Kelly Driscoll

Skincare going more than skin deep…

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Treating Acne Without Chemical Exfoliation? | Gentle Skincare Shopping Guide

The last year of my skincare journey has definitely shattered some of my deepest-held beliefs about how skincare should work and what I need to do for my skin.

A few of them include:

“Hey, I can layer up toner as much as my heart wants! I can even layer different toners!”

“Oil doesn’t make my skin oily!”

And the biggest one of all:

“My skin doesn’t need all that harsh exfoliation!”

Way back in 2015, I struggled with my skin. Bad. My congested pores were completely covering my face, hardly any part of my skin was free from the texture and bumps. I had dabbled in a little bit of chemical exfoliation before, but I had no set schedule or routine in place.

Then I started to use prescription azelaic acid and my skin cleared up and stayed clear, for years! It was my holy grail savior, my nightly ritual for almost 3 years.

But as my skincare obsession grew and I became more confident in my ability to build effective routines, I started to use more chemical exfoliation.

It wasn’t really one event, but rather an accumulation of events that led to my severely damaged moisture barrier.

The issue wasn’t exfoliation itself, but rather the idea that I had to have a vitamin C in my routine, I need to be using retinol by age 30 and I must use a high percentage AHA product once a week.

I was listening to well-meaning advice from others first, rather than listening to my skin. That kind of thinking will always spell disaster.

After completely destroying my moisture barrier and building it back up with 5 long weeks of no exfoliants whatsoever, I learned a lot.


What I learned:

  • My skin had less breakouts with no exfoliation, because harsh products were causing irritation breakouts.
  • My skin is pretty sensitive and should be treated as such.
  • What works for others, doesn’t necessarily work well for me.
  • Skin is ever-changing and listening to what my skin needs on a *daily* basis is important.
  • Acne doesn’t always need to be treated with guns-a-blazing!

With those lessons in mind, I wanted to share with you all the products that have helped soothe and heal my skin during breakouts — that include no chemical exfoliants!

This list is perfect for those struggling with breakouts, but also have very sensitive skin or compromised moisture barriers! These are also perfect, gentle products to round out an acne care routine.

Gentle Acne Soothing Products (No Chemical Exfoliation!)

*All links are affiliate*


Purito Defense Barrier pH Cleanser

Cosrx Low pH Good Morning Cleanser


Benton Snail Bee High Content Skin

Purito Centella Green Level Calming Toner

Secret Key Aloe Soothing Toner

Benton Tea Tree Mist


Purito Centella Green Level Buffet Serum

Benton Snail Bee High Content Essence


Benton Snail Bee High Content Sheet Mask

I’m From Ginseng Mask

Leaders Tea Tree Sheet Mask


Rovectin Cica Balm

Klairs Midnight Blue Calming Cream


Purito Centella Green Level Sunscreen

*Affiliate links pay a small commission that help run this blog

2 responses to “Treating Acne Without Chemical Exfoliation? | Gentle Skincare Shopping Guide”

  1. Ha – after going without any sort of chem exfoliation for quite a long time, I just got my hands on a tub of NeoGen Green Tea Peeling Pads. (It was 50% off!) Once a week, I use a physical exfoliator, and while it does help make my skin smoother, I feel like every now and then I need something a little more intense, especially along the chin/jawline. But you’re right — doing too much can be as harmful as (or worse than) not doing enough. 😮

    (I’m still lowkey afraid of incorporating retinol in my routine, but I’m taking baby steps with the vitamin C!)

    • Retinol isn’t too bad, it’s about finding the right one for your skin and being patient while incorporating it and waiting through the purging. I definitely had a retinol disaster but now I’ve got the right one and my skin is happy! Can be worth the pain but it’s more of a journey so I guess when you are prepared for that it’s easier!

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