How 50 Different Redditors Cleared Their Acne Using Science!

by | Last updated Apr 18, 2020 | 51 comments

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If you’re anything like me, then you LOVE seeing before and afters on r/skincareaddiction! A lot of those transformations are stunning, and it’s always nice seeing how much happier people look after they’ve beaten the beast (acne).

I’ve been frequenting that subreddit for years, and recently got thinking — do any of these hall of famers have something in common? Do they hold some kind of secret magic sauce for clear skin? So I took it upon myself to find out!

I filtering through r/skincareaddiction’s top 50 before and afters photos as chosen by the community and examined their routines. For reference, here are all the individual cases studies I used. They are listed in descending order by the number of upvotes.

  1. [B&A] 5 months of Accutane!
  2. [B&A] About a year of difference. It’s amazing what a new dermatologist and routine can do.
  3. [B&A] accutane 20mg for 4 months + salicylic acid facial soap bar and cetaphil daily moisturizer
  4. [Acne] What a difference a year can make
  5. [B&A] After two months of non-stop skin care addiction.
  6. 8 months and a lot of trial and error
  7. [Before&After] Oil-cleansing with hemp oil literally changed my life. Thanks so much, /r/SkincareAddiction! Here’s an album of progress photos from when I started vs. now.
  8. How Accutane changed my life. Before and After pics.
  9. [B&A] One year of skincare and I finally feel confident with my bare face!
  10. [B&A] On Thanksgiving I was let go from my (very stressful) job. Today I am stress-free, confident, and fully blown away by how much my skin has improved in just 2 weeks. Yay!
  11. [Humor] The danger of Reddit to an impressionable woman with acne issues
  12. [B&A] 1.5 years ago I made a post about being suicidal because of my skin. Today I’m grateful and happy with the way that I look.
  13. My six month progress with hormonal acne
  14. [B&A] One year after accutane!
  15. After six months, I’m officially finished with my second course of Accutane.
  16. [before&after] sunblock and vitamin C serum for about two months now.
  17. [B&A] After 4 months of PIE, I finally have hope for good skin for the first time in my life
  18. Before and after accutane. It doesn’t hurt to put my face on a pillow anymore!
  19. [Personal] Finally went foundation-free after sticking to a routine for the past 6 month.
  20. [Personal] Since I was 14 I have been terrified to leave the house without makeup. Today, at 29, I finally felt confident enough to go out with only mascara. YAY! Routine in comments (xpost from asianbeauty)
  21. [B&A] I’ve been a lurker here for three years. The top were taken when I started (late 2014) the bottom were taken today.
  22. [B&A] After almost a year of spamming this subreddit with questions, and getting tons of help from you guys, this is what has happened since one of my first posts here! Thank you so much!!
  23. [Selfie] 3 months on my current routine. I’ve never felt so confident and beautiful in my skin.
  24. [Personal] No zits, no makeup, no problem! First time having clear skin in years thanks to you guys. Now to battle my pores and sun spots…
  25. [B&A] Absorbica (isotretinoin) was the best decision of my life! From 10 years of hiding behind thick make up and miserable in my own skin to being comfortable barefaced and happy to look in a mirror. Routine in comments!
  26. [B&A] Result of 2 years of work after a decade of acne.
  27. [B&A] Skincare and Addiction
  28. [Before&After] Tretinoin!
  29. [B&A] Considering a makeup-free wedding
  30. Today is my 37th Birthday and This is Me with ZERO Makeup! Thank You Skincareaddiction [Personal]
  31. [B&A] ~1 year on the ScA routine
  32. due to me being so self conscious of my acne, I barely have any pictures but after 5 months on a new routine my life has completely changed and I just wanted to share my progress(:
  33. [B&A] Top photos were taken one year ago, and bottom photos were both taken this week! 🙂
  34. [B&A] Come a long way, still got a long way to go
  35. [B&A] Cystic, painful bumpy skin is gone – you did it SCA!
  36. Before and After: 16 weeks on Epiduo/Tactuo
  37. [Before&After] My Progress Pictures ~ Tretinoin, I give you two thumbs up!
  38. [ACNE] Before and after photos from being on Adapalene .03% for 6 weeks
  39. After 3 months of Accutane, I’ve finally from that (left) to this (left). Anything can change, guys. Just stick to it!
  40. Before and after pic just only 4 weeks of progress into getting my Rosacea under control!!!! Feels amazing to not have to hide my face!!!
  41. Can finally go out with minimal makeup! A HUGE thanks to you lovely people!
  42. Never did a proper before/after my accutane. Here’s me at 19 and 23 years old!
  43. [B&A] Five weeks on isotretinoin – I’m so happy!
  44. [Acne] Started Accutane about a year ago and finished in November. Can’t believe how different I look and how amazingly it worked! (forgive the ugly pics)
  45. [B&A] It’s not much, but for the first time I don’t absolutely hate my reflection! 2 months progress! See comments for routines and more!
  46. [ACNE] The difference that 4 months and an actual routine makes
  47. [Acne] I am basking in my PIH today because for the first time in 4 years…I DON’T HAVE A SINGLE ACTIVE PIMPLE!
  48. [B&A] One year progress of NOT washing my face!
  49. [B&A] One year… i never expect such a great result.
  50. Accutane before and after pictures. Couldn’t have asked for better results. Ask me anything!
  51. Before and after: spironolactone was a miracle for my skin
  52. Thanks SCA! I’ve come a long way~
  53. B&A : a year of work. I’ve learned so much here ! Thank you to all you wonderful skin guru’s

What I found.

Unsurprisingly, most of these people cleared their skin using a simple 3 step cleanse, treat, and moisturize routine like the one I outlined in my how to clear acne guide.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with such an approach, it means cleansing your skin with a gentle pH balanced face wash, following it up with an active ingredient (e.g. benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid), then topping it all of with a moisturizer. You repeat this once or twice daily until the end of time…. or up until your skin clears. :p

Because there were A LOT of differences in terms of what products people used, I will simply list them in their respective categories, and throw my thoughts in as we go.

How 50 Skincare Addicts Destroyed Their Acne.

The number next to the items listed below denote how many different people used it. For example, if you see “Accutane  = 10” that means 10 people used accutane. Got it? Sweet.

Oral Prescriptions

  • Accutane = 10
  • Birth Control = 1  (used Cilest. Active ingredients: ethinylestradiol and norgestimate.)
  • Oral Antibiotics = 1
  • Spironolactone = 3

Fun fact #1: Accutane is most powerful acne medication to date. It’s success rate is well over 90%! Spironolactone is used as hormone therapy for women who can’t get their acne under control using a skincare routine (i.e. it treats hormonal acne).

NOTE: I have excluded the skincare routines of the people who cleared their skin using accutane or sprionolactone from the analysis below, because most of them accredited the oral prescriptions not skincare products for eliminating their acne.

Oil Cleansers (OCM)

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Oil cleansing is a great way to remove waterproof makeup or sunscreen, and reduce the dryness that comes from using a regular cleanser. It isn’t entirely necessary to eliminate acne, but many people find it helps, which is why 14 of these case studies incorporated it.

Everyone below (except for one person), used the double cleansing method. In other words, they massaged their face with an oil first, rinsed with water, then followed it up with a normal cleanser to remove any oily residue. Here are the different oils they used:

Note: the two people who used jojoba and coconut oil mixed it with tea tree oil for additional antibacterial and antifungal properties.

So what’s the takeaway here?

If you’re going to use the oil cleansing method try mineral oil first! This is something I’ve recommend plenty of times on this blog because mineral oil is an inert substance with no fatty acids, meaning it won’t cause any immunologic response from the skin.

English = it won’t clog pores, or feed the microbes that cause acne because it is a synthetic or “dead” oil.

I know many people, including myself, tried oil cleansing with organic oils when venturing into OCM for the first time, only to be met with a massive breakout. Sigh…. if only we knew what we know now.

~*insert dramatic John Green quote*~

Fun fact #2: mineral oil is the most used cleansing oil on skincare addiction across every skin category including sensitive, balanced, dry, acne-prone, dehydrated, rosacea-prone, oily, and mature.

Makeup Remover.

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Would you look at that? The most used makeup remover just so happens to be my favorite one. :p I like Bioderma because it has the simplest ingredient list of all the makeup removers above, meaning it’s very unlikely to give your skin a reaction / cause breakouts. Here’s the ingredient list for everyone:

“Water (Aqua), PEG-6 Caprylic/Capric Glycerides, Propylene Glycol, Cucumis Sativus (Cucumber) Fruit Extract, Mannitol, Xylitol, Rhamnose, Fructooligosaccharides, Disodium EDTA, Cetrimonium Bromide.”

Fun fact #3: it’s 100% approved for malassezia-sensitive skin (seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, pityrosporum folliculitis etc.)!


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  • Avène Gentle Milk Cleanser = 1
  • Bioderma Sebium Purifying Cleansing Foaming Gel = 1
  • CeraVe Foaming Cleanser = 7 
  • Cerave Hydrating Cleanser = 6
  • Cetaphil Daily Cleanser = 3
  • Charcoal Facial Soap = 1
  • First Aid Beauty Gentle Cleanser = 1
  • Lanoliné Manuka Honey Clear Skin Cleansing Milk = 1
  • La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel = 1
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Softening Cream Cleanser = 1
  • Proactiv Renewing Cleanser = 1
  • Rosehip Gentle Cleanser = 1
  • Sulfur Soap = 1
  • Skinklens =

The two most commonly used cleansers were CeraVe Foaming and Hydrating. I think these are pretty solid picks. Both are pH balanced and gentle, which are the most important things to consider when choosing a cleanser. Kinda sad to see my favorite face wash (Vanicream) didn’t make the cut though…. :'(

Active Ingredients

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This the most important step of a skincare routine targeted towards acne. The idea is to use an active ingredient that treats breakouts. Most of the people in this top 50 list used a single active ingredient; several others used a combination of therapeutic agents. We will go over those in the next section.

AHA = 4.

BHA (Salicylic Acid) = 7

  • Clear Days Ahead Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Moisturizer/Treatment = 1
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid = 1
  • Paula’s Choice Anti-Redness 2% BHA = 1
  • Oxy Blackhead Removing Scrub = 1
  • Stridex Pads = 3 (would you look at that? Another one of my favorites won. :p Full review here.)

Sulfur = 2

  • Avar Sulfacetamide/Sulfur Topical
  • Undisclosed sulfur soap

Tretinoin = 5

And lastly, 3 people attributed clearing their skin to using NO ACTIVE ingredients at all! They focused on babying their skin instead, and thought the harsh acne treatments only made things worse.

Combination Therapy

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All the following people used a combination of active ingredients.

  • AHA + BHA = 1 (used Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA and Paula’s Choice Resist Weekly10% AHA).
  • AHA + BHA + Retinol = 1

Interestingly enough, the person who did this ended up dropping all the actives from his routine several months later and made even more improvement! The dudes skin is literally perfect now.

He just moisturizes twice daily with a hyaluronic acid / urea cream (kinda like the one I make! :D), and that’s it! No cleansing, toning, treating — nada! Just moisturizer twice a day. HOW AWESOME IS THAT ROUTINE?? This is the product he uses.

  • Azelaic Acid + Antibiotics + Tretinoin = 1 (had a Curology prescription with Clindamycin 1%, Tretinoin 0.018%, Azelaic acid 8%)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + Adapalene = 1 (used prescription Epiduo)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + Adapalene + Antibiotics = 1 (used 0.3% adapalene, clindamycin phosphate)
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + AHA = 3
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + BHA = 4
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + Antibiotics = 1
  • Benzoyl Peroxide + Tretinoin = 1
  • Retin A + 5% Aczone Gel = 1
  • Retin A + Sulfur = 1 (used de la cruz sulfur ointment)

No surprise here, the most popular combination therapy was BP and BHA. This makes sense too considering benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid is more effective than benzoyl peroxide alone, or in combination with antibiotics.

Most of these people didn’t disclose what BP they were using. I recommend the 2.5% Benzoyl Peroxide. It’s the most efficacious and cost effective one out there. For BHA, you can’t go wrong with the good ole’ Stridex.

Serums / Toners

  • Benton Snail Bee Essence = 1 (combined it with Melano CC). This essence is a holy grail of mine. Full review here.
  • Dr. Hauschka Clarifying Toner = 1
  • Holy Snails Shark Sauce = 1
  • La Roche Posay Serozinc = 1
  • Paula’s Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum = 1
  • Paula’s Choice Vitamin C Super Booster = 1
  • Thayer’s Witch Hazel Rose Petal Toner = 1
  • Thayer’s Witch Hazel Toner = 2
  • The Ordinary Niacinamide Serum = 1

Not a lot in this section, which again… doesn’t surprise me. Serums and toners aren’t necessary for clearing acne. They’re mainly used to give skin that extra oomph.


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  • Albolene = 1
  • Cerave Cream  = 4 
  • CeraVe Lotion = 1
  • Cerave PM = 2
  • Cetaphil Moisturising Cream = 1
  • Cetaphil Moisturizing Lotion = 2
  • Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Gel = 3 (this is most likely okay for malassezia-sensitive skin, but it does have Saccharomyces Lysate Extract)
  • Clinique Moisture Surge = 1
  • Dermedic HYDRAIN3 = 1
  • Embryolisse Lait crème Concentre = 1 (combined it with Avene Cicalfate Cream at night)
  • Garnier Skin Active Moisture Rescue for Dry Skin = 1
  • Garnier Moisture Rescue Gel = 1
  • Jergens Face Cream = 1
  • Korres Pomegranate Balancing Cream-Gel moisturizer = 1
  • La Roche-Posay Toleriane Fluide = 1
  • Mineral Oil = 1
  • Neutrogena Oil Free Moisturizer for Sensitive Skin = 1
  • Olive Face Moisturizer + Herbivore Lapis Balancing Oil + Egyptian Magic Balm = 1
  • Paula’s Choice SKIN BALANCING Invisible Finish Moisture Gel Moisturizer = 1
  • Pond’s Dark Spot Correcting Cream = 1
  • Ponds Moisturizing Cream = 1
  • Sebamed Gel = 2 (great if you breakout from literally every moisturizer! Full review here)
  • Simple Gel Moisturizer, Ultra Light = 1 (safe for malassezia)
  • Vaseline = 1

As you can see this section is one giant huge cluster f*ck! I’ve said elsewhere on this blog that moisturizers are the most subjective part of any skincare routine. I stand by this.

I’m not surprised that CeraVe Cream was the most popular moisturizer. I have written an extensive review about why it’s so well tolerated across many different skin types, which can be found here. In short, it’s unique in that it doesn’t include esters, fatty acids, and oils. This makes it suitable for malassezia-sensitive skin.

And isn’t it interesting that the only other two moisturizers on this list that had any sort of multiple people using it were also approved for malassezia (i.e. sebamed gel, clinique dramatically different)? I’m noticing a pattern guys and gals…..


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*Didn’t realize my stupid finger was in the way until I uploaded this. Sorry y’all. XD

  • Blue Lizard for face SPF 30
  • Cerave AM = 3
  • Kiss my Face SPF 30 = 1
  • Maybelline Dream Fresh Sunscreen = 1
  • Murad Oil Free Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 30 | PA+++ = 1
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen SPF 60 = 1
  • Neutrogena Ultra-Sheer Dry Touch Sunscreen SPF 85 = 1
  • Paulas choice EXTRA CARE Non-Greasy Sunscreen SPF 50 = 1
  • Shiseido Anessa Perfect UV sunscreen = 1
  • Skin Aqua UV Moisture Milk SPF 50 PA+++ = 1
  • Sunplay Super Block SPF 130 = 1
  • The Face Shop Natural Sun Eco = 1

ONCE AGAIN, the most popular product (CeraVe AM) just so happens to be okay for malassezia-sensitive skin. What a freaking coincidence!

If you have no idea why this little genus of fungi (malassezia) is important, or are an adult with acne, or seemingly breaks out from EVERYTHING — read this guide. It’s guaranteed to make you go “AH-HA!” and will help clear your skin.

Occulsives / Sleeping Pack.

Using occlusives at the end of your skincare routine is a great way to seal everything in and prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL). I highly recommend doing this if you suffer from dry or dehydrated skin!

  • Aquaphor = 2
  • Scinic All In One Honey Ampoule = 1
  • Vaseline = 5

Again, vaseline = malassezia safe. 😉

Weekly Treatments

  • Divya Kanti Lep Clay Mask = 1
  • Freeman Charcoal and black sugar mask twice a week = 1
  • Julip mint mask = 2
  • Murad Acne Clarifying Mask = 1

Not a lot of people do these and I agree. Clay masks can be overly drying if used too much. I wouldn’t recommend them as the sole source of treatment for acne. They’re more like an occasional pick up, or something to do before a big event if you wanna tackle blackheads.

Related reading: the most effective way to use clay masks to treat blackheads.


Random other stuff I observed.

  • People who skipped their morning cleanse or simply rinsed with water = 18
  • People who didn’t skip their morning cleanse = 16
  • Undisclosed = 5

For most people, I recommend rinsing with water in the morning. Using a cleanser twice daily can be pretty harsh, and it’s important we avoid drying out our skin wherever possible.

Note: there were 3 people who stopped cleansing altogether (morning and night) and attributed simply using water to clearing their skin! It’s a good reminder that cleansers may not be entirely necessary if you’re not wearing sunscreen or heavy makeup.

And lastly, one person cleared their severe acne by sobering up from drug addiction and applying a topical antibiotic. You heard it here first kids: DON’T DO DRUGS. 

Final Words.

If you’re going to use this as a reference point to try and clear your skin, I recommend keeping it simple at first. Pick a cleanser, treatment step, and moisturizer. Stick with that for AT LEAST 6 weeks (preferably longer). Once your skin is clear, you may begin experimenting with serums, toners, or multiple active steps.

Hope you have found this useful or interesting!