Tested on animals:Yes
MAC’s Prep + Prime line is generally good when it comes to providing benefits for skin, but this acne spot treatment is among the line’s worst entries, for some pretty big reasons!
First, the good (though we add this reluctantly, because saying that anything about this product is good is like saying cigarettes have a good side because some people find them relaxing): this is a lightweight, water-like gel that dries quickly and contains 1% salicylic acid – one of the gold standards when it comes to treating and preventing acne. It’s also at the proper pH to serve as an exfoliant, meaning it will have anti-acne and pore-unclogging benefits.
That is about the only positive thing about this formula - once you check the inactive ingredients you’ll see that it’s loaded with denatured alcohol! It’s so strong that you’ll catch a whiff of it as soon as you open the tube. While that might help with this product’s tactile aesthetics, the drying, irritating, free radical-causing, and skin damaging nature of alcohol can actually signal skin to increase oil production - the last thing you need when you’re trying to fight breakouts! See More Info for the problems alcohol can cause when used in skincare products, as well as the issues irritation can cause for oily skin.
In addition to alcohol, there’s also witch hazel, which is a skin irritant (and contains additional alcohol – as if this formula needed more!). Since acne is an inflammatory condition, adding more irritation can make breakouts worse. There is a small amount of anti-irritants included in this gel, but they’re almost not worth mentioning because they won’t be able to counter the effects of the alcohol and witch hazel. MAC calls this formula “soothing and calming” – but there’s no way that’s possible given the amount of irritants included here! Definitely skip this one, and look to one of the options on our list of Best Anti-Acne Products instead.
- Contains 1% salicylic acid, one of the gold standards in helping treat and prevent blemishes.
- Light gel dries quickly.
- Contains a high amount of alcohol and witch hazel, both of which irritate, inflame, and damage skin, making acne breakouts worse.
Alcohol in skin care: There is a significant amount of research showing alcohol causes free-radical damage in skin even at low levels. Small amounts of alcohol on skin cells in lab settings (about 3%, but keep in mind skin-care products contain amounts ranging from 5% to 60% or greater) over the course of two days increased cell death by 26%. It also destroyed the substances in cells that reduce inflammation and defend against free radicals—this process actually causes more free-radical damage. If this weren't bad enough, exposure to alcohol causes skin cells to self-destruct.
The research also showed that these destructive, aging effects on skin cells increased the longer their exposure to alcohol; for example, two days of exposure was dramatically more harmful than one day, and that's at only a 3% concentration. (Sources: Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, May 2012, pages 1,410–1,419; Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, January 2011, pages 83–90; Journal of Investigative Dermatology, August 2009, pages 20–24; "Skin Care—From the Inside Out and Outside In," Tufts Daily, April 1, 2002; Alcohol, Volume 26, Issue 3, April 2002, pages 179–190; eMedicine Journal, May 8, 2002, volume 3, number 5, www.emedicine.com; Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, April 2001, pages 109–166; Cutis, February 2001, pages 25–27; Contact Dermatitis, January 1996, pages 12–16; and http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/arh27-4/277-284.htm).
For more on alcohol's (as in, ethanol, denatured alcohol, and ethyl alcohol) effects on skin, see our article on the topic, Alcohol in Skin Care: The Facts.
Irritation and oily skin: Inflammation in skin is usually related to external factors such as irritation that damages the skin’s barrier in numerous ways, whether you can see the reaction or not. When irritation on the surface of skin happens it activates specific chemicals called neuropeptides in the brain (Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2007). Those substances are specifically the kind that regulates the hormonal system of the body.
When this happens, it then causes inflammatory chemicals targeted directly in the oil gland. Then, these inflammatory chemicals trigger an increase in oil production, which can increase the size of the pore, and the likelihood of acne—the more inflammation that occurs, the worse the risk (European Journal of Dermatology, 2002 & Dermatology, 2003).
Bottom line: Inflammation and its resulting irritation, whether internal or external (for this discussion externally it would be due to the use of irritating ingredients, hot water, overusing scrubs, etc.), is practically a guarantee you will see excess production of oil, larger pores and acne breakouts (Experimental Dermatology, 2009 & Dermato-Endocrinology, 2011).
That’s reason enough to avoid products with irritating ingredients, which often come in the form of fragrance including the misnamed “essential” oils.