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Dealing With Acne

"Growing up is such a barbarous business, full of inconvenience and pimples."

— J.M. Barrie (1911)

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch

Indeed, puberty is harsh for most of us. It comes with massive changes in our appearances and hormonal imbalances, which often results in acne. Acne is a common skin complication caused by excess sebum, clogged pores, bacteria and skin inflammation. As reported by the Colorado Spring Dermatology Clinic, approximately 85% of teenagers and young adults experience acne in varying severity. Sadly, there is no cure for acne. But fret because it can be controlled with continuous care and patience.

Let's start with basics!

Before we start, it is essential to understand that most acne cases happen because your skin barrier is damaged. According to an article on Healthline, a skin barrier is a slightly acidic layer made of tough skin cells and lipids. If damaged, your skin would have a hard time.

Photo by Matthew Tkocz


The most essential skincare routine starts with gentle cleansing. A simple guide to achieving that is to opt for a slightly acidic cleanser, usually between pH 4 to 6. According to Byrdie, the best way to tell if your cleanser is high in pH levels is to see if it lathers up to a lot of foam. A gentle cleanser should leave your skin feeling breathable rather than tight and squeaky clean. Be careful not to aggressively rub your skin and never leave it on for too long. When you over-cleanse, you risk damaging the skin barrier further, which often results in angrier skin and a new wave of breakouts.

Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych


When it comes to hydration, acne prone-skin needs it too! Use a moisturizer that has anti-inflammatory and healing elements like niacinamide, panthenol or madecassoside (known as Centella Asiatica). Remember, your skin knows what it wants, so pay attention to how a product feels to determine its compatibility to your skin.

Photo by Park Street


Top your routine off with sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Frequent sun exposure further damages the skin barrier, which means more breakouts and irritation. Sunscreen prevents you from many complications such as skin cancer, premature ageing, and helps a bunch with scarring. So, for the love of God, apply sunscreen before going out!

Sunscreens on the market are mainly divided into two categories, physical and chemical. Physical sunscreens reflect UV rays away from your skin and aggravated skin types favour it because of its less reactive nature. They usually feel heavier for oilier skin types, which may clog pores. But, thanks to modern technology, many physical sunscreens have been improved with a more breathable texture.

Rather than blocking out UV rays, chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays and break them down to prevent skin damage. The word "chemical" may sound scary, but trust me, it's not. It's friendly for oily and acne-prone skin when well-formulated. But be mindful of ingredients in a chemical sunscreen as some could irritate the skin and damage the environment. So, pick one that works for you. Buro Malaysia broke it down in an article and suggested some great options for you to check out.

The skincare basics are sufficient to recover your skin's health. However, if this provides little help, you might need to incorporate extra steps into your routine.

Photo by Kalos Skincare

Controlling acne

In line with Verywell Health's article, exfoliation benefits acne-prone skin by helping it to shed dead skin cells. Exfoliants are separated into physical and chemical exfoliants. Scrubs, cleansing pads and cleansing brushes fall into the physical category. Although some swear by traditional exfoliants, it is not recommended for acne-prone skin because it may cause further irritation.

On the other hand, chemical exfoliants such as AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs are more forgiving to the skin. It works to unclog pores, leaving a fresher, clearer appearance. These exfoliants work for different skin types and concerns. Typically, BHAs dissolve better in oil which makes them an excellent choice for those with oily, acne-prone skin. AHAs work more on the top layers of your skin, which is great for dry to normal skin types. Lastly, for those who are more on the sensitive side, or are new to the exfoliating game, PHAs are for you!

You could also incorporate an over-the-counter topical acne medication like benzoyl peroxide. According to WebMD, it treats acne by drying and reducing acne-causing bacteria on your skin. Thus, your skin could itch, peel, or redden at the beginning of treatment. It is advised that you start mildly but stop if irritation occurs. Personally, benzoyl peroxide did benefit me, but my skin works better with BHAs. So, I prefer it as a spot treatment for painful breakouts.

Stick to only one of the mentioned treatments above. When starting out, always do a patch test to see if it's suitable for your skin and start mild. Build your skin's tolerance as you advance in your routine. Finally, always apply sunscreen! According to Milled, exfoliation makes your skin fragile, so SPF helps protect it in the process.

A note to you

To conclude, avoid complicated ingredient lists on skincare products, and refrain from overdoing your skincare. Moderation is essential, and less is more!

It is devastating to wake up to patches of angry spots every morning. And obviously, that causes distress when the voices around you continuously talk about your imperfections. But you are worth more than a skin condition, and you can achieve so many things beyond the few spots on your face.

You don't need perfect skin to be the perfect you. In fact, you don't have to be perfect at all! Remember how you need to be gentle with your skin? You also need to be gentle with your mind. Embrace yourself and your skin as it is.

By Erica Loh


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