Whether you’re dealing with regular breakouts or the occasional period pimple, figuring out which products will work best for fickle skin can feel like trying to solve the least-fun riddle ever. Tricky as it may seem, there are plenty of topical treatments you can reach for. Alongside hair care and makeup, industry-fave beauty brand The Ordinary also offers products perfect for acne-prone skin.
The clinical formulations within the line boast straightforward, fuss-free ingredients — often in the product names themselves — at an approachable price for easy shopping. To help you parse the shelves, Bustle called on a few top dermatologists for their ranking of the best The Ordinary products for acne.
One key ingredient to look for on the product labels? Salicylic acid, a science-backed beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that’s praised for its ability to exfoliate and control oil production. Other formulas within their picks work to reduce inflammation, hydrate, reduce bacteria, or even skin’s tone and texture. Keep scrolling to learn which products are go-to's for Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Kansas City, Kansas-based Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D., and Buies Creek, North Carolina-based Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Bustle's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
1. The Hydrating Cleanser
Proper cleansing is the first step towards healthy skin, and this gentle, hydrating formula — which also works to remove makeup — is a must-snag. Tomassian recommends this one as it’s chock-full of squalane, a natural antioxidant that mimics the body’s natural oils. “The squalane provides hydration and moisture to the skin while removing all the dirt and product buildup from the day,” he tells Bustle. Warm the product in your hands to allow it to melt into an oil before massaging it into your face, then rinse with warm water.
2. The Multitasker
The salicylic acid in this solution makes it an “excellent” product for acne or those with acne-prone skin, according to Zubritsky. “This beta-hydroxy acid is a powerhouse acne-fighting ingredient that works by penetrating oil-producing pores, exfoliating away dead skin, and decreasing oil and sebum production,” she explains of the serum’s key ingredient. “I like that this product also has witch hazel, which is an astringent that reduces bacteria on the skin and improves inflammation.” That makes it a great multitasking serum for normal, combination, and oily skin types.
Apply in the morning and evening to either a targeted area or all over your skin.
3. The Sensitive Skin-Friendly
Zubritsky is a fan of this serum for acne-prone skin types whose complexions fall on the sensitive side. “The niacinamide in it is multi-functional and plays well with almost all other skin care ingredients,” she explains. “It helps to brighten the skin, improve pore size, regulate oil production and congestion, and reduce inflammation and redness on the skin.” As a refresher: Niacinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that also hydrates, treats hyperpigmentation, and improves skin’s elasticity. It also contains zinc, which Zubritsky adds is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial (aka great for combatting breakouts).
Shah explains that while niacinamide doesn’t target acne directly, it’s a great “supporting” ingredient in an acne-friendly beauty routine. “I would add it to a routine once a day to really supplement the other acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid and azelaic acid,” he says.
4. The Peel
Acne skin types can benefit from adding this peel to their regimen. “The combination of exfoliating acids improve texture and tone, improve the appearance of wrinkles, and clear out your pores,” explains Tomassian. This formula’s glycolic and lactic acids exfoliate the outer layers of the skin, while the salicylic acid exfoliates inside the pores to help reduce congestion. Just note it’s not for everyday use. “I recommend using this once every one to two weeks, and always spot test before using on your entire face,” says Tomassian. Leave it on for no more than 10 minutes at a time.
5. The Brightener
For those prone to acne, hyperpigmentation — or dark spots — often become an issue even when the lesions are healed. “This is a great product to target hyperpigmentation,” Tomassian tells Bustle. Ascorbic acid (a form of vitamin C) is an effective dark spot corrector, while alpha-arbutin also works to improve skin tone. “These ingredients work synergistically to fight dark spots,” he says. You’ll also reap other perks from using the serum: “The ascorbic acid helps protect your skin from oxidative damage as well as helps stimulate collagen production,” says Tomassian.
Apply a few drops to your face in the morning and at night as part of your regular skin care regimen.
6. The Texture-Improving Cream
This lightweight cream features azelaic acid, which Shah considers a versatile beauty ingredient. It visibly brightens the skin tone, improves the evenness of skin texture, reduces the look of blemishes, and offers antioxidant support for all skin types, Shah explains of the multitasker. Zubritsky adds that azelaic acid is tolerable for most people, too. And it helps breakouts because it works to reduce inflammation while decreasing acne-causing bacteria on the skin. “Not only does it target active acne (and rosacea!) lesions, but it's phenomenal at improving the look of post-acne blemishes and hyperpigmentation,” she says. Bonus: “It’s one of the few acne ingredients that’s safe in pregnancy,” Shah shares.
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Dr. Muneeb Shah, M.D., Buies Creek, North Carolina-based dermatologist
Dr. Chris Tomassian, M.D., Kansas City, Kansas-based dermatologist
Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, M.D., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based board-certified dermatologist