When it comes to skin, there are few conditions more frustrating than acne. Whether it’s teenage acne—brought on by hormones or perhaps the wrath of some higher being—or acne that arrives in early adulthood seemingly out of nowhere, figuring out how to treat our skin can feel like a confusing, expensive never-ending quest. We’ve spoken with expert dermatologists before about acne products, different types of acne and what causes them. We’ve dived into the world of acne positive Instagrams and how they can help us accept our skin and change how we think about acne.
If you’re already eating your greens, drinking loads of water and working on dismantling the idea that ‘self-worth = clear skin’, there’s definitely a place for specifically formulated acne products in your skincare routine. Effective acne products aren’t just the $$$ ones either. There are more budget friendly-acne fighting products on the market than ever, and we’ve curated a bunch of the best ones. As with all things, practise moderation. Going overboard and throwing five different spot treatments once is a recipe for aggravated, inflamed skin. No judgement though, we understand how tempting that would be.
Instead, pick one thing to introduce at a time and see how your skin goes for a week or so as you use it. Our skin naturally turns over at slightly different rates for everyone, and some products can take anywhere from two to four weeks to take effect. When it comes to skin, patience and consistency are gonna give you the most rewards.
In terms of ingredients to look for, Giulia D’Anna, a dermal therapist at Dermal Distinction names salicylic acid as one of her picks. “Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid,” she explains. “This is oil soluble which is perfect for acne, as it helps to dissolve the excess oil produced in the pores or oil glands within the skin, as well as break apart the skin cells on the surface which hold the oil or sebum in.” Her other recommendations include benzoyl peroxide, which works by reducing and killing the bacteria that cause acne. “It is important to not use a highly concentrated benzoyl peroxide product, as this can irritate the skin,” D’Anna notes.
PSA, though you should be wearing sunscreen every day anyway, it’s especially important if you’re using any kind of exfoliating acid—the most common ones are salicylic, lactic, glycolic and mandelic—or any other “cell-turn-over-y” type actives. They can increase your skins’ sensitivity to the sun and you wanna protect your fresh new babyface, ya know?
If you’re on the hunt for effective acne products that actually work and fit your budget, the below are some of our tried and tested favourites.
The Best Budget Acne Products & Skincare Items
The Best Cleansers For Acne
This bar soap has gone viral, sold out and is being hailed as a Holy Grail acne product by people from all over the world. Seriously, the hype is intense and it keeps selling out, worldwide. What’s more impressive about the Carbon Theory facial cleansing bar though, is that it really does deliver the acne-clearing goods. As well as charcoal, the bar contains tea tree oil. “Tea tree oil is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial in nature,” says D’Anna. While she notes it’s less potent than benzoyl peroxide, it’s “useful in mild cases” and unlike topically applied benzoyl peroxide it’s not going to end up bleaching your pillowcases.
Carbon Theory Charcoal & Tea Tree Oil Breakout Control Facial Cleansing Bar, $14.99 at Priceline.
Another cleanser we’re big fans of, because bar soap isn’t for everyone, is the K-beauty classic COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser. As well as being ph balanced—skin is naturally a bit acidic and disrupting its balance can weaken it and make it more susceptible to acne—this tube of creamy foaming goodness also has our fav salicylic acid. Plus, there are other skin-purifying botanical ingredients in the mix too, including cypress and tea tree oil. We found this very useful for stubborn patches of congestion and whiteheads.
COSRX Salicylic Acid Daily Gentle Cleanser, $20 at Nudie Glow. (Currently on sale for $18)
Best Toners For Acne
Ohh, The Ordinary, a perennial fav for people looking for effective acne products on a budget. This is a glycolic acid toner, which has a similar function to salicylic acid but is an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA). Basically, it’s a water-soluble exfoliator and will help your skin let go of excess dead skin cells that can get trapped and cause acne. Some people swear by doing a swipe of an AHA first before putting on a clay mask, so you’re removing as much excess oil/gunk/junk from your skin as possible. Just tread gently—and keep reading for our mask picks. You can swipe it on with a (reusable 🥺) cotton round or tip a bit into your hands and press into your skin.
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, $14.50 at Adore Beauty.
Another acne-fighting banger from Carbon Theory. This acne product is similar to The Ordinary’s above, but there are a few key differences. This one uses lactic, instead of glycolic acid—though if you’re at the point where you’re choosing your fave AHA you’re probably already deep into Skincare Addiction. It also has a few other ingredients like tea tree oil, citric acid and pink grapefruit extract to further minimise pores and keep acne at bay. It’s also a pleasing shade of pink. So, there’s that. Like the above toner, it will also help with the hyperpigmentation and dark spots that can occur after a breakout.
Carbon Theory Tea Tree Oil & Citric Acid Breakout Control Facial Purifying, $29.99 at Priceline.
The Best Acne-Fighting Face Scrub
Okay, so we would say tread with caution with physical exfoliators if you have very angry, inflamed or ‘open’ acne. The last thing you want to do is use an acne product that’s too abrasive and end up irritating your skin or causing tears and making acne worse. This Sukin one uses v gentle jojoba beads (not microplastic beads, we hate them) and also has a bunch of soothing detoxifying ingredients including kale, spirulina and parsley. It’s their best seller for a reason and, happily, Sukin is also carbon neutral. Check out some of our other favourite sustainable beauty brands.
Sukin Super Greens Detoxifying Facial Scrub 125 mL $14.99 Priceline
The Best Face Masks For Acne
ICYMI, Frank Body also does stuff that is not for your body. This clay-based mask is a good ‘un for removing dirt, impurities and the ‘day’s drama’ from your face. This mask also has skin-soothing ingredients like chamomile and honey too: an oil-absorbing, anti-inflammatory double feature. Slather on for 15 minutes and then rinse for soft, smooth skin that’s a little more calm and clear each time.
Frank Body Anti-Drama Face Mask $21.95 at Frank Body.
For the hippies and misologist amongst us, can we suggest this mix-it-yourself mask from Butt Naked? This mask comes in straight powder form, so you’re only getting the pure organic ingredients: hemp powder, kaolin powder, aloe vera powder and green tea powder. It also means you can mix it with your preferred medium. They suggest water, but you could add a spoon of manuka honey to amp up the anti-inflammatory properties. Mask once or twice a week to help to reduce redness, scarring and bacteria.
Butt Naked Hemp Clay Mask $20.95 at Flora and Fauna.
The Best Serums For Acne
If you’re looking for something to leave on forever (or… until you next wash your face) we’re big fans of this gentle serum from The Ordinary. It contains niacinamide to target dark spots and the zinc is anti-inflammatory and balancing. As well as fewer breakouts, people also report smoother skin, balanced oil production and less redness. Win-win-win.
The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%, $9.90 at Priceline.
The Best Spot Treatments For Acne
If you’re looking for an alternative acne product to the beloved EradiKate Acne Treatment by Kate Somerville that uhh doesn’t cost $42, we’d suggest the Acne Spot Drying Lotion from Noosa Basics. This Aussie-owned spot fighter has the same soothing calamine base as well as salicylic acid to target those aggressively angry pimples that you knoooww you shouldn’t poke. Take a cotton bud, dip to the bottom without shaking and apply the pink stuff. You probs know this already, but do not shake the bottle before doing so. And then continue about you day, knowing your skin is healing and you haven’t turned it into a crater.
Noosa Basics Acne Spot Drying Lotion $27.95 from Biome.
For an acne product that’s a little more inconspicuous to wear during the day, we like the Andalous Naturals Clear Skin Blemish Vanishing Gel. As well as a 2% concentration of salicylic acid, this bad boy has a soothing aloe base to moisturise your skin while it’s fighting a spot. Be warned, it is quite strong and people with drier or sensitive skin could experience a bit of a tingle. Start with a small amount once a day and see how you go, but it’s very effective for pulling a pimple out and away.
Andalous Naturals Clear Skin Blemish Vanishing Gel $19.99 at Priceline. (Currently on sale for $11.99)