1. A prescription-strength (!) Differin retinoid gel (with over 52,000 5-star ratings) to promote cell turnover, reduce inflammation, and help clear breakouts — basically a godsend for hormonal and cystic skin. BTW, retinoids are kinda the gold standard of skincare, so this is a no-brainer to stock up on.
Promising review: "Has completely transformed my skin. I used to get hormonal acne every single month, I still get it now but far less often and severely. Differin has really made a big difference on my quality of life. I have sensitive skin, so I only use it a couple of times a week and always over a light layer of lotion. When I first started using it, my acne did get worse for about a month and then magically one day my skin looked amazing. It's worth a try for sure!" —Britt
Get it from Amazon for $14.39+ (available as a single-dose pump or a tube, and four sizes for a 30-, 60-, 90-, or 180-day supply).
2. ~Uber-satisfying~ and mega-affordable hydrocolloid pimple patches for sucking gunk out of acne that has come to a head and (crucially) for protecting deep, under-the-skin pimples from wandering or picking fingers, which can inadvertently inflame blemishes more by adding dirt and bacteria to irritated skin. As a member of the hormonal cystic acne ~club~ myself, if I had to choose only one skincare product to use for the rest of my life, it'd be these.
I have used these for years, and I literally buy them in bulk so that I'm never caught without them. I really can't sing the praises of these enough — they make my cystic acne heal faster, whether by sucking pus out of active breakouts or by curbing the beginning of pimples through keeping my hands the heck off them. I like to keep them on overnight, and they're clear and unobtrusive enough that I'll usually use them during the day when needed, too. Different sizes are included so you can customize to different blemish sizes, or simply use smaller patches during the daytime and larger ones at night, lol. This is the product I'm constantly raving to my friends about, and tl;dr it's my desert island item. You cannot go wrong with these. Plus, they're super affordable for the amount you get, and especially for the benefit they provide.
Promising review: "I’ve bought this product multiple times over the last couple of years because they really, truly work. I’m a (now) 37-year-old who still gets hormonal breakouts, including painful cystic acne at times. I sleep with these babies on, and in the morning, the size and redness is usually 50%-75% better. If it’s a larger breakout or a cyst, I repeat the process and have been known to wear these to work — depending on location of the pimple. They really are great and makes having acne in your mid-late thirties less stressful. They’re usually gone in one to two days with these patches! Highly recommend!" —Lauren Kerley
Get a pack of three (72 pimple patches total) from Amazon for $14.50.
3. The Aztec Secret healing clay mask beloved by reviewers for its ability to majorly deep clean pores, fight active breakouts, and help fade hyperpigmentation. Made with 100% calcium bentonite clay, a first-rate treatment for drawing impurities out of the skin, this mask is ~a longtime classic~ for a reason.
In addition to your face, you can also use it on your body and even in your hair as a scalp treatment. Reviewers recommending mixing in some apple cider vinegar for best use, especially if you have sensitive skin.
Promising review: "This is quite possibly the best skincare product I have ever used. I don’t say that lightly as I am a self-confessed beauty lover and cystic acne sufferer. But holy hell, this mask literally changed my life in less than a week. I’ve tried oral medication, antibiotics, snail creams, vitamins, lasers, retinol, microdermabrasion, monthly facials, birth control pills, homeopathic herbs and remedies and NOTHING has cleared my angry, inflamed cystic acne quicker than this mask. I have very oily skin and hormonal acne along my jawline. This mask is a godsend. I apply it every single day for exactly ten minutes before showering. Within three days, my cysts has dried up completely and flattened (which would’ve taken at least two weeks normally.) No new pimples have emerged and my skin is younger looking, less spotty, and much softer. I even use this mask on my backne. I am beyond thrilled. I’m over the moon. Pro tip though: Do not wash the mud down the drain. It will clog your pipes!" —French_Lentil
Get it from Amazon for $14.95.
4. A post-blemish rescue balm because sometimes you're gonna pop that pimple even though you know you shouldn't (we've all been there). Just pat some on the popped blemish to calm irritation, help reduce hyperpigmentation, and add moisture. 💪
Hero Cosmetics is an Asian woman-founded brand and home of the popular Mighty Patch and more. Ju Rhyu launched the brand in 2017, and it's since evolved with products such as cleansers, toners, nose strip Mighty Patches, and more!
Promising reviews: "This product is great. It definitely speeds the healing process and minimizes the appearance of active pimples, but I am finding it is doing a good job of addressing older scars as well. I have been using this product in conjunction with CeraVe foaming acne wash, and my hormonal cystic acne is almost cleared up (after only a week), and the scars from previous breakouts are less visible. After batting hormonal cystic acne for years, this seems to be the winning combination." —Joyce Y.
"Whoever made this needs a raise. I wish I can slather my whole face with it. I've had acne for like 10 years (no joke) and recently had a terrible hormonal breakout and this really helped. I know when products work and when it does and this works. PLEASE for the love of gawd try it." —Sarah L.
Get it from Amazon for $12.99+ (available in two sizes).
5. A tub of Vanicream Moisturizing Cream that'll provide the deep hydration that hormonal breakouts crave after acne treatments. Free of fragrance, parabens, and formaldehyde releasers, this baby is made with soothing ingredients that are ideal for sensitive, inflamed skin. It even has a seal of approval from the National Eczema Association. Hallelujah.
This tub comes with a pump to keep things nice and sanitary, too!
Promising review: "I started using Differin retinoid gel for an adult hormonal acne outbreak caused by stress. This causes peeling and very dry/tight skin as your face gets used to the retinoid. My normal moisturizer was not cutting it. This has gotten rid of my peeling in two days, and made the tightness much more bearable. I put it on 3–4 times a day right now given what my skin is undergoing and it's great. It's a very thick moisturizer though so be prepared." —Smiff
Get it from Walmart for $13.56.
6. A salon-worthy stainless-steel skin spatula to help majorly de-gunk clogged pores using high-frequency vibrations. It'll also help optimize your skincare since your newly clear pores will be able to absorb your products better!
The images above show the skin spatula with all the gunk and sebum removed from the reviewer's skin after use, and the gunk a different reviewer cleaned from their face after wiping their scrubber off on some cotton pads.
See it in action on TikTok here.
I finally caved and bought this during Black Friday, and wow, I am SO glad I did. Blackheads are less of an issue for me than cystic acne, and it worked beautifully for both, and somehow very gently, too. The first time I used it, I could see all the stubborn gunk in my skin being extracted — gunk that was still there despite having just showered and regularly adhering to a pretty strict skincare regimen (!). I use the Blume Nourishing Face Oil to keep my skin moist while using it, which worked well for me (they recommend using a toner, water, or some other moisturizing agent, and after forgetting to once, I agree that it is crucial LOL). Afterwards, my skin felt softer than it's felt in years, and super clean without being at all tight. In short, a great product and definitely a staple for me.
Promising review: "I have hormonal skin that overproduces sebum. The photo [above, left] speaks for itself. I used it right out of a hot shower while my skin was still wet and it extracted so much! I’m starting to only use it once a week as your skin needs recovery time after a facial like this. Totally get it!" —Amazon Customer
Get it from Amazon for $17.99+ (available in three colors).
7. A bottle of Tower 28's SOS Daily Rescue spray that'll gently calm irritated, inflamed skin using simple but powerful antibacterial ingredients. Spritz on your skin morning and night, or whenever your skin needs a little extra TLC — it'll help support your skin barrier!
I finally bought a bottle of this, and I'm so glad I did. It soothes my parched, sensitive skin, and I can tell it's calming irritation, too — it calms my oncoming breakouts and often stops them in their tracks, which is kind of unbelievable since my cystic breakouts can take more than two weeks to clear (IYKYK). It also makes my skin feel more hydrated and more balanced. This thing is understated but *mighty* and has a permanent place in my skincare collection.
Promising review: "Magic in a bottle! It's unbelievable how well this stuff works! I noticed only in a matter of days what a difference it has made on my skin that can be extremely sensitive to trying new products. I definitely think it is worth all the hype, especially for acne-prone skin like mine. It has completely cleared any flared up blemishes I had around my chin area, which is typically hormone-triggered and has also treated some red and dark spots once blemishes have cleared. I can't wait to buy the full size once I finish the travel size bottle. Highly recommend for anyone on the fence about it!" —KittynNikkie
Tower 28 is an Asian woman-owned business designed for sensitive skin. Their products are free of any sensitivity-causing ingredients, and are also vegan and cruelty-free.
8. An affordable, cruelty-free vegan sulfur mask that's an underground cult-fave due to sulfur's incredible anti-bacterial properties. Formulated with 10% sulfur, this maximum-strength acne treatment calms inflammation, exfoliates dead skin cells, and clears sebum from pores effectively yet gently, making it an instant hormonal acne staple.
Promising review: "If only I had started with this, I could have saved myself so much frustration and hiding behind my mask! I started to get hormonal acne around my chin after stopping birth control. I changed my diet, tried prescription retinoid cream, oral medication, tried going back on my birth control and then THIS. Total game changer for me. I wear a mask 8-9 hours a day since I work in healthcare so that doesn’t help. This paste is awesome. Great value for how many applications. No major scent really. I noticed a difference after a few days of applying once a day. I also made sure to hydrate my skin too as this can dry out your skin. I will continue to use this to prevent further breakouts!" —gaylin
Get it from Amazon for $13.98.
9. The Ordinary Azelaic Acid because GOSH, if you haven't tried azelaic acid yet, YOU GOTTA. This affordable formulation sports 10% azelaic acid, the maximum over-the-counter strength available, giving you the full benefit of the anti-bacterial, antioxidant-full ingredient without breaking the bank. Calming skin sensitivity, smoothing textured skin, preventing free radical damage, and gently exfoliating, azelaic acid makes this cystic acne bb's heart beat faster — I think it's heaven-sent.
PS: Azelaic acid isn't an AHA or BHA, so it's gentle enough to be used together with retinoids, BHAs, and AHAs.
Promising review: "I almost never write reviews but love this product so much that I wanted to echo all of the other positive reviews. I have suffered from hormonal acne and large clogged pores my entire adult life and after a couple weeks of use I've notice a HUGE difference. My pores are smaller, acne scars have faded, and no hormonal acne in sight. It is a small container but only a pea-size is needed to cover my entire face so it's also incredibly inexpensive!" —Marduten
10. A bottle of dermatologist-approved CeraVe AM Facial Lotion for a holy grail drugstore moisturizer rich with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and SPF 30 that's gentle enough for daily use on sensitive cystic skin.
BuzzFeed Shopping editor Brittany Ross loooves this facial lotion! She writes: "This is my go-to face moisturizer/sunscreen and I apply it *every* morning. The formula absorbs really quickly — especially considering it has SPF — and it keeps my dry-as-a-desert skin feeling hydrated and looking just a bit dewy without being greasy (aka the absolute worst!). Plus, since it's just 3 ounces, I don't have to run to the store for a travel-sized version whenever I have a flight coming up, and it's super affordable to boot."
Promising review: "I have hormonal, cystic acne (and taken pretty much every cream and pill for acne at some point) so needless to say my skin is now somewhat sensitive and prone to major outbreaks. My dermatologist has recommended CeraVe to use for everyday products such as face cleanser and lotions. This lotion doesn’t seem to cause any outbreaks (or make my face super red after application, which is so nice lol). Also, it is super light and blends in after application. It doesn’t make your face smell like sunscreen either, which is why I am still consistent with applying it. My boyfriend even commented on it." —regan
Get it from Amazon for $12.61.
11. A cruelty-free nourishing skincare oil infused with soothing rosehip, repairing blue tansy, and regenerative black cumin seed oil to hydrate blemish-prone skin while treating acne and reducing the appearance of scarring and pores.
See it on TikTok here.
I have had hormonal, cystic acne since adolescence and still deal with painful hormonal acne, plus skin that's somehow dry *and* oily. On top of that, my skin has somehow become more sensitive with every passing year so I'm very careful about what I put on my face. I was initially skeptical that an oil of all things would help my skin, but I LOVE this thing. It is somehow so lightweight while feeling truly nourishing. My breakouts have cleared up since starting this product, and my skin is less oily and more even, like the oil has been balanced out. I've been looking everywhere for a skincare product with black cumin seed oil (a v underrated antibacterial and anti-inflammatory oil that helps fade pigmentation and is gentle enough to calm even eczema), so I was delighted that it was a main ingredient in this. I am so glad I gave this a shot and will definitely be buying another when I run out. Also, can I just say the product's push-down (instead of squeezing) dropper packaging is ingenious?!
Promising reviews: "After 15+ years of acne and sensitive skin, this product is the best thing I have ever tried on my face! It quickly gets rid of zits, big and small, even deep hormonal ones, within a day or two. It also reduces post-breakout hyperpigmentation." —Jennifer O
"The absolute best facial oil I’ve ever used. It soothes and heals my mid-40’s skin like no other product. Hormonal breakouts are a no longer a problem. I keep at least one spare bottle at all times so I never run out!" —Rachel B
Blume is a woman of color–owned small business that specializes in skincare and period care products.
12. TruSkin Retinol Serum for an extra-gentle retinoid option to even out hyperpigmentation left over from hormonal breakouts and combat future breakouts while plumping and softening skin. Formulated with hydrating hyaluronic acid and free radical-diminishing vitamin E, this affordable babe packs a punch.
Promising review: "I was skeptical because of the low price but after reading the mostly positive reviews I decided to go for it. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this serum. I saw a difference in my skin tone after the first use. I'm 43 with combination but mostly oily skin. My oiliness is pretty much gone now. Before, I was continuously wiping oil from my face throughout the day. Not anymore! My dark spots are also fading, which is fabulous, and my hormonal acne is no more. I will definitely be ordering again!" —EriStew
Get it from Amazon for $19.99.
13. A glycolic acid peel with retinol, green tea, and cucumber to help improve texture, brighten, and remove dull, dead skin so your skin will be ~radiant~ and your other skincare products can penetrate more deeply. PSA, though: Glycolic acid and retinol can make your skin more sensitive, including to the sun – so make sure you start slowly and are consistently wearing sunscreen!!
To use, cleanse skin and apply peel for no more than two to five minutes, no more than once or twice a week depending on skin sensitivity.
Promising review: "Amazing. Simply amazing. Read the sheet inside the box for instructions. I'm so glad I ordered this. I had a few hormonal breakouts and this has helped. Also I wanted to save money on facials and this is an excellent substitute. It felt just like I was at the spa. It was super tingly and effective." —Roberta
Get it from Amazon for $29.95.
14. A Cosrx snail essence because sometimes hormonal skin needs some extra hydration and TLC. Enter: snail mucin, nature's MVP for intense yet incredibly gentle skin repair. This bb contains a whopping *96%* snail mucin to get the (nourishing) job done. The glow you'll get afterwards will be the cherry on top.
I've been using the Cosrx snail mucin essence for years, and it's honestly a godsend for my dry, acne-prone, sensitive skin. Just like how snail mucin protects snails from damage when they move over and around gravel and other jagged things, mucin is like a heavenly layer of nourishing protection for skin that's navigating the effects of extreme weather (plus pollution, stress, and hormones). I don't care how weird it might sound — this ingredient is a dang star.
Promising review: "This is the best skincare product I’ve ever put on my face. I’ve been dealing with hormonal acne on my cheeks for about a year now, and couldn’t find anything to help it go away. I’ve tried prescription, creams and face wash as well as getting on prescription pills to help my hormonal acne. This is the only thing that has helped my skin. All of my acne is clear now and I’ve only been using it for about a month. I use it morning and night. Definitely would recommend to any and everyone." —debbie&donna
Get it from Amazon for $22.87.
15. The iconic Mario Badescu Drying Lotion to help shrink angry, throbbing pimples faster than you previously thought possible. Just use a cotton swab to pick up some of the pink solution and dab over any blemishes for several hours or overnight — and let this sulfur, zinc, calamine, and salicylic-acid potion do what it does best.
BTW, it's important not to shake or mix the solution!
Promising review: "I've had cystic/hormonal acne since I had my son two years ago. I've been trained as an esthetician and have used many different brands and methods to help stop, or if nothing else simply heal and calm my flare ups. The results from this product literally floored me. I tend to get a new cluster of zits or cysts every two weeks, but since I began treatment with this I have not had one. It's truly ridiculous. I would honestly recommend this to anyone with reoccurring acne and cystic acne to try. You have to moisturize, but for me having really dry and flaky skin for a day or two was entirely worth it, because nothing else has given me the results I have now. My flare ups have stopped and it dried up my smaller cysts. The bottles are small but will last, I'm over 12 applications in and not a dent. I consider this breaking out the big guns, but my hormones wanted to go to war on my face, so this is the artillery to fight back ;) so happy with this, worth every penny. You may only be able to do this once a week, I could handle this three days a week and no more." —A. Bauer
Get it from Amazon for $17 (available in glass or plastic bottle, and in packs with drying patches).