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3 Surprising Ingredients This Derm Recommends For Treating Your Adult Acne

Because acne isn't just a thing of the past.

  • Posted on 14th Jun, 2022 09:35 AM
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As I type this, there’s a smattering of zits on my chin. I spent my weekend traveling, indulging in food and drink, using a less-than-ideal bar of hotel soap as a face wash, and without my normal arsenal of face creams. Thus, my skin is reacting accordingly. 

Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this, the pimples are gone. And if they are, it will be in large part due to board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D.’s help. Zeichner is a long-time trusted derm for beauty editors (myself included), and acts as the Associate Professor of Dermatology and the Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He’s also the dermatologist behind the new brand Jori Skincare, a clean collection that uses FDA-approved ingredients to target blemishes, alongside smart botanicals as supporting players. 

Recently he joined me to chat about adult acne on an episode of Clean Beauty School. In it, we discuss the laundry list of things you can do to help manage your breakouts, which include working out, addressing stress, and getting enough sleep ("Healthy diet, healthy mind, healthy body means healthy skin,” he reminds us). But we also spend a decent chunk of time diving into ingredients. 

While benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are the primary actives that are able to treat acne, there are many surprising and underrated ingredients you should consider to help address blemish-prone skin. 

1. Alpha linolenic acid for oil-control

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We know there’s a connection between your nutrition and skin. With acne, we know that eating high-glycemic index foods can contribute to sebum production, especially if you are genetically predisposed to it. This is because high blood sugar levels can trigger a cascade of hormones, which then result in breakouts. I don’t know about you, but avoiding all potential trigger foods is near impossible–so having topicals on hand to help is top priority.

And omega-3 fatty acid oils have been shown to address this sebum production: “They actually have been shown to help balance production of oil—and perhaps the production of oil associated with eating foods with a high-glycemic index,” he says.  

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2. Saw palmetto for balance

There’s a reason “adult acne” and “hormonal acne” are used interchangeably—hormones play a huge role (“although ​​all acne is really caused by hormones,” he reminds us). The primary hormonal culprit is dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which stimulates the oil glands, encouraging sebum production and driving inflammation. “And that's really the biggest driving factor for the development of pimples,” he says. 

So what can help? A buzzy ingredient called saw palmetto. “Saw palmetto contains ingredients called phytosterols, and these are molecules that have been shown to help balance DHT levels,” he says, noting that they're currently popular in hair products that target hair loss, which is also influenced by DHT. “​​But there's data showing that it can help control oil, so it can be beneficial in someone who has acne.”

3. Aloe vera for hydration 

Acne and hydration concerns are not mutually exclusive. “Skin oil and skin hydration are two separate issues. And there are so many adult patients that come in who are acne prone, but they're also dry and irritated,” he says. The solution? Find hydrating ingredients that quench the skin while also addressing issues that tag along with acne, such as irritation. “Aloe has soothing effects and can help mitigate or decrease irritation associated with acne.” 

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