The Best Products For Congested Skin

Congested skin or cystic acne - typically triggered by hormonal fluctuations - is way more intense than your average breakout. Unlike surface-based spots, these ones are deep-rooted and build up under the skin, making them harder to fight with regular blemish treatments. You’ll usually experience this type of breakout around the time of your period or if you’ve just gone on/come off birth control pills. Found around the chin, cheeks, and jawline, they often don’t even break through the skin, but stick around as sore, swollen red spots that eventually deflate, only to flare back up with the next hormonal trigger. 

I’ve had countless cycles of cystic acne and flare ups of hormone-induced breakouts, so here’s what works for me.


Glossier Solution

When I start to feel congestion building up, I use an acid toner every night. My favourite and the most effective I’ve used is Glossier’s Solution, which is a blend of AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs - three different types of chemical exfoliant meaning it targets congestion at three different levels. PHAs and AHAs treat surface congestion, but BHAs have smaller molecules so can penetrate deeper and get to the root of really hardcore buildup.

Freck Foreclay Cactus Mask

Again, if I’m experiencing a lot of congestion I’ll aim to use a clay mask every night for a week. The problem with most clay masks is that they dry my skin out and imbalance my moisture levels, kickstarting a whole other series of skin issues. What I love about this one is that whilst it’s super effective, it doesn’t strip my skin or dry me out at all - so it’s gentle enough to use every night. The clay formula is boosted with kelp extract and cactus oils, so it’s also extremely hydrating. It makes a difference to under the skin spots in about three uses, deflating them before they become too painful or swollen.

NIOD Flavanone Mud Mask

Another mask I reach for often in the midst of a cystic acne flare-up. This one is quite drying so I wouldn’t use it repeatedly, but it is undoubtedly the most effective anti-acne mask I’ve ever used. As well as drawing congestion, dead skin cells, and excess oil from pores, it’s incredibly effective at reducing the appearance of blemishes - making it idol if you need to calm your skin fast or before a big event. The star ingredient is flavanone, an antioxidant renowned for its ability to reduce inflammation - so any swelling or redness is instantly quelled.

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion

On the occasion that cystic acne comes to a head and breaks through the skin, my trusty Drying Lotion come out to play. It’s a blend of sulphur, zinc, and salicylic acid, so it works by drying out the skin, clearing the pore, and healing the spot. You use a cotton pad to swab it directly onto the breakouts and it literally reduces the size overnight. I’ve purchased this multiple times - mainly because of how good it is, but also because it’s super cheap.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution

Salicylic acid is a BHA, which means it has small molecules that can penetrate deep into the pores and clear stubborn reoccurring congestion, for good. You’ll find this ingredient in most cleansers, masks, and serums designed for acne-prone skin, but in its purest form (like this) it’s most effective. I’ve been through three bottles so far. It’s affordable, efficient, plays well under makeup, and works really fast. You can be generous with it because it’s £4. A great way to calm budding and existing breakouts.

La Roche-Posay Serozinc Face Mist

It’s easy to strip moisture from skin when you’re battling breakouts, so this face mist is the perfect antidote. It’s packed with zinc which soothes irritation, reduces redness and inflammation, and heals broken skin - all while boosting hydration.

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