If you break out fairly frequently, have enlarged pores, and deal with uneven texture, no, you’re not reliving your angstiest teenage years — you probably just have combination skin.
And according to dermatologists, combination skin — and the breakouts that come along with it — is fairly common. “Acne occurs frequently after the teenage years and at significantly higher rates in women compared with men,” Doris Day, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City previously told Allure.
However, when it comes to treating acne, uneven texture, and pore-size appearance, there are a few go-to products Allure editors like to recommend for smoother, brighter, and glowier complexions. The key? Chemical exfoliation.
FOR UNEVEN TEXTURE, TRY…
Smooth, baby-soft skin just isn’t in the cards for everyone, and that’s perfectly okay. If your skin tends to be on the more rigid, uneven spectrum, don’t worry. There’s a chemical fix for that: alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs).
“Alpha hydroxy acids are great natural exfoliants, some of which are derived from fruits, which help unclog pores and kill bacteria that can be found in the follicle causing acne,” says Purvisha Patel, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Germantown, Tenn. “Products that contain this ingredient help decrease follicular occlusion, hence help prevent acne, and loosen the top layer of the skin while smoothing the pores and decreasing the debris.”
The Glow Recipe Strawberry Smooth BHA + AHA Salicylic Serum is a great example of an AHA-packed treatment that gently exfoliates, evens skin tone, and brightens dark spots over time. The lightweight gel-serum is so good that, according to the brand, 93 percent of testers found the serum “visibly smoothed texture and bumps.”
FOR POST-ACNE MARKS, TRY…
Breakouts are bad enough — not to mention the marks they can potentially leave behind due to popping and picking. “Scars and discoloration occur as a result of injury to the skin, and in the case of acne, the injury is related to excess oil production, inflammation, and bacteria,” Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City, previously told Allure.
Those markings, according to dermatologists, isn’t all that easy to fade in a pinch. “Discolorations, usually red or brown, are likely to resolve over time,” says Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “Textural changes, however, are more likely to represent true scarring that can last over time.”
But for those pigmented marks, there’s a new acid in town that may just be a fix — and it’s the hero ingredient in The Inkey List Mandelic Acid Treatment. Mandelic acid, which is an AHA, is extracted from bitter almond and is the “largest aromatic AHA,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King. “Since it has a large molecular size, it’s less of an irritant.”
Meaning, it’s ideal for all skin types, especially those who are sensitive, acne-prone, and have post-breakout marks. The Inkey List’s creamy paste — used after cleansing and before moisturizer in the evening — helps reduce discoloration and dark spots caused by acne. In fact, according to the brand, 94 percent of testers saw visibly reduced post-acne marks.
FOR PORE SIZE, TRY…
Pores come in all different sizes, depending on certain variables. “Pore size is genetically determined and will also be dependent on age and factors like sun damage,” says Dr. King. “Tendency to be oily or dry will also vary depending on genetics, other hormonal factors, medications, and age.”
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, no, you can’t actually shrink the size of your pores, but you can minimize the appearance of them. This is important because the smaller your pores appear, the less dirt, oil, and buildup they could potentially collect — all of which, as we know, can lead to breakouts.
One of the easiest ways to keep pores clean is via chemical exfoliation à la beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). “They dissolve the bonds that hold dull, dead skin cells on the surface of the skin so the skin will gently shed, revealing smoother, brighter skin underneath,” says Dr. King. BHAs are able to “penetrate deeper into a sebum-containing pore and exfoliate the dead skin cells that are built up inside,” adds Dr. King. “This is why beta hydroxy acids [are] helpful for acne.” Just be sure not to over-exfoliate, she adds, which “can leave the skin irritated, red, and dry.”
Salicylic acid, which is a BHA, is the hero ingredient in Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. “This is a great ingredient for people with oily and acne-prone skin, and particularly for treating and preventing comedonal acne (blackheads and whiteheads),” says Dr. King. A soaked cotton pad of Paula’s Choice liquid exfoliant swept across skin starting with a few days a week will help smooth uneven texture, fight acne flare-ups, and minimize the appearance of pores over time.
There’s also another ingredient for keeping pores squeaky clean and looking small: polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), which are larger molecules of AHAs, says Dr. King. “PHAs are similar to traditional AHAs in that they exfoliate by breaking down the glue that holds dull dead skin cells to the surface of the skin,” explains Dr. King.
An ideal PHA-packed treatment is the Dr. Jart+ Pore Remedy PHA Exfoliating Serum, which is a water-like treatment made with 7 percent PHAs to help smooth skin surface and minimize the appearance of pores, as well as hydrating panthenol and oil-regulating macadamia seed oil. According to the brand, pore size was reduced by 21 percent after long-term use of the Dr. Jart+ serum, which is best used after cleansing and before moisturizer – twice daily.
Now that you have the essentials for combatting acne, uneven texture, and pore appearance, make sure you add them to your Sephora cart.