How to care for acne prone skin

How to care for acne prone skin

If you’ve been here before, or have worked with me at all, you know how much emphasis I love to put on the internal aspect of skin care. It really does all start within. That doesn’t mean how we care for our skin from the outside isn’t important though! I’ve talked about products before. In this article I tell you which acne fighting ingredients may be best for your skin, in this one I tell you why your acne products may stop working, and this post was about how products could be causing your breakouts.

That is all great info, but I realized, I haven’t told you about good, basic skin care! Shame on me! Let’s jump right in and I’ll share my philosophy toward skin care, and a basic routine that you can model. First I’ll give you a few tips that I think will be helpful, then I’ll give you the skin care routine I personally follow, and recommend to most of my clients.

Be kind to your skin

You should NOT use products to fight your acne. Use products to promote the overall health of your skin. I personally don’t recommend products for preventing acne either. Anything aggressive should be saved for spot treatment only.

Cleanse only once per day

I go against a lot of skin care professionals on this one, but I just do not think cleansing morning and night is necessary. Almost every client that I’ve converted to once daily cleansing has told me how much healthier their skin looks after a few weeks. Cleansing is sort of a traumatic experience for your skin and I just don’t think it’s necessary often. Especially for those of us who are acne prone, less cleansing is usually better.

Consider switching to oil moisturizers

I plan on writing an entire article about my love affair with oils, yes even for oily or acne prone skin, so check back for that. (Update: you can read it here). I’ll include recommendations for what to try and how to use them. For now I will say that if you are sensitive to skin care ingredients, and products easily make you break out, it is most likely due to using typical moisturizers. That’s because the ingredients used to make a moisturizer (yes, even “natural” ones) can often clog pores.

Now that you’ve got a few tips, let’s talk about a nice basic skin care routine to follow. Keep in mind, there isn’t one “right” routine, just as there is no one best product. It comes down to individual preference, and how your skin reacts. That being said, the below routine has served me well for years, and most of my clients who follow this routine like it as well.

Morning Routine

Step 1 – Light rinse with plain water, or mild astringent

If using an astringent (non alcohol witch hazel works well), gently wipe off with a cloth. I do not recommend using disposable cotton rounds or tissue on your face, as that pulls moisture from your skin.

Step 2 – While skin is still damp, apply your oil or moisturizer

You want to lock moisture (water) in your skin, so it’s best for skin to still be damp when applying moisturizer.

Step 3 – Apply sunscreen and any make up you may choose to wear

That’s it! Easy peasy, no? If you are using an acne treatment product on spots or breakouts, use before your moisturizing step.

Evening Routine

Step 1 – Oil “pre-cleanse”

I love oil “pre cleanses”. You may have heard of the oil cleanse method (which could be helpful and I recommend trying), but if you, like me, find it’s not the greatest, this is a nice alternative. Take your favorite oil (I personally recommend jojoba, others you can try include safflower, grape seed or avocado), massage a small amount into your skin, then remove with a cloth. This will breakup makeup, sunscreen, and surface dirt and oil

Step 2 – Gently cleanse with your cleanser of choice

No scrubbing is necessary here, gentle circular motions are all you need. Cleansing should take less than 10 seconds.

(Note that your cleanser should not give you that “squeaky clean” feeling. I know most of us with oily skin like that, but that means you’re stripping your skin which leads to more problems. No cleanser should leave your skin tight, itchy, or feeling like plastic wrap.)

I like this pre-cleanse then cleanse combo because the oil dissolves the surface “gunk”, then the cleanser removes the last bit of oil. It prevents stripping your skin. I will occasionally skip the cleanse process and just use the oil, which keeps my skin nice and soft, but if I go too many days without cleanser, I’ll start getting clogged pores. This is why I do not like the traditional oil cleanse method. Experiment to see what is best for you.

Step 3 – Follow with a toner

Toners help “reset” the pH of your skin after cleansing. The surface pH of your skin is important for optimal skin health, and cleansing alters that pH. Depending on the toner you use, you will either spray it on your face, like a mist, or gently massage into your skin. Don’t bother wiping toner off in the evening.

Step 4 -While skin is still damp, apply your oil or moisturizer

As mentioned in the morning routine, you want to lock water into your skin. It’s also important to take as little time as possible between the cleansing step and the moisturizer step, under a minute if possible. That’s because as water evaporates off the surface of your skin, it takes water from within your skin with it, dehydrating skin. We want to prevent that from happening.

Again, if you are using an acne fighting product use it before moisturizing – but only use it once a day, either in the morning, or at night, not both.

Less Frequent Treatments


I love face masks. You can use them one to three times per week depending on the mask. Apply your mask after you cleanse, then after your rinse off the mask, follow with toner and moisturizer.


Exfoliation is a good step to have in your regular skin care routine. It helps keep the skin looking healthy, but it also helps products better absorb into the skin so they can be more beneficial. There are two types of exfoliators.

Manual exfoliators 

These are products that have a grit like texture that you massage into your skin. They buff off the dead skin cells. If you like these types of products, use them 1 to 3 times per week, never two days in a row. Use them after you cleanse, before you tone.

Side note: Please do not use products that contain polyethelene beads (sometimes called “microbeads”). These are tiny bits of plastic and are bad for the environment. Instead look for products with jojoba beads or other natural exfoliants.

Chemical exfoliators

These are products that have an ingredient that dissolves or breaks up dead skin cells by a chemical reaction. Most common ingredients are retinols, alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid, and beta hydroxy acids, also known as salicylic acid. These are usually found in toners or moisturizers. I recommend finding a toner with a chemical exfoliant and using this after you cleanse. They work best with daily use, however I recommend taking breaks occasionally. For example, use daily for three weeks, then take a week off.

That should do it! Three steps in the morning, four steps at night, with perhaps a few extras occasionally. I spend less than 5 minutes total in the morning, and just a few more in the evening. I like it quick and simple!

If you’re looking for specific product recommendations, stay tuned. I’ll follow up in another post with brands and products you may wish to try.

Now I’d love to hear from you. How does this routine sound? Is it similar to what you do? Different? What changes are you going to make?

Much love,

Brianne sig logo small



Add yours
  1. 1

    Dear Brianne, thank you for another wonderful article. I wonder what is your view on blotting paper (I currently use Shiseido product and I have mixed feelings because it’s still full of un-understandable ingredients).
    Thank you! Alicja

    • 2
      Brianne Grebil

      Quite welcome! Thank you for your good question. I don’t have an issue with most blotting papers, as it is a decent way to help those who have very oily skin and are bothered by the shine. Overall, they’re not at all necessary. Shiny skin is fine, and in my opinion looks very healthy :) If you wanted to try something different, you could use the microfiber cloths that are used to clean glass and electronics.

  2. 4

    Very helpful thank you! I couldn’t quite get oil cleansing to work for me. I use organic, cold pressed oils and stick to Grapeseed for removing makeup. I have been doing the oil/cleanser method you described here for a few months now. This seems to work the best for me! I use a cream cleanser or raw honey to cleanse off the oil and moisturize on damp skin with a few drops of rosewater and rose hip seed oil/essential oil serum I blend. Thanks for sharing this!

    • 7
      Brianne Grebil

      Hi Valerie,
      Thanks for your question! Personally, I do not recommend using microfiber clothes on the face. They are deceptively aggressive. They feel nice and soft and gentle, but those microfibers are actually tiny little hooks that can cause micro tears on the surface of the skin and over exfoliate. I now lean more toward gentle chemical exfoliators as my exfoliation of choice. Papaya enzymes (which weren’t mentioned in this post) are becoming my favorite. Second are AHA’s. Does that answer your question? Can I help you with anything else regarding your skin health?

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