Until recently, my acne routine consisted of spironolactone (the ~miracle~ acne pill, if you ask any beauty editor) and spironolactone only. It was the only thing that had managed to clear up my stubborn hormonal acne after years of trying every cream, serum, and spot treatment on the market. But back in early March (actually, it was March 10 at 10 a.m., and I know this because I'm a proud, vain human who keeps a detailed skin diary in my Notes app), I chose to quit spironolactone cold-turkey, wanting to see how my skin would do without the help of a daily drug.
Once I stopped taking the medication, though, I realized something sorta crazy: My actual skincare routine was…non-existent? I was a beauty editor with no real skincare regimen because I hadn't needed one; my daily dose of spiro kept my face totally breakout-free, even if I didn’t wash it, exfoliate, or moisturize it. This was great for me because I happen to be really effing lazy.
But with spiro out of my system, I suddenly needed to become un-lazy really damn quick. And because I wasn't about to start some intensive 10-step routine (sry, but I'll never stick to that), I hit up a few of my most trusted derms to come up with this ridiculously simple—yet totally effective—routine for acne-prone skin like mine.
FWIW, I’m currently on week six of this little routine and my skin looks really clear and calm, which is kinda shocking considering we’re living in, like, the un-calmest of times. So, if you're like me and naturally too uninspired/tired/stressed to commit to any skincare regimen that takes more than three minutes or involves more than three steps, I 10/10 recommend you give this lazy routine a try.
YOUR MORNING ROUTINE
STEP 1: Wash your face
You already know (I hope?) that you need to wash your face at least once a day—especially if you have acne—BUT did you know you don't actually need to use an acne-fighting face wash to do it? Shocking, I know. But the truth is, most acne cleansers are waaaay too harsh and drying, so rather than healing your face, they just screw with your skin's protective barrier, leaving you more vulnerable to breakouts after each wash. Instead, stick to a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser—it'll dissolve excess oil, dirt, and bacteria without stripping your skin or leaving it tight and irritated.
STEP 2: Moisturize
Listen: Oily and acne-prone skin 100 percent need moisture. Without it, your oil glands go into overdrive and end up producing more sebum (oil) to compensate, leading to clogged pores and overly shiny skin. So, you know, the opposite of what you want. Keep your skin balanced and hydrated with a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer (go with a lotion formula if your skin is dry/combination and a gel formula if your skin is oily) that contains hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and/or ceramides.
STEP 3: Wear SPF
You know those annoying marks and scars that linger for weeks—sometimes months—after you get a pimple? Welp, UV exposure from the sun makes them even worse (and, reminder, can also lead to both premature aging and skin cancer). So pls, for the love of all things beauty, slather your face with sunscreen every morning.
Make sure the formula you use 1) contains SPF 30 or more, which is the daily minimum recommended by dermatologists; 2) provides broad-spectrum protection against both UVA rays (the damage-causing kind) and UVB rays (the cancer-causing kind); and 3) is non-comedogenic, which means the formula has been tested to not clog your pores. Sound like a lot? It's fine—I did the hard work for you. Just try one of these:
YOUR NIGHTTIME ROUTINE
STEP 1: Wash your face
IDC how tired you are. You need to wash your face before bed—and no, a sad little face wipe doesn't cut it (and can actually lead to more breakouts on acne-prone skin). Use the same cleanser you used in the morning to remove all the gunk that accumulated on your skin during the day.
Side note: If you're a makeup wearer, I highly suggest the K-beauty art of double cleansing—which is when you first use an oil-based cleanser to break down your foundation and eye makeup (don't worry; the oil won't clog your pores), and then use your gentle cleanser to rinse everything away. It's way more effective at cleaning your pores than a face wash alone.
STEP 2: Apply an acne treatment
And by acne treatment, I mean any serums or gels with active ingredients (aka the ingredients that are going to "actively" treat your acne) like the ones below:
- Adapalene: a type of over-the-counter retinoid formulated specifically for acne. It regulates cell turnover, reduces oil production, and calms inflammation
- Salicylic acid: a BHA (beta hydroxy acid) that dissolves the excess oil and dead skin cells that lead to clogged pores
- Benzoyl peroxide: an ingredient that kills acne-causing bacteria on the skin and in your pores
- Niacinamide: a vitamin (you may know it as vitamin b3) that reduces inflammation and discoloration, while balancing oil production
In general, if you're dealing with blackheads, whiteheads, go with adapalene or salicylic acid, and if you're dealing with inflammatory acne, like pustules, try benzoyl peroxide or niacinamide. As for cystic acne? Adapalene is your best bet, though be aware cystic zits are notoriously difficult to treat on your own, so make an appointment with a dermatologist (even virtually!) who can help clear your skin fast.
As for how to use these treatments, start slow. With adapalene, apply a pea-size dab to clean, dry skin two nights a week for two weeks, three nights a week for three weeks, then every other night or every night indefinitely. Salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and niacinamide can usually be used daily (and, on non-sensitive skin, sometimes twice daily), but start out using them every other night, gradually building your tolerance to every night and/or morning.
STEP 3: Moisturize
Wait a minute or two for whatever acne treatment you've just applied to sink into your skin, and then layer the same moisturizer (remember, your skin needs all the hydration it can get) you used in the morning right on top. And before you ask, the answer is no, you don't need a separate night cream. Most night creams contain active ingredients, and your skin should already be getting what it needs for acne from step two. Plus, mixing and matching too many actives can lead to irritation—or even render your products ineffective if the ingredients don't play well together.
Let's talk about the results
Not to be a buzzkill, but this routine—or any routine for that matter—won't transform your skin overnight. Most acne treatments take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks of consistent use before giving you any visible results (big emphasis on consistent here—using your products here and there won't really make a difference). But just stick with it (unless you have some crazy-bad reaction, and in that case, hit up your derm for a telemedicine sesh) and I promise you'll be glad you did.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.