The Best Skin Care Routine For Acne-Prone Skin

Key Takeaways

Even though most people deal with acne at some point in their lives, waking up to see a breakout in the mirror can ruin your morning. If you're experiencing acne and want to put your best, clearest face forward, the right skincare routine can make a huge difference.

The best part: it doesn't have to be complicated. There are millions of products out there that claim they can give you the best skin of your life, but you only really need to start with the basics. Beyond that, it's up to you what else you want to add to your routine.

We'll cut through the noise and walk you through a super simple skin care routine for acne that you can use even if you're completely new to the skin care game. Nothing fancy or expensive is required; you can pick up these products at your local drug store.

What is acne?

Acne is a condition caused by bacteria called Cutibacterium acnes, or C. acnes. Together with sebum, the oil substance produced by our oil glands, C. acnes causes inflammation and pore blockage. This bacteria in the pores can lead to the redness, swelling, and sometimes pus that we refer to as acne. Acne includes blackheads, whiteheads, pimples, and cysts that can emerge from the blockage.

While it can appear on other parts of the body, such as the back and upper arms, it usually (and annoyingly) affects the face. As frustrating as acne breakouts can be, they are also the most common skin condition seen by doctors according to the Canadian Dermatology Association.

Causes and prevention of acne

Clogged pores and excessive oil production can create an environment where C. acnes bacteria thrive. Hormonal changes (such as puberty) and diet can also contribute to acne.

Often, a simple skincare routine is all that is needed to prevent or treat acne. The purpose of a skincare routine is to remove excess oil, keep your pores clear so that acne-causing bacteria doesn't have a chance to grow and cause the inflammation and cysts we know as pimples, and also to support your skin's healing so that existing blemishes can fade.

Why is having a skincare routine for acne important?

The purpose of maintaining a skincare routine for acne is to limit the number and severity of your breakouts and to keep your skin looking as glowing and healthy as possible.

Just as it's easier to maintain a healthy diet and exercise program than  suddenly changing your habits for quick weight loss, it's easier to maintain a simple acne skincare routine than to do nothing until you have a bad case of acne and suddenly need to seek the most drastic quick fixes available.

A simple, effective skincare routine for acne only takes a few minutes twice a day, and even if you have more severe acne and choose to treat it with acne medication, this routine will support clear, healthy skin so that your treatment can be more effective.

For example, if you use an antibacterial treatment like doxycycline, your routine will support the medication in working by making it easier for it to get to the bacteria in your pores.

What’s your skin type?

Identifying your skin type can help you choose the right products to include in your skin care routine for acne-prone skin. While the best skin care routine for acne will include the same basic types of products, no matter your skin type, you might change the specific products you buy based on your skin’s unique characteristics.


Normal skin refers to skin that doesn't tend to feel too oily or too dry, instead maintaining a comfortable moisture balance on its own. Those with this skin type also don't tend to experience breakouts as frequently, although they can still happen. If this sounds like you, consider yourself lucky!

Even if you have a normal skin type, it's still a good idea to do a simple skin care routine for maintenance and to prevent possible breakouts.


The characteristics of oily skin are right there in the name: it tends to produce a layer of oil that keeps coming back even if you wash or blot your face.

While not all people with oily skin have acne, this skin type can be more acne-prone since the overproduction of sebum can clog pores and create a favourable environment for the bacteria that causes acne.


On the opposite end of the skin type spectrum is dry skin. Dry skin can feel tight and uncomfortable because it isn't producing much sebum. This skin type may not experience acne as frequently, but the skincare routine we'll go over here can also help maintain a more hydrated, comfortable, and glowing complexion.


If the descriptions of oily skin and dry skin both sound familiar, you might have combination skin. This skin type may have some oily areas, typically the t-zone, while other parts of the face such as the cheeks are dry and possibly even flaky. This is caused by a difference in how active the oil glands are on different parts of the face. Oil glands on the forehead, nose, and chin tend to produce more sebum.


Sensitive skin may be dry, oily, or a combination of the two. The defining characteristic of this skin type is that many products cause irritation. You might be sensitive to certain ingredients, and may have to go through some trial and error with different brands and products until you find the products that are well suited to your sensitive skin.

Aging skin

While aging skin may need more moisture and cause other concerns that those with younger skin don't yet have to deal with, one of the perks of aging skin is that it tends to be less acne-prone.

Best skincare routine for acne-prone skin

The basic steps in this routine can help get acne breakouts under control and prevent future breakouts. If you use medicated acne treatments, this simple routine will help them do their job and support healthy, balanced skin.

Step 1: Use a gentle cleanser

The first step in your routine should be to wash your face. The purpose of this step is to remove unwanted oil and any other dirt or impurities that may have settled on your skin throughout the day or overnight.

Your cleanser can also deliver some targeted acne-fighting active ingredients. If you're looking for an over-the-counter cleanser for acne-prone skin, keep an eye out for cleansers featuring salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Both of these ingredients kill acne-causing bacteria.

You don't necessarily need a cleanser with acne-fighting active ingredients, and this especially true if you're also using prescription medications for your acne since you may end up irritating your skin by overdoing it. For a simple, everyday cleanser that you can use as part of your skincare routine for acne, look for unscented options, since fragrance can be irritating.

In terms of technique, just make sure you lather your face wash and get all areas of your face and neck. If you wear makeup and need a deeper clean to wash it off, try double cleansing: washing, rinsing, and washing again. This extra step should help you remove any traces of makeup so they can't clog your pores.

Step 2: Use a toner

Toners are less viscous liquids that are used to further remove oil or sometimes to hydrate. Your choice of toner will depend on whether your skin tends to be oily or dry. If you're on the drier side, look for a hydrating toner containing humectant ingredients such as glycerin. These ingredients draw water from the air to your skin, boosting moisture.

If you are on the oilier side, consider using an astringent toner, such as one containing witch hazel. Toners containing salicylic acid can also be used for an extra acne-fighting boost.

Whatever you choose, avoid using toners that contain alcohol. Alcohol can dry out the skin, causing it to overcompensate by producing more oil.

Step 3: Apply acne medications

This is an optional step if you're using any specialized acne medications, such as clindamycin or a retinoid such as retinol or tretinoin (also known by the brand name Retin-A).

Whether you're using an over-the-counter treatment or a prescription product, applying it after cleansing and toning will allow it to easily penetrate the skin so it can get to work on your acne.

Step 4: Apply moisturizer

A good moisturizer is a must in any skincare routine for acne-prone skin. Sometimes, people with acne can be wary of using moisturizer because they feel like it will further clog their skin. However, acne medications and even regular cleansing and toning can dry out the skin. By providing a layer of moisture, skin is soothed and is less likely to overproduce oil.

Whether you have dry skin or oily skin, a light moisturizer twice a day is a key step in a good skin care routine for acne-prone skin (or any skin, for that matter).

Step 5: Apply sun protection

Finally, for daytime, applying SPF is an important last step. This is especially true if you're using exfoliating ingredients or acne treatments since these can make the skin more sensitive to sun damage.

Other steps you can add

The steps we've looked at here are the basis of a great skincare routine, and you don't need to use additional products beyond these. However, if you want to add an extra boost, you've got options.

Eye cream

If you choose to use an eye cream, look for ingredients such as caffeine, vitamin C, vitamin B3, or hyaluronic acid. This won't help with acne, but if you find the other ingredients in your routine such as salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide are drying, you might appreciate a little extra hydration and brightness in the eye area.

An exfoliating product

Exfoliators can either be physical or chemical, as in alpha- or beta- hydroxy acids. Since physical scrubs can be abrasive and exacerbate existing acne breakouts, it's better to opt for a chemical exfoliant. A stronger product using salicylic acid or glycolic acid can be effective, but it's best to only use these types of products occasionally so as to not strip your skin too much.

If you're using prescription acne products, avoid these extra treatments before consulting with your healthcare practitioner. For example, vitamin A derivatives such as tretinoin can be drying and sensitizing, making it unwise to use any additional exfoliating ingredients. 

Stick with it

Instead of piling on a bunch of products, sticking with this simple acne routine can help get rid of breakouts and keep your skin looking its best. To talk to a healthcare practitioner, start an online assessment with Felix to find out what option is right for you.

Medically reviewed by


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