When it comes to treating acne, there are various factors to consider for determining the best treatments for your unique skin. In addition to acne severity and skin type, ethnicity is also an important element to consider. For example, Asian skin can be tricky to treat because it is more sensitive and other skin types (both caucasian skin and darker, African skin). Therefore, treatment products and cosmetics that work well for others can often be too harsh and irritating when applied to Asian skin. Additionally, as Asian skin tends to be more prone to the development of hyperpigmentation (dark spots), proper acne treatment and prevention are even more important.
What are the best acne treatment ingredients for acne in people with Asian skin?
While certain acne treatments can be too irritating for sensitive, Asian skin (more on that below!) 2 of the most effective acne treatment ingredients—Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid – are both safe and effective in treating acne in Asian skin when used in the right (mild) doses.
Salicylic acid (up to 2%): Salicylic acid is a naturally derived (from willow bark) beta-hydroxy acid (BHA). It helps to unclog pores to clear pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads while reducing inflammation and helping to fade dark spots.
Benzoyl peroxide (up to 2.5%) is considered the single most effective topical anti-acne ingredient. It fights the bacteria that causes acne (acne vulgaris), unclogs the skin pores, and prevents future acne breakouts. Check out this study on benzoyl peroxide's proven efficacy and safety in Japanese patients featured in the Journal of Dermatology.→ Note: While some forms of benzoyl peroxide can be somewhat irritating for sensitive skin (even in low doses available over-the-counter), micronized benzoyl peroxide (smaller particle size) penetrates better into the pores and tends to be less irritating
- Pure Retinol (up to 0.5%): The milder forms of retinoids (pure retinol or low concentration of tretinoin are excellent for Asian skin. They can help reduce comedones, prevent acne breakouts, reduce and prevent fine wrinkles and help face dark spots. Pure retinol, especially when combined with niacinamide, is less irritating than the other forms of retinoids; for optimal results, start with retinol 0.25%, a tiny amount twice a week. Gradually, increase frequency to every night. After 2 months, when the skin adjusts to the retinol 0.25%, you can consider using retinol 0.5%. When using retinol, always apply sunscreen before going outdoors. Check this link for more info on the retinol + niacinamide treatment system.
Pro tip: These acne treatment ingredients work best to treat and prevent acne when used as part of a daily skincare routine and applied to the entire areas affected by acne (not just as a spot treatment)
What is the best acne cleanser for people with Asian skin?
People of Asian ethnicity (especially Japanese and Korean) are susceptible to harsh cleansers. Most acne cleansers, especially the ones that produce a foam with large bubbles (i.e., “suds”), can irritate that damages the outer layer of the skin (stratum corneum - natural protective skin barrier) and ultimately cause more breakouts down the line.
The best acne cleanser options for people with Asian skin produce a thin, creamy lather with barely visible bubbles. Alcohol-based cleansers and toners should also be avoided. While they can temporarily remove the “shine” from oily skin, the skin typically responds to this drying effect by producing even more oil to compensate, leading to clogged pores and more inflammatory acne.
What should acne treatment ingredients be avoided on Asian skin?
Because Asian skin tends to be more sensitive, certain acne treatment products and ingredients should be avoided.
- Harsh retinoids (Adapalene, high concentration of tretinoin (> 0.05%): Adapalene and high concentration of tretinoin (retinoic acid) are often too harsh for sensitive Asian skin, causes significant irritation and increases photosensitivity (i.e., makes the skin more sensitive to the sun). Therefore, with any sun exposure (especially why within proper sun protection), they can further increase the risk of developing dark spots and hyperpigmentation.
- High-concentration AHAs: High concentrations of alpha-hydroxy acids creams (more than 10%) and high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide (more than 5%) can also cause significant irritation to Asian skin. Thus, if you are getting a facial chemical peel at a Dermatologist or aesthetician’s office, make sure you get a “light” peel that is neutralized immediately after the procedure.
- Other Ingredients to avoid:
- Citrus Extracts
- Lemon oil (although lemon juice is OK)
How to treat and prevent post-acne dark spots in Asian skin
Since Asian skin is more prone to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (i.e., dark spots), it is extra important to begin an effective acne treatment routine with the right skincare products ASAP and before the acne condition worsens. In addition to early treatment, people with Asian skin should avoid (or minimize) sun exposure, use sunscreen safe for acne-prone skin, and wear a hat whenever they leave the house to help prevent the development (or worsening) of dark spots. To treat existing post-acne hyperpigmentation and achieve a more even skin tone, people with Asian skin can use a dark spot corrector with Hydroquinone (up to 2%), such as the MDacne Dark Spot Remover.
Is the “Asian flush” the same as rosacea?
People from certain Asian countries (particularly Korea) lack an enzyme that detoxifies alcohol). For these people, drinking even a small amount of alcohol can cause skin redness irritation that can be mistaken as acne rosacea (or other inflammatory skin conditions). The good news is, once alcohol consumption is stopped or at least reduced, this redness and irritation subsides quickly. So if you think you may have rosacea and enjoy a frequent cocktail, try cutting out alcohol for a period of time and see if there is any noticeable effect on your skin.
Haircare and cosmetics for people with acne-prone Asian skin?
- Hair Care: Foaming facial cleansers and Shampoos can be particularly irritating for Asian skin. Therefore, it is essential to rinse the face after washing the hair to prevent redness, inflammation, and future breakouts. The same is true for hair gels or leave-in conditioners. If you have Asian or dark skin and are prone to breakouts, try removing or reducing these products from your routine. If you can't bear to part with your favorite hair gel, try using it only in the middle of your scalp and ends of your hair to be less likely to spread to the skin on your face and always remove /wash out before bed.
- Cosmetics: if you're struggling with acne and trying to cover up your breakouts with makeup, you could be making the situation worse. If you can, try going makeup-free or reduced the amount and frequency of makeup used, making sure you're using the right kind! The best makeup for acne-prone skin would be mineral makeups that are clearly labeled “oil-free,” “non-comedogenic or “for acne-prone skin.”
Tips for acne-prone Asian Skin:
Asian skin tends to be more sensitive than other skin types and does not respond well to high topical anti-acne medications. Therefore, if you have Asian skin and acne, you need to start as soon as possible with an effective anti-acne treatment that is personalized to your acne severity and skin type.
To find the right acne treatments for your unique skin, take the free skin assessment by clicking here.