I've spent over 20 years experimenting with every conceivable topical and oral acne treatment, as well as different ways of reducing irritation to my skin. Here I'll pass along what I use and what I wouldn't be without."Dan Kern
A cleanser that doesn't overdry. Since I use benzoyl peroxide twice a day in generous amounts, my skin can get dry. So it's important to me to use a cleanser that doesn't add to this dryness. I use my own cleanser (store.acne.org) because I designed it to be exactly what I want. It is extremely mild and it's a liquid so it can achieve perfect pH balance and not overdry. It's also unscented which is important to me. If I was broke I would use Johnson's Head-To-Toe Baby Wash since it is a fairly gentle product as well and comes in large sizes.
Quite honestly I would hate to go back to using a cream based benzoyl peroxide. A gel is easier to apply and doesn't turn white when you perspire. I use my own gel (store.acne.org) and I'm in love with it. It's unscented, feels good going on, isn't tacky afterward, and does an incredible job. If I didn't have access to mine, I would probably switch my insurance from Blue Cross and go over to Kaiser Permanente, which is an insurance carrier out here in San Francisco. They sell a 2 ounce 2.5% benzoyl peroxide gel in their hospital store and it's not bad. If I absolutely had to get whatever was at the store, I would use whichever 2.5% cream was available, but I really don't like using them now that I've experienced the superiority of a gel.
After years of trying everything out there and never being totally happy, I finally perfected a moisturizer myself. This is the one that I currently use. I think it is perfect. It goes on light and works incredibly well. If I were to use something over-the-counter in stores I would alternate between Neutrogena Healthy Skin Face Lotion and Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion. I like the Neutrogena because it's got a dose of alpha hydroxy acid and it makes my skin look nice and even, but it's pretty harsh so I'd only use it probably every other day or every three days. Cetaphil would probably be my staple moisturizer, but I have to admit I wouldn't be happy about it. It's too thick for my taste and this thick viscosity makes it harder to remain gentle in application.
I love jojoba oil because it's non-comedogenic and completely friendly and inert, so I can use it without fear of any negative consequences. I use a few drops of jojoba oil for my lips at night as a sort of nighttime lip balm. I also use a few drops of it in whichever SPF moisturizer I am trying out. Most of the SPF moisturizers I've tried tend to not take care of flakiness well enough, but a few drops of jojoba oil helps. If I ever get a massage, I make sure to take a bottle of jojoba oil with me as well.
Part of the reason I decided to make this page of Acne.org was to let people know some of my secrets. 10% alpha hydroxy is one of them. I love this stuff. If I see a zit forming, I will apply benzoyl peroxide as usual, but then once the benzoyl peroxide dries, I'll glob on a little 10% alpha hydroxy acid as well. More often than not the combo of BP and AHA will stop the spot in its tracks. Catching it early is key though. I am always very careful to apply the AHA as gently and carefully as I apply the BP.
I know I'm a guy and all, but I run acne.org and it's important to me that my skin look perfect when it absolutely needs to, such as when I need to be on camera or when I need to attend an important meeting. Luckily, I don't have much of a problem because my skin is usually completely clear, but once in a blue moon I'll get a little zit or have a lingering red mark at just the wrong time. That's why I keep around an Almay Smart Shade concealer. Almay in particular is known for producing light feeling makeup that is safe for acne-prone skin. Their Smart Shade concealer works like a charm—now you see the red mark, now you don't. I only have to use a minuscule amount each time, and I'm sure this one tiny 0.37 oz. tube will last for years. The light/medium shade tends to work best for me. (Note: I am not associated with Almay or Almay, Inc. in any way.)
I have tried pretty much every razor. Single blade razors irritate and I tend to cut myself a lot with them. Triple or quadruple blade razors are terribly irritating to the point where I feel like I'm ripping at my skin. Electric razors seem like they should be smooth and non-irritating, but they are rough, irritating, and don't do a good enough job on the neck area, no matter how much they are advertised to be specially designed for the neck. But there is a shining beacon in the two blade razor. My two favorite razors are the Gillette Trac II and the Gillette Sensor Excel, both of which are vastly superior to their competitors. Since the Trac II helps reduce razor bumps on my neck better than the Sensor Excel, this is the one I use most often. Two blade disposables would be my next choice. (Note: I am not associated with Gillette in any way.)
I don't wash my hair every day, so oil most likely builds up. In order to keep the oil localized in one area, upon exiting the shower I use the middle of my towel for drying my hair. Then I use the edges of the towel for my face. Since my body is clean at that point I don't pay a lot of attention to which part of the towel I use for my body. I change towels every 5 days or so.
I don't get crazy about it, but I change my pillowcases every week or so. If I had long hair or more initiative I might change them more often. We know that prolonged exposure to oil can aggravate acne, so theoretically if your hair's oil gets on your pillowcase you can be in contact with it. This is yet to be looked at in any scientific study, but even if it's just a psychological thing, I like sleeping on clean pillowcases.
Zinc, fish oil, vitamin D3, multivitamin. Zinc helps maintain the integrity of the skin and is essential to wound healing. Inadequate zinc intake has been linked to acne since the 1970s, and zinc supplementation has been shown in several studies to help with acne.1-5 This is especially important for vegetarians since red meat and poultry provide the majority of zinc in Western diets. While I am not a vegetarian, I eat meat sparingly. I try to remember to take one 30-50mg zinc tablet per day, always on a full stomach to prevent nausea. Zinc can be toxic in high doses (above 100mg/day) and the National Institutes of Health define an upper daily limit of 40mg for adults6, so I make sure that I do not take more than 50mg per day, and don’t sweat it if I miss a day here and there. Omega-3s, particularly the EPA component of fish oil, are fantastic at reducing inflammation, and acne is at least in part an inflammatory disease.7 I try to remember to take 3 fish oil pills with breakfast. I also take a 10,000iu vitamin D3 pill per every few days. Humans only make vitamin D through sun exposure, and my sun exposure is limited. Because I am lactose intolerant I also do not ingest vitamin D fortified dairy products, so taking a vitamin D pill is good insurance. Lastly, while I try to eat lots of colorful fruits and veggies on a daily basis since this is by far the best way to ensure my body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs, if I don’t eat the way I’d like on any certain day, I’ll take a multivitamin. There is scant evidence to show that it is actually beneficial, but I take one just in case.
If you have a medical condition consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
I look forward to the day when we can find easier ways of handling acne. I also look forward to researching the topic as much as possible to get to the root of the issue. If it's possible to prevent acne with a diet that is doable I am the first in line. I remain open to any and all future possibilities.
View my full acne treatment history.