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The $9 Face Wash I Use to Fight Cystic Acne

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photo: Retailer

My skin type is a little tricky: I’m acne-prone, but I’m also extremely dry and sensitive. So a lot of traditional acne treatments, like intense spot treatments and toners with high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, don’t work for me. Historically, they’ve made my skin red, flaky, and dehydrated, with the breakout itself looking and feeling worse than it had in the first place.

My temperamental skin has led me to rely on soothing and calming ingredients like centella asiatica, mugwort, and green tea to reduce inflammation and redness without stripping my skin. And for the most part, this method has been effective in keeping my day-to-day acne at bay — my breakouts tend to gradually fade away within a week, and my skin remains moisturized and bouncy. However, a few weeks ago, a cystic zit about the size of a small blueberry sprouted on my chin. While I wasn’t thrilled about its presence, I didn’t think too much of it and went about my normal acne-busting routine: Cosrx’s Centella Toner, my I’m From Mugwort Mask, and of course, my Acropass Pimple Patches. But to my surprise, none of my old tried-and-trues worked — this thing didn’t shrink even slightly.

A week passed, then another, but the pimple remained. And it wasn’t just unfortunate to look at — it hurt. I could feel it throbbing throughout the day. But before I took out a lancet and performed amateur surgery, I decided to contact my dear friend and esthetician Sofie Pavitt, who specializes in treating acne. After examining my welt of a zit from all angles, Sofie agreed that my usual hero products just weren’t going to cut it — I needed something stronger to kick this pimple to the curb.

Benzoyl peroxide, if you didn’t know, is an ingredient that helps attack acne-causing bacteria under the skin. It’s extremely effective — it not only reduces active acne, it prevents future lesions from forming — but it can be drying or irritating on certain skin types. Knowing how sensitive my skin is, Sofie suggested that I get a benzoyl peroxide face wash instead of a spot treatment — that way I could deliver the pimple-busting benefits of a high concentration of benzoyl peroxide while avoiding the potential irritation that might occur with an overnight spot treatment.

I was hesitant. My skin hasn’t responded well to intense benzoyl peroxide treatments in the past. But coincidentally, a few days after my appointment with Sofie, a girl in my esthetician course started raving about PanOxyl, a $9, 10 percent benzoyl peroxide face wash that she swore by for fighting off her stubborn hormonal acne. And to my surprise, a few other girls in my class piped up, seconding its zit-busting capabilities. Intrigued by these rave reviews, I ordered a bottle on my phone right there in the middle of the lecture.

As far as sensitivity goes, my cheeks and forehead are where my skin is most temperamental. So instead of washing my entire face with this strong formula (as I would a regular cleanser), I decided to use the PanOyxl wash sort of like a spot treatment, just focusing it on my chin and jawline, where I break out most. Immediately after washing it off, I followed it up with a deeply hydrating moisturizer (I like the Derma E Vitamin E Cream) to replenish moisture and avoid irritation as much as possible.

My zit resolved gradually. By the fourth day of washing with PanOxyl, the giant zit had shrunk by about a quarter of its size. It no longer pulsed, and the redness became easy to conceal with a bit of coverup. And the best part: There was absolutely no irritation, dehydration, or flakiness.

But it didn’t just help with this particular cystic zit — I noticed after a few nights of using this product, all the textural issues, blackheads, and congestion along my chin and jaw started to fade away. And as I continued using the product regularly for about three weeks I noticed that they stayed away.

This face wash has since become a staple in my evening routine. I use it once a week as maintenance to keep acne away, and whenever a few unsuspecting pimples sprout up during my time of the month, I increase my usage every night until the swelling goes down. And using my spot-treatment method — focusing it only on areas where I’m most congested — I haven’t experienced even a bit of irritation. With this face wash, I’ve noticed pimples just tend to fade away on their own — no at-home surgery necessary.

Note: If you’re super, duper sensitive, Panoxyl also offers a 4 percent benzoyl peroxide formula (as opposed to this one’s 10 percent), which your skin may prefer.

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The $9 Face Wash I Use to Fight Cystic Acne