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Tips to Stop Acne Today!

By Megan Griffith

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

When it comes to acne, prevention is always better than treatment. Here are ten tips on how to stop acne before it starts, especially the formation of nodules and cysts.

Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate can make acne problems worse.

Summary:

  • It is always better to prevent acne1 than it is to cure it.
  • Don’t try to dry out your skin. Your skin responds by producing even more oily sebum than before you tried to dry it out.
  • Just say no to dark chocolate. Most of the time milk chocolate won’t cause problems for your skin.
  • Always treat your skin gently.
  • Don’t rub bar soap2 on your skin.
  • Don’t dry out your skin with alcohol.
  • Try home microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion cloths and products with polyethylene beads are better than products that contain aluminum crystals (unless the system comes with a vacuum wand to remove the aluminum crystals from your skin).
  • If you use benzoyl peroxide, always start with the lowest concentration you can find.
  • Special considerations are needed when stopping acne on Asian, Black, or Hispanic skin.

1. Don’t try to remove oil in the skin. Always focus on removing oil on the skin.

Tens of millions of people who have acne follow the outdated advice to “dry out” skin to prevent blemishes. While it would seem to make good sense to remove the oil that can cause clogged pores3, the reality is that using alcohol or harsh detergent soaps to get oil off and out of the skin causes an extremely undesirable reaction: The skin repairs itself by producing even more oil.

And all that extra oil feeds acne bacteria. Alcohol-soaked blemish treatment pads and sudsy soap may make your skin feel clean temporarily, but over the long run they make acne much worse, especially on dry skin.

2. Just say no to high-quality dark chocolate candy.

Milk chocolate does not always make skin break out. Dark chocolate often stimulates production of pimples4, sometimes as many as 75 to 80 new pimples after eating just three bars. If you are a teen or in your early 20’s, and especially if you are male, it is a good idea to avoid chocolate altogether. If you have to eat chocolate, eat milk chocolate, not dark chocolate.

3. Avoid heating your skin.

Many people have sudden breakouts, especially across the cheeks of the face and on the nose, when they come into a warm room from outdoors on a cold day. Or their faces may break out when they drink hot chocolate or eat spicy foods. Heating the skin or stimulating the peripheral nerves of the face can cause sudden relaxation of blood vessels in the skin, an action designed to cool the skin. If the walls of these capillaries are weak, red bumps and purple streaks can appear, often in minutes. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed case of rosacea, you may experience acne-like reddening of the skin when it is warmed too suddenly.

4.  Never rub bar soap across your skin.

Rubbing bar soap across your skin anywhere on your body forces soap film into pores, causing them to clog, but certain soaps are worse than others. Any soap that contains a botanical essence, an herb extract, an essential oil, or a fragrance or perfume can irritate the skin, which increases the production of sebum and clogs pores even more. It’s best to apply a lather of cleanser to the face or a body wash to the rest of the body, allowing the product to cleanse the skin without any rubbing. Then rinse it off with warm water and pat dry.

5. If you have pimples, treat them with benzoyl peroxide, but start with the lowest concentration you can find, preferably 2.5% or lower.

Benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria that cause pimples. It takes about 48 hours to work. This does not actually heal pimples, but it stops the release of messenger molecules that generate new inflammation from the immune system. Clearing up pimples usually takes about a week if you have rapidly growing teenaged skin, or about two weeks if you are in your 20’s or older.

The reason it is important to start with a low concentration of benzoyl peroxide is to make sure you don’t have an unusual, unfavorable skin reaction. Nearly everyone who uses 5% benzoyl peroxide or higher gets some kind of disagreeable side effect5 from the product, such as itching, peeling, or redness. Some people just can’t use benzoyl peroxide at all. Be sure to use the lowest strength product you can exactly as directed, not leaving it on the skin longer than suggested by the manufacturer.

6. Try microdermabrasion before you do peels.

Microdermabrasion is a process that loosens the skin around pores to help these open up or stay open. You can do microdermabrasion with special coarse plastic cloths. Always use a clean cloth, since you don’t want to put germs and oil right back on your skin. Or you can do microdermabrasion with products that contain coconut fibers or microscopic polyethylene beads. These products don’t usually produce dramatic results, but using them several times a week usually makes a noticeable difference after a few weeks6, removing whiteheads and blackheads. Don’t do microdermabrasion on active pimples, nodules, or cysts.

7. If you use a skin peel, use the right product for your skin.

Dry skin usually responds well to alpha-hydroxy acids such as glycolic acid, lactic acid, or fruit acids. Oily skin usually responds well to the only beta-hydroxy acid used in skin care, salicylic acid. For a product to work, however, it must contain the right hydroxy acid in the right concentration at the right pH7, and the best products also contain neutralizing solutions that keep the peel from burning the skin. Check out reviews of specific products elsewhere on this site to choose the best peel for your skin.

8. If you Black or Hispanic, treat every pimple just as soon as you see it.

Most people of Black or Hispanic heritage develop mild to moderate acne vulgaris (common acne) only in their late teens or early 20’s if at all. But Blacks and Hispanics are especially vulnerable to developing cystic acne8. In cystic acne healthy but discolored skin grows over pockets of acne infection. To prevent cystic acne, it is essential to treat the pimple before it is covered with healthy skin. Since males with brown or black skin tones are also more likely to get their hair cut in bald fades or to shave their heads, it is very important to check the top and back of the head for acne of the scalp. Early treatment, with the mildest possible strength of benzoyl peroxide, can prevent permanent scars.

9. If you have Asian skin, beware of detergents.

Asian skin is especially sensitive to detergents. This is true of skin all over the body, not just the face. Anything that makes big bubbles or a tingling foam can irritate the skin and leave lingering brown spots. Asian skin has to be cleansed with mild, alcohol-free cleansers that make a lather of small, flat bubbles rather than a lather of big soap bubbles. While detergents will not usually cause Asian skin to break out, they will cause any existing acne to leave brown spots when it has healed.

10. Keep in mind that the most expensive product usually is not the best.

Many expensive products that really do stop acne don’t stop acne any faster than products that cost a lot less. It is usually a good idea to start with a complete acne care system, like Exposed Skin Care. You’ll save money and time, and products come with a money-back guarantee.

References:

  1. Kraft J., Freiman A. Management of acne. Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2011;183(7):E430–E435.
  2. Skin care for acne-prone skin. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). 2013.
  3. Sparavigna A., Tenconi B., De Ponti I., La Penna L. An innovative approach to the topical treatment of acne. Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigational Dermatology. 2015;8:179–185.
  4. Vongraviopap S., Asawanonda P. Dark chocolate exacerbates acne. International Journal of Dermatology. 2016;55(5):587-91.
  5. Mills O.H. Jr., Kligman A.M., Pochi P., Comite H. Comparing 2.5%, 5%, and 10% benzoyl peroxide on inflammatory acne vulgaris. International Journal of Dermatology. 1986;25(10):664-7.
  6. Lloyd, J.R. The use of microdermabrasion for acne: a pilot study. Dermatologic Surgery (Journal). 2001;27(4):329-31.
  7. Prakash C., Bhargava P., Tiwari S., Majumdar B., Bhargava R.K. Skin Surface pH in Acne Vulgaris: Insights from an Observational Study and Review of the Literature. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 2017;10(7):33–39.
  8. Stein Gold L., Weiss J., Jose Rueda M., Liu H., Tanghetti E. Moderate and Severe Inflammatory Acne Vulgaris Effectively Treated with Single-Agent Therapy by a New Fixed-Dose Combination Adapalene 0.3 %/Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5 % Gel: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Parallel-Group, Controlled Study. American Journal of Clinical Dermatology. 2016;17:293–303.
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