Acne is one of the most common skin disorders, affecting nearly 80% of the population at some point in their lives. Choosing the right products with the most effective ingredients is vital otherwise you may be inadvertently making the problem much worse.

There is no shortage of easily accessible Information, but not all of it is accurate and a great deal is potentially harmful. Care and caution should always be exercised when sourcing information and advice from the web and this goes for brand and product endorsements from high-profile influencers.

A good example is facial oils. There are numerous but flawed claims that “like dissolves like” or that oil will dissolve oil during cleansing. However, the oils used in cleansers are very different to the oils found naturally in your skin and unless you have dry to very dry skin types, I would suggest you stay away from these altogether as many can be “comedogenic” or have the ability to block pores leading to even more spots.

Good quality skin care need not be expensive or complicated. More often than not, it comes down to using products that contain the right ingredients.

Premium price tags usually go towards marketing and packaging, so try not to get drawn in by attractive bottles with seductive fragrances, the chances are that these are no better for your skin than the plain looking counterpart from your local pharmacy selling at a fraction of the price.

More often than not, it comes down to using products that contain the right ingredients

So with this in mind, let us explore the top key ingredients you should be looking for when it comes to treating acne or blemish-prone skin?

Benzoyl peroxide

This can be found in washes, creams, and lotions and has anti-bacterial effects against the acne-causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes(P. acnes), as well as an anti-inflammatory effect. It is available in strengths of 2.5-10%. Even lower percentages of benzoyl peroxide work well and it is not necessary to head straight for the products containing the highest strength. Skin irritation can be a problem and may manifest as redness, stinging and dryness.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Common AHAs used in acne skin care include glycolic and lactic acid which can be found in washes and leave-on products such as toners. Glycolic acid is derived from sugar cane and lactic acid comes from sour milk. Both agents exfoliate the upper layer of dead skin cells known as the stratum corneum. Over time and consistent use, these products can help prevent acne formation.

Salicylic acid

This is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that is widely used in skincare. It has better effects than glycolic acid in the treatment of acne as it has the ability to penetrate not only the upper layer of skin cells but also the sebaceous or oil producing gland. It has both anti-inflammatory and comedolytic effects – this means it will break down blackheads, unblock pores and generally decongest the skin.


These are vitamin A derivatives found easily in over the counter products. There are various forms – look for ingredients such as retinol, retinyl propionate, and retinyl palmitate. Retinols have the ability to reduce blackhead formation and help fade red or brown marks or staining left on the skin after acne. They can cause irritation and their use should be gradually built-up to prevent excessive dryness, redness or peeling.


This is otherwise known as vitamin B3. In skin care preparations it has been shown to regulate oil production and improve pore size. It also has the additional benefit of helping to even out your skin tone and helping to fade out old acne marks.

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is one of the few essential oils with scientific backing for its usage. The oil is derived from an Australia tree (Melaleuca alernifolia) and contains a number of antimicrobial substances. It has a slower onset of action than benzoyl peroxide but can be less irritating to the skin.

If you are still having problems with regular breakouts or acne despite regular use (few weeks) of these topical agents, then it is time to seek medical attention from either your GP or a consultant dermatologist.

Acne and acne scarring are treatable conditions that no one should feel embarrassed or helpless about. Finding a sympathetic doctor is a step in the right direction if other measures you try don’t work out for you.

Dr. Anjali Mahto can be contacted at the Cadogan Clinic for consultations.
Instagram: anjalimahto
Twitter: @dranjalimahto