There are several key parts of any effective anti-acne skincare routine, including proven, dermatologist-recommended ingredients as well as the proper products. The right combination of both is important for achieving and maintaining clear skin—and exfoliation is an essential step that cannot be overlooked.
Different Ways to Exfoliate Your Skin and Minimize Acne
There are several key parts of any effective anti-acne skincare routine, including proven, dermatologist-recommended ingredients as well as the proper products. The right combination of both is important for achieving and maintaining clear skin—and exfoliation is an essential step that cannot be overlooked. The good news is, there are many ways to get the acne-fighting benefits of exfoliation—but first, the basics…
There are two main types of exfoliation: Physical and chemical. Physical exfoliation manually loosens and sweeps away dull skin cells with a mechanical action provided by small particles or a skincare brush. On the other hand, chemical exfoliation uses ingredients such as alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids to melt the “glue” that holds dead cells on the surface of the skin, in turn making them easier to whisk away. Both of these forms of exfoliation are extremely effective, yet some people may have a preference due to ease of use or their personal level of skin sensitivity.
An essential ingredient for battling all types of acne , salicylic acid’s main role is providing gentle chemical exfoliation that helps prevent acne breakouts. Face products with salicylic acid are an effective acne treatment because they help promote the shedding of dead skin cells that can clog the pores, and dermatologist Dr. Hadley King says, “I recommend salicylic acid because of its exfoliating properties, and this ingredient is oil-soluble, which means it can penetrate and clear pores.” Especially beneficial for those with oily, acne-prone skin, salicylic acid helps dissolve the excess sebum (oil) that causes blackheads, and yet another benefit of a salicylic acid treatment is that it has also been shown to reduce the redness and inflammation associated with active breakouts. 
Face products with salicylic acid include acne cleanser, moisturizing lotions, sprays and more. This ingredient is a gentle yet effective blemish treatment, and a simple routine that includes a salicylic acid acne wash, acne toner and acne treatment lotion helps treat breakouts and prevent new pimples from forming. (TheAcneFree 24 HR Acne Clearing System includes all three of these products.) Salicylic acid can also be used with benzoyl peroxide and sulfur to promote clear skin, and because these ingredients help treat acne in different ways, using them in combination is ideal to minimize blemishes.
Salicylic acid is one of the top dermatologist recommendations for acne simply because it’s an extremely effective ingredient that helps get rid of acne. Salicylic acid treatment is unlikely to cause irritation, but you should only use it once a day if you experience redness or dryness. Every skincare regimen (whether it includes salicylic acid or not) should include a daily sunscreen that is applied every morning, regardless of season or weather, that is reapplied at least every two hours when spending time in the skin. But anyone who uses a salicylic acid acne treatment, should to be extra careful about sun exposure because of this ingredient’s exfoliating effects.
Toner with glycolic acid
Using toner after you wash your face is a worthwhile step when you’re dealing with acne. A few swipes help clear away any dirt or makeup that your cleanser may leave behind, and the right product can deliver extra exfoliating benefits with minimal effort. Look for a toner that contains witch hazel to minimize the appearance of pores, provide the skin with antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory properties  and reduce excess oil so you can also enjoy a shine-free complexion. In addition, Dr. King says, “Exfoliating glycolic acid can enhance witch hazel toner benefits by minimizing the build-up of dead skin cells that contribute to acne as well.”AcneFree’s Witch Hazel Mattifying Toner incorporates glycolic acid along with soothing aloe vera to help eliminate impurities, minimize blackheads, balance the skin’s pH and keep shine at bay.
A skincare brush
When you’re dealing with acne, cleansing in the morning, at night and after working out is non-negotiable—but you can take your face-washing efforts to the next level with the help of a cleansing acne brush. According to Dr. King, “Cleansing brushes exfoliate, helping to slough away skin cells and debris that clog pores and cause acne. This also allows cleansers to penetrate the skin more easily to deliver medication where it’s needed, which is beneficial especially for those with moderate to severe acne.” For optimal exfoliating benefits, the AcneFree Oil Free Deep Cleansing Duo kit features our best-selling Oil Free Acne Cleanser with benzoyl peroxide along with a two-speed acne brush that has been proven to cleanse the skin 15 times better than face wash alone.
Every daily anti-acne skincare routine can benefit from an occasion boost, and a charcoal scrub is an ideal way to get the benefits of physical exfoliation. Designed for use as an occasional add-on to your daily acne routine or as a daily acne face wash, our Blackhead Removing Scrub with Charcoal is a gel-based cleanser with 2% salicylic acid to minimize breakouts, natural jojoba and purifying charcoal. Its gentle exfoliating action helps further minimize the dead skin cells, oil and other debris that can lead to clogged pores—and potential skin breakouts. This charcoal scrub can also help the pores appear smaller by clearing out excess oil and grime, and it can be used by all skin types (including sensitive) because it will not irritate the skin.
You might think of masks as feel-good treats for your skin—but an acne mask can be a powerful part of your blemish-fighting skincare regimen. Many dermatologists recommend sulfur for acne, because this effective acne-fighting ingredient has antimicrobial benefits that help minimize the bacteria that contribute to breakouts .  Sulfur also provides gentle exfoliation as it helps clear oil and debris from the pores—and it can also help reduce the redness and discomfort caused by acne blemishes. “Sulfur is a versatile, naturally derived ingredient with many skin benefits, including treating acne. I often recommend sulfur-containing products to my patients with oily and acne-prone skin because they can effectively minimize breakouts without irritation,” says Dr. King.
AcneFree’s Therapeutic Sulfur Mask offers all of these skin-clearing benefits, plus bentonite clay to absorb excess oil and make pores appear smaller—as well as skin-brightening vitamin C along with zinc and copper for extra soothing. You know this acne mask is working when you feel the cool, tingly sensation and see the color change from white to blue, and you can use it two to three times a week (or as often as desired) without worrying about irritation. Once you start (and stick with it), you’ll notice less acne breakouts, improvement in skin tone and a healthy glow—and it can be used to help clear body acne breakouts as well.
Kaolin clay is another ingredient that helps gently exfoliate the skin without irritation—and it also works to absorb excess oil on the surface of the skin and within the pores, while trapping dirt and debris to make them easier to wash away. Our Kaolin Clay Detox Mask with Charcoal provides added pore-purification with charcoal along with antioxidant vitamin E and oil-minimizing zinc. The best part about this acne mask is that is can be used daily or just a few times a week to help promote clear skin, less oil, smaller-looking pores and an overall smoother, healthier-looking complexion.
The bottom line
As you can see, there are many ways to incorporate exfoliation—and its acne-fighting benefits—into your skincare routine. The key is finding the way to minimize a build-up of dead skin cells that works best for you, and sticking with it so you can experience the results first-hand in the form of clear skin.
 Baumann, Leslie. Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients. McGraw-Hill Education/Medical, 2015. Page 303
 J-Stage Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin 1995; 18(1): 162-166
 Baumann, Leslie. Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice. McGraw-Hill Education/Medical, 2009. Page 316-317