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Skin Care, Skin Health

How To Get Clear Skin: 6 Key Ingredients and Tips

by Liz Thompson
April 30, 2024

We can probably all agree that clear skin is a top skincare goal. Breakouts can be frustrating and put a damper on your day, whether you have mild or moderate acne. Adjusting your products, regimen and lifestyle can help break the breakout cycle and put you on the path to the skin you've always wanted. But understanding how to get clear skin isn't always straightforward. So, get clear (no pun intended) on how to get clear skin with these acne-fighting ingredients and tips.

What Causes Acne?

You know how acne affects your skin, but what causes acne? Breakouts — including pimples, whiteheads and blackheads — happen when oil and dead skin clog hair follicles, resulting in redness, swelling and clogged or enlarged pores.

While acne tends to be most prevalent in the teen years, this common skin condition can affect you at any age. And it's not just oily skin types that are susceptible. Dryness and irritation can also lead to blemishes. Anything that clogs your pores can cause breakouts, including excess sebum (oil) and flaky or dead skin.

Aside from your skin's condition, external factors can also lead to breakouts. For example, hormonal fluctuations can stimulate excess sebum production. Stress can also play a role in acne due to increased cortisol and other hormone levels. Air pollution and sun exposure are other possible culprits.

Fight Back With an Active Acne Ingredient

One way to minimize the appearance of acne and help prevent future breakouts is to use skincare products that contain acne-fighting ingredients. Not all ingredients are created equal, so some may work better for you depending on your skin type and the cause of your breakouts. That said, here are the top six ingredients to help fight acne and clear up your skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is an acne ingredient that can help improve the look and feel of acne by reducing sebum production and loosening debris in clogged pores. Try a cleanser like Neutrogena® Oil-Free Acne Wash with Salicylic Acid to deeply clean your pores. Because of its exfoliating properties, avoid using salicylic acid with other exfoliants, like benzoyl peroxide. Moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin and niacinamide pair well with salicylic acid.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, so it can be a good option if you have stubborn acne with papules, pustules and inflamed bumps. Opt for a product like Neutrogena® Clear Pore Cleanser/Mask with 3.5% benzoyl peroxide. To minimize side effects and irritation, combine it with moisturizing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, and avoid using it with ingredients like retinol.


Adapalene is a topical retinoid that can help control acne by keeping your pores clear of excess oil and debris and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent to reduce acne redness and swelling at the source. Use Neutrogena® 0.1% Adapalene Gel Acne Treatment daily for best results. If you use other exfoliating ingredients as part of your skincare regimen, apply them at a different time of day to avoid irritation.


Retinol is another type of retinoid that visibly reduces signs of acne, minimizing the appearance of redness. Neutrogena Stubborn Marks® PM Treatment contains Retinol SA to provide results in just one week. Plus, it contains moisturizing ingredients like glycerin to help fight irritation and dryness. Avoid using it with other exfoliants.

Glycolic Acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid that can help improve uneven texture by gently exfoliating the skin. Try Neutrogena® Hydro Boost+ Glycolic Acid Overnight Peel with 10% glycolic acid to refine the appearance of pores and leave your skin smooth and clear. Avoid using it with other exfoliating ingredients.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, found in Neutrogena® Rapid Tone Repair 20% Vitamin C Serum Capsules, is loaded with antioxidants that reduce the look of dark spots, leading to a more even skin tone. As with most ingredients on this list, vitamin C pairs well with moisturizing ingredients but is best used at a different time of day from retinoids and exfoliants.

Tighten Up Your Routine

Beyond the ingredients and products you use, certain lifestyle adjustments and skincare practices can help pave the road to clearer skin.

Cleanse Your Face Daily

Dirt, oil, dead skin and makeup can clog pores, leading to acne. The best way to remove that debris is to cleanse your skin twice a day — once in the morning and once before bed. Also, wash your face after activities that make you sweat (think a trip to the gym), but avoid overwashing unnecessarily, as this can lead to irritation. Dispense a small amount of cleanser onto your fingertips and gently massage it into your skin. Rinse with lukewarm water and pat dry with a clean towel.

Don't Pop Pimples

You've probably heard this from your mom, dermatologist and esthetician, and now you're hearing it again. It can be tempting to pop pimples — but resist the urge. Below the surface of your skin, that pimple is already swollen and under pressure. When you pop a pimple, you can actually force bacteria, oil and dead skin deeper into the follicle, which can cause inflamed bumps and discomfort. Make it easy on yourself and protect blemishes with Neutrogena Stubborn Acne® Ultra-Thin Blemish Patches, which can minimize the appearance of pimples after just one use.

Moisturize Your Skin

Every skin type — dry, oily and combination — needs moisturizer every day. Moisturizing ingredients strengthen your skin's moisture barrier and prevent your skin from overcompensating for dryness by producing more sebum. If you have oily skin, opt for an oil-free moisturizer like Neutrogena® Oil-Free Pink Grapefruit Acne Face Moisturizer with Salicylic Acid so your skin doesn't pick up extra shine. Apply a pea-sized amount after cleansing or as the last step in your skincare regimen before applying sunscreen.

Limit Sun Exposure

Excessive sun exposure can dry out your skin, contribute to uneven skin tone and texture, lead to visible signs of premature aging and increase your risk of skin cancer. And certain acne treatment ingredients make skin more sun-sensitive. So, in addition to wearing protective clothing and seeking shade during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), wear sunscreen daily. Neutrogena® Clear Face Breakout-Free Liquid Lotion Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50 and Neutrogena® Hydro Boost Water Gel Lotion SPF 50 both work well on acne-prone skin.

Stay Active

Stress can worsen acne, and exercising is a great way to relieve stress. Staying active is also key to a healthy skin and body routine. Commit to working out 15 minutes each day to start and build from there. Remember to wash your face afterward to remove excess sweat and oil buildup. If you wear makeup, use a gentle makeup remover before your workout. And if you have body or back acne, wear breathable fabrics and shower after your workout.

Clear Skin Is a Win

You have plenty of tools at your disposal to prevent acne. Choose ingredients that minimize breakouts, and be consistent with your skincare routine and lifestyle adjustments. Results take time, but it's worth the wait!


Can I use salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide together?

Avoid using these two active ingredients together. Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are both exfoliants, and doubling up can lead to skin irritation.

What acne products can I use when I'm pregnant?

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends topical benzoyl peroxide, azelaic acid, salicylic acid or glycolic acid to treat acne during pregnancy.

What causes acne?

Acne occurs when oil and dead skin cells clog hair follicles. This can result from excess sebum production, dryness, environmental pollution and hormonal fluctuations, including pregnancy, adolescence and periods of high stress.

How do I get rid of acne scars?

Skincare products that contain vitamin C, retinol and glycolic acid can help improve the appearance of scarring.

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I’m a freelance copywriter for beauty and wellness brands and creative entrepreneur with an expertise in green beauty.

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