A 7-Step Clean Beauty Routine
for Clear Skin

No matter how broken-out your skin is, establish a skin-care routine—then really stick to it, give it time to work, and you should see real improvements. Consistency can make an enormous difference for problem skin.

So can shifting to an all-clean routine. Blemish-prone skin is already sensitive, so simply eliminating the irritating and potentially toxic chemicals, preservatives, and synthetic fragrances (one of the most irritant-laden categories in the industry) found in conventional skin care can help soothe congestion on its own.

    Herbivore Botanicals
    goop, $48
  • Another potential source of irritation: The drying formulas that are the mainstays of many conventional acne treatments, which can have an inflaming effect on breakout-prone skin. Gentler formulas that don’t strip skin keep oil glands from going into overdrive, as dry skin actually cues more oil production.

    Cutting out dairy, processed foods, and refined sugar as much as possible can be as important as what you put on your face, as can trying to control stress; rising cortisol levels trigger breakouts. Your skin (and your entire body and your mind, for that matter) will thank you.

    The clear-skin regimens below are completely clean, work for day and night, and employ a gentle but powerful approach that makes a real difference long-term. Choose a product within each step, and go all in, the way you would if you were buying a step-by-step acne kit. Do each step, every day, and replenish as soon as you start to run out of something; the routine is everything.

    The thing to remember once your skin starts to improve—give any new routine at least six weeks before judging its results—is that consistency remains just as important when your skin becomes clearer. In the absence of active breakouts, it’s easy to imagine that your problem skin no longer needs its routine. But stay with your routine and the results should keep coming.

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    2. CLEANSE

      Regular cleansing deals with excess oil and helps keep bacteria on the skin in check. For the breakout-prone, the key ingredient in a cleanser (and indeed, in practically every skin-routine step) is salicylic acid, which both exfoliates and soothes (another form of salicylic acid is aspirin; it can also appear on a label as willow bark or beta hydroxy acid). Cleanse morning and night if you’re at all oily, and always cleanse after a workout. Face wipes like the ones from RMS—saturated in cold-centrifuged, noncomedogenic organic coconut oil—are smart to carry in your makeup and gym bags (they’re also brilliant for nights when you can’t be bothered to wash your face).

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    2. TONE

      Toners and essences can add to both your cleansing step and your treatment step: A good one accomplishes a mild bit of exfoliating and leaves treatment ingredients behind on your skin to do their work. The toner from The Beauty Chef contains both probiotics and lactic acid; the new essence from Vintner’s Daughter contains lactic acid, pre- and probiotics, pore-clearing apple cider vinegar, plus antioxidant vitamin C and gluconolactone.

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      Exfoliating—removing the top, dead layers of skin, along with oil, dirt, debris, makeup, and anything else that can clog pores—is critical in any skin-clearing routine. Alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are the gold standard for even, thorough exfoliation; BHAs also have skin-calming qualities. Along with addressing troubled skin, they can help soften the appearance of dark spots and lines, as well as allow any treatments you apply afterward to better absorb into your skin. Look for formulas containing lactic, citric, malic, salicylic, and glycolic acids. (The new GOOPGLOW Overnight Glow Peel is made with 15% glycolic acid, a much higher concentration than most over-the-counter products and closer to professional peel formulas.) The number of times a week you do a deep exfoliation depends on your skin, so find your sweet spot and stick to it.

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      Detoxifying, skin-calming face masks can be powerful adjuncts to a daily routine, whether you do them several times a week or only once. A mask sits on skin longer than a cleanser, giving active ingredients more time to work. Treatments made with charcoal are great for troubled skin, as charcoal has an incredible ability to draw impurities from skin and shrink the appearance of pores. The botanical blue tansy is super soothing, so a mask made with it can really calm skin.

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      Vitamin C, an antioxidant that targets pores and mildly exfoliates in the bargain, is great for all skin types and helps support any blemish-fighting routine you choose. It can be used morning or night; we love it first thing after we wake up and cleanse.

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      The temptation to combat oily skin by drying it out is understandable, but because dryness both spurs oil production and causes irritation, keeping acne-prone skin moisturized is important. Naturally infused with phytonutrients, antioxidants, and other soothing compounds, face oils and creams can help balance skin. Go with blends specifically designed to treat breakouts and clarify. And note that for many people, mineral SPF (itself very skin-soothing) can often provide all you need, moisture-wise, for daytime.

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      Try hard to resist the urge to pick—it can make a blemish last much longer, not to mention lead to scarring. Spot treatments satisfy the same must-do-something urge, and they actually help if you’ve got an obtrusive blemish. Mighty Patch invisible-ish stickers, made of hydrocolloid, are genius: Place them over spots, go about your day or go to sleep, and in a few hours, the blemish is less noticeable. And dabbing on a turbocharged blend of zinc, magnesium, and essential oils like the Tata Harper infusion below can help shrink blemishes overnight.

    Acids, as well as mixing certain acids with vitamin C, may be too strong for those with sensitive skin or certain skin conditions.

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