Look, it’s bad enough that your acne makes you want to hide under layers of full-coverage foundation and not leave the house during a particularly epic flare-up. We get you. While shelling out dough for an extraction session with an aesthetician seems painful (it is, trust us) and not all that maintainable in the long run, there are lots of skin care accoutrements that you can keep in your apothecary (aka medicine cabinet) of acne facial resources. If you’ve got nothing on your evening plans but a Netflix binge why not include this acne facial while you’re at it?
1. Cleanse. Step one of any facial is to start with a clean slate. Remove all your makeup and cleanse again to remove residue. One way to get your skin super clean is by double-cleansing. The most thorough way to break up and remove all your makeup is by using an oil-based cleanser on dry skin, emulsifying your makeup (so it’s basically turned into a foundation/mascara/eyeliner colored goo), and then mix with tepid water until your face rinses clean. Going back in with a gentle cleanser after that then removes the oil and any residue it’s holding onto. We’re obsessed with Banila Clean-It Zero as a first step oil cleanser, and Mario Badescu Botanical Facial Gel as your next step cleanser. You want to stay away from foaming cleansers because they’re often too drying even for acne-prone skin, and has the backfiring effect of causing your skin to produce more oil to combat the dryness which can lead to more breakouts.
2. Steam. Soft hydrated skin is much more amenable to treatment than dry skin. One thing that people get wrong about your pores is that they “open” with heat and steam. Pores don’t actually open and close—they’re just there. However steaming is helpful because it makes your skin more pliable and it softens any dead skin cells and gunk that may be blocking your pores. So you’re not actually steaming your pores so much as you are steaming what’s inside/on top of them.
3. Tone. Now that your skin has been properly tenderized, so to speak, strike while the dead skin is loose and sweep it away with a glycolic or salicylic acid toner. Using an AHA or BHA toner will loosen the bonds that hold any debris to your skin and sweep it out of your pores, respectively. They shouldn’t be used together, so choose according to your skin type. Pick a toner with AHA for sensitive drier skin, and a BHA for combination or oily skin.
3. Mask. Face masks are your #1 go-to for a deep acne treatment. Go for ones with clay, activated charcoal, or sulfur—all of which are great acne-fighters. They all basically function by absorbing oil, dirt and toxins. There are lots of variation of clay masks, but those with kaolin or bentonite are lauded as the best for acne. You can always DIY it, but there are lots of tried and true acne masks out there. Glamglow’s Supermud Clearing Treatment is a kaolin mask with activated charcoal in it, as is Origins’ Clear Improvement Activate Charcoal Mask. Mario Badescu’s Drying Mask is a tried-and-true acne favorite because it targets existing pimples with colloidal sulfur as well as those underground cystic breakouts with calming calamine.
Apply an even thin layer to your face (avoiding the eye area unless you want your eyes to sting) and then chill out. Lots of masks have different directions for how long to leave it on, but as a general rule of thumb, it’s time to remove it when it lightens in color (which means it’s drying) but before it starts flaking and your skin feels super rigid and tight. You want to let the mask sink into all the crevices of your skin and then constrict as it dries, drawing out impurities. Wait too long and it’ll suck out the moisture too.
4. Cleanse again. Removing a face mask is a lot more work than removing a day’s worth of makeup. You’ll probably be leaning over the sink for a while if you try to rinse with just water. What helps is to run a washcloth under hot water, wring it out, and then place it over your face to loosen the mask with heat and steam. And then gently wipe the mask off with the cloth, repeating the washcloth steam until all mask bits are off.
5. Treat. Your skin probably feels super soft and clear at this point after a good steam. Now is the time that you may extract any whiteheads or blackheads that are already on their way out with a visible head. If you press gently on each side with either a tissue or washcloth covering your fingertips and stuff comes out of your pore without much pressure—great. If not, don’t push it. Don’t use needles or tweezers to create an exit either—all of this can lead to scarring. Any remaining visible blemishes can be treated with your acne medication of choice—retinol, salicylic acid (which is also calming—big plus), tea tree oil—think calming more than “purifying” because you’ve already done that.
6. Moisturize. You definitely still need to moisturize acne-laden skin. Using an oil-free moisturizer is a good idea if you’re also a bit flaky in parts, but actually facial oils are a great way to keep your skin hydrated without getting too heavy. Rose Hip Oil is amazing for acne skin, because it has great qualities for calming inflammation and evening out your skin tone in general. Jojoba oil is a popular face oil because it mimics your skin’s natural sebum. Everyone’s different so if you have a facial oil that works for you, now is the time to use it.