This article was medically reviewed by Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and member of the Preventive Medical Review Board.

If you regularly face acne, you know how discouraging It can be control the acne. You’ve tried effective spot treatments, fancy washes, and oil-absorbing masks, but you still haven’t wandered over to Serum Land because… how do you know which one to buy? With all the claims that skin care brands make, it can be really confusing. But you can absolutely benefit from a serum if you have acne — you just have to find one that suits your specific needs.

Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist based in Connecticut and a member of PreventMedical Review Board.

Because serums contain a large amount of beneficial ingredients (or ingredients), they are more profitable for your money. However, that also makes them potentially irritating. “If you’re managing your acne with products that can cause irritation,” such as prescription creams or topical treatments, “[adding a serum] maybe too much,” said Orit Markowitz, MD, FAAD, CEO and Founder of OptiSkin. However, tweaking your routine as needed can offset any redness, flaking, or breakouts (which means you’ll end up with more breakouts at first).

How to choose the best serum for acne-prone skin

✔️ Know your activity: There are various active ingredients that, when formulated into a serum, can aid in the control of acne. But it’s important to know what they are and how they work before you buy:

  • Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, is more than just an anti-aging agent. Because it increases skin cell turnover, Dr. Gohara says it’s also “a tried and true acne treatment.” But its potent nature makes it potentially irritating. Recommended use is once a day (spaced, if you’re just starting out), at night. Many times, acne patients prefer to try a retinol prescribed by their dermatologist first.
  • Hydroxy Acids are alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic and lactic acids and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid that exfoliate the top layer of the skin and unclog pores. If overused, they can dry out the skin. Recommended use is usually once a day, at night.
  • Niacinamide, A form of vitamin B3 is anti-inflammatory and will “work on pustules, swelling, and redness,” says Ava Shamban, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in California. It also helps balance the skin’s oil production. As a less irritating ingredient, it can be used morning and evening.
  • Vitamin C It is an antioxidant that helps even out skin tone and fade acne scars. Dr. Gohara recommends daily use in the morning, followed by sunscreen.
  • Hyaluronic Acidd Hydrates skin that is dry or irritated by over-treatment and can be used as needed.

✔️ Watch out for oils“Rule one is to avoid oil-based serums if you have acne,” says Dr. Markowitz. Non-comedogenic is another buzzword to look for to make sure a product is designed to not clog pores.

✔️ Choose the right cocktail: Many serums on the market contain a mixture of these ingredients. For example, you can find a salicylic acid serum that also contains hyaluronic acid. That’s good, because salicylic acid exfoliates, hyaluronic acid hydrates and repairs.

✔️ Slow start: In other words, don’t buy one of everything and start off at a discount. “You should always make sure you are using a small amount (the size of a pea) and increase it gradually so as not to irritate the skin,” says Dr. Gohara. If you’re using multiple serums that are likely to dry out your skin, try using them on different nights. (And remember, serums are applied after cleansing and before moisturizer or sunscreen.)

Now that you’ve taken a serum course, check out the skin-approved options below if you have acne-prone skin.


Retinol 0.5% in Squalane

Normal thing


Dr. Gohara is a big fan of The Ordinary products, as they are both affordable and effective. “I like this one because it has squalane, so it has a moisturizing effect,” she says, but it also Improves skin tone and texture with the help of retinol. If you suffer from acne but have combination or dry skin, then this product is for you.


Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1%

Normal thing


Both Dr. Shamban and Dr. Gohara recommend this serum, which has a more gel-like consistency. Zinc and niacinamide minimize inflammation while fading post-acne dark spots. The combination also Helps balance skin’s sebum production, especially helpful if your skin is very oily.


2% BHA liquid salicylic acid exfoliator

Paula’s Choice


While not technically a serum, this product is like one and used in a similar way – after cleansing and before moisturizer. “I think it’s a great addition to someone’s routine when they’re looking to fight acne,” says Dr. Markowitz. “It’s a gentle resignation formula Exfoliate dead skin cells while unclogs and unclogs pores,” thanks to 2% salicylic acid.


Resurfacing Retinol Serum

This serum has it all: retinol to address issues directly, ceramides to help nourish and strengthen the delicate skin barrier, niacinamide to control oil, and licorice root to do soften. It’s special Ideal for anyone dealing with large pores or stubborn scars. Since the brand is made with sensitive skin in mind, it’s also loved by most dermatologists (including our experts).


Clear Skin Willow Bark Booster

Eminence organic skin care


Infused with willow bark (a natural form of salicylic acid) and tea tree oil (which helps fight oil), this serum helps Soothes redness and irritation while gently exfoliating to prevent future breakouts, approved by Dr. Shamban.


Blemish Acne Treatment + Age Defense



This salicylic acid serum kills two birds with one stone by Fights acne and reduces wrinkles at the same time. That’s why both Dr. Shamban and Dr. Gohara say it’s a great choice. It contains various skin cleansing acids to unclog clogged pores, reduce signs of aging and improve uneven skin tone.


Just Breathe Clarifying Serum

There is a sentence


Zinc, willow bark and niacinamide work together expertly to Gently exfoliates, soothes redness and calms breakouts. The formula of this serum is extremely thin and light, so it absorbs quickly to get to work. Bonus: It’s only about $20, making it one of the more affordable options on this list.


UFO Ultra-Clarifying Face Oil

Sunday Riley


We know what you’re thinking, “You said no oil!” This product is an exception. Dr. Shamban likes it because it’s a special oil, dries out and absorbs quickly into the skin. It contains salicylic acid and tea tree oil to keep pores clear and licorice root extract help fade dark spots left by acne.


Anti-acne serum

“No very good mild serum “The formula is also fragrance-free, which is a great boon for sensitive skin types,” says Dr. Markowitz.


Retinol Serum 0.25% Pure Concentrate

First aid beauty


Gohara says, if you’ve never used a retinol product before, this serum is a great place to start, because it has a low percentage of potent ingredients. It also Contains hyaluronic acid and peptides (known as the “building blocks” of proteins) To hydrate and smooth the appearance of wrinkles.


CE Ferulic



Dr. Gohara explains: “Especially in brown and black skin when we have acne, we can get discolouration. Vitamin C Serum Antioxidants keep those marks from sticking around and with the help of vitamin E, they are even more effective. “They are good antioxidants on their own but are even better when combined,” she adds.


AlphaRet Clearing Serum

better skin


If there’s ever been an all-in-one serum for acne-prone skin, this is it. Recommended by Dr. Shamban, it is marketed for oily, congested and Contains salicylic acid, lactic acid and retinoid, which means it’s a pretty strong exfoliant. If you choose this product, try it out in small amounts, gradually, and remember to always apply sunscreen the next morning.

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