From azelaic acid to Vitamin C, the best products for acne scars and breakouts feature skin-nourishing antioxidants and anti-inflammatories to brighten and support healthy skin. Find out what causes acne breakouts, the top products to add to your regimen, and how to get the most out of your products by implementing a daily routine.
What Causes Acne Breakouts?
Acne breakouts occur when your hair follicles become clogged with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. These clogged follicles erupt in blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples, which may be pus-filled and painful. In some cases, yeast builds up in your hair follicles, causing fungal acne. Other times, your bacteria travels deep into the skin and forms a lump known as cystic acne. These typically leave scars.
Acne triggers include:1
- Excess sweat
- Hormonal fluctuations
- Poor hygiene
- Air pollution
- Using greasy, oily products on the face
- Picking at your skin
- Certain medications like corticosteroids, lithium, vitamin B12, thyroid hormones, and antibiotics.2
- High sugar intake
Types of Acne Scars & Main Causes
When an acne blemish becomes inflamed and swollen, it may cause damage to the skin and the tissue underneath. As the blemish heals, the body produces collagen to repair this damage. If your body produces too little or too much collagen, a scar will develop.3 Picking at the skin may worsen the scar. Acne scars are incredibly common. About 80% of people between the ages of 11 and 30 will have acne, and one out of five of them will have scarring.4
Acne scars are categorized as:
- Depressed: Too little collagen results in an indentation in the skin. Icepick scars are narrow and deep indentations, while rolling scars are wide and make the skin appear wavy and uneven. Boxcar scars are another type of depressed scar that look crater-like with sharp edges.
- Raised or hypertrophic: When too much collagen is produced, a bump or raised scar may develop. These scars can be itchy and tender and be referred to as keloid scars.
Top Products to Treat Breakouts & Scarring
Here’s what to use for acne and acne scars, whether you’re aiming to clear up a current breakout, prevent a future breakout, or improve the appearance of acne-prone skin.
1. FS Azelaic Acid
Azelaic acid is a naturally-occurring acid found in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. With antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant properties, it is typically recommended for acne, hyperpigmentation, and rosacea because of its ability to minimize inflammation, brighten skin, and unclog pores. Azelaic acid also helps to destroy bacteria on the skin to help heal and prevent breakouts.
In clinical studies, topical azelaic acid was proven to be as effective as topical tretinoin, benzoyl peroxide, erythromycin, and oral tetracycline for clearing up acne.5 However, azelaic acid is much gentler and less abrasive on the skin than the others mentioned. It also promotes the skin’s cell turnover process, triggering collagen production to heal and repair damaged skin.
Foundation Skincare Azelaic Acid Cream contains a 14% concentration of azelaic acid, which makes it the most potent option without a prescription, but gentle enough for sensitive skin. Most over-the-counter azelaic acid products contain a smaller amount of the active ingredient, while prescription formulas tend to dry out or irritate skin.
2. FS Niacinamide Lotion
Niacinamide is a form of Vitamin B-3, which is an essential nutrient that helps build proteins in the skin and retain moisture. In supporting healthy fats in the skin (lipid barrier) and decreasing the production of sebum, niacinamide helps to prevent acne breakouts. Its anti-inflammatory properties also ease redness associated with current breakouts and scarring while improving skin texture.6
Research indicates topical niacinamide significantly improves acne from baseline comparable to treatment with the prescription antibiotic clindamycin, which is typically used for severe acne.7 However, niacinamide will not dry out or irritate the skin and will not lead to antibiotic resistance.
Foundation Skincare Niacinamide Lotion has a powerful 10% concentration of the active ingredient along with hyaluronic acid and ceramide NP, which hydrate and improve moisture retention. The dermatologist-formulated product also contains aloe leaf juice to calm the skin. Like Foundation Azelaic Acid, the niacinamide lotion can be used twice a day and pairs well with other products, such as Foundation Skincare Vitamin C Lotion 20% for even more antioxidant support.
3. FS Night Renewal Cream
Foundation Skincare Night Renewal Cream contains 2% Granactive Retinoid with essential peptide growth factors and plant-based botanicals to support skin renewal as well as prescription retinoic acid (without the irritation). Though retinoids are typically revered for their anti-aging effects through their stimulation of collagen, they can also protect the skin from acne breakouts.8
Dermatologists consider retinoids to be a “mainstay of therapy for acne” because they loosen and unblock pores by reducing oil secretion, and because they are anti-inflammatory.9 Research also shows retinoids are useful in reducing and preventing acne scars by accelerating cell turnover.10
Because retinoids make your skin more sensitive to the sun, Foundation Skincare Night Renewal Cream should only be used at night. Begin with three nights per week as your skin acclimates and then you can use nightly. If you desire more hydration when you use this product, pair with Foundation Skincare Hyaluronic Acid Lotion.
4. FS Vitamin C Lotion
Vitamin C is typically associated with immune health when taken orally, but when applied topically, this anti-inflammatory ingredient can be extremely beneficial for your acne. Vitamin C reduces the redness and swelling associated with acne blemishes and boosts collagen to support scar healing.11 This can be especially helpful for depressed, or atrophic, scars in which the skin hasn’t produced enough collagen.
In clinical trials, applying Vitamin C twice daily reduced acne lesions with no serious side effects when compared to placebo. Research also suggests vitamin C aids the transport of nutrients to wounds for faster, more effective healing, which can help prevent scarring.
Foundation Skincare Vitamin C Lotion combines 20% Vitamin C (one of the highest available) with a moisturizing base and vitamin E to hydrate, brighten and protect your skin without causing irritation. Along with decreasing inflammation, the lotion can also help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles while gently exfoliating the skin. Apply twice daily after cleansing but before applying a retinoid like the Night Renewal Cream.
Sunscreen is a crucial component to any skincare regimen. Not only can it protect your skin from harmful UV rays and prevent signs of aging, it can also reduce exposure to free radicals which can worsen acne. Dermatologists recommend applying sunscreen as the last layer of your skincare routine, after your antioxidant base, like Vitamin C, as both ingredients can prevent further UV damage. Choose a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Consider pairing your sunscreen with Foundation Skincare Spectrum, a supplement that further protects the skin against sun damage and skin cancer while promoting skin renewal through plant-based antioxidants and key vitamins.
How To Get the Most Out Of Your Products
The best way to get the most benefit out of these essential ingredients is to build a daily skincare routine. Many people avoid layering their products because they think the ingredients will clash and cause irritation or make acne worse. In many cases this is true. But all of the products in the Foundation Skincare line layer very well together. Review our recommended routine for acne below:
- Morning: After cleansing skin, apply Niacinamide Lotion 10% and moisturize with Hyaluronic Acid Lotion. Then apply a thin layer of Azelaic Acid 14% before your sunscreen.
- Evening: Follow the same routine as the morning, but swap out sunscreen for the Night Renewal Cream.
This is the recommended routine for the best results, but if you experience any sensitivity or irritation, feel free to only use azelaic acid in the morning. At night, apply Niacinamide Lotion 10% after cleansing, followed by Vitamin C Lotion 20%, and then moisturize with the Night Renewal Cream.