As far as my skin is concerned, the change of season every spring is roughly the equivalent of an endless trip on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The combination of environmental allergens, fluctuating temperatures and humidity leaves my pores clueless, confused and angry. And when they get angry, I get zits. But I myself am no spring chicken, so I've packed my skincare toolbox with products to treat acne and soothe and re-balance my skin for the summer ahead. And while my love for benzoyl peroxide in a pinch is undying, the best way to clear skin without creating new issues is to focus on natural ingredients that work hard and play well together. When in doubt, start with these five.
Tea Tree Oil
This all-purpose healer can do anything from cleaning out a cut to limiting dandruff. It's a natural antiseptic, so it can help remove the bacteria in pores that can lead to clogs and pimples. Australian researchers have found that a few drops have the same zit-killing powers as benzoyl peroxide, plus it smells great and it's super refreshing on your skin. Try: The Body Shop Tea Tree Clearing Facial Wash, $14 at The Body Shop.
I was anti-toner for a long time, burned by products made with alcohol that overly dried out my skin. But toner with witch hazel is a total revelation. Witch hazel is a herb and a natural astringent that is exceptionally mild on skin. Basically it helps remove excess sebum from pores and reduces the inflammation of existing blemishes. I prefer it in a toner because swiping some on after cleansing can help brighten, clarify and ready skin for further treatment. Try: Belif Witch Hazel Herbal Extract Toner, $28 at Sephora.
Activated charcoal is the hot skincare ingredient of the moment—you can find it in everything from cleansers to sheet masks. Why? Because activated charcoal basically acts like a magnet, binding to toxins in your skin and removing them so your face is smoother and brighter and pores are unclogged and scrubbed clean so they look less obvious (nothing will actually make them smaller—trust me, I've tried). Charcoal works best when it has time to sink in and do its thing, so a mask is ideal. Try: Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, $26 at Origins.
Though it doesn't have as direct an impact on acne as some of the previous ingredients, green tea works to improve underlying skin issues that can have powerful long-term effects. Think of acne as the result of skin freaking out and not knowing how much oil to produce—green tea gets to the root of the problem by working below the surface to soothe and help balance the production of sebum, making your pores chill AF. Try: Boscia Green Tea Mattifying HydroGel Mask, $8 at Sephora.
Look at any acne-focused product on the shelf and it probably has salicylic acid, a common ingredient to prevent acne by keeping pores clean. But for a natural alternative, seek out lines that use willow bark instead. Salicylic acid is found naturally in willow bark, making it a natural replacement for the synthetic version—some argue that skin reacts better to the real deal than to the man-made compound. Either way, the benefits are big. Try: Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Serum, $29 at Ulta.