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Best Skin Care Practices for Acne Sufferers

By Megan Griffith

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

If you are still trying to scrub your zits away, you need some updated tips for acne skin care. Here are seven of the most important, and most frequently overlooked, tips for keeping skin blemish free without creating different skin problems in the process.

fight stress and prevent acne
Eliminating stress is one of the most important things you can do to help prevent acne.

Summary:

  • Relaxing your skin can start in your stomach.
  • A little washing is usually better than a lot.
  • Don’t wash your antioxidant anti-acne products down the drain.
  • A splash of the right kind of water to your face can stop acne in its tracks, at least for about 12 hours.
  • Sunlight is not usually good for acne, although everyone needs some sun so the skin can make vitamin D. Blue light, however, can kill acne bacteria.
  • The world’s most commonly used acne medication has serious limitations, although it is the treatment of choice for back acne.

1. The single most important thing you can do for your acne is to relax.

But you don’t need to stress out if you can’t stop being stressed out. To prevent acne there are things you can do in any emotional state that change the physiological effects of1 your stress levels and slow the hormonal processes that cause acne to break out.

Add yogurt to your diet that contains live cultures. The probiotic bacteria in your gut reduce inflammation all over your body2, including your brain (so you feel better) and your skin3 (so you look better).
Get 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night4. Or at least spend 6 to 8 hours in a dark room that is free of any visible blue light. The pineal gland in the brain makes the calming chemical melatonin at night, provided the eyes do not detect any blue light—and the eyes can detect blue light even when the eyelids are closed. The production of melatonin in your brain affects the production of melanin in your skin, which helps your skin repair itself.
Take a cold plunge into relaxation5. Immersing your whole body into cold water slows down your pulse and sends oxygen to your brain, instead of your pimples. A splash of cold water to the face does the same thing.

2. Wash daily, but don’t obsess over it.

It’s only natural to want to scour your blemishes with a blast of bubbly soap. The problem is, any kind of soap that makes big bubbles also breaks up the protective barriers in the skin. The skin dries out and flakes, tightening pores and trapping oil and acne-causing bacteria inside6. The same happens if you put alcohol on your skin and it too is not the best way to clear your acne. Washing too often, with water that is too hot, with harsh detergent soaps actually makes acne worse. Scrubbing with a dirty wash cloth and rubbing with a dirty towel don’t help either.

The most important thing to remember about facial cleansing for acne is to let your cleanser do the work. Apply a creamy lather of small soap bubbles to your face with clean fingertips. Let the cleanser stand on your face a few seconds to loosen dirt and excess oils, and then rinse with warm water and pat dry.

3. Use the power of the right antioxidants to help stop inflammation.

Thousands of acne products provide antioxidant power to the skin7. The problem is, most of these products are made by dissolving vitamin C in water. You splash the vitamins on your face, and then quickly rinse them off before they have a chance to sink in.

It is a lot better to use fat-soluble antioxidant products8 that contain ascorbyl palmitate (a skin-friendly form of vitamin C), alpha-lipoic acid, and natural vitamin E in thin layers of cream that stay on the skin until they are wiped or sweated off. A splash of facial water for minerals is fine, but antioxidants need to be applied as creams, or taken as supplements by mouth9.

4. Hydrate your face with facial waters.

Facial waters are natural spring waters that are rich in minerals from the earth. The most beneficial facial waters may be just a tiny bit stinky. Sulfur kills acne bacteria, but it doesn’t smell all that great. Facial waters may also contain calcium, magnesium, and/or selenium, which act as calming agents for the skin. The thing to remember about facial waters is that they only work if they are applied underneath a layer of moisturizer10 that binds them to the face. Otherwise, their minerals simply go down the drain.

5. Establish a healthy relationship with the sun.

The old advice to acne sufferers used to be to let the sun dry out the skin. Actually, drying out the skin is detrimental to treating acne. Excessive sun exposure11 not only tightens pores and causes comedones (whiteheads and blackheads), it can also cause skin cancer—which can be a lot more unsightly on your face than pimples. Everyone needs a little sun on a regular basis to make vitamin D. About 20 minutes of exposure every day is enough. The rest of the time, protect your skin with sunscreen. You will reduce new blemishes, and stop the formation of wrinkles.

6. When antibiotics and benzoyl peroxide don’t work, think blue.

Prescription medications can cause unpleasant side effects and antibiotics are no exception. Benzoyl peroxide sometimes causes blisters, which is obviously that last thing you want when trying to counter breakouts. Also, it will often cause a tingling feeling on the skin, which is a sure sign that it is doing more harm than good. When these treatments don’t do the trick for getting rid of pimples, the answer may come from the right kind of light treatment.

Blue light falling on the skin has a devastating effect on acne bacteria12. These wavelengths of light resonate with a chemical called porphyrin (more specifically, coproporphyrin III) in the protective membrane of the cell. The sunlight causes porphyrin to release free radicals that kill the bacterium over the course of a few hours to a few days.

If you have a tiny amount of acne bacteria on your face, a little sunlight now and then keeps them in check. If you have a lot of bacteria on your face, then you may benefit from something stronger. Regular use of blue light lamps13  can be as effective as antibiotics or benzoyl peroxide and you can do it right from the comfort of your own home. This is assuming you don’t have one of the more severe types of acne such as cystic acne in which case a visit to the dermatologists office is required.

7. For back acne, think benzoyl peroxide, preferably foaming benzoyl peroxide.

Back acne, also known as “bacne,” is usually hard to treat, but benzoyl peroxide (or BP) may be the answer.

Benzoyl peroxide gets praised and panned as a treatment for acne14, particularly when it is compared to tea tree oil. The natural product tea tree oil takes about 24 hours longer to kill acne bacteria (3 days instead of 2), but it also removes redness and irritation—and sometimes benzoyl peroxide causes redness and irritation.

The one area of the body for which benzoyl peroxide usually provides superior relief is the back. The tough skin of the back is not easily dried out or irritated. Benzoyl peroxide foams can get down deep into pores and kill bacteria. Just be sure not to use the same product for your back or buttocks and your face.

The seven tips above may make the essential difference between failure and success for your skin treatment program. But if you still need help to put it all together, consider a complete skin care program such as Exposed Skin Care.

References:

  1. Jović A, Marinović B, Kostović K, Čeović R, Basta-Juzbašić A, Bukvić Mokos Z. The Impact of Pyschological Stress on Acne. Acta Dermatovenerol Croat. 2017 Jul;25(2):1133-141.
  2. Mottin VHM, Suyenaga ES. An approach on the potential use of probiotics in the treatment of skin conditions: acne and atopic dermatitis. Int J Dermatol. 2018 Dec;57(12):1425-1432.
  3. Kober MM, Bowe WP. The effect of probiotics on immune regulation, acne, and photoaging. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2015 Apr 6;1(2):85-89.
  4. Bilgiç Ö, Bilgiç A, Altinyazar HC. Relationship between sleep quality and facial sebum levels in women with acne vulgaris. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol. 2016 May-Jun;82(3):313-4.
  5. Misery L, Wolkenstein P, Amici JM, Maghia R, Brenaut E, Cazeau C, Voisard JJ, Taïeb C. Consequences of acne on stress, fatigue, sleep disorders and sexual activity: a population-based study. Acta Derm Venereol. 2015 Apr;95(4):485-8.
  6. Stringer T, Nagler A, Orlow SJ, Oza VS. Clinical evidence for washing and cleansers in acne vulgaris: a systematic review. J Dermatolog Treat. 2018 Nov;29(7):688-693.
  7. Addor FAS. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. 2017 May-Jun;92(3):356-362.
  8. Al-Shobaili HA. Oxidants and anti-oxidants status in acne vulgaris patients with varying severity. Ann Clin Lab Sci. 2014 Spring;44(2):202-7.
  9. Ahmed Salih Sahib. Haidar Hamid Al-Anbari, Mohammed Salih3, Fatima Abdullah. Effects of Oral Antioxidants on Lesion Counts Associated with Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in Patients with Papulopustular Acne. Sahib et al., J Clin Exp Dermatol Res 2012, 3:5
  10. 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.
  11. Irwin B, Mauriello D, Hemminger L, Pappert A, Kimball AB. Skin sun-acne tutorial evaluation among middle- and high-school students in central New Jersey. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2007 Mar;56(3):407-12.
  12. Boyd JM, Lewis KA, Mohammed N, Desai P, Purdy M, Li WH, Fourre T, Miksa D, Crane S, Southall M, Fassih A. Propionibacterium acnes susceptibility to low-level 449 nm blue light photobiomodulation. Lasers Surg Med. 2019 Mar 28.
  13. Gold MH1, Sensing W, Biron JA. Clinical efficacy of home-use blue-light therapy for mild-to moderate acne. J Cosmet Laser Ther. 2011 Dec;13(6):308-14.
  14. 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.
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