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If you’ve spent any time seeking magic bullet acne cures on the internet, you’ve likely discovered that all winding roads of desperate, late-night web crawling eventually lead to the SkincareAddiction subreddit.
The group, with more than 420,000 obsessive subscribers who have collectively tried every beauty product under the sun, is filled with information on everything from understanding the importance of your cleanser’s pH level to decoding the ingredient list on your moisturizer without a PhD in chemistry.
When I needed a science-based solution for the blemishes and blackheads that have plagued me since puberty, I enthusiastically slid down the Reddit rabbit hole, learning the lexicon of acronyms for chemical compounds and the effects each formula would have on my skin. With all of my newfound wisdom, I was shocked when the best product I discovered in the forum turned out to be so old-school that it’s actually part of the Smithsonian’s permanent collection. Yes, the Stridex pads advertised during Carson Daly-era Total Request Live are still around, and they are now my anti-acne weapon of choice.
I was skeptical at first. In the past, I’d tried celebrity-endorsed favorites like the Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, expensive products from brands like Sunday Riley, and probably 75 percent of the skincare aisle at Duane Reade. Could this inconspicuous product I’ve ignored for years really work?
Diving deep into the top posts, I learned that chemical exfoliation is at the heart of any good acne routine, and one of the gold standards in chemical exfoliation is salicylic acid. (It’s a BHA and lipid-soluble, which means it can also penetrate deeply into pores to dissolve the trapped oil and sebum that cause acne.) Stridex’s Maximum Strength Pads (known among SkincareAddiction regulars as “Stridex in the red box”) are essentially a straight shot of salicylic acid to the face. The pads top their list of recommendations for beginner skincare routines, and one user sings their praises for treating body acne and ingrown hairs too.
Before I started using them, treating my acne felt like playing Whac-a-Mole: Just when a nasty cyst on my chin would start to heal, a new cluster of whiteheads would crop up my forehead, only to be followed by some more jawline cysts. But after a couple of days swiping a Stridex pad over my face each morning, I noticed less irritation all over. I still get the occasional zit, but with my new routine it fades away faster and doesn’t trigger a breakout chain reaction. Even the stubborn clogged pores on my nose are less noticeable.
At less than $5 a box and available at drugstores nationwide, Stridex pads are no-nonsense acne-fighters that stand the test of time simply because they work. Once considered too harsh for sensitive skin because they contained alcohol, today’s Stridex pads are alcohol-free, so they won’t leave your skin feeling stripped and dry. Other products with glossy social media campaigns tempt my millennial pink-tinged heart, but I’m staying loyal to the only thing that’s made a real improvement in my acne — even if the cultural reference point of one their best TV ads is The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out.”