By now, we all know how common a problem acne is, and skincare companies have also taken notice. Each year, billions of dollars are spent in the hopes of finding the miracle product that will rid us of our blemishes. While skincare often isn’t enough to treat acne on its own, having the right skincare habits can significantly help decrease the severity of acne or help to make an acne treatment regimen more tolerable. Here’s your complete guide to skincare for acne.
This first step in skincare is often a favorite of acne sufferers. It was definitely a favorite of mine as an acne-prone teenager. I always felt that my skin was too oily and was embarrassed by its shiny appearance – I thought that the excess oil (called sebum) on my skin was the reason for my acne, so I washed with harsh cleansers up to 4 times per day. Little did I know, I had become my own saboteur. Oil production is one of the skin’s only mechanisms of protecting itself from the outside world and the more you strip or irritate it, the more oil it will produce. Since oil production is one of the key contributors to the production of acne, excessive cleansing can actually make acne worse. Unless you’re using a medicated cleanser, I would recommend using milder non-stripping formulations. Also, keep cleansing to twice daily at most!
You remember those 4 cleansers I was using? One of them was apricot scrub (WHAT WAS I DOING TO MYSELF?!). I’m sure it goes without saying at this point, but manual exfoliators are not great for your skin – they can be very irritating, especially in the setting of acne. We now know that all acne has an inflammatory component (I got to work with a research group who elucidated this!), and attacking your pimples with jagged particles will only make them more inflamed. I strongly recommend against their use in the setting of acne, especially if you’re on an acne treatment regimen since it’s likely that your skin is being chemically exfoliated as it is.
I know everyone loves a good mask – there’s something about ingredients being in contact with the skin for extended periods of time that makes everything feel so… medicinal. While there’s not great data behind them, clay masks, especially those with kaolin clay have shown some promise for acne-prone skin. At the very least, they may remove some excess oil. At best they may be able to improve acne overall. However, take this with a grain of salt since most commercially available mask products don’t have any studies to back them up.
If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: WHEN YOU HAVE ACNE, EVERYTHING THAT TOUCHES YOUR SKIN SHOULD BE OIL FREE!!! I know I already drove home the point about oil production being part of the driving force of acne, so this should come as no surprise. While moisturization is key to preventing irritation on an acne treatment regimen, make sure that you’re always using moisturizers that say “oil-free,” “won’t clog pores,” “non-comedogenic” or “non-acnegenic.” Application of oils to the skin can lead to clogged pores and more pimples.
I’m kind of meh on these. Why? You should be treating the entire affected area every day. I don’t mind if my patients add on a spot treatment of their choosing, as long as it has ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide that have a proven anti-inflammatory benefit for acute pimple emergencies.
Sun protection is another must-have when treating your acne. Why? Many of the ingredients that have the power to treat acne, like retinoids, can make your skin more sensitive to the sun. Sun exposure can also cause more inflammation and irritation within the skin. And don’t forget that sun exposure is the main driver of extrinsic aging.
Please keep in mind:
- Makeup should also be oil-free/noncomedogenic.
- Many of the ingredients that treat acne can cause chapping of the lips (cheilitis) so be sure you’re applying lip balm regularly.
- Hair products can also act as a vehicle for oil to get onto your skin, so keep your haircare regimen oil-free if possible.
- Be careful with extractions, as they may produce scarring or pigment alteration. It’s better to leave them to a professional like a dermatologist or esthetician if they are truly needed.