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I’m a Dermatologist, and This Is the Skin Care Routine I Recommend to Clear Acne

Woman applying skin care product

If you suffer from acne, piecing together a skin care routine can be an exercise in trial and error. How do you decipher which key ingredients are most effective and figure out how to use them together? Advice gleaned from well-meaning friends or frantic Googling can be contradictory, confusing, or worse, wrong. That’s why we turned to Ashley Magovern, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and Dermstore’s own medical director, to curate the Problem Solution: Clarifying Regimen, our new limited-edition kit. Here, Dr. Magovern outlines her expert-approved morning and nighttime skin care routines for a clearer complexion.

Treating acne effectively is a delicate balance between using the right blend of active products and not irritating or compromising the skin barrier. Acne sufferers often overtreat or over-scrub their breakouts, which already exist on an inflamed skin barrier, and this can make the acne worse. Improving your skin is all about building the right routine.

The products in this regimen will help accelerate skin turnover, keep pores clear and reduce inflammation and bacterial counts, leaving you with clearer, healthier skin. When using your new routine, be patient and stay consistent—continue using the products for several more months even after your breakouts have begun to clear.

  1. Dermstore Problem Solution: Clarifying Regimen

    This limited-edition kit includes deluxe sample sizes of each product in the following A.M./P.M. regimen (plus a full-size sunscreen), making it easy to commit to an acne-clearing routine. The insert includes my directions and tips, so you can be sure you’re using the products correctly.

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  2. Morning Routine for Acne-Prone Skin

  3. A.M. Cleanser: PCA Skin BPO 5 Percent Cleanser
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    A.M. Cleanser: PCA Skin BPO 5 Percent Cleanser

    I recommend using an active cleanser in the morning, because they help revive dull skin and allow your products to work more effectively. This formula contains benzoyl peroxide (which helps kill the bacteria that lives in our pores) to help eliminate and prevent breakouts, plus botanical ingredients to soothe irritation. Benzoyl peroxide (BPO) is a great ingredient because unlike with topical antibiotics, we don’t see bacterial resistance with BPO and it doesn’t lose efficacy over time. I highly recommend incorporating a BPO product into your regimen if you have acneic skin.
    How to use it: Apply a small amount of cleanser to damp skin with fingertips and massage into a light foaming lather. Wash in a gentle circular motion. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and pat dry.
    Tip: Don’t scrub the skin. Use white towels, as BPO can stain dark fabrics.

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  4. Toner: Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
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    Toner: Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

    This exfoliating toner includes salicylic acid, which helps to unclog and clear pores. (SA is a lipophilic acid molecule, which means that it can penetrate the oil gland, making it ideal for treating acne.) The exfoliating benefits will also help minimize the look of post-breakout marks.
    When beginning a new routine, I recommend using a toner in the morning only to start. If your skin is not too dry and you’re tolerating the regimen without dryness and irritation, feel free to add the toner at night as well. It’s important to go slow and ramp up.
    How to use it: Dispense a dime-sized amount onto a cotton ball or pad and swipe over clean skin. If your skin can tolerate it, use on a daily basis, but I recommend exfoliating two to three times a week to prevent over-exfoliation, which can lead to irritation, dryness and even more acne.
    Tip: After cleansing, let your skin dry for a moment before applying toner—this will help prevent irritation.

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  5. Treatment: SkinCeuticals Blemish & Age Defense
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    Treatment: SkinCeuticals Blemish & Age Defense

    This is a great daytime treatment because it contains a blend of acids (including salicylic and glycolic) which helps treat existing acne lesions, prevents new ones from forming and will smooth and even out the skin tone. Glycolic acid is still one of my favorite ingredients—it’s an oldie but goodie. You will love the brightness that glycolic acid can bring to your skin.
    How to use it: Apply on clean skin. Cover the entire affected area with a thin layer in the morning.

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  6. A.M. Moisturizer: SkinMedica Ultra Sheer Moisturizer
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    A.M. Moisturizer: SkinMedica Ultra Sheer Moisturizer

    This lightweight, oil-free formula is ideal for problematic skin. Hyaluronic acid helps keep your skin moisturized all day long, while vitamins C and E help protect against free radical aggressors, making it perfect for your morning regimen.
    How to use it: Apply after cleansing and toning to entire face.

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  7. Sun Protection: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
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    Sun Protection: EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

    SPF is a must-have in every skin regimen, regardless of your skin type. The sun is the most common cause of accelerated skin aging, and can make acne worse, too. I’ve seen this over and over again in my practice—too much sun can cause skin inflammation and break down the skin barrier, two things that contribute to acne. This sunscreen is great because it’s lightweight, oil-free and everyone seems to love it, even men and teens. Plus, it contains zinc oxide which has the widest range of protection and is the best at blocking the aging UVA rays.
    How to use it: Apply liberally to face and neck 15 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply at least every two hours.

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  8. Nighttime Routine for Acne-Prone Skin

  9. P.M. Cleanser: Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel
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    P.M. Cleanser: Dermalogica Special Cleansing Gel

    Using a gentler cleanser at night before applying active treatment products allows for less irritation while the skin is getting used to its new routine. This gentle, soap-free formula is perfect for protecting skin’s barrier.
    How to use it: Apply a small amount of cleanser to damp skin with fingertips and massage into a light, foaming lather. Wash in a gentle circular motion. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and pat dry.

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  10. Treatment 1: iS Clinical Active Serum
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    Treatment 1: iS Clinical Active Serum

    This product is ideal for adult acne since it not only prevents breakouts but also minimizes the look of fine lines, brightens and smooths skin’s texture. A blend of salicylic, glycolic and lactic acids exfoliate skin to decongest pores, keeping them clear and skin blemish-free.
    How to use it: Apply sparingly to clean skin, smoothing over face. A slight tingling sensation is normal and should subside in a few minutes.
    Tip: When beginning your new routine, start by alternating Active Serum with Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment (below), using one treatment per night. Once your skin acclimates to the products, apply Active Serum first, then layer the Effaclar treatment over.

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  11. Treatment 2: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide
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    Treatment 2: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Treatment with Benzoyl Peroxide

    This nighttime treatment contains micronized benzoyl peroxide, which penetrates deeper into skin to eliminate acne-causing bacteria and helps treat current acne while preventing future breakouts.
    How to use it: Cleanse skin thoroughly before applying this product. Apply a thin layer over affected area.

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  12. PM Moisturizer: PCA Skin Clearskin
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    PM Moisturizer: PCA Skin Clearskin

    This is a light, nourishing moisturizer that also soothes and calms irritated skin. The formula contains niacinamide, which helps to strengthen the skin’s barrier and lock in moisture. Niacinamide will also help fade the marks that the acne leaves behind. A better barrier alone will actually help acne improve. Moisturizing is an important step, especially in the evening, because your skin will heal and regenerate while you sleep.
    How to use it: Apply a nickel-sized amount to the face after cleansing and applying treatment products.

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  13. Mask/Spot Treatment: Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Mask Treatment

    This mask is great because it can double as a spot treatment. Sulfur-based products are ideal spot treatments and masks because they gently dry out and clear blemishes and absorb excess acne-causing sebum. Spot-treating existing blemishes is helpful, but spot-treating alone will never lead to clear skin. You will just get a new breakout right next to the previous one! If your skin is acne-prone, you must treat even the unaffected skin with a complete regimen, and treat for at least 3-4 months before your skin will fully clear. I always tell my patients to picture the next holiday, and your complexion will be clear by then.
    How to use it: Apply a thin layer over clean skin and allow to dry for 20–30 minutes. Remove with warm water. To use as an overnight spot treatment, apply directly over blemish in the evening and remove with warm water the following morning.
    Shop the Problem Solution: Clarifying Regimen kit to try the full AM and PM routines. The set includes expert tips and instructions from Dr. Magovern.

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Medical Director of Dermstore, Board-Certified Dermatologist

Ashley Magovern, M.D.

Ashley Magovern, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist who owns her own practice, Manhattan Dermatology, in Manhattan Beach, California. She loves all aspects of dermatology, including both the medical and cosmetic components of the discipline. She has a passion for skin care, believes in the importance of a good home routine and loves educating people on how to come up with an individualized plan. She is the medical director for Dermstore.