I’ll put it like this: Caring for and keeping up with my tyrannical, acne-prone skin has basically become a sport. A sport, mind you, that I definitely didn’t elect to join, and considering my historically un-problematic complexion, never thought I’d wear a jersey for. Alas, here we are.
I’ll spare you every trial and tribulation my face has endured since freshman year of college when it started to flare, and I’ll cut to the current quick: due to lots of hormonal changes, lots of stress, and lots and lots of product tries (I’m a beauty editor and it’s in the job description), my acne-prone skin, quite frankly, has been hating me. I was consistently plagued with a frustrating dusting of whiteheads, and I was sick of doing battle with stubborn and painful blemishes overtaking my mouth, chin, jawline, and temples. Basically, my face felt like a game of Whac-a-Mole—as soon as I’d semi-successfully defeat one pimple, three more would pop up in its place.
While it may sound dramatic, my skin was ruining my life—or at least my self-confidence. Even though I love getting dolled up with makeup (and have gotten really, really good at hiding every last “imperfection“), I actually prefer to be completely makeup-free. It’s where I feel most like myself and comfortable, but that starts to get complicated when you feel like acne is the first thing people see when they look at you.
Frustrated, I took a friend’s advice and went to see L.A.-based esthetician Vanessa Hernandez of Vanessa Hernandez Skincare. According to my previously acne-ridden confidante, Vanessa had completely transformed her skin and has an aggressive (albeit very successful) approach to acne treatment. I’m also extremely loyal to celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau (she’s magic!), who has helped treat my acne since I first started my gig as a beauty editor. But since she’s based in Austin, not L.A., our sessions are sporadic, which doesn’t bode well for acne-prone skin that begs for regular and consistent clean-outs.
Fast-forward a few months, and lots of extractions, facials, and at-home maintenance later, and, true to my friend’s prediction, Vanessa and her team of amazing assistants and estheticians (hi, Dakota!) have transformed my skin. During my first visit, Vanessa butchered my skin with about 50 extractions (painful but necessary and game-changing) and evaluated my skin to personalize a four to six-month-long “boot camp” for me and my acne. One of the biggest changes? My skincare routine. Whereas before I was a little loosey goosy with the products I was using—there was little rhyme or reason—I’m now married to a simplified, back-to-basics morning and evening routine that has truly helped my acne. It’s not fancy, it’s not glamorous, but it’s what has worked. So, I’m sharing! Ahead, every detail of my morning and evening acne-geared skincare routine, complete with tips and product recommendations. Keep scrolling!
Step one: an exfoliating face wash
As I’ve learned from both Hernandez and Rouleau, regular (but gentle!) exfoliation is one of the most important things when it comes to caring for acne-prone skin. That said, it’s easy to get too aggressive, which will ultimately hurt a pimply situation. The key is to find a gentle and hydrating daily exfoliating solution to use straight away in the morning.
A high-quality gentle formula won’t injure or overly excite the skin and will nix the excess cells, sebum, and buildup your skin has naturally generated overnight. I swear by the three options below and have noticed a huge difference in the texture, brightness, and overall health of my skin since I started exfoliating on a daily basis first thing when I wake up.
Step two: sunscreen or moisturizer
So here’s the thing. Sunscreen is important. You know this. I know this. The whole world knows this. But if you have the kind of skin that jumps at the chance to blemish, most sunscreen formulations are more of a foe than a friend. Even though I’ve found a few options that don’t seem to clog my skin or worsen my breakouts, I still tread carefully and only wear sunscreen if I’m actually going to be in the sun.
For instance, if I’m washing my face and heading straight to the office for the day, I’m just not going to use it. I’ll simply follow my morning cleanse with my favorite moisturizer and be off. That’s right—no serums or toners in between. Remember, if you’re truly struggling with acne and stubborn cycles of breakouts, the leaner and more basic your routine the better.
As Vanessa and Dakota always explain to me, it can be hard to know which ingredients in a complex serum or toner might be causing or worsening breakouts, and really, if you’re using high-quality cleansers, and moisturizers, and a few strategic add-ons, your skin shouldn’t need much else.
Step three: eye and lip hydration
I never leave the house without applying eye cream and some kind of lip balm. And, since the rest of my complexion is so insanely finicky, my lips and under-eyes are where I can have the most fun experimenting with products. That said, when choosing products for my lips, I’m still vigilant about ingredients and stay far, far away from things like coconut oil, which quickly results in angry red pimples are around my lip line. (Brands, stop putting coconut oil in your lip products!)
As far as an eye cream, in the morning my main goal is to disguise the look of my dark circles as much as possible, so I always reach for something that’s geared toward brightening. At night, I’ll pat something on that’s more preventative and angled toward anti-aging. Below, my fave morning lip and eye picks of the moment.
Step one: a gentle, basic, deep-cleaning face wash
As Vanessa explained to me, the best rule of thumb for anyone with acne is to wash with an exfoliating formula in the morning (as I explained earlier) and then to follow with an ultra-basic but deep cleaning acne wash at night. The key is to find something that will nix bacteria and residual makeup or debris from your day but that’s gentle and uncomplicated before you prep for sleep. Essentially, you’re just trying to clean the day away, here—no fuss, no frills, people.
Step two: an oil-free, hydrating moisturizer
Yep, you read that right! I just skipped second and third base and went straight from cleanser to face cream. As I said before, when you’re in the initial or stubborn dredges of acne care, it’s safer to steer clear of extra additions like toners or serums—a strategy I’ve found absolutely pivotal when I’m clearing my skin. (And this is me speaking, someone who absolutely loves the fun and exciting add-ons!)
Sure, when breakouts have abated and you feel like your skin is in a better place, you can begin thinking about adding strategic serums like hyaluronic acid or retinol, (discuss with your derm beforehand for customized recommendations), but if you’re really serious about addressing your acne, a short and simple skincare routine is what your complexion is probably craving the most. Initially, I was so skeptical about abandoning my collection of potions and elixirs, but now I love how fast, easy, and uncomplicated my skincare routine is. Packing and traveling is a cinch, and my wallet is heavier (and happier!) than ever.
When it comes to choosing a moisturizer for nighttime, always opt for something that’s oil-free and lightweight. It may be tempting to starve your skin of hydration if you’re dealing with oil and pimples, infusing your skin with hydration is crucial for the healing process and will actually help the situation. The secret is being picky about the formula you choose. Typically, I reach for the same Clarifying Cream from Ayur-Medic that I use in the morning, but I also have a few other favorites shown below.
Step three: eye and lip hydration
Again, just like in the morning, I end my evening routine with eye and lip treatments that will lend hydration and nourishment without compromising the integrity of the other acne-busting products I’ve used. I keep it simple with my favorite-EVER lip product. (Your lips will never be chapped again!) and eye creams geared toward prevention, plumping, and anti-aging. My favorites are below!
These are the products that I love and that have helped my acne-prevention efforts, but I don’t use them every day. I use them on an as-needed basis as to not overwhelm or confuse my skin. Again, simplicity is key when you’re creating an acne skincare routine.