The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives in ways we could not have predicted. You may have been planning to see a dermatologist to talk about your acne but are unsure if offices are still open. Even if you did not have acne in the past, being under increased stress can lead to flares of acne. In addition, the masks used to decrease the spread of COVID-19 can cause acne. 

Now, with plenty of time to spend on self-care and at-home skin treatments, our skin care experts have advice for choosing over-the-counter products to help treat acne and advice on when to seek care from a dermatologist. 

Lori Fiessinger, MD, University of Minnesota Physicians dermatologist says she is fully supportive of staying in comfy clothes all day but has advice on how to make sure you keep up with your skin care regimen.

In the Morning

Dr. Fiessinger recommends starting with an over-the-counter cleanser that contains benzoyl peroxide. Check the active ingredients on the back of the bottle for this when you are shopping. Benzoyl peroxide is an excellent ingredient for treatment of comedonal acne (white heads and black heads) and mild inflammatory acne (pustules). 

“Keep in mind that benzoyl peroxide can be drying and irritating to the skin,” Dr. Fiessinger said. “Start off slowly, using every other morning for about two weeks. Increase frequency of use as tolerated, up to once per day.”

After washing your face in the morning, she suggests applying a moisturizer to help combat dryness and irritation. If your skin is normal to oily, try a moisturizing lotion. If your skin is dry, try a moisturizing cream instead. “Using morning facial moisturizers that have sunscreen built into them is a great idea too,” she said.

At Bedtime

Use a non-medical, gentle facial cleanser. After washing your face, allow time to let it dry completely. This helps prevent irritation with the next product, a retinoid. 

Retinoids help the skin to turn over more quickly, which prevents the blocked pores that lead to acne. They also help dark marks left by acne resolve sooner. “Retinoids also have anti-aging benefits, which we all can benefit from,” Dr. Fiessinger said.

Adapalene 0.1% gel (a topical retinoid) is available over the counter. One reason you want to choose a non-medicated wash is because some products can actually inactivate retinoids. The other reason is that using two active, anti-acne treatments simultaneously can lead to a lot of skin irritation. After you have washed and dried your skin, apply a pea-sized amount of adapalene 0.1% gel to the entire face.

“Early in treatment, you will likely have some dryness, irritation and flakiness of the skin. To make this more tolerable, we recommend slowing increasing your use. Start every third night for two weeks, then every other night for two weeks, then use nightly if your skin tolerates. After allowing the adapalene time to dry, you can apply a facial moisturizer over top to prevent some of the dryness and irritation that occurs when using retinoids.”

Dr. Lori Fiessinger

Dr. Fiessinger says it takes time to see the benefits of a new acne regimen, typically around 6-8 weeks to see any results and 3-4 months to see the full benefits. Dark marks left by acne can even take more than a year to resolve. However, if you are not seeing a response from topicals or if you are noticing that your acne is causing scarring, it is important to be evaluated by a dermatologist. 

Currently, you can see a dermatologist, like Dr. Fiessinger, from the comfort of your own home through teledermatology and virtual visits offered to both new and returning patients. Please call to schedule at one of the numbers below.

For Scheduling

M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center - Minneapolis (Adults)
Phone: 612-625- 5656

M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgery Center - Maple Grove (Adult and Pediatric Dermatology)
Phone: 763-898-1000

M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Dermatology
Phone: 612-375-6777