3 ingredients you need in your acne-prone skincare routine

If you are struggling with acne-prone skin, these 3 ingredients could help. Treating this skin condition isn’t just about minimising or eliminating your blemishes, but calming the irritated skin too. These ingredients are found in lots of products and all work differently to target specific concerns. Here are 3 ingredients you need in your acne-prone skincare routine, and 3 product recommendations you can try.


Retinaldehyde is – you guessed it – related to retinol. You may have heard of retinol before – it claims to be an anti-aging hero. And while this is true, the retinoid family also work pretty well at combatting acne. Retinaldehyde, or retinal, is a derivative of vitamin A. The purpose of this retinoid, like the others, is to promote cell turnover, assist in unclogging pores and balancing oil production, and to slow the formation of wrinkles. The reason that I am suggesting the use of retinaldehyde instead of the more common variations of retinoids (such as retinol), is because this form is only a one step process away from being converted into the most usable form – retinoic acid (tretinoin). It is therefore considered a more potent version than retinol, while still being available to purchase over the counter.

The best time to use retinal is at night, as retinoids can break down if they are exposed to UV rays (meaning it has a lesser effect). With first time users, it is recommended that retinoids are introduced gradually, as some sensitivity can occur. I started by using a 0.03% retinaldehyde, and used it twice a week for the first 2 weeks, then increased use to every second night for 2 weeks, and then every night after that. Alternate use with other strong active ingredients such as vitamin C, and chemical exfoliants like AHA & BHA. Using these together in the same routine may irritate the skin. Wearing SPF during the day is always beneficial, but even more so the day after vitamin A use.

Product recommendation: Medik8 – Crystal Retinal

While I started with Crystal Retinal 3, I have since upped my dose to 0.06% retinaldehyde. This is my third tube of the Crystal Retinal and it’s great. The good thing about this range is that once you feel comfortable using your chosen retinal, you can upgrade to a stronger one if you wish. Medik8 recommends starting at 1 or 3 if you have sensitive skin.

Willow Bark

Most willow bark extracts that are used in skincare are acquired from white willow trees, or salix alba. The star ingredient of this extract is called salicin, and it is the precursor for the chemical exfoliant salicylic acid. Salicin is great at treating acne-prone skin because it contains both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. This natural ingredient gently exfoliates the skin and helps to reduce redness. In addition to salicin, willow bark extract also contains beneficial components such as tannins, polyphenols, and flavonoids, which work together to regulate the skin barrier, refine pores, limit excess oil production, reduce breakouts, and keep the skin hydrated.

Due to salicin being a gentler version of synthetic salicylic acid, it is a better alternative for those with sensitive skin. Because of this, it is also safe to be used daily. Similarly to retinoids, willow bark extract (like other chemical exfoliants) should be used separately to other strong active ingredients to avoid skin sensitivity.

Product recommendation: COSRX – Original Clear Pad

I have only recently started using this one, but I noticed the effects of this beauty the very first day I tried it. It does an amazing job of clearing up my breakouts whenever they come up. The product is soaked into cotton pads, so it is super easy to use – it comes with little tongs too! You can use this every day, but for now I am happy using it a few times a week. You choose whatever works for you.


Ginseng is an ingredient that is cherished in Korean skincare. It is a root that has been popular in Korea since the 1500s. This ingredient is used widely for healing the body – improving vitality, strengthening the immune system, and increasing circulation. Like willow bark, ginseng also radiates antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Not only is ginseng able to reduce redness and calm the skin, it can also brighten your skin and help to fade hyperpigmentation and dark acne spots.

Product recommendation: Beauty of Joseon – Ginseng Essence Water

I don’t use a lot of toners, but this one is amazing. It is an essence toner, so the consistency is slightly more viscous than other toners. The smell is not bad at all, and it is really nice to apply. A few layers of this and my skin is incredibly hydrated. It gives a nice glow and I’ve noticed that it has brightened my skin a lot too. The calming effect is one of my favourite things about this toner (and ginseng itself).


Kait x

Cover photo by Ivan Samkov