I'm pretty sure I've used every acne product there is on the market. I've found some things I like and a lot of things I really don't. Now, I figure my suggestions should work for pretty much anyone since I have the most stubborn acne on the face of the planet. Of course, if you're in the same boat as me, you're probably already on a heavy duty medication as I am.
Before I get into some of the products I like, let me start from the very, very beginning. I am absolutely shocked by the amount of people I know who just don't know how to take care of their skin or really anything about it. The very first step you can take towards getting better skin (in general, acne or not) is just treating it properly.
There are four little steps you should be doing every day, twice a day. They go in this order:
You're probably already doing this one, well, I hope so. I'd say good cleansers are the easiest thing to find. Please don't ever use soap on your skin ever unless it's the Clinique facial soap or something specifically meant for your face. You may also just splash water on your face but, really, a nice cleanser makes your skin just feel better and it's a step in the right direction.
Cetaphil, Aveeno, and Neutrogena are all good, cheap brands for face washes.
I like to spoil my skin though so I use more expensive products like DDF and Clinique which are just downright amazing. I swear by everything DDF makes. I'll talk about some individual products later.
Also, there are really face washes for every skin type and if you're just lost, someone will always help you.
I can't really tone now that I'm on Accutane but I really love toners. Their main purpose is to balance the pH in your skin and prep it for the products that go on over it. A lot of toners have alcohol in them but I would advise against using them, there are others that'll still give you that fresh feeling. I like toners with witch hazel and tea tree in them since they're extremely calming. In general, if something has witch hazel, tea tree, or chamomile in it, get it if you have red, blotchy, or puffy skin.
Probably one of the most important steps of all, especially if you have problem skin. I cannot go the day without moisturizer on. It obviously does what the name says, it moisturizes you. It keeps your skin soft and supple. Just moisturizing alone without anti-aging properties or anything will help slow the process down. But, the most important thing I think for people who have acne is simply that it moisturizes.
You may think that you don't want to put more moisture on your skin since it's already oily but you couldn't be more wrong, really. After we wash our face, our skin is not typically oily. It's kinda dry since it hasn't had time to produce more oil yet. Well, if we put moisturizer on our skin before it gets oily again, what does it do? It stops the oil. It's telling your body, "I'm already moisturized, you don't need to produce excess oil." So, the bad oils don't get produced and in their place your skin is nourished with moisturizer specifically made to help your skin.
Of course, it can't stop all oil production so if you are oily, it's best to use something pretty light but if you're super dry, you're going to want to use something heavy. Also, you might want to have a heavier moisturizer in the winter since that's when our skin is most dry.
You do not have to be super pale to need to sunscreen. Hell, there doesn't even need to be sun for you to need to put on sunscreen. I will say, I do rarely put on body sunscreen but that's just because I can't find anything that's not gross and oily, plus, you know, there's a lot more skin on my body than there is on my face.
But, anyway. Putting on a facial sunscreen every day is an absolute must. First off, it'll stop you from looking leathery when you're fifty. I'd say sunscreen is maybe the key component to fighting age before it gets to you. Also, if you're on any sort of acne medication you /have/ to use it because your skin is very vulnerable. Even if you're just using something you bought at Walgreens that has just a smidge of salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide in it.
Something I put together recently was that sunscreens and products for pigmentation and scarring have the same two ingredients in them: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. So, effectively, if you use sunscreen, you're also helping with the scarring and redness you have from acne.
Now that you've been briefed on how to prep your skin, I'll tell you about some of the products I adore and am a little sad I can't use anymore because I'm on Accutane. Once again, these all come from Sephora because…I live there. Practically.
I really like everything DDF makes. My favorite cleansers have been the Salicylic Wash, Glycolic Exfoliating Wash, Brightening Cleanser. They all have really, really nice textures and really feeling like they're working. The Salicyclic is for someone who currently has acne. The Glycolic is fine for someone with acne but is better for evening out skin texture and really cleaning out the skin. Glycolic acid in anything is a good thing. The Brightening, which is probably my favorite, helps with skin tone and just all together makes your skin look nicer.
We always hear that oils are bad for our skin but some oils are very, very good. I particularly like the Shu Uemura Skin Purifier Cleansing Beauty Oil. When I still had some, I mostly used it as a make-up remover and just to prep my skin and pamper it before applying anything else. It smells lovely and Tyra swears by it apparently. Beware of the price though.
The Clinique Liquid Facial Soap is something that absolutely anyone can use, I think. Well, not me. But, normal people who aren't on Accutane. It's what a face wash should be, it's kinda frothy and really feels like it's cleaning and it's light. It's supposed to help with acne too but I really think it's just a good basic face wash.
Murad has a huge line of great products, too.
I've never really stuck with one moisturizer and often times, I'm living off of samples that I get at Sephora. One moisturizer I do love is this Chanel Energizing Multi-Protection Fluid with SPF 15. It's ungodly expensive, of course, but it's just…heavenly. It makes your skin feel like velvet and because it's mousse-y like that, you can barely feel it on your skin at all. That's how a moisturizer should feel, like it's not there.
Aveeno's moisturizer clarifying moisturizer feels nice but it's not particularly special. Brands I can say that I love for moisturizers are Clinique, Boscia, Murad, and Peter Thomas Roth. That latter is up there in the price range, but also like the Chanel, it's kind of amazing. I've only ever had samples of his products.
Now we can get to where the helpful stuff is!
First off, you need a sulfur mask. Yes, you're basically going to be paying for a jar of mud. I don't know what it is about mud and sulfur, but when you put it on your face, it just sucks out all the bad stuff and oils. It can also be used as a spot treatment at night for particularly nasty areas. My favorite mask is this one by DDF:
My best luck for clearing acne has never been with full topicals, it's been with spot treatments. Sometimes I'll use to stuff over my whole face even though I probably shouldn't.
I really like this Benzoyl Peroxide Gel. It has a kind of grainy texture that makes me think it's doing something, which it does. It's always visibly reduced my blemishes overnight. Not completely in one night, but maybe two or three. You can use it on your entire face but benzoyl peroxide makes my face go red and puffy so I'd only do it if you don't have sensitive skin.
One of my favorite products is the No Foundation Foundation. It's good for anti-aging and really helps brighten your skin. It really does go a long way in not having to use so much make up to cover up. It immediately balances your skin color and covers pores and takes away lines. It also has the titanium dioxide and zinc oxide I talked about earlier. It's ideal for really everyone but I think it'd be especially nice for someone who just hates wearing make-up but wants to look nice and also help their skin. I'm definitely going to buy a bottle once my skin has cleared (I've been existing off samples!).
Another piece of advice I can give you is to use a green primer or a green concealer. Green is opposite from red on the color wheel and when put over something red, like blemishes, completely cancels the color out. A popular green primer is this Smashbox Color Adjust Primer.
A lot of these products are just unfairly expensive but remember that you can ALWAYS go into Sephora and ask them to give you samples. If you don't have a Sephora near you, they offer samples online at the checkout and I know a few of the available samples are always skin care. At one time it was the No Foundation Foundation but I'm not sure if they're still providing it.