Are you treating your acne correctly? | 9Lives
Reading Time: 5 min

Acne. Breakouts. Blackheads. Congestion. I’ve had so many friends and readers tell me how they’ve tried everything, that the acne products just don’t work, that they don’t know where to go from here. Know that if you’re struggling with acne and breakouts, you’re not alone. It is an increasingly common problem.

Luckily research has come a long way in understanding these skin conditions and treating them more effectively than in the past. I asked two skincare experts to share their knowledge and advice. Hopefully this will help you understand your skin better.

What is causing the acne / breakout?

The first step to treating acne is understanding the causes behind it. “Acne is a very intricate combination of hormones, diet and incorrect skincare,” says Stephnie-Anne Dickinson, training specialist for Optiphi. “There is literally a very fine line between a flawless skin and a skin with breakouts or acne.”

So how do the various factors play a role?


“Hormones are a big culprit, specifically the Androgen hormone,” explains Stephnie-Anne. “This hormone changes the consistency of the skins natural oil (sebum) to a thicker, more sticky consistency.  The stickier oil, along with dead cells accumulate in the pores, where bacteria have the opportunity to multiply and cause infection.”


While acne is caused by hormones, your diet can also play a role. “It has been shown that a diet high in refined sugars will make acne worse,” says Dr. Ian Webster, specialist Dermatologist and the founder of “Excessive intake of cow’s milk has also been shown to make acne worse.” Opt for a diet packed with fibre, complex carbs, fruit and vegetables.


Mass-market skincare often does more harm than good when it comes to acne, with harsh products that can increase inflammation, aggravate infections and cause scarring. Similarly, using professional grade skincare products incorrectly can make matters worse, which is why you should consult with a skin specialist or dermatologist about an optimal routine.

“People tend to treat acne all wrong,” says Stephnie-Anne. “Instead of drying the skin out with harsh products, it is better to look for ingredients that can treat the skin very gently.  Oily skin is very temperamental and hates being treated harshly.”

At the same time, it is crucial that you choose a moisturising regime that will suit the oilier skin-type. “If you use products on the skin that are too thick and greasy these can block the pores and cause breakouts,” explains Dr. Webster. “This is called Pomade Acne. All products used in oily acne-prone skin should be of a lighter formulation, oil-free and non-comedogenic.”

What type of cleanser should you be using?

“The most important solution to acne is a good cleanser,” says Stephnie-Anne. “Choose a cleanser that is pH compatible with the skin, at a pH of 5.5.

“Due to the bacterial infection, harsh products and hormonal fluctuations, the pH of the skin gets altered, leaning more towards the alkaline side, thus feeding the bacterial infection,” she explains. “It is important to maintain and keep the skin at a pH of 5.5 (acidic) to prevent bacterial inflammation.

“You can also look for Salicylic Acid in the ingredients list, which will encourage a gentle exfoliation, loosen sticky sebum and dead cells from the pores, and deep cleanse blocked pores,” says Stephnie-Anne. “Salicylic Acid is also a hero in calming inflammation caused by bacterial-Acne and breakouts.”

What ingredients should you look for in a treatment product?

Look for products that will gently exfoliate, reduce bacterial infection, calm inflammation and encourage healing. “The ingredients that you should look for in a treatment product should include Salicylic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Azelaic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide, Niacinamide and Retinol,” advises Dr. Webster.

It is equally important to maintain the skin’s barrier. “Choose a moisturiser that will provide moisture to the skin, but also some lipids to build up the crucial ‘Barrier,’ explains Stephnie-Anne.  “The Barrier, also known as the Acid Mantle, acts as metal armour for the skin at a pH of 5.5, preventing bacterial invasion and dehydration.”

What ingredients should you avoid in your skincare?

It is just as important to know which type of products you should avoid when treating acne skin. “You should avoid greasy, occlusive, rich ingredients such petrolatum,” says Dr. Webster. He also advises against topical corticosteroid creams. “These may initially help for inflammation caused by acne but in the end will make it worse with a steroid-induced acne flare.”

According to Stephnie-Anne, you should also follow a gentle cleansing routine. “Alcohol and soaps dry out and dehydrate the skin excessively, altering the pH of the skin and causing inflammation.”

Targeted Treatments that are Worth a Try:

Optiphi Classic Clarity Serum

R545 for 15ml,

This spot treatment serum works to sooth, calm redness and regulate oil. It contains Salicylic Acid and Lypohydroxy Acid that help to unclog pores, while niacinamide helps to restore the skin and reduce imperfections. It also contains powerful antioxidants that can help counterpollution damage, stimulate collagen and improve a clear, radiant skin tone.

Eucerin DermoPURIFYER Oil Control Skin Renewal Treatment

R199,99 for 40ml

The new Eucerin Skin Renewal treatment works overnight to improve acne, and they promise results after just two weeks. The formulation contains a 10% Hydroxy Complex – a blend of Alpha (Glycolic), Beta (Salicylic), and
Polyhydroxy (Gluconolactone) acids. These ingredients help to counter hyperkeratosis and thereby spots. It is also antibacterial and it helps to calm and sooth the skin.

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense

R1 325 for 30ml, specialised skin centres, and specialised skincare centres

This powerful treatment doesn’t just work to treat imperfections but also helps to slow the signs of ageing. It combines 2% dioic acid with an optimal alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid formulation to reduce the formation of acne and clogged pores, while improving the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and uneven skin tone.

SVR SebiaClear Active Intensive Care

R265 for 40ml, Clicks and select skincare specialists

This lightweight treatment contains 14% Gluconalocatone which has an anti-inflammatory action, and 4% niacinamide, which inhibits bacterial growth and regulates sebum.

Bioderma Sébium Sensitive Soothing Anti-Blemish Care

R249,95 for 30ml, select pharmacies

This treatment works to rehydrate and sooth acne-prone skin, targeting redness, dryness, spots and blemishes. It promises to rebalance the composition of the sebum (oil), restoring its ability to naturally moisturise. You can apply it once or twice a day after cleansing.

Do you have any additional questions? Pop them in the comments section below, I’d love to hear from you.


I am a lifestyle blogger from Cape Town trying to find the best ways to spend my time, take care of my body and express myself. I am slightly obsessed with fragrances, sneakers, Jamie Oliver and Masterchef Australia. Oh, and I probably drink way too much wine.


  1. Shannon Offer Reply

    I have super oily skin and hormonal acne as well as super sensitive skin. I used salicylic acid to spot treat my acne… it gave me red and itchy eczema… I literally can’t use any drying products because my skin reacts badly… I have no clue what to use anymore because I am using skincare that is for sensitive skin and it is helping with redness but my acne has not gone away… any help choosing a skincare brand that can help me??

    • Liezel Malherbe Reply

      Hey Shannon. I think your best bet would be to see a dermatologist who can prescribe a routine. I do think you’re on the right route by using products for sensitive skin rather than harsh ones that might irritate your skin further. But acne is a tough problem and most drugstore brands just won’t crack it. If you are in South Africa, you can get a free skin consultation at Dermalogica and they normally give samples as well to try at home. That might help you to get a better understanding of your skin’s problems. Hope this helps!

Write A Comment