THE TEN | Best Skin Care Products for Acne & Acne Scarring + My Acne Story

Today's long post is dedicated to my acne story. Thanks to the magic of genetics and the influence of my skin care-obsessed grandmother, I never had insecurities about my skin and have almost always maintained clear, healthy skin. I never struggled with acne until last year, when I had a severe bout of cystic acne due to facial waxing. Lesson learned: NEVER EVER wax the face! I had waxed my brows successfully via the Benefit Brow Bar, so I figured I might as well wax off the little peach fuzz around my forehead and cheeks. I couldn't have been more wrong. My skin was fine for the first couple months, but then the cystic acne appeared. I immediately stopped waxing, but I suffered from active break-outs for nearly six months thereafter, wave after wave. Please continue reading and check out my product recommendations after the jump!

You can see the worst of the acne in my Kiehl's BB Cream Review + Application Video, which required a lot of courage for me to film! I was mortified and disgusted with my skin - even ashamed - since in all my 24 years of life, I had never seen my face in a worse condition. After diligently using quality skin care, the break-outs subsided and finally stopped, but the scars were nearly as awful as the break-outs. My skin looked sallow and bruised. I had never experienced pits (textural imperfections) or scarring (discoloration) before, so my skin care changed drastically again.

Now that my skin is much improved, I have decided to share what I consider the best products for acne and acne scarring. I tried dozens of products throughout the last year to improve my skin's condition, but these ten are the most memorable and effective. I hope that by my 26th birthday next year, I will have even better skin than I did when I was 23 and acne-free!

EDIT: Just to clarify, I used these 10 products throughout my battle with acne as the stages changed (active break-outs, healing break-outs, scarring). Back when the break-outs started last year, I was using a lot of Juice Beauty! Now that my skin has been consistently clear again, I am focusing on healing the scars with SK-II. Just a little FYI, since I did NOT use these ten products all at once.. this is a year's journey of the 10 best products that made an impact and noticeable difference in my acne and post-acne skin!
I used the Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Mask largely as a spot treatment when I had active break-outs. I have tried Kate Somerville and Mario Badescu, but they flaked off within thirty minutes and left my blemishes looking worse. The Juice Beauty Clearing Mask was the only treatment that helped reduce inflammation without drying out my skin. This is an affordable clay mask that you can apply all over the face and wash off or leave on overnight as a spot treatment. 
The Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel Full Strength ($45 USD) reduces scarring and hyperpigmentation as well as blemishes naturally. Chemical peels are very harsh and require a week or two of down time, which is very inconvenient for those who work. The Juice Beauty Green Apple Peel is the best peel I have tried thus far, since it is affordable yet manages to brighten, lighten, and tighten the skin all in one treatment. It is not ideal for sensitive skin due to the alpha/beta hydroxy fruit acids, but I still use it because the results are worth a little redness! There is a sensitive version available for those with rosacea. I recommend using it once a week for best results, but I usually use it once every two weeks. Juice Beauty products (natural and organic) truly did help my skin while the break-outs were at their worst!
Many suggest avoiding cleansing oils while suffering extreme breakouts. I really do think it depends on how severe the acne is, but to be safe, try using the Koh Gen Do Cleansing Spa Water ($39 USD). This will remove base makeup like foundation, so I recommend using it before washing your face. This mineral formula is made with botanical extracts, suitable for skin or eyes. I love how gentle it is, even on break-outs, and it removes all but waterproof mascara effectively. [FYI: Bioderma started giving me cystic acne, so that is why I recommend Koh Gen Do's cleansing water.] 
Cleansing is especially important for those with acne-prone skin. The First Aid Beauty Skin Rescue Facial Wash with Red Clay ($24 USD) does not excessively dry out the skin or exacerbate fresh blemishes. Apparently, the red clay in the formula draws out impurities and reduces sebum production. Regardless of the rhetoric, this gel cleanser does help to control outbreaks and keeps my T-zone's pores as clean as possible. The light foaming formula is perfect for every day use if you have oily to combination skin. If you have normal to dry skin, I recommend using this once a week as a deep treatment cleanse and using SK-II Facial Treatment Cleanser (review here) the rest of the week.
The SK-II Treatment Clear Lotion ($60 USD) is an alcohol-free toner than soothes and calms the skin. I've used this particular SK-II product the longest, and this is the product that helped balance my T-Zone and reduce my oil production when I had combination skin. Now I have normal skin, and I have this toner to thank for it! It works well on skin that is experiencing break-outs because it is so gentle, but it also prevents break-outs as well. Some believe that drying out the skin will improve acne, but I have found that balancing the skin as much as possible is the best way to go. I have tried almost every high-end toner on the market, but this one is my favorite!
I only have the occasional hormonal pimple now, so I currently use the Clinique Acne Solution Clearing Gel ($25 USD) as a spot treatment on active blemishes. It can be worn all over the face for those that require it. This gel stings just a bit when first applied, but it rapidly heals from the surface of the skin and deep into the blemishes! Clinique skin care has always been harsh on my sensitive skin, but I can and love using this treatment. I highly, highly recommend this affordable solution! Remember, this is not meant for blackheads. Use on pimples only! If you have dry skin, let the gel dry down completely and follow up with a moisturizer. The Clinique gel will work best followed by an acne cream, but I do not find it necessary.
I started using the 3LAB Super "h" Serum ($330 USD) after all my break-outs subsided in late December 2013 (last year). I recently finished the bottle, just a couple months ago. This is the most expensive serum I have ever used so I was hesitant to discuss it, but it is undoubtedly worth the money. I love how it feels like a lightweight lotion, almost like an essence. It is hydrating, but not too rich, which is why I recommend it for all skin types. I did not see results until the four week mark, but after 2 months, I noticed that my skin was far more plump, that my scars were shrinking and less bruised in appearance, and that my pores were smaller as well! I do not have before and after photos to share, as that was a very 'dark' period in my beauty life and I tried to avoid taking photos unless absolutely necessary. It was hard to even glance in the mirror at my bare face, but the 3LAB Super "'h" Serum saved my skin from potentially even more damage. I highly recommend using this serum after a peel, since it is rather gentle considering its outstanding performance. I will definitely repurchase the Super "h" soon!
The SK-II Cellumination Aurabright Essence ($160 USD) is an essence that helps to brighten the skin and reduce the look of scarring. While the 3LAB Super "h" is an anti-aging and brightening serum, the SK-II Cellumination Aurabright primarily targets brightening and whitening. Now that I no longer have active break-outs (just a few hormonal pimples here and there), I am focusing on healing the scars. I started using this several months ago, and now that I am halfway done with the 1 oz. bottle, I am loving the results! The Aurabright has an exfoliating effect that makes my skin look more 'whitened' and translucent, but it is temporary. If I skip the Aurabright for a few days, I do look a hint more tan. My scars were once deep red but now they are more on the rosy/pink side, which is a miraculous improvement. After diligently using the Aurabright as a serum for the past several months, I truly believe this is one of the most efficacious serums on the market. You can also use this just on the scars if you'd prefer, but I actually use Aurabright all over my face and add some of the SK-II Derm Spot Specialist on the patches of skin where I have the most scarring (cheeks and forehead).  
SERUM - Targeted
I have seen some misguided reviews regarding this product so I'd like to set the record straight. If you have moles.. go see a professional to have those removed. The SK-II Derm Spot Specialist ($130 USD) is gentle and hydrating. The dense gel feels a bit cooling on the skin, and it takes a few extra minutes to dry down. This is an expensive treatment, but it does work to lighten new or faint sun spot and acne scars. The Derm Spot Specialist also helps to smooth the textural imperfections that usually come with scarring. I began using it shortly after I started using the SK-II Aurabright. It definitely boosts the effects of the Cellumination Aurabright; after all, SK-II products are meant to be most effective when layered together. I understand that given the price, expectations are high, but give it time! If you're looking for a quicker fix and can handle a week or two of down time, try a chemical peel. Even after a few peels, however, your scarring may not have lightened or disappeared. Conclusion? Have patience and continue your treatments!
I cannot stress this enough. If you have acne or acne scarring, sunscreen is especially important. I could have prevented my scars from darkening as much as they did while my blemishes were active and healing, but I was so afraid that sunscreens would exacerbate my acne, I avoided it. Do not repeat the same mistake I made. I am skin care savvy, yet I still made this awful blunder. You will save yourself a lot of heartache (and money) by staying indoors, wearing hats whenever possible, and piling on that sunscreen. Now that I am focusing on healing the scars, I wear sunscreen even when indoors the whole day. I recommend layering the Sulwhasoo Age-Veil SPF 30 sunscreen ($70 USD) underneath the Sulwhasoo Snowise Brightening Serum BB SPF 50 ($60 USD) and setting with a powder.
Bottom Line: Acne is a lifetime struggle for some, and while there are countless factors involved (like eating habits, hormones, stress + genetics), using the right products can go a long way in making the everyday battles a little easier! Good luck xo
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  1. Thanks Rae for the review! This was very informative. I too also tried the Juice Beauty mask per your recommendation for my acne, but instead of helping, I started getting clogged white bumps near my laugh lines. =( It went away after I discontinue use. It wasn't meant for everyone after all, many of these things you need to try for yourself. I also love the Clinique Acne Solution! Works wonders on fresh blemishes.

    1. Yes, different strokes for different folks. I always stress it because it's true! Glad the Clinique works for you.

  2. I completely agree with the SK-II facial treatment clear lotion - works for me in preventing breakouts and even if i do get any closer to that time of the month, it keeps it well under control. Also agree that the SK-II cellumination aura bright serum gives temporary radiance - given its price, I thought I could extend its lifespan by using it only 2 or 3 times a week, only then I noticed that I lost that radiance that I previously had. Now I just use it everyday. (:

    1. I started using the Aura only a few times as well, too! Now I use it day and night. I can't wait to pair it with the 3LAB Super 'h' Serum, which will make an incredibly powerful combo!

  3. What do you think has helped the most with the "pits"? I had an ingrown facial hair that I thought was just a pimple that wouldn't go away. It was months before I realized it was a hair and was able to free it from under the skin. It has left a "pit" on my lower cheek/jaw area that I can't get to even out with the rest of my skin. Any suggestions?

  4. I took my son to a dermatologist just last week (first visit), he is 13 and has had acne about a year now and I dismissed it as poor hygiene until his Pediatrician said it was way beyond a hygiene issue - they put him on an antibiotic and a cream for morning and a cream for night. Thankfully, I'd just received 10 'mystery' boxes from Sample Society that day and was able to give him 10 different samples of sunscreen and cleansers or pore cream (mostly Murad).

    The Clinique spot healing gel has been a staple in our household for years and then followed up with the Pore cream which acts as a tinted mattifier. This morning I tried out a sample of Sonya Dakar Flash Facial and I thought that stuff was AMAZING I will have to try it a bit longer before I decide that $95/ounce is worthwhile.

    Mostly I at my age (close to 40) deal with the hormonal blemishes but I do find that following a hot humid day with a makeup meltdown I'll get a few small bumps.I started using the Napoleon Perdis primer from May's Glossybox and found that I'm having far fewer makeup meltdowns.

    I went to Ulta today (first time ever!!! that place is a dream.) and they were recommending Philosophy's face and body exfoliators but for now I'm going to keep with what I'm doing as I feel that these subscription boxes have me mixing things up too frequently and so if I get a good effect or bad I may have a hard time discerning the responsible product.

  5. I have been wanting to try the Juice Beauty green apple peel for ages now! I was wondering, does it cause "shedding" of the skin/downtime like the professional chemical peels you get from dermatologists/clinics do?

    1. No shedding! It's much weaker than a chemical peel, obviously, but it's great for maintenance purposes between pro treatments!

  6. Dear Rae, I just want to let you know that thank you so much for this post. I'm 20 and I have been struggling with acne since I was 14. I have try everything from over the counter products, antibiotics for 3 years, clinique, proactiv, retin A, etc... Until I came across this post, I purchased a bottle of the SKII treatment lotion & SKII treatment essence. At first I was very wary because of the price but since I've started using them since October 4th 2015. After 2 weeks, you could see significantly improvement with my redness and acne scars. My pores are also a lot smaller too. I've been using SKII for a month and I wish I had taken a before picture just so I could show you how much my face improved. I just purchased the SKII derm spot and cellumination bright. You got yourself a super loyal fan now. Thank you so much.


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