Acne care is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a teenager, I had relatively little acne. I started having more and more problems with acne as I got older. It was only recently that I realized my problems are entirely hormonal, a side effect of my PCOS and there is very little I can do to stop my skin from being oily and breaking out nearly every day. That doesn't stop me from trying to control my skin though. Since about 2008, I've tried just about every expensive and inexpensive option for acne control including ProActiv, Neutrogena Skin ID, hundreds of drugstore options and since starting with Bonne Bell, many iterations of my own creations with the "latest and greatest" from raw material suppliers. Through it all I have gained a lot of insight into what acne prone skin needs, and what it doesn't.
The most important thing to remember about acne prone skin is to avoid irritation. Irritation leads to more breakouts and slower healing. Unfortunately, many of the things that are commonly associated with skin care for acne prone skin are actually irritants and only make acne worse. One of the biggest is alcohol. You will see this in astringents, spot treatments, even face washes. Alcohol is way too drying for everyone's skin, even the most oily. Alcohol is actually counterproductive to oily skin because it over dries the skin and actually increases oil production. It's truly a relic from when it was thought that the best way to get rid of a zit was to dry it out as quickly as possible. Alcohol has no place in skin care products.
Other irritants commonly used in acne products are menthol/ peppermint extracts because they give a cooling sensation that many people believe means it's "working". There are many other fragrant botanicals that are irritants to skin as well. Witch hazel, eucalyptus, fennel, cinnamon, citruses and cloves are all too irritating for most skin types.
It's important to not over cleanse your face when you are trying to control acne. Wash your face twice a day (unless you are formulating a new skin care line and you are your own test subject, then wash your face 10 times a day and have your worst breakout in years). Wash your face with lukewarm water, not hot. Hot water is irritating to your skin and over time can lead to burst capillaries and splotchy redness on your face.
So now that I've covered all the things you SHOULDN'T use on your acne prone skin, what should you use? Basically for a face wash you want something gentle and mild that cleans off excess dirt, oil and makeup and doesn't irritate your skin. You will commonly find face washes with salicylic acid but really, salicylic acid in a face wash is a waste. Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant. It is known as a beta hydoxy acid or BHA. It works by sloughing off dead skin cells and clearing out dirt from your pores. However it only works if it stays on your skin. A face wash is on your skin for maybe a minute, tops. That is not nearly enough time for salicylic acid to do anything. So save that for later. Clean & Clear Foaming Facial Cleanser, Sensitive Skin is a gentle foaming face wash without irritating ingredients.
Now it's time for your BHA. Salicylic acid can only function as an exfoliant in the very narrow pH range of 3-4. If the product is outside of that range, it really won't be helpful at all. Unfortunately, unless you walk around with your pocket pH meter you have no idea if the chemist who formulated that product knew that or cared enough to bother to specify a pH for the product. Neutrogena Oil-Free Stress Control Acne treatment is a well formulated product, in the correct pH range, with a good level of salicylic acid- 2%. Use your BHA product over your whole face, not just on your current zits. Like I said, salicylic acid exfoliates and clears dirt and oil out of your pores- thus preventing future breakouts when used over your whole face.
Basically that's all that you need to do to control most cases of acne. If your acne doesn't show signs of improvement with this type of treatment, talk to your doctor. It could be caused by hormones, in which case birth control pills have been shown to be very effective for controlling acne. Doctors can also prescribe antibiotics or topical steroids which are also effective at controlling more severe cases of acne.