From glycolic and salicylic acid products to retinoids and peels, we’ve all heard the typical go-to acne solutions. But what works in the real world? We asked YouBeauty readers to share the methods that truly made a difference in their breakouts—and believe it or not, there’s not a single skincare product on this list.
Sugar can be more addictive than cocaine, so limiting or cutting out this additive may seem incredibly daunting for the sweet-tooths out there—but for one reader, it made a drastic difference in her complexion. Claire Sharpe suffered from cystic acne on her body and face for years, and had tried prescription retinoids like Differin and oral contraceptives, as well as three rounds of Accutane. After noticing last year that her acne seemed to flare after eating sugary foods like cake and chocolate, Sharpe cut out all refined sugar.
Amazingly, the angry acne spots cleared. After reintroducing sugar several times and seeing the acne reemerge each time, Sharpe now shuns refined sugar. “I make my own yummy treats by sweetening with agave nectar, honey or dried fruit like dates,” says Sharpe. “I truly believe people need to avoid the processed junk, because I think it’s making us sick.”
So why can such sweetness be so bad for skin? After eating sugar, insulin is released into the body, and those high insulin levels are a leading cause of inflammation, says Rye Brook, New York holistic doctor, Susan Blum, M.D. That inflammation can trigger and worsen acne, increase surface redness and leave a sallow, dull look to the complexion. If you want to ease off processed sugar to see if it makes a difference in your skin, fresh fruit and Sharpe’s list of sweetener alternatives can help you cut out the white stuff. And you need not sacrifice those delicious baked goods; just substitute applesauce as a sweet and healthier sugar alternative.
Sometimes, the best skincare advice is passed down through generations. Reader Shannon Christine Bazemore was taught by her mother to combine two to three lightly coated aspirin with a few drops of water to mix a mask that heals acne. “I have my 12 and 14 year-olds apply the paste of crushed aspirin and water, let it dry, and then rinse off,” explains Bazemore. “It works like a charm to dry up acne!” Since there’s no binding agent, it’s normal for the paste to be fairly loose and flaky. If you’d like a hydrating and soothing binder, try adding some honey or aloe vera, suggests Bazemore.
This recipe isn’t just an old wives’ tale. Aspirin is made of acetylsalicylic acid, which helps reduce inflammation in the skin—and which is closely related to salicylic acid, a popular beta hydroxy acid that is often used to treat acne in over the counter skincare products. “While the two compounds are not identical, a paste made from aspirin can help acne by reducing inflammation and removing excess oil and dead surface skin cells,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical dermatology research at New York’s Mount Sinai Medical Center.