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Seven Simple Tips for Acne Relief

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Are you struggling to get acne under control? It is always best to treat acne with a complete skin care system, but if you just don’t have the cash for the best acne care products, there are simple methods of getting blemishes under control.

prevent acne by moisturizing your skin
Simply moisturizing your face is an inexpensive way to help fight acne.

Summary:

  • There are seven simple tips for getting acne under control without busting your budget.
  • Fight acne with moisture. Simply moistening your face with water helps, but if you use makeup, start with a layer of moisturizer.
  • Don’t scrub and rub your skin. Let your cleanser do the work.
  • Don’t pick or poke or break open your skin to remove a blemish. Loosen the skin with moisturizers or toners and exfoliants, so that clogs of sebum simply fall out of pores.
  • Eat your veggies, especially salads.
  • Avoid crispy, crunchy packaged snack foods, as well as cellophane-wrapped baked goods.
  • Use blue light and red light, not sunlight, to fight acne.
  • Use expensive or irritating acne care products only where you need them most, apply directly to pimples and blemishes.

1. Fight acne with moisture.

It’s a fallacy that the best way to treat acne is1 to dry up your skin. The products, like rubbing alcohol, that dry out your skin actually increase oil production in your pores and make acne worse. To fight acne you need to get oil off your skin while keeping moisture in your skin.

The very best moisturizer is water2, but especially if you wear makeup, it is just not practical to splash water on your face all day. The next best treatment is any alcohol-free moisturizer applied to your face after cleansing and before (if you use makeup) putting on foundation. If you have naturally oily skin, you may not need moisturizer, or you may just need it on the sides of your face around your eyes.

2. Let you skin cleanser do the work of cleansing your skin.

You can’t rub or scrub your acne away. In fact, you can make acne worse by rubbing your skin too hard. When you use an acne cleanser3, just squeeze out a dab of the product into your clean hand and make a lather of thin, small, foamy bubbles. Apply the foam to your face and leave it there for 15 to 30 seconds, then wash off with warm water. It may be tempting to try to get rid of blemishes right away, but you will be more likely to get rid of them for good if you let your cleanser do the work of getting excess oil and grime off your face.

3. Never, ever pick at, poke, probe, squeeze, smash, or needle blackheads or pimples4.

Trying to force a blackhead or a pimple off your skin usually just leaves a nasty bruise or scratch that can make the blemish even more noticeable. If you need to do a really inexpensive treatment for blackheads, soak a clean cloth in warm water and let it rest on blemished skin. If you do this several times over several days, blackheads may just fall out of your skin, and they will leave smaller pores behind.

If you really need to get rid of a pimple, buy 2% benzoyl peroxide5 gel. Apply it directly to the pimple at night after you have cleansed your face and before you go to bed. It won’t get rid of the pimple right away, but it should stop swelling fast and clear up redness in a few days.

4. Eat your veggies, especially your raw veggies.

Researchers don’t really know the reasons why, but the darker your skin, the less acne you will have to endure if you eat salads and raw vegetables. There is just one kind of raw vegetable you should not load up on, and that’s any kind of seaweed. Sea vegetables are rich in iodine. Like other minerals, iodine is important to health, but consuming too much iodine can make your face break out6.

5. Stay away from crispy snack foods and packaged desserts.

Most chips and crisps list starch as their number one ingredient. Usually soybean oil is number two. Soybean oil is nearly pure omega-6 fat, the kind of fat every cell in your body can use to make inflammatory hormones. Eating crisps and chips can make your skin more prone to break out7 because your body makes more chemicals that cause inflammation, ready to attack the skin to get rid of acne bacteria.

In North America, snack cakes and doughnuts are also often made with soybean oil. Even if you eat the vanilla Twinkies instead of the Hershey’s chocolate bar, your skin may break out because of excessive omega-6 fat.

6. Put a light on acne.

You don’t need to go out into the sun to dry out your skin, but a hand-held color lamp can do a lot to help acne. Blue light kills acne bacteria8, at least those near the surface of skin pores. Red light helps shrink the sebaceous glands that make pore-clogging oil. There are small, hand-held color lamp units for as little as US $34.95, although larger heat lamps are also available.

The thing to remember about light treatment for acne is that a little is good, but a lot is not better. Many overly enthusiastic buyers of acne light systems use their lamps so much that they dry out the skin—which can clog pores.

7. Do spot treatments, not face treatments.

When you find a good acne lotion9, it’s tempting to coat your face from top to bottom and from side to side. Never do that before you test a dot of the product on your arm, leaving it there for several hours, to make sure you are not allergic to any of its ingredients. And when you do find a powerful acne treatment, you can save money and avoid irritation by using it as a spot treatment rather than as a facial treatment.

A 10% concentration of benzoyl peroxide, for example, is just too strong for almost anyone’s skin. This strength of benzoyl peroxide almost always causes drying, itching, redness, and irritation. Applied directly to a pimple, however, it might be exactly what you need to clear up your skin.

Similarly, some alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid treatments10 may be too irritating for treating your entire face, but they might be just right for loosening up the skin around whiteheads and blackheads on a small part of your face. Be sure you examine the sides of your face and your jawline for blemishes, but only use potent acne products where they are most needed.

References:

  1. Sparavigna A, Tenconi B, De Ponti I, La Penna L. An innovative approach to the topical treatment of acne. Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015 Apr 9;8:179-85.
  2. Lynde CW, Andriessen A, Barankin B, Gannes GD, Gulliver W, Haber R, McCuaig C, Rajan P, Skotnicki SP, Thomas R, Toole J, Vender R. Moisturizers and Ceramide-containing Moisturizers May Offer Concomitant Therapy with Benefits. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014 Mar;7(3):18-26.
  3. Choi YS, Suh HS, Yoon MY, Min SU, Kim JS, Jung JY, Lee DH, Suh DH. A study of the efficacy of cleansers for acne vulgaris. J Dermatolog Treat. 2010 May;21(3):201-5.
  4. 10 skin care habits that can worsen acne | American Academy of Dermatology. Aad.org. 2019.
  5. Kawashima M, Nagare T, Doi M. Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. J Dermatol. 2017 Nov;44(11):1212-1218.
  6. Danby FW. Acne and iodine: reply. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Jan;56(1):164-5.
  7. Pappas A. The relationship of diet and acne: A review. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Sep-Oct;1(5):262-7.
  8. Gold MH, Andriessen A, Biron J, Andriessen H. Clinical Efficacy of Self-applied Blue Light Therapy for Mild-to-Moderate Facial Acne. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2009 Mar;2(3):44-50.
  9. What is the Role of Benzoyl Peroxide Cleansers in Acne Management?: Do they Decrease Propionibacterium acnes Counts? Do they Reduce Acne Lesions? J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2008 Nov;1(4):48-51.
  10. Kessler E, Flanagan K, Chia C, Rogers C, Glaser DA. Comparison of alpha- and beta-hydroxy acid chemical peels in the treatment of mild to moderately severe facial acne vulgaris. Dermatol Surg. 2008 Jan;34(1):45-50; discussion 51. Epub 2007 Dec 5.
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