9 Common Skincare Ingredients You'll Want to Avoid If You Have Acne

Breakouts suck. There's no denying that. When you have acne-prone skin, it can be frustrating to find products or a routine that actually works. And it doesn't help that breakouts can be caused for a number of reasons, like hormonal changes, stress, the environment around you, and yes, even the products you're using, which can just make you want to throw up your hands and give up.

But treating pimples and blemishes really depends on your specific skin type and condition, so getting to the bottom of that is a start. "Acne can lead to more than just pimples, so it is important to find a skincare routine that is effective for your skin type," explains Howard Sobel, MD, founder of Sobel Skin and attending dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. "A large concern for acne-prone skin is that although you are using products that treat acne, oftentimes, you can be combining too many different ingredients, hindering your skin from healing and even causing further breakouts."

When caring for acne-prone skin, striking a balance is key. "You basically want to keep the skin more on the dry side and less on the oily side as oil blocks the pores and allows pimples to form," says board-certified dermatologist Roberta Del Campo, MD. "We also want to make sure that we are using a non-comedogenic moisturizer (won't block the pores), and a product such as a retinol or retinoids to clean the pores."


(Image credit: @allisonmcnamara)

Ingredients to Look for and Ingredients to Avoid

When searching for skincare products to add to your routine, both Sobel and Del Campo recommend looking for these ingredients…

Retinoids (Sobel says this is the true gold standard for all skin types)

Benzoyl Peroxide

Salicylic Acid


Azelaic Acid

Glycolic Acid

And as for the ingredients to avoid, these are ones that could irritate the skin or make your situation worse:



Mineral oil


Coconut oil

Isopropyl myristate



Various comedogenic oils, like olive, papaya seed, avocado, and safflower

Some General Tips for Acne-Prone Skin

The most important thing to do once you find a routine that works for you is to stick to it. "Oftentimes, many individuals starting a new skincare routine are not consistent with it," Sobel says. "Continuously starting and stopping your skincare regime usually leads to flare-ups, irritation, redness, and dryness as your skin has not been given the proper time to acclimate to the products introduced. Additionally, many people skip applying sunscreen in the morning, which is a very important step, especially for those using strong acne-clearing products, as they can make your skin more susceptible to the negative effects of UV rays." Sobel also adds that you should make sure you're using products for the times of day they're designed for, like sunscreen in the morning and throughout the day, and retinol at night.

As for the products that work best, Sobel recommends following a simple skincare routine that includes gentle, yet effective products. "Cleansing and moisturizing are the basic yet vital steps of a good skincare routine every morning and night," he says. "For those who have acne-prone skin, it is important to see a dermatologist who can recommend or prescribe the most effective cleanser and moisturizer. Introducing a toner into this regimen is great for acne-prone skin types as it gets rid of excess oil that may be clogging pores and causing further breakouts. In the morning, it is also vital to apply sunscreen after moisturizing in order to protect from sun damage or further irritation."

Del Campo adds that you don't want to over-treat or overdo it with your products, either. If you're too aggressive with the routine, you can actually worsen inflammation, which might cause more breakouts.

Best Skincare Products for Acne-Prone Skin



Toners, Peels, Serums, and Spot Treatments




Managing Editor

Sarah is lifestyle writer and editor with over 10 years of experience covering health and wellness, interior design, food, beauty, and tech. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she attended New York University and lived in New York for 12 years before returning to L.A. in 2019. In addition to her work on THE/THIRTY and Who What Wear, she held editor roles at Apartment Therapy, Real Simple, House Beautiful, Elle Decor, and The Bump (sister site of The Knot). She has a passion for health and wellness, but she especially loves writing about mental health. Her self-care routine consists of five things: a good workout, “me” time on the regular, an intriguing book/podcast/playlist to unwind after a long day, naps, and decorating her home.