots.

What concentration you should use: Soleymani says you should opt for a product with a sulfur concentration of 3% to 5% should be used. 

How long it takes to work: Spot treatments can improve the appearance of pimples in just a few days, Perlis says. Using a less concentrated cleanser can take a couple of weeks to show results.  

When to see a doctor

If your acne isn’t improving at all after about a month of trying products with these ingredients, you should go see a dermatologist. They can help you come up with a more effective skincare routine, or they may determine that you need something stronger such as a prescription topical treatment or an oral treatment such as antibiotics. 

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Ashley Laderer

Ashley Laderer is a freelance writer from New York who specializes in health and wellness. Follow her on Twitter @ashladerer

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Top 5 Acne Ingredients: Top 10 Effective Products at a Glance


  • Salicylic Acid
  • AHAs
  • Natural clay
  • Zinc
  • Retinol

Salicylic acid

Renewing acids are known to have a beneficial effect on problematic skin. However, we give the first place in our hit parade to salicylic acid. For what? For being able to do several things at once:

  • exfoliate – as an excellent keratolytic, it removes dead cells that usually accumulate on the surface of oily skin and clog pores.

  • regulate sebum production – by loosening sebum, salicylic acid dissolves sebaceous plugs and reduces oiliness of the skin over time.

  • relieve inflammation, i.e. inhibit the growth of bacteria, including those responsible for the formation of acne.

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Salicylic acid is included in gels and foams to rid the skin of dead cells during cleansing. It is also used in ambulance products for local control of rashes and in creams for daily care. Here are examples:

  • Exfopro Anti-Acne Ultra Cleansing Gel with Brush, Garnier thoroughly cleanses the skin with soft elastic bristles and fights acne thanks to 2% salicylic acid and a phytocomplex in the composition.

  • Effaclar Duo (+), La Roche-Posay Cream-Gel also contains lipohydroxy acid, a milder version of salicylic acid, for non-aggressive daily cell renewal.

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Like salicylic, alpha-hydroxy acids accelerate the process of cellular renewal, which is disturbed in oily skin. Aligning the relief and color, they significantly improve the appearance of the skin.

AHAs are used in cleansers and formulas to combat acne and its effects.

  • Normaderm Pore Refining Cleansing Lotion, Vichy combines glycolic and salicylic acids for a smoothing action and fights imperfections.

  • Blemish & Age Defense Serum, SkinCeuticals with salicylic, glycolic and citric acids reduces skin greasiness, helping to reduce imperfections and post-acne.

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Natural clay

Kaolin, rassul, montmorillonite – all these varieties of clay have numerous advantages.

  • Eliminate excess sebum.

  • Draw out impurities from the pores and thus deeply cleanse the skin.

  • Mattifies the skin and even relieves puffiness a little.

  • Clay Magic Purifying Mask. Cleansing and mattifying”, L’Oréal Paris contains three types of clay and eucalyptus, known for its anti-inflammatory effect.

  • Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Masque with Amazonian White Clay, Kiehl’s leaves a feeling of cleanliness and visibly tones, as it contains aloe extract.

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This proven ingredient acts as a topical antibiotic: inhibits the activity of acne-causing bacteria, plus has sebum-regulating abilities. Not surprisingly, zinc is often found on the list of active ingredients in cosmetics for problem skin.

  • Clear Skin Cleansing Toner for Blackheads & Shine, Garnier includes salicylic acid to stimulate cell renewal and prevent blackheads, and zinc to regulate sebum production.

  • Cleansing Foaming Gel for Oily Skin Effaclar, La Roche-Posay along with soothing thermal water contains zinc, which cares for oily, problematic skin and normalizes sebum production.

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It is also known as vitamin A. It is known as one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients that literally transforms the skin. Its main action is renewing. Therefore, it is the best suited for the fight against acne and traces left after inflammation.

Please note that retinol is an active ingredient that causes a very quick reaction in the skin, which can be expressed in redness and flaking. Retinol products should be used with caution, introducing them into care gradually.

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YON-KA.RU » Which Ingredients Are Effective for Acne

Skin condition is a reflection of your body’s health, so the appearance of acne is a sign of problems in your body.

There are many causes for acne, but there are many preparations with different ingredients to treat acne. Many products contain harsh chemical ingredients that can help fight acne but can also cause redness and sensitivity. Natural herbal ingredients contained in preparations Yon-Ka Paris may be more effective without side effects.

In this article we will look at the causes of acne and what causes it. We will also look at natural ingredients that should be present in acne skin care products.

What are pimples and why do they appear?

The American Academy of Dermatology lists acne as the most common skin condition. The appearance of acne is common among teenagers, but adults can also suffer from acne.

Pimples occur when pores become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, causing whiteheads or blackheads to form on or under the surface of the skin. They usually form on the face, forehead, chest, upper back, and shoulders because these are the areas of the body with the highest production of sebum.

Pimples can appear at any time, but the most common causes of acne in adults are:

  • Hormone surge (especially in women)
  • Chronic or acute stress
  • Genetic predisposition or skin problems
  • Using the wrong daily care products
  • Side effects of drugs
  • Wrong diet or non-compliance with diet
  • Smoking and other harmful habits causing inflammation of the skin

Acne manifests itself in different ways and different types of acne are associated with different types of acne

  • First degree acne appears as soft whiteheads, blackheads and small pimples.
  • Moderate acne with frequent inflammation of pustules and papules is the second degree of acne.
  • Third degree acne – accompanied by numerous inflammations of papules and pustules.
  • The fourth degree of acne is manifested by multiple inflammation of pustules, papules, formation of cysts and nodules on the face, back, chest, neck and buttocks.

Why are natural ingredients better for acne?

Acne can vary in severity, from mild manifestations to chronic rashes accompanied by inflammation. Most acne sufferers turn to dermatologists for medications. There are acne medications with chemical ingredients like these:

  • Benzoyl Peroxide – Kills bacteria by preventing them from getting into inflamed pores. This helps reduce redness and inflammation. It can be in several concentrations, starting from 2.5%. Benzoyl peroxide is available without a prescription.
  • Salicylic acid – removes excess skin cells that get into the pores mixed with sebum and bacteria, causing inflammation. Salicylic acid can be of natural or synthetic origin.
  • Antibiotics. All skin contains Propioni bacteria. If you have an excess of these bacteria on your skin, then antibiotics such as clindamycin, erythromycin, and doxycycline are used to treat acne and are available by prescription.

These ingredients are effective in reducing acne, but all chemical ingredients have many side effects. For example, benzoyl peroxide kills bacteria and reduces redness and inflammation, but also causes dryness or flaking. Overuse of antibiotics leads to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria. Too much exfoliation with salicylic acid irritates the skin and increases its sensitivity.

Chemical ingredients found in daily care products are associated with a high risk of side effects, so consider natural ingredients. Many natural ingredients give the same or better results with much less risk of side effects.

Look for these natural ingredients in acne preparations

  • Aloe Vera is a natural moisturizer and hydration is the key to healthy skin. It contains sulfur and salicylic acid, two ingredients that are effective against acne.
  • Burdock – cleanses and balances the skin. It also contains vitamin A, vitamin E, various B vitamins, minerals, and sulfur, so it is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Chamomile – has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. It boosts immunity, treats inflammatory skin conditions, brightens pigmented skin, and reduces the appearance of acne.
  • Essential oils – provide anti-acne properties. Lime essential oil has antibacterial and antioxidant properties. Thyme essential oil is a strong antiseptic and rosemary essential oil is detoxifying.
  • Lactic acid – reduces acne and wrinkles. Natural exfoliator.
  • St. John’s wort extract – smoothes and firms the skin.
  • Witch hazel – contains tannins known for their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. In addition to fighting acne and reducing skin inflammation, witch hazel can be used to tone the skin.
  • Apple cider vinegar – rich in magnesium, potassium and acetic acid and certain enzymes that kill bacteria in the skin.

Here are some tips you should follow in addition to using natural ingredients in your acne treatment

  • Always use a gentle cleanser to avoid irritating or dry skin – these problems can aggravate acne.
  • Use products that are suitable for your skin type.
  • Introduce new products slowly to give the skin time to adjust.

Not only will a change in daily skincare help get rid of acne, but so will a change in lifestyle. Reducing stress will help prevent the surge of hormones that cause acne. Cutting down on dairy and sugar will also benefit your skin. Exercise regularly and get enough sleep.


Yon-Ka Paris Acne Control

Yon-Ka Paris helps fight acne or even occasional breakouts in a natural way.