As much as I wish I was one of those rare unicorns who rarely experiences a pimple—let alone a full-on breakout—I'm just not. A constant battle against burgeoning bumps is my norm, and while I've been able to get a relative handle on some hormonal craziness that was plaguing me for the better part of a year, I still have to be ultra-diligent with what I choose to put on my face. For the most part, as I mentioned, my acne is hormonal, and I primarily break out along my jawline, chin, and occasionally around my lips or nose.
These days, thanks to a scaled-back, very basic skincare routine, 85% of the time my skin is relatively clear, my main nemesis now being the residual acne scarring loitering around my cheekbones, chin, and lip area. (I'm currently getting IPL at Vanesa Hernandez Skincare in Brentwood to help deal.) That said, like clockwork, a week or two before my period, my skin will FTFO, and all my hard-earned acne-banishing work flies out the window. Virtually overnight, I wake up to two to three sore, up-and-coming red bumps alongside a pinhead-sized sprinkling of annoying, nose-wrinkle-worthy whiteheads poised, ever so cutely, right around my mouth. (In my mind that's pretty much the least ideal locale for a gross-looking zit to grow, but then again, I don't really have much say in the matter, now do I?)
Anyway, the point is the above cycle hit me hard this past weekend—days after I had received a couple of new, acne-focused skincare products. Even though I usually stick with my mainstay ride-or-die acne formulas, I was intrigued with the assortment that had landed on my desk, and I resolved to try all three together that night for the ultimate overnight acne experiment. I'll openly admit that my expectations were low—like, low, low especially since one of the products was a pack of acne patches—a product category I've had zero luck with. Alas, I pushed my trepidation and bias aside in the name of official beauty editor sleuthing.
To my complete surprise, my flip decision completely paid off, and now, my acne arsenal is three products richer. Keep scrolling for the three random products I now swear by for an overnight acne miracle, before-and-after photos, and a few more of the products I've used for a while and completely recommend for those seeking truly effective acne treatments. Shall we?
The Products & Procedure
Step 1: The Magic Scrub
Since I knew the acne patches (below) were going to be the do-or-die star of the show, pre-application I wanted to ensure my skin was as clean and exfoliated as humanly possible without overly drying or stripping my skin. After cleansing (I'll share my favorite acne washes below), I reached for this cult-favorite exfoliating scrub from Goldfaden MD. It's not new; in fact, it's one of the most under-the-radar yet holy-grail skincare products you can get your hands on, but I was sent a new supersized tub of the formula in honor of the product's fresh availability on Harrod's website.
Through my acne journey, I've learned gentle, daily exfoliation is truly the key to keeping my skin velvety and clear and potential zits and bumps at bay. This special mix has enough grit to it to make you feel like you are, indeed ridding your skin of everything and anything you need to slough off, but the ruby crystals are bathed in this luxe, creamy blend of jojoba oil, hyaluronic acid, seaweed extract, and organic red tea extract to keep the complexion's moisture and pH levels healthy and intact. After rubbing and buffing it into my damp skin for about 30 seconds or so, I rinsed with warm water. Seriously, folks, you've never known your skin could be feel so soft or smooth until you try this magic potion.
Technically, the brand says to cleanse after you scrub, but since I'm super thorough with the rinse, I just did a quick once-over with Renée Rouleau's Toning Cloths ($16) dunked in Bioderma's iconic micellar water—Sensibio H20 ($15).
Step 2: Apply Acne Hydro-Stars
As adorable and handy and cute as these stars are, I was skeptical right off the bat. I've never had luck with any kind of acne dots or patches, but I've had the worst luck using the kind with darts (usually I sprout three new pimples where I had just the one before.) However, these Starface ones DON'T have darts, are hydrogel (so they'll actually stay in place), and are strategically medicated with what the brand calls "hydrocolloid dressing."
Plus, they're specifically meant to go on top of the exact kinds of zits I get—the kind, sorry for this visual, where you can see the puss sitting right up top. The brand's website, verbatim, says you need to make sure there's fluid or pus "percolating" before applying your star. In other words, this patch probably won't do much for flesh-colored bumps or hard cystic acne. But they are designed (and clinically proven) to absorb said fluid; protect your zit against outside bacteria, which can make pimples worse; and last but not least discourage you from picking.
You're supposed to give your star(s) at least six hours to work, and they should be applied to dry skin, so I put my patches on right after cleansing and scrubbing and right before bed. I love how cute they are. I love that they stick and stay put. And I love that each little sheet in the compact has four patches—I sprinkled all four across my face, although the whitehead by my lip was my main concern and target.
The next morning I woke up, peeled them off, and—lo and behold—all bumps were gone. My skin was still a little red and inflamed as you'll see in the photos, but that continued to diminish, and all I cared about was that my skin was smooth, flat, devoid of whiteheads, and ready for a bit of concealer to nix the lingering redness. Color me addicted, folks. I stand corrected regarding my previous hatred of acne patches. (Well done, Julie Schott. These are amazing.)
Step 3: Apply Non-Drying Acne Serum
In case you're wondering about the third acne product I tried, (and which did major work on some of my other red bumps) meet REN's brand-new non-drying acne treatment, which I spread in a thin layer over the rest of my skin that wasn't covered with little gold stars. This new launch is part of the brand's ClearCalm line—aka it's fab if you have sensitive skin—and features strategic, proven acne busters like white willow bark, naturally derived salicylic acid, prebiotic chlorella extract, and maritime pine and thyme complex.
Essentially this oil-free featherweight gel acts as a non-comedogenic serum that absorbs quickly while also performing a five-star pore excavation. But it's hydrating and soothing, so acneic skin isn't left aggravated, dry, or all-around angry. In fact, my skin felt so good post-application I didn't even feel the need to add a moisturizer on top.
The next morning I woke up to not only find my specific pimples majorly downsized from the Starface patches, but the rest of my semi-broken-out complexion significantly less congested as well. So, yes, I now swear by combining all three of these products for taming an errant breakout. Of course, my skin is still far from perfect—as you can see—but I've never had products shrink, deflate, and de-anger an on-the-rise breakout so swiftly and with zero collateral damage in the form of irritation. I'm sold.
Below, I'm sharing the other cleansers, toners, masks, exfoliator, and spot treatments I've personally had real luck with as I've been on this roller coaster acne ride. Keep scrolling for my top acne skincare picks I use daily and/or weekly, sorted by category.
Shop My Favorite Cleansers for Acne
Hands down, this is the best drugstore cleanser for acne-prone skin. I'm not kidding when I say it's literally erased bumps and pimples after consistent usage.
This basic cleanser was recommended to me by celeb facialist Vanessa Hernandez. It leaves skin super clean and does double duty to treat and prevent breakouts. I keep it in the shower and use it to wash the day away at night.
AHAs and BHAs are key for acne-prone skin. This exfoliating wash from celeb facialist Renée Rouleau is one of my all-time favorites, and I especially love to use it in the morning for its brightening and exfoliating perks.
This cleanser makes you look like you just had a facial. Skin is left clear, glowy, and all-around healthier looking. It's a relatively new discovery my skin is obsessed with.
This cleanser is the priciest in the bunch, but I swear by it and so does pretty much every actress and model in Hollywood. I also love that it's a powder (just add some water for lather), so it's super easy to travel with. It's also great for exfoliation, so technically you're getting two products for the price of one.
Shop My Favorite Face Creams for Acne
I use this in the morning—it's gentle, brightens my skin, and doesn't clog my pores. Plus, it's super lightweight.
It's not fancy, but this was another recommendation from Vanessa—it's oil-free, specifically targeted toward acne, and I apply it in the morning on days I don't apply the Sheer Moisture Lotion and/or in the evening.
If you have the budget, I love this specially formulated face cream from Dr. Barbara Sturm. Not only does it tackle breakouts, but it also makes your skin look glowy and radiant.
Shop My Favorite Masks/Peels/Treatments for Acne
If you don't want to spring for both, you can purchase each of these acne game-changers separately, but honestly, the fact that Renée sells them as a duo is brilliant because they're the perfect pairing. Like clockwork, I do this two-step ritual about twice a week, and I always notice a difference in my skin's glow, smoothness, and clarity.
I still can't get over how pretty this mask is, but it's also one of the most effective mask/peel/exfoliant situations I've ever tried. It's like a detox for your face, and even though it might sting (it's more of a cooling sting than anything), the luminous result is more than worth it.
These peel pads from M-61 are everything. In fact, I'm running low right now, and the panic as I write this is rising. They're easy to bring with you and keep your skin exfoliated and glowy. I swipe them over my face two to three times a week at night post-cleanse. Technically, you can put face cream on over it, but they're not drying at all, so I just forgo it. These gals are truly a facial in a box, and I promise you'll be pleased.
Yes, this mask is maybe what some people would call insanely expensive, but the results are insanely amazing, so I don't really know what else to tell you except it's worth every penny if your budget has the bandwidth. The formula is creamy and kind of looks (and smells) like you put diaper cream all over your face, but no other mask leaves my skin with as soothed, even, bright, or radiant of a complexion the second I wipe it off.
This stuff smells intense (the main ingredient is acne-blasting sulfur), but it's truly one of the only spot treatments I believe to be effective. I use it during the day or night, but it's especially great for the former thanks to its makeup-like tint which helps camouflage redness and the overall intensity of your breakout while, you know, actually treating it as well.
This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated.