I like to say that my skin is like a teenage girl: unpredictable and easily-irritated. While it’s in pretty good shape overall, I experience hormonal breakouts around my menstrual cycle — you know, those uncomfortable ones along the jawline that leave post-inflammatory pigmentation for days or sometimes weeks. But I have to be very careful with the treatments I choose, as I’ve found many known acne-fighting ingredients, including derm-faves benzoyl peroxide and retinol, to be too strong and drying. Pimples and flakes — so not cute!
Through my pursuit of the perfect product over the years, I have found two ingredients that my skin seems to be a fan of: salicylic acid and glycolic acid. The former is a beta hydroxy acid that draws out dirt and oil from the pore lining to help prevent the growth of propionibacteria, plus reduces inflammation; the latter is an alpha hydroxy acid that deeply exfoliates to dissolve dead cells and trigger skin repair. I was excited to add Sublime Beauty Glycolic & Salicylic Acid Serum ($40) to my anti-acne arsenal, because as the name applies, it contains both.
As a beauty editor, I love the thrill of something new. But I also want my products to deliver. This serum promises to minimize the appearance of pores, reduce oil, help prevent breakouts, and encourage the production of collagen. Along with the two aforementioned hero ingredients, this serum contains witch hazel, which has anti-inflammatory and astringent properties, soothing aloe, and humectants glycerin and methyl gluceth-20.
I began by applying two pumps of serum just once at night, before realizing that the brand recommends twice daily use for the treatment of oily or acne-prone skin. With a 3 percent concentration of salicylic and a 2 percent concentration of glycolic, this serum acts as a gentle exfoliant that can be used more frequently than a peel or retexturizing pads. I experienced no irritation or adverse reactions when I upped the usage.
It’s important to note that this serum — and all acne-targeting treatments — should be applied to clean skin before any other products in your regimen. The fluid itself is clear and has a super-silky consistency that absorbs immediately on contact. It leaves no weight or slick-feel on the skin and layers just fine under my go-to gel moisturizer, sunscreen (a must when using the serum in the a.m.), and liquid foundation.
I have thick skin — literally and figuratively — so I experience no tingling upon application. (For reference, I can handle up to five passes of an in-office acid peel.) However, it should be known that a little tingling isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually a sign that the acids are penetrating the skin as they should. Another sign that an acid product is working is a slightly flushed complexion. After applying the Sublime Beauty Glycolic & Salicylic Acid Serum, my skin immediately looks refreshed — as if I just went for a quick jog.
While I appreciate the instant gratification, it’s the long-term results I’m most impressed with. This month, while I did see a couple of hormonal blemishes leading up to my period, I can confidently say I saw far fewer than in months past — that means fewer acne scars, too. The texture of my skin is smoother and my pores are more refined. The overall improvement is truly incredible. So much so that I once forgot to wear foundation to work and didn’t feel insecure, which is huge for me.
This product does contain some initially-concerning and potentially-irritating ingredients in the form of solvents, emulsifying agents, and preservatives, but further research found them to be associated with low to moderate risk factors. However, I would like to see the serum reformulated (hint, hint!) without the widely-used preservative methylisothiazolinone. Some studies have found it to be a neurotoxin and many say that it should be avoided in leave-on products.
I will continue to use this serum, though, because I haven’t seen results this good from any other salicylic or glycolic daily — keyword! — treatment. I’m so grateful this was one of the first products to hit my desk when I joined the Truth In Aging team.