How To Simplify Your Skincare Routine If You’re Still Breaking Out Like A Nervous Teen

I know it’s clichéd, but hear me out — the simplest things in life are always the best. Think freshly baked bread that you douse with lashings of salty butter. The comforting smell of a newly mowed lawn on a hot summer day. Binge-watching Skins (season one, of course) for the 11th time.

See? Simple is always best. However, I feel like the one thing we never apply this theory to is skincare.

As a 20-something-year-old teenage girl, I flock to skincare trends with the enthusiasm of a magpie launching for cyclists’ helmets in the middle of September. My FYP is chock full of hacks, and naturally, my routine has become a little bloated over the years. While it can be fun to experiment with different products and methods, if you’ve been blessed with acne-prone skin, loading your face up with a cocktail of ingredients each day probably isn’t the smartest thing.

So, how do you even begin to pare things back if you’ve been compiling a collection of bottles and tubes for years? How do you stop yourself from the temptation of picking up a lil’ skincare treat during a post-work chemist trip?? To get some wisdom, we spoke to Dr Cara McDonald, a dermatologist and director at Complete Skin Specialists, about how folks with acne-prone skin can best simplify their routines and hopefully achieve glowing results.

What causes adult skin to become acne-prone?

Breaking out as an adult can feel like a literal slap in the face — especially if you made it through high school relatively blemish-free. But before throwing out your entire skincare collection, it’s important to figure out what might be causing your skin to break out in the first place.

According to Dr McDonald, there are a variety of factors that can cause adult skin to become acne-prone, including hormonal fluctuations, stress, diet and genetics.

“In many cases, there are environmental or external factors such as inappropriate skincare or makeup contributing to the problem,” she added.

Overall, if you start noticing blemishes popping up well into your 20s, don’t fret — according to this report, 64% and 43% of those aged 20–29 years and 30–39 years, respectively, will experience acne-prone skin as an adult. It’s a common problem, and there are plenty of ways to tackle it.

How can you tell when your skincare routine has become too OTT?

Dr McDonald says that skin issues that cause congestion and breakouts can stem from a complicated or over-the-top skincare routine.

“When the skin becomes irritated, we see an increased rate of skin cell turnover, and this causes blocked pores. Many skincare products or harsh active ingredients can also cause skin discomfort, which can result in breakouts and blemishes.”

“For those struggling with regular breakouts and problematic skin, it is essential to simplify the skincare routine back to just the basics. It is important to calm and allow the skin to heal. I would suggest then only using minimal actives appropriate for acne-prone skin and preferably seeing a professional for some advice to tailor the routine to the skin type.”

What should a simple yet effective skincare routine look like for someone with acne-prone skin?

The idea that ‘one size fits all’ couldn’t be less applicable to skincare. (Take that, Brandy Melville). While Dr McDonald recommends tailoring skincare around age, skin type and breakout severity, she suggests there are a few active ingredients that can help target the visible symptoms to consider when building a routine.

“Salicylic acid breaks down bonds between dead skin cells to remove blockages in pores and prevent further formation. It can also promote cell turnover to help repair collagen,” she notes.

“B-lipo hydroxy acid (or LHA) creates a gentle keratolytic action even at low concentrations, as it’s attracted to the fatty nature of skin cells, and help unclog pores and prevent congestion. And niacinamide is an antioxidant that can increase skin hydration and help reduce marks. 

Incorporating these ingredients into your routine doesn’t have to mean buying a dozen new products. Seeking out formulas like La Roche Posay’s Effaclar Duo+M moisturiser (which is packed full of salicylic acid, LHA, niacinamide and zinc, to help give you a little extra shine) is an easy way to incorporate multiple actives into your routine without overcomplicating things.

On top of using these actives, Dr McDonald also says that protecting the skin daily with an SPF and hydrating the skin with gentle products to reduce excess redness is essential in maintaining healthy skin. She also says that avoiding ingredients like fragrances, mineral oils, and greasy emollients can help reduce the appearance of blemishes on acne-prone skin.

When should you speak to a doctor?

If you do simplify your skincare routine and notice little to no change after at least four weeks, it’s probably time to seek help from a medical professional.

“Anyone who is struggling to manage their acne-prone skin would benefit from professional advice,” says Dr McDonald.

Now, we’re not saying you can’t try a new skincare hack or buy yourself an aesthetic-looking product ever again. But, if you do find yourself struggling with the physical symptoms of acne-prone skin, it might be time to get a little more acquainted with the ingredient lists on the products on your shelf, and start considering speaking to a doctor about what the best plan of attack for your skin is.

If you’re looking to do some extra research before speaking with a doctor, La Roche Posay has developed a handy little tool called SpotScan, which can help you formulate an acne-prone skincare routine based on your skin’s current state.