The 5 ingredients that should be in your acne-clearing routine

Whether it’s caused by hormonal spikes (think puberty, your monthly cycle, or pregnancy), a bad reaction, wearing a protective mask or just life, we’re pretty confident to assume that you’ve probably tackled a breakout (or ten) at some point in your life. With picking and popping—no matter how satisfying—off the cards, it’s important that you’re schooled up with the right tools to banish breakouts swiftly and mercilessly. Consider class in session, as we’re taking you through our top five skincare ingredients for treating and preventing acne.

If you’re looking for the difference between blackheads, cysts, and everything in between, read this.


When it comes to active breakouts and build up, trusty salicylic acid should always be your first port of call. Derived from the bark of the willow tree, salicylic is the only beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), which—unlike alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) that slough away dead skin cells from the surface of the skin—are able to ‘unglue’ the cells of the epidermis from deep inside your pores, where your build-up actually lies. This is because unlike water-soluble AHAs, salicylic acid is an oil-soluble exfoliator, allowing it to penetrate deep into and exfoliate sebum-filled pores, which will typically show up on your face as blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples.

Salicylic acid is generally the key ingredient in the treatment of all types of acne as it is calming and antibacterial, as well as a proven superstar in preventing and reducing congestion.

Our favourite acne fighters with salicylic acid are:

Perricone MD Blemish Relief Combination Therapy 90 Day Regimen

Sunday Riley UFO Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil

Dr. Dennis Gross DRx Blemish Solutions Breakout Clearing Gel

Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum

Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum

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A potent derivative of vitamin A, retinol is a cell-communicating ingredient (and a protective antioxidant) which instructs damaged skin cells to produce healthier cells faster. While we stock ‘over-the-counter’ formulas which tend to skew on the more gentle side (known as retinol), stronger vitamin A derivatives are often prescribed by dermatologists (typically known as retinoids) to assist in the clearing of severe breakouts. Because retinol increases cellular turnover, it means that your pores are less likely to become blocked or infected with dead skin cells, and thus blemishes are less likely to form.

With increased cell turnover comes increased sensitivity to the sun, so the condition when you incorporate retinol into your skincare routine is that you wear SPF (at least broad spectrum 30, but 50+ is preferable), every single day, without fail.

READ MORE: Derms rave about retinol; learn how to add it to your skincare routine

Our best acne treatments with retinol include:

VERSO Cleanse and Refine Kit

Sunday Riley Luna Sleeping Night Oil

Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum

Dermalogica Retinol Clearing Oil

Drunk Elephant A-Passioni™ Retinol Cream

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Sulphur is a natural mineral commonly used to treat acne and skin congestion by inhibiting the activity of oil glands and acne-causing bacteria as well as dissolving the top layer of dead skin cells. As a mild antibacterial agent, it helps to reduce the risk of a pore becoming infected, while absorbing the oil build-up that can come with more cystic breakouts. Sulphur also reduces the swelling, redness and irritation of a breakout while preventing bacteria from spreading and forming new blemishes elsewhere on your skin.

If you find ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide too harsh or irritating on your skin, you’ll find that treatments formulated with sulphur will make for a great anti-blemish alternative.

Our top acne solutions with sulphur:

Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

Kate Somerville EradiKate Daily Cleanser

Malin+Goetz Acne Treatment Nighttime

Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment

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Derived from the hemp variety of the cannabis sativa plant (coming from the seeds, CBD oil comes from the leaves), cannabis sativa seed oil is an emollient rich in fatty acids, effective in soothing stressed, irritated, problem skin, including blemish and acne prone skin. Important for overall skin health, fatty acids form the building blocks for healthy cell membranes, lipids and oils, which are essential for general hydration and healthy barrier function.

With such calming properties, the oil helps to dramatically reduce the angriness and subsequent obviousness of a raging breakout, relieving redness, discomfort, and even surface irritation caused by a treatment that might’ve been too strong. Cannabis sativa seed oil is non-comedogenic too, so you can be sure it won’t cause breakouts, instead protecting and nourishing healthy skin cells to prevent unwanted build-up.

READ MORE: Why cannabis sativa seed oil is the skincare ingredient you need right now

Find cannabis sativa seed oil in these MECCA favourites:

Kiehl’s Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate

Kiehl’s Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Cleanser

Eve Lom Radiance Face Oil

Cosmetics 27 Recovery 27

Mecca Cosmetica Nourishing Cleansing Oil

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Niacinamide might just be the ‘it’ ingredient of the past year, but the hype isn’t just a fad—this all-rounder is the real deal. Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide is an essential nutrient with a seemingly endless list of benefits for your skin, including the calming, balancing, and fading of acne. This comes in addition to strengthening the skin barrier, retaining moisture, protecting from environmental aggressors, balancing oil, reducing hyperpigmentation, and counteracting general dullness and dryness. *Exhales*.

If you experience moderate acne that tends to linger, the inclusion of niacinamide in your routine will help to alleviate and reduce the appearance of redness and irritation, while also regulating sebum production—the over or under production of which can cause breakouts. It’s also a pro at reducing the risk of acne scarring and fading older marks.

READ MORE: What can’t niacinamide do? Meet the ingredient that takes your skin from blah to brilliant

Get a dose of Niacinamide in your routine with:

Dermalogica Age Bright Clearing Serum

Drunk Elephant F-Balm Electrolyte Waterfacial™

Summer Fridays CC Me Serum

Dr. Dennis Gross B3Adaptive SuperFoods Stress Rescue Super Serum

Apot.Care Vitamin B3 Pure Serum

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If you're looking for the ultimate acne-fighting routine, this livestream from our Beauty Lab is your chance to find and shop your skin solutions with the help of our skincare experts.

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