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When it comes to treating acne-prone skin, we often think of using strong ingredients that will take down those pimples and wipe out all bacteria. However, sometimes it becomes a viscous circle; strong ingredients can damage your skin barrier, dry out your skin, and upset your pH levels. This makes your skin vulnerable and more likely to break out.

We prefer a gentler approach to treating acne-prone skin, and K-beauty is where it’s at when it comes to treating the skin with calming formulas that work in harmony with the skin, rather than against it. After all, skin hydration is key, and that’s a key cornerstone of Korean beauty. 

We spoke to Alicia Yoon, Founder of the iconic K-beauty site Peach & Lily, to get all her insider info on why and how using K-beauty products can be the best thing for acne-prone skin.

What makes K-beauty so great for helping to improve acne-prone skin?

“K-Beauty is known for gentler formulas that avoid overdoing it for the skin. So, it might be a surprise to some that a Korean Beauty approach can be extremely effective for acne-prone skin and helping to combat the cycle of breakouts,” Alicia says.

“It’s not as commonly known that one of the best ways to fight acne is by keeping skin hydrated. Dehydration can lead to inflammation, which can actually then trigger skin to both become oilier and also suffer from retention hyperkeratosis (skin cells slowing down in turning over). This combination can lead to breakouts,” Alicia tells us.

As the Korean beauty approach is so focused on hydration, Alicia says she tells all her clients struggling with acne to ensure their skin stays well hydrated: “I particularly recommend essences that are properly formulated with humectants intended to sink into skin for effective hydration. I love the Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence as it has three different molecular weights of hyaluronic acid so that all layers of skin can get hydrated.”

Peach & lily wild dew treatment essence

Alicia also told us that “Over the last eight years in providing skin consultations for our community at Peach & Lily, we’ve seen hundreds of thousands of people be able to transform the look and feel of their skin with this approach, so I’m a firm believer in the power of hydration.”

“Another important aspect to keep in mind is protecting the skin barrier. Harsh ingredients, products where the pH is either too low or too high or very aggressive treatments can all lead to a damaged skin barrier. The skin barrier plays an important function in both keeping bad bacteria out as well as keeping moisture in the skin. When either or both happen, this can lead to breakouts. I love that the K-beauty approach is all about gentle formulas and keeping the skin barrier in mind,” Alicia says. So while many acne formulas focus on strong ingredients that wipe out bacteria, K-beauty focuses on strengthening the skin so that it’s natural defenses are stronger.

Alicia believes that “One of the most common culprits is a harsh cleanser that’s not pH-balanced or laden with sulfates that leaves skin stripped of its natural protection. The Peach & Lily Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser is a pH 5.5 (where skin likes to be to thrive), is sulfate-free, and also includes hyaluronic acid and calming ingredients like chamomile and calendula extract to give skin the best start to your routine.” We love how gentle this cleanser is, which is especially great to use if you’re using acids or stronger serums in the rest of your routine.

peach and lily cleanser

Alicia’s K-Beauty Routine for Acne-Prone Skin:

Step 1: Oil cleansing is important for those struggling with acne because like dissolves like – so an oil-based cleanser is what effectively dissolves and removes oil-based impurities. The key is to use a non-pore-clogging oil cleanser that won’t leave a residue, like the Peach Slices Pudding Makeup Cleanser, $8, which dissolves makeup and oil-based impurities from deep within pores without clogging the skin.

Peach Slices Pudding Makeup Cleanser

Step 2: Next, comes your water-based cleanser. Again, stick to a gentle, hydrating, non-skin-barrier-disrupting cleanser like the Peach & Lily Power Calm Hydrating Gel Cleanser, $28, is key. A water-based cleanser helps remove water-based impurities like dirt and sweat, and can also be used as the one cleanser in the mornings depending on your skin.

Step 3: There’s a lot of question about whether or not it’s important to use a toner as the next step. For acne-prone skin, I think a toner is a great idea because it helps to balance the skin’s pH and the pH is a key part of keeping our skin barrier healthy, which is important to help prevent acne. The Peach & Lily The Good Acids Pore Toner, $39, is a great option as it also helps to exfoliate dead skin cells gently on a daily basis, which is helpful to help minimize breakouts as well as keep skin radiant.

Step 4: The essence step is incredibly helpful for acne because it’s completely focused on hydration – the Peach & Lily Wild Dew Treatment Essence, $39, not only hydrates, but it also helps brighten acne scarring thanks to niacinamide.

Step 5: After essences, come treatments. This is where products are very personalized and targeted for specific skin concerns, such as brightening, firming, minimizing look of pores, or combatting breakouts. Serums, ampoules, and face oils are considered treatments with a higher concentration of actives.

glass skin serum

One of my holy grail products I recommend for acne is the cult-favorite Peach & Lily Glass Skin Refining Serum, $39. The formula includes clinically proven ingredients to help hydrate, brighten dark spots, calm, firm, minimize the appearance of pores, and also calm and fight inflammation. I love that this serum truly lets you achieve glass skin – skin that’s so healthy it appears poreless, luminous and translucent – for any skin type thanks to a unique cocktail of peach extract, hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, “cica,” peptides, and mountain yam extract. And even those with acne-prone skin have seen an incredible transformation in the look and feel of their skin where acne appears much more minimized and cleared up, and scars appear visibly improved. We’ve actually conducted a study with fifty participants of all skin tones and types, where we asked them to use the serum daily for 30 days and photograph daily results, and the results are phenomenal.

Step 6: Finally, in your daily routine, you would seal this all in with a non-comedogenic but deeply hydrating moisturizer. The Peach & Lily Matcha Pudding Antioxidant Cream, $40, is lightweight and will blast skin with a potent dose of antioxidants thanks to matcha, one of the world’s richest sources of antioxidants, to help fight any free radical damage. This cream also has brightening benefits, so it helps with acne scarring.

matcha pudding moisturizer

Extra steps: Once or twice a week, it’s important to exfoliate as this also helps keep acne at bay. The key is to exfoliate both the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and also deep within pores, while never overdoing it on skin. The Super Reboot Resurfacing Mask, $43, includes 10% glycolic acid and 0.5% salicylic acid so that skin is exfoliated down to pores. Uniquely, the mask combines a pro-grade chemical peel with a soothing mask, so while the resurfacing is happening, chamomile, blue agave, eggplant, turmeric, and aloe sink into skin leaving it calm. I love that the mask is great for even very sensitive skin. I’ve given hundreds of facials using this mask on those with acne and it is a wonder-mask for very visible results quickly.

mask for oily skin

Alicia says “I find that this approach helps minimize breakouts, but when the breakouts happen, the Peach Slices Acne Spot Dots, $4.50, come to the rescue! These help flatten blemishes even in just a few hours without any drugs, so it’s great to have this around as your SOS product.” And we can confirm, these Acne Spot Dots are a savior!

Alicia’s Top Tips for Treating Acne-Prone Skin

  • Keep skin well cleansed and exfoliated down to pores without ever overdoing it.
  • Keep skin well hydrated.
  • Use calming ingredients.
  • View skin holistically versus just tackling the breakouts because it then becomes an ongoing cycle.
  • Be consistent with skincare.

Have you guys tried a more gentle approach to keeping acne-prone skin soothed and calm? Let us know in the comments below.