Acne is a skin condition experienced by many people. For some people, acne is mild and only lasts for a short period. For others, it is highly frustrating because it becomes a severe and ongoing problem. If you’re recovering from acne, you should also try prevention methods to reduce the amount of recurring acne.
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Acne is a skin condition that causes tiny openings in the skin, known as pores, to become blocked.¹ Pores are the areas in the skin where hair follicles grow. When pores are blocked, they become inflamed, and pimples can form.
A pimple is just one outcome. Acne can also appear as blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts. Acne can occur anywhere on the skin, but common places include the back, shoulders, neck, and face. In most cases, acne causes pimples to appear on the face.
The exact cause of acne is unknown, but experts believe several reasons cause its occurrence.²
One contributing reason is an increased sebum production from the sebaceous glands, located near hair follicles in the skin. You often hear people referring to sebum as 'oil' instead.
Besides dead skin cells blocking pores, certain types of skin bacteria, hormonal changes during adolescence or pregnancy, humidity, and stress may also cause acne.³ Acne can also be a side effect of some medications.
Adolescents and young adults are more prone to developing acne due to the hormonal changes they are going through, although any age group can experience severe acne. For example, people with oily skin are more susceptible to acne, and many people with oily skin develop pimples on the face.⁴
Preventing the complete recurrence of acne is impossible. However, you can try several prevention methods to reduce the likelihood of recurrence until you find the strategies that work best for you. Making an effort to prevent acne reduces pimples, making the condition more manageable or less frequent in the future.
With treatment, you should aim to reduce the appearance of acne. However, don’t feel discouraged if the methods you try don’t work at first. You’ll notice some improvement after a few weeks.
Most importantly, if you find a method that works, don’t stop using it. Even if all the acne has disappeared, it may come back once you stop. Keep reading to learn ten methods you can try to reduce the appearance of acne on your face.
1. Wash your face
Experts advise that washing your face will remove excess oil and dead skin cells and control the growth of bacteria on the skin.² Although it may feel like you need to wash your face more frequently to combat the acne, you shouldn’t cleanse your face too much.
Over cleansing can make the skin dry and increase the production of oil. Excess oil blocks the pores and encourages further development of acne. Therefore, you should gently wash your face twice daily – once in the morning and again at night.
Additionally, it helps if you wash your face after exercise or physical activity to prevent the excess sweat from blocking your pores.
2. Mechanical exfoliation
Mechanical exfoliation refers to scrubs or facial cleansers with gritty substances to remove dead skin cells. Lightly exfoliating your face with a gentle scrub removes a build-up of dead skin cells that block pores. However, exfoliating your face can be harmful if not done correctly.
Again, it may feel like you need to exfoliate your face more frequently to avoid acne. However, you shouldn’t exfoliate your face too much because this can make the skin dry. Additionally, exfoliating too much can irritate your skin, making your acne persist for longer.⁵
It’s best to avoid exfoliating your face until your acne has cleared. If you use an exfoliant, ensure that it’s gentle and doesn’t scratch your face. Also, don’t exfoliate every day. Limit exfoliation to once a week.
3. Ensure you’re using the right products for your skin
Generic skincare products may not be suitable for your skin and acne.² If you’re using skincare products such as cleansers, moisturizers, cosmetics, and sunscreen, you should look for ones that help prevent acne.
When looking for a facial cleanser, use a certified one that helps prevent acne. If you’re unsure which product is right for you, ask a skincare specialist to find one that suits your skin needs.
Read your cosmetics label carefully to ensure it is water-based, or do additional research before use. Cosmetics containing oily substances can make the skin more oily and prone to acne. Also, ensure that you use the correct cleanser to remove your cosmetics before bedtime.
Moisturizers are essential for hydrating your skin.⁶ However, like cosmetics, some moisturizers contain oils that can block your pores or make you more prone to acne. Experts suggest opting for an oil-free moisturizer instead.
Sunscreen is vital for protecting your face from damaging sun rays that could irritate your acne or dry your skin.⁷ Like moisturizers, though, you should opt for an oil-free sunscreen.
4. Use additional products that help prevent acne
You can use topical retinoid treatments sparingly to treat acne and prevent it. Different formulations are available from dermatologists and skincare clinics. However, experts advise discussing retinoid use with a professional before undergoing this treatment.
Glycolic cleansers and topical glycolic treatments are other products available. But, again, you should discuss this option with a professional before purchasing one to try at home.
Dermatologists and skincare specialists may also administer other topical treatments, such as ones that contain adapalene or benzoyl peroxide.²
Home remedies containing apple cider vinegar, tea tree oil, or aloe vera have also shown some benefits for treating and preventing acne.⁸ ⁹
5. Try supplements
Consider taking supplements that contain either of the following:¹⁰
Vitamins A, B, C, D, and E
Omega-3 fatty fish oil
A recent study demonstrated that vitamins A, B, C, D, and E could promote healing from acne.¹⁰ They can also have anti-inflammatory effects on acne, meaning that the associated swelling and redness may be reduced.
Vitamin D, in particular, has shown a link to acne. Preliminary research has found a connection between low vitamin D levels and acne formation.¹¹
Omega-3 fatty fish oil is a natural source of vitamin D and has additional properties that can prevent oil from forming and blocking pores. However, ensure that the fatty fish oil your supplement contains is omega-3 instead of omega-6 because omega-6 can encourage acne.¹²
Zinc has antibacterial effects on acne-causing bacteria.¹³ Therefore, using zinc to inhibit the growth of acne-causing bacteria can prevent the development of acne.
Selenium regulates the production of oil and prevents the inflammation associated with acne.¹⁴
Keep in mind that it can take some time before you notice any improvements after taking supplements, and ensure that you follow the recommendations on the label.
6. Consider some dietary changes
While many experts argue that there is no direct link between diet and acne, others claim that certain foods may contribute to acne for some people.¹⁰ Therefore, it’s worth considering your diet to see if certain foods make you more prone to developing acne.
Some experts claim that people suffering from acne should reduce their intake of foods high in sugar and fats. For example, one study demonstrated that drinks containing a high sugar content, such as fruit juice or carbonated beverages, were associated with acne. Another study showed that diets high in fat could increase the amount of oil produced by the skin.¹⁰
As mentioned earlier, you should also try reducing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which can induce acne development. Foods that contain omega-6 include vegetable oils, seeds, and nuts.
Stay hydrated by drinking water; remember that fruit juices or other sugary beverages should be avoided. Ensuring that you’re hydrated will prevent your skin from producing more oil to compensate for the dryness associated with dehydration.
7. Make adjustments to your mask or face covering
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, experts claim that many people have reported experiencing more acne from wearing a mask.¹⁵ Additionally, people who wear other face coverings such as personal protective equipment worn in a workplace also experience acne more frequently.
You don’t need to ditch your mask or face covering to prevent these items from causing acne. The suggestions listed below can reduce the occurrence of acne instead.
Gently wash your face after wearing a mask to remove the accumulated moisture.
Avoid wearing makeup under your mask.
Only use a mask once. If your mask is disposable, get a new one. If not, wash your mask before using it again.
If you must wear a mask all day, switch to a fresh one after a few hours and take 15-minute breaks throughout the day from wearing one if you can.
Choose a mask lined with cotton. Although you also need to ensure that cotton masks have an appropriate filter to prevent viruses from getting through.
8. Visit a dermatologist or skincare clinic
Dermatologists and skincare specialists offer a range of treatments that help prevent and reduce acne.
Some clinics may offer light-emitting diode (LED) light therapy or low-level light therapy (LLLT) to help the skin repair from acne.¹⁶ These therapies also inhibit acne-causing bacteria. If you’re looking for a non-invasive treatment, this option could be right for you.
A dermatologist or skincare specialist can also assess your skin type and create a skincare plan for you to follow at home. Some dermatologists also provide specialized products for you to use at home, such as cleansers, serums, or moisturizers, suited to your skin and the type or severity of your acne.
9. Wash your hair
Oil can build up in your hair like it can with your skin.¹⁷ Therefore, oil from your hair has the potential to be transferred to your face and block your pores. You should wash your hair once it becomes oily to prevent this from occurring.
Additionally, if your hair is long, you can tie it back on days you haven’t washed it.
10. Don’t squeeze
No matter how frustrating the sight of pimples is, it’s if you never squeeze them. Squeezing a pimple can cause the fluid from it to transfer to other pores, which will block them.¹⁸
Squeezing a pimple can also cause it to become more inflamed or infected. Avoid squeezing so that you can recover more quickly from the pimple.
If you have persistent or severe acne, you should see a doctor to determine whether you need a prescription-only treatment.² If your acne is painful, increasing in size, or looks infected, then you shouldn’t delay seeking medical advice.
If your acne is mild but still concerning you, it may be worth mentioning it to your doctor on your next visit. Your doctor might be able to advise you on other treatments or can review your medications in case acne is a side effect.
If you feel frustrated and irritated by acne, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, acne has no absolute cure, although taking steps to prevent the recurrence of acne can make the condition more manageable. The most effective way to avoid acne is to try several prevention strategies and keep using the methods that work best for you.
What can clear severe acne? | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Acne vulgaris: management | NCBI Bookshelf
Moisturizers for acne (2014)
9 ways to prevent face mask skin problems | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Acne: Tips for managing | American Academy of Dermatology Association
Pimple popping: Why only a dermatologist should do it | American Academy of Dermatology Association