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The Best Acne-Fighting Skincare Ingredients

Learn the ins and outs of the drugstore skincare aisle.

It’s easy to get lost browsing the rows upon rows of products available in the skincare aisle. But in order to find an effective solution to your acne problems, you’ll have to decipher what those colorful packages actually contain.

Generally, acne-fighting solutions work in one of four ways: killing bacteria, exfoliating dead skin cells, removing excess oil, or decreasing inflammation. And to achieve these results, each product relies on a different combination of active ingredients.

So what are the best acne-fighting skincare ingredients out there — and which will work best for your skin type?

1. Salicylic Acid

This oil-soluble acid is highly effective at penetrating pores and dissolving the type of skin debris that causes acne. Salicylic acid is especially well-suited to fight whiteheads and blackheads, which form when oil and other particles clog your pores. While a small amount of salicylic acid has an exfoliating effect on the skin, don’t go crazy: use too much, and you can experience dryness, redness, irritation, and peeling.

2. Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is the perfect ingredient for people with inflamed, cystic pimples. Instead of clearing out pores like salicylic acid does, this solution goes after the root of the problem: bacteria. Because of its ability to kill bacteria, remove excess oil, and exfoliate dead skin cells, benzoyl peroxide is also great for preventing future breakouts.

3. Alpha Hydroxy Acids

If the acne-fighting mainstays of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid haven’t done the trick, some acne sufferers turn to Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs): gentle, chemical exfoliants that can be applied all over the face. An ingredient used in chemical peels, AHAs work to remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and facilitate the regeneration of new skin cells. If you find yourself with clogged pores in your T-zone, this will be your skin’s saving grace.

4. Clay

Most of the face masks in the makeup aisle contain clay — and there’s a reason for that. Along with tea tree oil, clay is a natural acne-fighting ingredient that actually works. When Bentonite clay becomes saturated with liquid, it develops a slight electrical charge that draws toxins and impurities from tissue. The charge keeps such toxins from re-entering the skin’s surface. Clay is armed with anti-inflammatory properties that soothe the skin, though the temporary reduction in oil production is clay’s real claim to fame.

If you have questions about how best to treat your acne, contact a dermatologist to develop a skincare regimen that works for you.

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