The quest for clear skin is often full of trial, error, and frustration as you slowly figure out what works for your blemish-prone skin and what doesn’t. A 2018 study in the International Journal of Women's Dermatology even found that chronic breakouts can lead to low self-esteem and emotions like embarrassment and self-consciousness.I
The good news? Clearer-looking skin is totally within your reach. The process is two-fold: incorporate the best ingredients for blemish-prone skin types into your skincare regimen, and avoid common triggers. Enlisting help from a board-certified dermatologist can potentially deliver results even more quickly. We’re discussing all the above and sharing some of our favorite products and tips along the way.
What Is Blemish-Prone Skin?
While anyone can experience whiteheads, blackheads, and pimples, those with blemish-prone skin tend to experience breakouts more frequently than others.
In addition to being more sensitive to certain ingredients, there’s also a correlation between blemish-prone skin and oily skin types. When oil on the skin mixes with dead skin cells, bacteria, and other debris, it can cause clogged pores. This can lead to whiteheads (closed comedones) and blackheads (exposed comedones), as well as pimples and pustules that may be topped with yellow or white pus. Some people with blemish-prone skin also experience deep cystic bumps, which can be quite painful.
Blemishes typically appear in places where we have a lot of pores—the face being the most common. But, breakouts can occur on our chest, back, scalp, and even breasts. Chronic breakouts are often experienced by those in their teens and twenties—age groups that tend to produce more oil—but anyone of any age can get breakouts.
The Best Ingredients That Work for Blemish-Prone Skin
Consider the nine pimple-fighting ingredients below your battle swords in the fight against pimples.
This popular alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) is known for its exfoliating properties that help visibly improve the tone and texture of skin. By sloughing away dead skin cells and excess oil from the surface of the skin, skin looks clearer and pores appear smaller. Exfoliation can also help with the appearance of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) caused by blemishes.
This is why a number of products utilize glycolic acid for blemish-prone skin. Need proof? It’s the hero ingredient in our Bye Bye Pores Glycolic Acid concentrated derm serum. In clinical trials, this serum helped reduce the look of pores, and visibly refined and smoothed skin texture.*
Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s often incorporated for its ability to exfoliate skin. It’s particularly helpful for blemish-prone skin since it acts as an anti-inflammatory while doing the dirty work of unclogging pores. You'll find this ingredient in various forms, including pads, peels, serums, and lotions. Additionally, there are spot-treatment products—such as Bye Bye Breakouts Full Coverage Concealer—that feature high concentrations of salicylic acid to zero in on the blemish itself.
Today, over-the-counter retinol creams and prescription retinoic acid are mostly known for their anti-aging powers. However, topical retinoids were originally used to help with breakouts and they remain one of the best ingredients for blemish-prone skin. Like AHAs and BHAs, retinoids shed dead skin to help unclog pores and reveal more radiant-looking skin. And let’s not forget that they also boast anti-inflammatory properties. To take advantage of this ingredient, add Hello Results Wrinkle-Reducing Daily Retinol Serum-in-Cream to your evening skincare regimen. You can alternate it every other evening with your glycolic acid serum.
Niacinamide, also known as vitamin B3, has been proven to help reduce the appearance of PIH. In that sense, it can assist in a more even-looking complexion. Suitable for all skin types—including sensitive skin—Bye Bye Dark Spots Niacinamide Serum can help minimize the appearance of discoloration.
Typically formulated in thick, mud-like face masks or infused in toning products, clay is a popular skincare ingredient that can help zap excess oil. In turn, skin appears smoother and pores look smaller after using.
Lots of different types of clays are used in skincare, but kaolin and bentonite clays are arguably the most popular iterations of this effective, natural ingredient. You’ll find kaolin clay in Bye Bye Pores Leave-On Solution Pore Refining Toner, a lightweight solution that helps mattify your skin while minimizing the look of pores.
Benzoyl peroxide has long been used as an ingredient for blemish-prone skin, largely because of its understood antimicrobial properties. Dermatologists often recommend pairing it with another ingredient when improving whiteheads, blackheads, and comedones, such as retinoids or an antibiotic.
One drawback of benzoyl peroxide is that it can be a bit aggressive, leading to irritation or dryness. If you have sensitive skin, we recommend asking your dermatologist about whether to include this ingredient in your regimen.
Bright green and full of juicy goodness, aloe vera is a natural ingredient beloved for its soothing properties. This is a major plus if you have dry, irritated, sensitive, or blemish-prone skin and are craving a bit of relief. Aloe vera is essential to the formulation of Bye Bye Redness Sensitive Skin Moisturizer. This moisturizer helps soothe, moisturize, and improve the look of elasticity. It also has a slight green tint, which can help visibly neutralize redness.
Colloidal oatmeal is another natural ingredient that can help calm and soothe dry or irritated skin. It’s a key ingredient in Bye Bye Redness Sensitive Skin Moisturizer mentioned above, and you’ll also find it in Bye Bye Redness Neutralizing Color-Correcting Cream.
Even though blemish-prone skin types tend to be more oily, it’s still important to use a moisturizer every day. It might sound counterintuitive, but when your skin isn’t moisturized or hydrated, then it can overcompensate by producing more oil. The solve? Use an oil-free moisturizer, such as Confidence in a Gel Lotion Moisturizer. This quick-absorbing, water-based moisturizer delivers serious hydration to help create a more balanced complexion.
Promoting balance and hydration with a hyaluronic acid serum is also a good course of action. And you don’t have to look further than our very own Bye Bye Lines Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
Dr. Tiffany Libby, a board-certified dermatologist and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board Member, says, “Hyaluronic acid is a powerful humectant—it is a sugar molecule that is capable of drawing in water equivalent to 1000x its weight. It’s essentially a water magnet to help instantly plump and hydrate skin.”
You had us at “water magnet.”
Ingredients to Avoid for Oily, Blemish-Prone Skin
Harnessing the power of certain ingredients to address breakouts, oily skin, and PIH is one giant step toward clear and beautiful skin. At the same time, it’s also necessary to avoid certain ingredients that can trigger breakouts.
Some of the most notorious ingredients that cause breakouts are heavy oils, alcohol, fragrances, and dyes. Heavy oils can clog pores—especially if your skin is already oily—and fragrances and dyes can be irritating. Alcohol should be avoided because it can be drying. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), seek out makeup and skincare products that are labeled non-comedogenic.II This means they're less likely to clog pores and lead to pimples.
Along with reading ingredient lists and steering clear of triggers, the AAD says breakouts can also be caused by common no-nos like sleeping in your makeup, not washing your face after a workout, not cleaning your makeup brushes, and over-washing. It's also important to take a gentle approach with blemish-prone skin, which includes regularly using a moisturizer to help balance oil production and not picking at your skin.
When to See a Dermatologist
If you’ve long struggled to find the best treatment for your breakouts, we recommend seeing a dermatologist. While we know that certain ingredients can help with oil, and even the appearance of pimple-related scars, it’s helpful to have a tailored treatment plan created by an expert who’s familiar with your skin.
In moderate to severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe certain oral or topical treatments to clear up your pimples. They can also help you fine-tune your existing regimen to ensure you’re doing everything you can to achieve clear, beautiful skin.
Shop our collection of makeup and skincare for blemish-prone skin types.
*Based on expert assessment using clinical grading of pores in a 6-week study and of skin texture in an 8-week study.
**Based on expert assessment using clinical grading and consumer self-evaluation in a 12-week study.
- S.M. Gallitano; D.S. Berson. “How Acne Bumps Cause the Blues: The Influence of Acne Vulgaris on Self-Esteem.” International Journal of Women's Dermatology. 2018.
- “10 skin care habits that can worsen acne.” The American Academy of Dermatology Association.