The 5 Acne-Fighting Hero Ingredients To Look For

by | Mar 28, 2023 | Skincare

Acne’s kind of like your periods: you’ll always have it, even though you’d prefer it if it just didn’t exist. Luckily, huge advances in science means we have way more than charcoal masks to draw out impurities and nix whiteheads. So we’ve decided to round up a few ace acne-fighting ingredients so you’re better prepared when shopping for your next serum or face wash.  

These acne-fighting ingredients not only work to smooth out breakouts, they also manage sebum production (your skin’s natural oils), unclog pores and encourage a smooth, dewy texture.

Azelaic Acid

This lightweight acid works to kill bacteria on your skin that cause acne, says Natasha Davel at Fundamentals Skincare. “It decreases the activity of bacteria called propionibacterium, the bacteria found in acne, due to its bacteriostatic (limits the production of bacteria) and bactericidal properties (kills bacteria). It also reduces post-breakout marks.”

When to use

You can use this ingredient morning and evening as part of your wind-down routine. First, wash your face, then apply, following with any other oil-or-water-based serums next.

How to use

Start introduction slowly and gradually increase frequency to twice a day.

Goes well with:  

Salicylic Acid, niacinamide, retinol

skin functional acne-fighting ingredients
Skin Functional 10% Azelaic Acid Multi-Tasking Fixer
Standard Beauty Mattifying Gel Moisturiser with 10% Azelaic Acid
Fundamentals Skincare
10% Azelaic Acid


“This is an anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial ingredient derived from the babchi plant,” says Natasha. “In a pilot study, a topical 0.5 percent bakuchiol cream decreased the number of inflammatory lesions and lessened discolouration left over from healed acne spots, leading researchers to conclude that bakuchiol may be effective for mild to moderate acne, especially in skin of colour.” Plus, it’s as effective as retinol, while being more gentle.

When to use

Feel free to use in the morning and evenings

How to use

Layer this ingredient onto skin after you’ve applied your water serum and water-free serums.

Goes well with: 

Pair this with peptides and hyaluronic acid

Royale Bakuchiol
lelive Peptide Bakuchiol &
African Oil Elixir

Salicylic acid

“This ingredient works to treat acne by unclogging blocked pores,” says Natasha. “It does this by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells so that they can release from the pore more easily, and breaking down oils, such as sebum. Salicylic acid also decreases the skin’s sebum production, leading to fewer breakouts.” What a lifesaver.

When to use 

Salicylic acid works better when used at night, since it might cause sensitivity when exposed to sunlight. If you’re using it during the day, make sure to add sunscreen, always.

How to use

Layer this on first after washing, and follow up with a water serum, then a water-free serum, to help absorption.

Goes well with: 

Niacinamide, retinol

Creightons Salicylic Acid Clay Cleanser
Skin Republic Spot Clear Patches
Fundamentals Skincare Salicylic Acid toner


Retinoids “unclog pores, manage breakouts and post-breakout marks through increasing the cell turnover,” explains Natasha. This ace acne fighter has been all over everyone’s skincare radar for years and is showing no signs of slowing down. Dermatologists love this product, too.

When to use

Use this at night, since retinol is sensitive to the sun.

How to use

Layer on after applying any other water-based serums to your skin and after washing (duh).

Goes well with: 

Pair your retinol with hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

Neutrogena Retinol Boost Night Cream
La Roche Posay Retinol B3 Serum
The Ordinary Retinol 0.2% In Squalane


“This reduces blotchiness and redness, minimises the appearance of pores and regulates sebum production,” says Natasha. A form of vitamin B3, this works to fight acne and even eczema.

When to use

Use this morning and evening. There’s interesting evidence to suggest it might even be ace at preventing skin damage from the sun. Always use sunscreen for a power pairing.

How to use

Layer this onto your skin after washing and add on water-free serums afterwards.

Goes well with:

Pair this power serum with glycolic, salicylic, and azelaic acids.

Standard Beauty 10% Niacinamide & 1% Zinc Serum
Beauty Of Joseon Glow Serum Propolis + Niacinamide
Yearn Skin Niacinamide Cleansing Gel

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