Acne Ingredient Cheat Sheet

It's easy to be confused by an ingredient list. It's filled with long words that are hard to pronounce. If you are looking for products that are going to help keep your skin acne-free, look for these ingredients.


Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA. It's used to dissolve dead skin cells that may be stuck together and clogging hair follicles. It also helps draw out excess dirt, oil and impurities. Salicylic acid's anti-inflammatory properties are similar to aspirin, which means it helps soothe and calm the skin instead of causing redness and inflammation. Look for salicylic acid in serums and cleansers.


Lactic acid is derived from milk, fruit and botanicals and is one of the most popular alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) in skin care. Gentler than the familiar glycolic acid, it helps reduce acne breakouts and the appearance of lines, wrinkles and rough skin through exfoliation. The benefit of lactic acid is that it helps keep skin hydrated by improving the skin's natural lipid barrier while evening skin tone. Acne-prone and oily skin types can use Lactic acid cleansers daily to keep breakouts away.


Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxyl acid found naturally in sugar cane and is used in skincare to gently remove the outer layers of skin. Glycolic acid chemically loosens the bonds between skin cells, causing the skin to shed dead or damaged cells through exfoliation which in turn encourages and uncovers new skin. Glycolic acid cleansers reduce acne breakouts by helping exfoliate skin and unclog pores. However, a glycolic acid peel is not recommended for acne because it can increase redness and irritation.


Benzoyl peroxide helps reduce mild to moderate acne, reduce breakouts and oil production and unclog pores. It is the signature ingredient in the Proactiv skincare systems. It's a popular treatment for acne because it kills existing P. acnes bacteria inside pores as well as improves exfoliation to prevent breakouts cause by clogged follicles. Be warned. Benzoyl peroxide reportedly causes unnecessary irritation, dryness and redness. Some people have found they are allergic to it. And, it can discolor your clothing, bedding and towels.


Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that helps stimulate the skin's natural metabolism and helps encourage collagen production. Retinol serums vary in concentrations depending on skin needs. COSMEDIX has two types of retinol delivery systems: LG-Retinex is a microencapsulated retinol for drier, sensitive skin and AGP Complex (short for arabinogalactan-proteins) is a retinol for oily, congested and acne-prone skin. Both help visibly reduce the appearance of sun damage, brown spots, lines, wrinkles, acne blemishes and large pores while improving the skin's texture and tone for a smoother, clearer, more even-toned look. Consult a physician to determine which type of retinol and concentration is right for you.


Fruit enzymes such as cranberry, blueberry, papaya and pineapples all contain low levels of acid, making them perfect for exfoliating sensitive skin. For those wanting natural manual exfoliators, look for poppy, jojoba or date seeds in your ingredient lists. Both help clarify skin, remove dead skin cells and improve skin texture. Plus, exfoliating away rough surface skin helps improve uneven skin tone left behind by acne blemishes and improves penetration of acne-fighting serums and skin brighteners.