15 Ways to Improve Acne

As someone who has struggled with acne for years, I know the lengths one goes, to get rid of it. I can’t count how many treatments (both at home and professional), creams, scrubs, supplements, diet changes, and lifestyle changes I’ve tried, to nearly no avail. It wasn’t until I started getting to the root of the actual problem that I saw improvement. While there is currently no cure for acne, these tips are all practical and simple ways to begin kicking acne to the curb.

1. Gut Health:

A lot of skin issues can be caused or made worse by gut issues. There are a great deal of specificites when it comes to individualized gut health, but a good place to start understanding your own is simply paying attention to how you’re feeling. How often do you feel bloated, constipated, stomach pains, gas, diarrhea, heartburn, etc? These are things you should talk to your doctor or a trusted healthcare professional about. Poor gut health can cause many health issues as well as skin issues, so it’s important to get to the root of the problem, if you are experiencing these symptoms. Eating prebiotic foods like onion, garlic, and apples, and probiotic rich foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles can aid in gut health, as well as taking a probiotic supplement that works for you. It is also helpful to limit intake of overly processed food/ingredients. You can make easy changes, e.g. swap conventional bread for authentic sourdough bread, swap hydrogenated oil filled butter for grass fed butter, make your own salad dressing, swap vegetable oil for extra virgin olive oil, etc. You don’t have to cut out all of your favorite meals or flavors, just be more mindful of the quality of the ingredients and how the food is being made.

*Check with your doctor or a health professional to figure out which supplement is best for you

2. Don’t touch your face:

This seems like a no brainer, especially these days. However, it’s harder than you might think. When you touch your face, it transfers bacteria, sweat, and creates friction (causing irritation), all of which contribute to breakouts. Last year, I noticed I touched the right side of my face while talking to people (the same area I was experiencing an ongoing breakout), and when I made a conscious effort to stop, I noticed a rapid improvement in that particular area of breakouts. 

3. Clean your phone screen:

A dirty phone screen can transfer bacteria to your face (whether through touching the phone to your face or handling the phone, then touching your face with your hands). An easy way to combat this is by wiping your phone with rubbing alcohol or a disinfectant wipe (only one or the other, not both at the same time) every day.

4. Change your pillowcase often:

Pillow cases can harbor dead skin, dirt, oil/product from your hair, and bacteria. Ideally, change your pillowcase every other night. Minimally, make sure to wash your pillowcase once a week. 

5. Clean your sunglasses:

Sunglasses sit on various surfaces throughout the day when taking them on and off, and are on your face while you’re wearing sunscreen, makeup, and sweating. I wipe my sunglasses with rubbing alcohol before I wear them.

6. Change your laundry detergent:

Laundry detergent can be very heavily fragranced, which can irritate sensitised skin. 

Not everyone has an issue with fragrance, but if your skin barrier is already damaged, it can exacerbate the issue. Also, if you struggle with body acne and other skin allergies/irritation, look into the detergent you are using and go for a free and clear version. 

7. Change your shampoo and/or conditioner:

If you struggle with body acne, or breakout around your neck and hairline, it could be your hair products. When washing your hair, do your best to keep the shampoo from getting on your face or running down your back. With leave on products, particularly spray products, be careful not to get product on your face, or wipe with a wet washcloth to remove any residue. Also, many shampoos and body washes on the market contain a surfactant called SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate), and while not everyone is sensitive to SLS, it is a big, unnoticed problem for some, and can cause contact dermatitis and/or exacerbate acne. 

8. Change your toothpaste:

Just like hair and body products, toothpastes commonly contain SLS and can cause perioral dermatitis (dermatitis around the mouth area).

9. Skin barrier:

It is instinct, when you have acne, to use the strongest ingredients on your skin, or attempt “drying out” acne spots, but this can damage the skin barrier, which worsens acne, makes active pimples slower to heal, and can lead to worsening of scarring, among other issues. A damaged skin barrier can be caused by overusing harsh products/ingredients, tugging at your skin, using abrasive scrubs/over-exfoliating, etc. Some signs you might have a damaged skin barrier are: 

-skin feels tight all the time

-itchiness

-redness

-burning or stinging when using products, even products you’ve used before with no issue

-rough skin texture

If you think you have an impaired skin barrier, check out my post on how to heal it.

10. Go back to the basics:

If you feel like you have stripped your skin, it is probably time to go back to the basics. Sunscreen in the morning, and cleanser(s) and moisturizer at night. It might seem like a good idea to pile on as many products as possible, or slather your skin with the strongest anti-acne ingredients, but this causes a damaged skin barrier, as mentioned above. Using too many skincare products at once (or in one routine) and changing products too often can have the opposite intended effect and lead to more skin issues over time. I talked more in depth about how to start a basic skin care routine in this post. Also, don’t be afraid to use a moisturizer if you have acne. It is a myth that acneic skin doesn’t need added moisture. Even if you have oily skin, you can still have dehydrated skin, especially when using active ingredients that affect oil production and cause flakiness. Using a moisturizer that works for you provides a comfy blanket for your skin barrier, so that your acne heals as fast as possible, and leaves minimal scarring.

11. Wear sunscreen:

Another common misconception about treating acne is that getting a tan will heal your skin, but that’s not the case. A tan is actually your skin’s defense mechanism to protect against UV damage. UV damage causes premature wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and even skin cancer. If you prefer having a tan for aesthetic reasons, there are great fake tan options out there (this brand is popular). To prevent causing or worsening PIH (post inflammatory hyperpigmentation) and PIE (post inflammatory erythema), the dark and red marks left over after acne or excessive sun exposure, it is important to wear sunscreen. You can read more in depth about sunscreen in my All About Sunscreen post.

12. Clean your makeup brushes often:

Makeup brushes can harbor bacteria like dirt to duct tape. Be sure to wash them at least once a week, if not after every use. Also, be sure to put makeup onto the back of your hands before applying to your face instead of using the applicators directly on your skin.   

13. Be mindful of where you spray hair products/perfumes:

Again, not everyone is sensitive to fragrance, but if you find yourself sensitive to laundry detergent and fragrance in skincare, then look into what perfume you’re using as well.

14. Don’t forget your hairline:

When putting on makeup or sunscreen, most people blend into the hairline, down their neck, and even ears and chest, so it makes sense to cleanse those areas as well. It can become a habit to only cleanse the inner perimeter of your face, but if you break out around your hairline or sides of your face, and don’t notice irritation from any product in particular, be mindful of how you’re cleansing. A lot of people have peach fuzz (or beards), so it’s important to work your cleanser into those areas well. 

15. See a professional:

There are times when we need professional help when battling acne. A board certified dermatologist or licensed esthetician will analyze your skin to determine exactly what type of acne you have, as well as provide a personalized treatment plan. If you can’t get to a dermatologist or esthetician locally, or prefer a more affordable option, there is an online service called Dermatica that offers free consultations, then connects you with a team of dermatologists who create personalized blends of prescription ingredients. Curology is a similar system and is more widely available in the US.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or be a replacement for medical advice or treatment.

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