When you have acne-prone skin, clearing up blemishes and preventing future breakouts are likely some of your main goals when it comes to your skin care routine. But for anyone who won the skin care lottery with sensitive skin in addition to breakouts (welcome to the club!), finding a treatment can be confusing at best, and leave your skin looking even more inflamed than when you started, at worst. So how exactly do you go about finding the best acne treatments for sensitive skin? It can involve a little bit of trial and error to see which ingredients your skin can tolerate (and just how much it can tolerate). But it can also be as simple as looking for treatments that combine soothing ingredients with actives meant to zap zits in their tracks.
By now, you may have already discovered that common ingredients in acne treatments, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, can irritate your skin, leaving you with redness and dryness in addition to breakouts. But there are other, less obvious ingredients that could be aggravating your skin, too, including alcohol, exfoliating beads, and synthetic fragrances.
While that latter three have no real benefit to being in your skin care products, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide aren’t necessarily the enemy. If you’ve been applying leave-on treatments with either of these ingredients daily, instead, start by using them two to three times a week, and gradually working your way up to a once daily as your skin gets used to them. Also, look for a treatment with a smaller concentration of these ingredients — you don’t need to go all-in with 10 percent benzoyl peroxide at first, but can start with a lower concentration between 2.5 and 5.5 percent.
Paired with a gentle moisturizer like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and ceramides, or anti-inflammatory ingredients like green tea, aloe, and witch hazel, you can decrease the likelihood of irritation. Also, pay attention to how you apply your treatment. If you only notice breakouts occasionally, or you tend to have more cystic acne, use a spot treatment that’s highly concentrated to kill bacteria, instead of slathering it all over your face.
If you’re still having trouble finding a solution, you’ll want to check in with a dermatologist. But in the meantime, here are five of the best acne treatments for sensitive skin you can buy online.
1. The Overall Best Acne Treatment For Sensitive Skin
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment Cream
This cult-favorite treatment cream is dermatologist-tested and deemed suitable for sensitive skin, in part because of its fragrance-free, paraben-free, and oil-free formula. To help heal blemishes, La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment Cream uses 5.5 percent benzoyl peroxide to help kill bacteria and stop acne in its tracks. It’s also formulated with beta-lipohydroxy acid, which is a derivative of salicylic acid that’s much gentler on skin, but still prevents pores from becoming clogged.
To help counteract any redness or peeling that benzoyl peroxide can cause, La Roche-Posay included glycerin as one of the top ingredients on their list to help add moisture to the skin without clogging pores. Start by applying it once daily over any affected areas, and you can gradually increase to twice or three times a day.
2. An All-Natural Spot Treatment That Uses Bentonite Clay
TreeActiv Cystic Acne Spot Treatment
When you can feel a monster zit forming, TreeActiv’s Cystic Acne Spot Treatmentcan help treat it fast with its natural acne-fighting ingredients. Bentonite clay removes toxins to help clear up painful cysts, while witch hazel’s anti-inflammatory and astringent properties help calm irritation and tighten pores to keep out bacteria. Tea tree water also helps to clear out bacteria and remove excess oil, and TreeActiv has added a crew of other spot-clearing and soothing ingredients to the list like pink grapefruit essential oil, spearmint water, and aloe vera.
It also has over 1,000 5-star reviews on Amazon. “I have tried everything (short of Accutane) to get rid of my persistent cystic acne, and nothing has been effective,” writes one reviewer. “I applied a small amount of this miracle-in-a-jar to the blemishes on my face, chest, and back. In the morning, the blemishes were noticeably reduced in size and redness.” Another adds, “I have very sensitive and dry skin, and this is the only thing that gets rid of painful, cystic acne without making it worse.”
3. Best All-Over Lotion For Sensitive, Acne-Prone Skin
Avène Cleanance Expert
Avène formulates all their products with sensitive skin in mind, and not only is Cleanance Expert made with gentle moisturizers to combat the drying effects acne-fighting ingredients tend to have, but it’s also noncomedogenic, hypoallergenic, and free of parabens and oil. To help exfoliate skin of potentially acne-causing debris, Avène uses X-Pressin, 1 percent of which is as effective as 6 percent glycolic acid, according to their studies. It’s also way less harsh on skin, which means it’s less likely to cause irritation. It’s so gentle, in fact, that the brand says it can even be used in conjunction with other acne treatments.
Avène also formulated their lotion with monolaurin to reduce excess oil that acne-prone skin types tend to produce, and diolényl, which helps to reduce redness. Additionally, shea butter and the brand’s signature thermal spring water are included to hydrate, soften, and soothe skin.
4. Best Pimple Patches For Sensitive Skin
COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patch
Perfect for overnight and on-the-go treatment, the COSRX Acne Pimple Master Patchhelps to speed up healing time with a tiny hydrocolloid patch you stick right on top of your zit. While you wear it (COSRX says to apply to clean, dry skin and keep it on overnight), the clear sticker breaks down blackheads and absorbs gunk from whiteheads. Plus, because you apply the patches over your zit, they also prevent you from picking at it and spreading even more bacteria to the area.
Amazon users love them, too, with one fan of the patches writing, “These suckers work. They help things heal rapidly, pull all sorts of gunk out, and are oh-so-satisfying when they turn white and you can see all of the gross stuff they’ve pulled out.” The reviewer goes on to say, “Whenever I see a hint of a pimple, I pop one on, and usually within the next day it’s gone.” Another fan of the patches writes, “They don’t aggravate my sensitive skin, and they stay on all night!”
5. An Acne Treatment For Sensitive Skin That Uses Light Technology
Neutrogena Light Therapy Acne Mask
If your skin seems to dry out with topical treatments, no matter what gentle ingredients you try, consider Neutrogena’s Light Therapy Acne Mask. A less-aggressive and more affordable option compared to in-office light treatments, this mask uses light technology instead of potentially irritating ingredients to banish breakouts. Neutrogena’s slightly intimidating-looking device is actually quite simple to use. After you’ve cleansed and dried your face, press the start button on the activator, and put the mask on for 10 minutes. While you kick back, blue light works to kill acne-causing bacteria and red light fights signs of inflammation.
The mask is gentle enough to be used daily, and new, 30-treatment activators can be purchased separately as you need them. Light therapy is effective on its own, but you can also pair it with an acne treatment lotion or other acne-fighting products for even better results.
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