Our resident beauty columnist, Ava Welsing-Kitcher, is ready to answer all your questions
You’re absolutely not alone! As a teen, I rarely had spots, but as soon as I entered my twenties they started going up a notch. Some weeks I don’t even get one, others I’ll have small smatterings or huge angry submerged ones, thanks to a mixture of maskne, my cycle or too much Prosecco and Haribo. The truth is, almost all women experience acne at different levels during their adult years – and it’s not a failure if you haven’t grown out of it! “Most acne is linked to hormonal imbalances and how sensitive you are to fluctuations, or medical conditions like PCOS and menopause,” explains skincare specialist Debbie Thomas, who’s saved my skin countless times over the past year at her award-winning clinic. “Think of acne as an inflammatory reaction – just like eczema or psoriasis – that gets triggered by hormones, lifestyle and diet.”
Keeping track of flare-ups and what’s at the root has truly helped me understand and respect my skin as a responsive organ, rather than punish it with unfair thoughts and overly harsh products. Getting regular treatments has also had a huge impact; Debbie’s signature cocktail of personalised exfoliation (mine is lactic or mandelic acids), acne-busting laser, bacteria-reducing LED, and Hydrafacial technology has left me with the clearest, most luminous and supple version of my skin I’ve ever seen. And it lasts for a couple of weeks at least, with even more hard work happening under the surface. For at home, I’ve found a few medical and holistic remedies to introduce slowly into your routine. “Don’t rush out and buy every acne ingredient and throw them all on,” warns Debbie. “Start with one, use it for a while, let your skin adjust, then gradually add another if needed – some, like retinol, can take up to nine months to show full results.”
“Everyone responds differently to acne-reducing ingredients, so it can take time to figure out what works for you,” advises Debbie. The first stop is acids, to be used sparingly and built up to regularly – either every or every other day. “BHAs, like salicylic, and AHAs, like mandelic and azelaic, are all anti-inflammatory while helping to unblock congested pores.” AHAs will exfoliate the surface of the skin, helping each layer break down and spots to emerge. My favourite AHA ever is this mandelic, which is infused with hyaluronic acid to boost hydration while it works on unveiling the smoothest, softest, healthiest-looking skin. It’s my go-to for when I need my skin to look on point the next day, and to gently speed up the life cycle of any lingering blemishes.
There’s cult status and then there’s the level that this little bottle has reached. Got stubborn under-skin cysts? A swipe of this salicylic-rich formula will dive deeper into the skin than AHAs to help break up that oil and bacteria without forcing it to come to the surface (absolutely no squeezing, unless done professionally). And while no product will ever cure you completely of blackheads, keep affected areas cleansed and under control with this wonder liquid. I always recommend the travel size for newcomers, who often end up elevating to the big guy soon enough.
For when I need an undetectable barrier to work on blemishes under makeup, this is the go-to. A feather-light lotion containing niacinamide and salicylic, it’s just one of the many stars of the brand’s Effaclar range for acne: the cleansing cream is a gentler alternative to foaming cleansers, if your skin can’t handle them, but the cleansing gel also won’t strip skin. I know many acne sufferers who are still Effaclar devotees, long after it transformed their complexion. For days when I’m not breaking out but still want to regulate oil while working on leftover spot marks, it has to be Cosmedix Simply Brilliant Brightening Serum with its plant-based blend of niacinamide, and lactic and salicylic acid. My skin is left luminous and smooth, and marks that used to take up to six months to fade now do so in just one.
Acne ranges are often very medical-looking, but that doesn’t always mean that cute packaging houses a pointless product. I’ve seen skinfluencers and skin doctors alike tote this serum as brilliant, for its balancing and pore-cleansing powers. Niacinamide is a jack of all trades, smoothing uneven texture left behind by spots, regulating oil and redness, and reinforcing the skin barrier (which, when compromised, lets too much spot-causing bacteria in). And for overnight, Aurelia’s Probiotic Blemish Hero blends white clay, witch hazel and salicylic acid with the brand’s own PROTIDA technology, to reduce skin-cell damage while repairing the disruption – meaning less scarring.
While I prefer serums and treatments, rather than masks, to work on acne over time, clay is second to none for mattifying my skin and temporarily soaking up excess oil – especially if I have a busy, sweaty day ahead or will be on camera. Glow Recipe’s freshly launched flash mask is infused with hyaluronic acid to ensure skin doesn’t dry out (plus, I hate it when masks crack and crumble) and a cocktail of gentle exfoliating enzymes and acids to work on congestion and rough patches. If I’m in less of a rush and after something more holistic, Wildsource’s Radiance Mask is the ultimate self-care Sunday treat. Mix the powder with water, rosewater, or my favourite combo of aloe gel and honey, and leave the antioxidant elderberry and rosehip powder to treat and exfoliate.
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