Updated: Jan 18
How to Improve Your Acne for Good
Acne can be one of the most upsetting parts of becoming a teenager (and beyond). No matter how severe your acne is, these basics of acne care are absolutely necessary as part of your treatment plan. So let's break down my top 10 tips to improve your acne once and for all. And parents, share this article with your adolescents and teens so they can learn good acne care on their own.
1. WASH YOUR FACE REGULARLY Wash your face at least twice a day, and not just with water. Use an unscented gentle soap to wash your face in the morning when you wake up, before going to bed, and any time your face feels sweaty or dirty.
One of the causes of acne is buildup of oil, grease, and dirt underneath and on the surface of your skin. You collect oil and grease on your skin during normal activities and while sleeping so it is important to remove this oil and any other irritants from your skin regularly to prevent acne from forming or worsening.
2. NO ABRASIVE PRODUCTS
Never scrub your face or use exfoliating products on your already-sensitive, acne-prone skin.
Opt for soft cleansing products such as a washcloth, sponge, or cleansing pad instead of anything rough and use only gentle soaps (no exfoliating beads or grittiness). Scrubbing your skin will only create scars and worsen your acne!
3. NEVER POP PIMPLES!
Popping pimples leads to scarring and introduces additional bacteria and dirt onto and underneath your skin. While it may be tempting to pop a pimple to get immediate relief from breakouts, you will unfortunately pay for it later. A pimple will usually resolve in a few days with frequent gentle cleansing and proper use of any acne treatments. On the flip side, a scar from popping a pimple will take several weeks, and often months, to clear up.
4. ONLY MOISTURIZE IF AND WHERE NEEDED
Most people who have acne have naturally oily skin or at least parts of their skin that tend to be more oily. Since these oils are part of what leads to acne, avoiding excessive moisturization is key. Pay attention to which parts of your skin tend to be oily and which parts tend to be drier and only apply regular moisturization to the dry areas. Be sure to choose a thin, non-acne causing (you may see "non-comedogenic" on the product label) lotion or cream for this. Avoid very thick products on your face.
5. UNDERSTAND WHAT CAUSES ACNE
Acne is caused by a combination of:
buildup of dirt, oil, and grease on your skin
buildup of dead skin cells
a common bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes (or P acnes) that lives underneath and on the surface of your skin
Acne treatments and skin-cleansing routines are designed to tackle one or all of these problems and, ultimately, improve your acne.
6. USE TREATMENTS CORRECTLY
While using an acne cleanser or treatment may seem straightforward, it is pretty easy to use products incorrectly. How you apply the product, how much you use, and how often you use products can make a huge difference in how effective they are and if they cause additional problems. So be sure to read the label to make sure you are using appropriately or follow your doctor's instructions carefully.
Benzoyl peroxide is the most common treatment for acne and is available in many over-the-counter products or may be prescribed by your doctor with other medications or alone.
Benzoyl peroxide acts on several of the areas that cause acne by:
helping to unclog pores
directly targeting and killing the common bacteria that causes acne (P acnes)
With continuous use of a benzoyl peroxide-containing product, acne will begin to clear up and new acne lesions will be prevented from popping up.
Benzoyl peroxide is available in many different forms, including gels, soaps, creams, lotions, liquids, and foams. It is also available in varying strengths from 2.5% up to 10%. Make sure to read the label of any over-the-counter product so you are aware of what you are putting onto your skin. If a particular product doesn't seem to work well for you, this will help you know what changes to make to better treat your skin going forward.
For example, if your acne occurs everywhere on your face, a soap, lotion, liquid, or foam may be ideal for full facial coverage. However, if your acne tends to occur only in small spots, a gel or cream will be easier to use for application only to your acne-prone areas.
It is usually best to start at the lowest concentration of benzoyl peroxide (2.5%) once a day and then gradually increase frequency of use (up to twice a day) or concentration over time (up to 10%), if needed.
Do not overuse your product(s). You generally will only need a small pea-sized amount applied to specific problem areas or a thin layer of product if applying all over your face. If applying all over your face, use the "5-dot" method by applying a small pea-sized amount to each of 5 locations on your face:
the middle of your forehead
Benzoyl peroxide-containing products are typically meant to be used AFTER washing your face and then to be left on for as long as possible. However, if you see or feel a film of the medication on your face, you are likely using too much.
At first, benzoyl peroxide can be irritating to your skin and may leave your skin feeling dry or looking a little red. This typically gets better with time (after 2-3 weeks) but if your product seems overly irritating, you can decrease how long you leave the product on your face (ideally leave on for at least one hour) or how often you use the product (decreasing from twice a day to once a day). You can also apply a thin layer of an unscented moisturizing lotion or cream to any excessively dry areas of your face.
CAUTION: Avoid contact of benzoyl peroxide with areas of the skin that are already sensitive or irritated. Avoid contact with eyes, nose, or mouth. Do not apply to open wounds or sore areas of the skin. Be aware that benzoyl peroxide may bleach towels/clothes. If you see any other concerning symptoms, stop use and consult your doctor or dermatologist.
7. APPLY TREATMENTS TO ALL ACNE-PRONE SKIN, NOT JUST TO PIMPLES Most acne products work not only to clear up existing acne but also to prevent future breakouts. For this reason, applying treatment not just your active pimples but also to any acne-prone skin is ideal. However, if you have parts of your skin that do not typically get acne, you should leave these areas of your skin free of product.
8. GIVE AN ACNE TREATMENT AT LEAST 4 WEEKS TO WORK Most acne treatments take time to work! Remember that they are not only working on the surface of your skin but underneath your skin to kill bacteria and stop further growth and to unclog pores that have probably been clogged, to some extent, for weeks on end. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to start to see improvement of your skin. So stick to your routine and the habits you have learned here and you will see improvement!
9. DON'T STOP TREATMENT
Once you start to see your skin improving, don't stop treatment! You can reverse all the hard work you did of ridding your skin of dead skin, bacteria, and clogging if you stop your skin routine. Consult with your doctor or dermatologist before stopping or changing your routine to prevent breakouts from re-occurring, or at least to have a plan ready if they do.
10. TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR OR A DERMATOLOGIST If you still have acne after trying these tips or you have more severe acne (typically consists of scarring, craters, or numerous painful red areas on your skin), talk to your doctor or see a dermatologist. Your doctor or dermatologist may prescribe additional treatments than the ones discussed here but the top 10 tips above will still apply to whatever treatment plan is prescribed.
With today's options for acne treatments, virtually every case of acne can be cleared but you may need the help of your doctor or dermatologist for additional recommendations!
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Evidence-Based Recommendations for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Pediatric Acne. Lawrence FE et al. Pediatrics May 2013, 131 (Supplement 3) S163-S186; https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2013-0490Bhttps://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/131/Supplement_3/S163#sec-6
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