This Is the Only Serum That’s Actually Worked on My Cystic Acne

Before I came across the Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Serum, I’d been apathetic about acne for nearly 10 years. A decade of trying every dermatologist-recommended cream, gel, and benzoyl peroxide-soaked pad as a teenager made one bleak reality painfully clear: absolutely nothing could touch my acne. I eventually gave up, allowing the painful, volcano-like cysts to invade my back and jawline like a hell-bent army. 

Time and birth control proved to be the acne-clearing cocktail my body craved, and by some divine miracle, I enjoyed most of my twenties relatively acne-free. But going off the pill cold turkey after 14 years last June poked the hibernating bear; I’m currently a 30-year-old woman trapped in a teenager’s oily epidermis. 

My jawline and back are once again peppered with painful cystic zits, and I feel just as jaded as my 14-year-old self. I’m hesitant to invest any time or money into dermatologist appointments or topical treatments and continue to hold out hope that my skin will clear up as my body adjusts post-B.C. Unfortunately, my gut tells me that nothing short of a hormone blocker like Spironolactone or going back on the pill is going to clear my acne entirely (a treatment route I’m not yet willing to consider).

But, I am pleased to report that the highly anticipated Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Serum has me singing a less cynical tune. In fact, it’s one of the few topical acne treatments I’ve tried that has actually worked at all. This potent salicylic acid serum has been waging a slow but hopeful battle against my jawline breakouts for the last month and a half, and I’m honestly impressed. 

Before & After Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Serum

Courtesy of Kelsey Clark

Formulated with 15% L-ascorbic acid, 0.5% silymarin, 0.5% ferulic acid, and 0.5% salicylic acid, the Skinceuticals Silymarin CF Serum is an acne-focused follow-up to the brands’ cult-favorite vitamin C serum, C E Ferulic (a hero product for fading dark spots and evening complexions). 

Blemish-prone skin tends to have higher levels of sebum and lower levels of antioxidants, which is why CF’s secret is in the silymarin, a powerful antioxidant derived from milk thistle that “inhibits the oxidation of the skins’ sebum—a process that causes bacteria to enter the pore, leading to inflammation and blemishes,” according to the brand. 

It’s Skinceuticals’ first antioxidant launch in a decade and has been six years in the making—and in my opinion, it shows. Minutes after the “before” photo was taken, I dabbed a few drops of Silymarin CF along my jawline and hoped for the best. The next morning, I was surprised to find that my very inflamed zits were in a sense, dormant—not gone entirely, but no longer active and angry. The serum essentially expedited the healing process, putting me far closer to the finish line than I was 12 hours prior. 

Intrigued, I continued using Silymarin CF two to three times a week for the next month and a half. While I added a few zits to this jawline cluster around my period, my breakouts are far less aggressive and painful. The zits themselves are smaller and they heal faster, if they come to a head at all. 

While I have yet to see if Silymarin CF will also minimize pore appearance and refine my skin texture as promised, tempered breakouts and less inflammation overall are more than enough for me to keep this serum in regular rotation. I hope that the combination of Silymarin CF, an oil-free moisturizer, the occasional P.M. retinol, and a touch of scar-fading CE Ferulic will keep my breakouts at bay—without oral meds (fingers crossed!). 

The price tag on Silymarin CF is a bit steep, but I definitely recommend it to anyone with acne who has been promised “miracle” solutions before. If this did a pretty serious number on my cystic hormonal acne, I suspect it could really help people with less severe breakouts. 

Skinceuticals Silymarin CF

Kelsey Clark is a Glamour contributor. Follow her @kelseymclark. 

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