If you suffer from acne you know how frustrating and overwhelming it can be, here are 13 best skincare tips for acne that will help you control it to get clearer skin.
Did you know?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), acne affects up to 50 million Americans annually.
While there is no cure for acne, here are 13 best skincare tips for acne that will help you manage it and keep your skin looking its best.
What is acne?
Acne is a condition of the skin that occurs when the hair follicles become plugged with dead skin cells, oil, bacteria and dirt.
Acne can occur on the face, neck, chest, back, shoulders, and upper arms. It most often affects teenagers, but can also affect adults.
There are several factors that can contribute to the formation of acne:
- Genetics plays a role in who is more likely to develop acne.
- Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty or pregnancy, can trigger acne.
- Certain medications, such as corticosteroids or lithium, can also cause acne.
13 Best Skincare Tips for Acne
Here are 13 best skincare tips for acne to help you clear your skin:
1. Cleanse your skin with a mild cleanser.
Keeping your skin clean — whether you have acne or not — is important for maintaining healthy skin because cleansing removes dead skin cells, oil, and dirt that can clog pores and lead to breakouts.
When choosing a cleanser, look for one that is labeled “mild” — so it won't strip your skin of its natural oils — and contains ingredients like salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide to help treat acne; be sure to wash your face twice daily, in the morning and at night.
Avoid cleansers that contain harsh ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), which are foaming agents that can dry out and irritate your skin.
And, using bar soaps because most bar soaps contain some form of sodium hydroxide or lye, which is used to saponify the oil in the soap-making process; saponification is what causes the oils to turn into soap.
Sodium hydroxide or lye strips away all the natural fats and oils that our skin needs to stay moisturized, drying out and irritating your skin, making your acne worse.
If you're looking for a good acne-fighting cleanser, check out our list of the Best Cleansers for Acne-Prone Skin.
2. But avoid over-cleansing.
While cleansing is important, over-cleansing strips your skin of its natural oils causing your sebaceous glands to produce more oil to compensate for the loss, which can cause and worsen breakouts.
Over-cleansing also damages skin barrier function allowing bacteria, irritants, and allergens to enter and cause breakouts, redness, irritation, inflammation, neurodermatitis and decreased natural resistance to UVA and UVB rays — all of which can contribute to the formation and aggravation of acne.
With that being said, cleanse your skin twice a day — in the morning and at night — at most.
3. Exfoliate your skin once to twice a week.
Exfoliation helps remove dead skin cells, oil, and dirt that can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts.
There are two types of exfoliation:
- Physical exfoliation, which uses abrasive agents like beads, sugar, salt, or coffee grounds to slough away dead skin cells;
- And chemical exfoliation, which uses ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), or enzymes to break down the bonds between dead skin cells so they can be sloughed away.
Both types of exfoliation can be beneficial for treating acne; however, physical exfoliation can be irritating and cause micro-tears in the skin, so it's important to not scrub too hard and use gentle circular motions when scrubbing.
When choosing an exfoliator, look for one that contains small beads or granules made from natural ingredients like bamboo powder or jojoba wax and avoid harsh scrubs with large beads.
If you have sensitive skin, opt for chemical exfoliation with ingredients like glycolic acid, lactic acid, or salicylic acid.
4. Use products with acne-fighting ingredients.
Products with acne-fighting ingredients help treat and prevent acne breakouts to clear your skin.
Look for products that contain:
- Benzoyl peroxide: a powerful antibacterial agent that's available in over-the-counter products helps kill the bacteria that causes acne; it's also an anti-inflammatory, so it can help to reduce redness and swelling.
- Salicylic acid: an exfoliating agent that helps to unclog pores and prevent breakouts.
- Sulfur: a drying agent that can help to absorb excess oil and reduce the size of pimples.
- Retinoids: vitamin A derivatives — available in both over-the-counter products and as prescription medications — help promote cell turnover, unclog pores, and reduce inflammation.
To use these ingredients effectively, look for products that contain them in concentrations of 2.5% or less - anything higher can be irritating to the skin.
Start with a lower concentration and gradually increase it as your skin adjusts and becomes more tolerant to prevent irritation.
Apply sunscreen during the day as some of these ingredients - like retinoids - can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
5. Use a non-comedogenic moisturizer regularly.
There's a misconception that acne-prone skin types don't need to moisturize — since their skin is already producing enough oil — because that will worsen and aggravate their acne. But, all skin types need to be moisturized to maintain healthy skin barrier function.
A healthy skin barrier helps keep irritants, bacteria, and allergens out while locking in moisture to keep your skin hydrated; but when the skin barrier is damaged, it can lead to dryness, redness, irritation, inflammation, and increased sensitivity.
Depending on your skin type, you have to be careful about the type of moisturizer you use. The key is to use a non-comedogenic moisturizer — skincare product formulated without pore-clogging ingredients so it doesn't clog your pores — like gel or lotion to prevent acne breakouts.
Look for a moisturizer that contains ingredients like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or dimethicone — these ingredients help to attract and retain water in the skin — and natural ingredients like aloe vera, which is anti-inflammatory can help soothe irritated skin
6. Avoid touching your face.
We touch our face an average of 23 times per hour but it's important you avoid touching your face because on average, our hands carry 3,200 different germs from more than 150 species and they survive on our hands for up to 3 hours.
This means that when you touch your face, you transfer all the bacteria, oil, and dirt from your hands to your face — which can clog pores and lead to acne breakouts and irritate and inflame your skin.
Instead, apply your skincare products with a skincare spatula to avoid contamination and further skin irritation.
But if you feel like you need to touch your face, wash your hands first to avoid transferring any unwanted bacteria, oil, and dirt.
7. Don’t pick or squeeze your pimples.
Picking or squeezing pimples can irritate the skin because you’re pushing the content of the pimple deeper into the skin, making your acne worse by causing infection and inflammation, and leading to permanent scarring, so it's best to leave your pimples alone and let them run their course.
To avoid picking or squeezing pimples, keep your hands away from your face; if you feel the urge to pick or squeeze, try to distract yourself by doing something else with your hands like fidgeting with a stress ball or playing with a fidget toy.
A good alternative is hydrocolloid patches because they act as a physical barrier — that absorb the oil and pus from pimples without irritating the skin and speeding up healing — to prevent picking or squeezing pimples.
If you can't resist the urge to pop a pimple, at least make sure you do it the right way:
- Wash your hands with soap and water first to avoid transferring any bacteria from your hands to your face.
- Gently press down on either side of the pimple until you feel a give. If it doesn't give, don't force it - this means it's not ready to be popped.
- Once you've found the point of entry, use a clean cotton swab or your fingers to slowly and gently squeeze out the contents of the pimple.
- Don't apply too much pressure as this can cause more irritation, redness, and swelling.
- Wipe away any excess pus with a clean cotton swab or tissue.
- Wash your hands again with soap and water.
- Apply an acne spot treatment to the area to help heal the pimple and prevent scarring.
9. Keep your hair off your face.
Hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners, and styling products can cause acne breakouts because they contain specific ingredients — that can find their way to your skin — and clog your pores.
Keep your hair off your face - if you have long hair, tie it back in a ponytail, braid, or bun; if you have short hair, style it away from your face.
If you have bangs, sweep them to the side or clip them back with a bobby pin. And, if you're working out, wear a headband to keep your hair off your forehead.
If you must wear your hair down, make sure you wash your hair regularly to remove any build-up of oil, dirt, sweat, and product.
10. Remove all makeup before you go to bed.
We get it! Makeup can help cover up blemishes and give you a confidence boost — and we are all for it — as long as you remember to remove it before you go to bed.
The cell regeneration process that occurs while you sleep helps keep your hair follicles lubricated, which in turn, allows sebum to flow to the surface of your skin.
Sleeping with your makeup traps sebum, bacteria, and dirt that can lead to acne breakouts because it clogs pores which can worsen existing acne and cause irritation, inflammation, and premature aging.
To remove your makeup properly, start with double cleansing your face with an oil-based cleanser, to break down all the makeup, dirt, and oil, followed by a water-based cleanser, to remove any remaining residue, to leave your face feeling clean and refreshed.
11. Change your pillowcase regularly.
Lab tests found that a swab sample from pillowcases that were unwashed for over a week had 17,000 times more colonies of bacteria than a swab sample from a toilet seat.
Pillowcases retain dead skin cells, oil, dirt, bacteria, fungi, and allergens that build up on the pillow's surface — where your face rests and rubs against for hours every night while you sleep — and can cause or worsen acne breakouts.
To avoid acne breakouts caused by your pillowcase, change your pillowcase at least once a week — more often if you have oily or acne-prone skin or sweat a lot at night — and wash your pillowcase 2 to 3 times a week in hot water with a detergent (that's hypoallergenic, non-comedogenic and free of harsh chemicals) to kill bacteria and remove build-up.
If you don't have the time or simply don't want to wash your pillowcase every few days, investing in a few sets of pillowcases that you can alternate will help keep your skin clear.
With that being said, cotton pillowcases absorb more oil and dirt from your hair and skin so they need to be changed more often, while silk pillowcases are less absorbent and can be reused for a week or two.
12. Taking care of your gut health.
One study found that 54% of people with acne also had an imbalance in their gut bacteria.
The gut-skin connection is a two-way street - what's going on in your gut can show up on your skin and what's going on your skin can impact your gut. This means that there's a strong connection between gut health and skin health — specifically, the state of your gut microbiota — so it's important to take care of your gut if you want clear skin.
Gut microbiota is the community of microbes — bacteria, fungi, and viruses — that live in your gut and play a role in everything from immune function to digestion. An imbalance in gut microbiota has been linked to inflammation and a number of chronic diseases, including acne.
To promote gut health:
- Eat a healthy diet that's rich in fiber and low in sugar and refined carbs.
- Take probiotics — live microorganisms that benefit your gut health.
- Incorporate prebiotic foods into your diet - these are foods that contain fiber that serve as food for the probiotics.
- Reduce stress levels — stress can impact gut health.
- Exercise regularly — exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on gut health.
13. Manage your stress.
Stress has a significant impact on acne severity, with higher levels of stress leading to severe acne; this was determined by looking at the correlation between stress scores and acne severity in a group of people.
When you're stressed, your body produces more cortisol and androgens which trigger excess sebum production and inflammation which clogs your pores and leads to acne breakouts. Here are other ways increased cortisol levels affect your skin.
To manage stress and improve your skin health:
- Avoid triggers — if there are certain things that trigger your stress, try to avoid them.
- Get enough sleep — sleep deprivation can lead to increased levels of stress hormones.
- Exercise regularly — exercise reduces stress levels by releasing endorphins; feel-good chemicals in the brain.
- Meditate or do breathing exercises — both are effective in reducing stress by helping calm and focus the mind.
- Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume — caffeine increases stress levels.
- Try aromatherapy — your sense of smell can directly impact the part of your brain that regulates emotion and reduce stress levels because essential oils have calming effects.
- Spend time in nature — being in nature has been shown to help reduce stress levels by improving your mood by 95%.
- Learn to say no — overcommitting yourself can lead to increased stress levels; learning to say no will help you manage your time and energy better.
- Avoid procrastination — putting things off will only add to your stress levels; try to get things done in a timely manner.
- Talk to a therapist or counselor if needed.
14. See a dermatologist.
If you've tried all of the above tips and you're still struggling with acne, it's best to see a dermatologist for help.
Dermatologists can prescribe medication — like antibiotics, birth control pills, isotretinoin, and corticosteroids — to help clear your skin. And, provide you with guidance on which skin care products to use and how to properly care for your skin.
Following these tips can help you to achieve clearer and healthier skin. Remember to be patient and consistent with your skincare routine, as it can take time to see results. And, if you're still struggling with acne, don't hesitate to see a dermatologist for help.
What skincare tips have you found have helped manage your acne? Share in the comments below!