Dermatologists: They’re just like us! They get pimples well into adulthood and deal with all the same annoying acne side effects we do: dry skin caused by medications, scarring, post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, and even the urge to pick. But unlike us, they have access to countless products and treatments — not to mention at least six years of graduate-level skin education under their belts (aka, a medical degree and derm residency). Here, five top doctors share the skin-care routines and tips that help keep their complexions clear.
In This Article:
- The routine for hormonal acne and post-pregnancy flares
- The routine for blackheads (and wrinkles)
- The routine for forehead acne and dark spots
- The routine for hormonal acne, with diet tweaks
- The routine for acne, hyperpigmentation, and dry skin
Jenny Liu, MD
She’s managing her hormonal acne and dealing with a new post-pregnancy flare.
Like many of us with acne, board-certified dermatologist Jenny Liu‘s skin is at the mercy of hormonal fluctuations. “Whenever I changed or stopped birth control in my late 20s, hormonal acne would hit me,” says the assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. She also had a flare-up after having her first baby and is currently going through another (her second baby was born a few months ago). Even when her blemishes are under control, Dr. Liu struggles with eczema and post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. But, she says, she’s not embarrassed to share those issues with her patients. “It helps me connect with them — especially my patients with skin of color who struggle a lot more with discoloration like I do.”
Cleanser: Dr. Liu likes a gentle, creamy cleanser in the morning (her current choice is e.l.f. Cosmetics Pure Skin Fragrance Free Moisturizer). At night, she uses one with benzoyl peroxide, an ingredient that plays nicely with her topical retinoid. “My favorite for dry skin is The Inkey List Supersolutions 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser,” she says.
Treatment: Dr. Liu has prescriptions for a 15% azelaic acid gel (“It’s great for post-acne marks and safe during pregnancy”) and .05% tretinoin, a retinoid, in a non-drying cream base. (FYI: Companies such as Apostrophe and Curology offer customized tretinoin and azelaic acid prescriptions at varying strengths, starting at about $20 per month, depending on the plan you choose.) To help even out her skin tone, Dr. Liu also uses a vitamin C serum (either SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic or Epionce Intense Defense Serum) in the morning and a peptide product (Alastin Restorative Skin Complex or Neutrogena Rapid Firming Peptide Contour Lift Face Cream) at night. She has several serums in rotation to treat hyperpigmentation as well: SkinCeuticals Discoloration Defense, La Roche-Posay Glycolic B5 Dark Spot Corrector, and Urban Skin Rx Advanced Even Tone Skin Treatment.
Moisturizer: “This is such an important step for keeping your skin barrier healthy — especially with acne, where there’s a barrier defect to start,” says Dr. Liu. Mornings, she likes something light, such as La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer, EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex, or The Inkey List Supersolutions 10% Urea Moisturizer. At night, it’s a richer formula like Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Peptide Face Cream or Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream.
Sunscreen: UV protection is a must for skin health — and also to help prevent the formation of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH) after acne. “I’m loving Purito Daily [Go-To Sunscreen SPF 50+] right now,” says Dr. Liu, who’s also a fan of Beauty of Joseon Relief Sun SPF 50+.
Extras: To keep her pores clear (clogged pores = recipe for acne), Dr. Liu exfoliates her T-zone occasionally with Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. If her skin isn’t too dry or inflamed, she also likes skin-brightening glycolic acid treatments, like Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum and Medik8 Sleep Glycolic Treatment.
The Inkey List Supersolutions 5% Benzoyl Peroxide Cleanser
SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic
Alastin Restorative Skin Complex
Urban Skin Rx Advanced Even Tone Skin Treatment
EltaMD Barrier Renewal Complex
Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream
Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum
Cheryl Burgess, MD
Once an Accutane patient herself, she’s still struggling with blackheads at 60.
During medical school, Cheryl Burgess, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Washington, DC, had a front-row seat to an acne breakthrough: She was working in the dermatology department of the National Institutes of Health while its clinical research team was examining the safety and efficacy of oral isotretinoin (aka, Accutane) for cystic acne. At the time, Dr. Burgess was dealing with chronic acne that had plagued her since her teens. “I wore a lot of makeup to cover the blemishes, but I felt my acne wasn’t as severe as the cases I saw at the NIH,” she says. Eventually, about 10 years after oral isotretinoin was approved, dermatologists realized the medication was also beneficial for chronic acne sufferers who didn’t have the cystic variant. That’s when she decided to take it herself. “I took five months of Accutane therapy and haven’t had a problem in over 25 years,” she says. At 60, she still deals with a self-described “very oily” complexion and blackheads, and focuses her routine on addressing those while also protecting her skin and increasing cell turnover for fewer lines and a smoother texture overall.
Cleanser: Because she is prone to blackheads, Dr. Burgess uses products with salicylic acid to keep them at bay. One cleanser she recommends: Aveeno Clear Complexion Cream Face Cleanser, which has 2 percent salicylic acid.
Treatment: For antioxidant protection in the morning, Dr. Burgess likes the Skinbetter Alto Advanced Defense and Repair Serum, which also helps to improve texture and tone. At night, she uses Skinbetter AlphaRet Overnight Cream with line-smoothing retinol. Both are available in physicians’ offices, including — full disclosure — Burgess’s own. “Skinbetter is an excellent line. I use all of their products,” she says.
Moisturizer: Dr. Burgess says moisturizers from gentle, dermatologist-favored lines like CeraVe, Cetaphil, and La Roche-Posay are great for acne-prone skin.
Sunscreen: When you’re a skin expert and can’t find a sunscreen you truly love, you make your own. Dr. Burgess created (and uses) Invisible Zinc SPF 45, which she sells in her Washington, DC office. If you’re not going to be in the DC area any time soon, Burgess recommends physical sunscreens — such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide — because she says they’re the most protective ingredients available. She suggests ones from La Roche-Posay. (In general, sunscreens with drying zinc oxide are a good choice for acne-prone skin; avoid ones rich in lipids, like coconut oil and cocoa butter.)
Extras: Dr. Burgess says blue light can also help with acne. She suggests in-office treatments with a wavelength of 400 nm, which is backed by solid data. In one study, adults who received two, 15-minute blue-light treatments every week for a month experienced a 65 percent improvement in the number of acne lesions.
Aveeno Clear Complexion Cream Face Cleanser
SkinBetter Science Alto Advanced Defense and Repair Serum
SkinBetter Science AlphaRet Overnight Cream
La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer
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