Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/19/2021
Here’s a not-so-fun fact: Acne is the most common skin condition in the United States, affecting up to 50 million Americans each year. And while it most commonly affects people between the ages of 12 and 24, acne affects women who are older than that, too.
If you’ve tried to deal with mild acne or even clogged pores with little success, it can be frustrating. Research has even shown that many women with acne suffer from low self-esteem.
No one should have to deal with the physical and emotional effects of acne. And while treating it can be tricky, you absolutely shouldn’t give in the towel!
There are effective ways to treat acne and manage acne-prone skin.
Here, we’ll explain what causes acne and what you can do about it.
To put it simply, acne occurs when there is a malfunction in the normal process of your skin shedding dead cells. When this occurs, a combination of sebum and dead skin cells build up and cause a blockage in your pores and hair follicles.
Sebum is a substance that is produced by your sebaceous glands to lubricate your skin and hair. It also creates a barrier on your skin to protect it from bacteria and other harmful substances in the environment.
But when an excess of sebum is produced, it can cause problems.
So, what causes excess sebum? Well, there are a variety of factors, including:
Hormone imbalances, like the ones that occur during your period.
Genetic factors (like inheriting oily skin), which can play a role.
Environmental factors, like overwashing your skin or working out a lot.
As previously mentioned, dead skin cells also play a big part in the formation of acne. Your body sheds dead skin cells every 40 to 56 days as part of its process to renew and replace skin, which is also called epidermal turnover.
But when excess sebum and dead skin cells mingle it can lead to blocked pores and breakouts.
There are lifestyle choices that can also up your chances of zits — including smoking, sleeping with makeup on and more.
If you want to kick your blemishes to the curb, you’ll have to deploy some acne-fighting tactics. Your best bet is to speak with a healthcare professional to discuss your specific case of acne and determine the best course of action.
In all likelihood, your healthcare provider will recommend some of the following treatments.
A good skincare routine can set you up for success when it comes to clear skin. Here’s what your regimen should include:
Cleanser: Research has found that incorporating a high-quality cleanser into your routine can keep skin healthy and reduce acne.
You should use a gentle, non-abrasive face wash that does not contain alcohol, which can be drying. You should also pick one that is labeled “non-comedogenic,” which means it won’t clog pores. Hers offers a facial cleanser that fits these requirements.
Moisturizer: You may think that if you have oily skin, you can skip moisturizer. Wrong. If you let your skin get dry, it sends a signal to your body to produce even more oil.
(Unfortunately, even if you have dry skin, you can still be prone to acne.)
Like with your cleanser, you will want to choose a moisturizer that is oil-free and non-comedogenic. Check out this Hers facial moisturizer formulated specifically for acne.
Sunscreen: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning it protects skin from UVA and UVB rays) and a minimum of SPF 30 on a daily basis.
Topical treatments (including spot treatments) are one of the more popular ways to treat zits. They are smoothed on top of the blemish and work by penetrating the skin to clear up the infection that’s causing the breakout.
Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide both remove dead skin cells while killing the bacteria that causes breakouts. Salicylic acid also reduces swelling. You should be aware that benzoyl peroxide can be irritating, so, be cautious.
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are often combined. In fact, Hers has a prescription acne cream that contains clindamycin, tretinoin and azelaic acid to get rid of dead skin cells, reduce inflammation and go after bacteria.
Then, there’s tretinoin. This prescription also encourages your skin to shed dead skin cells that cause breakouts.
Another option is clindamycin, which is a prescription antibiotic that slows or stops bacteria from multiplying.
There are two types of oral medication commonly used to treat acne: Isotretinoin and birth control pills.
In fact, the FDA has approved a few combined oral contraceptives for use to treat acne. These work by lowering levels of hormones responsible for acne (like testosterone) and reducing sebum production.
Isotretinoin reduces sebum production, too. It also prevents dead skin cells from clogging pores.
Oral antibiotics are also sometimes prescribed to prevent bacteria from multiplying.
There are some lifestyle changes that may help, too. For example, it’s helpful to avoid touching your face. Otherwise you may transfer bacteria from your fingertips to your face.
Shampooing your hair regularly can also help, especially if you have oily tresses. Grease from your scalp can run down your face and cause flare-ups. So, washing regularly can make a difference.
Tea tree oil is a natural alternative to topical treatments some people find helpful. One small study performed on 60 people with mild to moderate acne found that applying a 5% tea tree oil gel was at least 3.55 times more effective at reducing acne lesions than a placebo.
The good news: Even if tea tree oil doesn’t help with your acne, it won’t hurt.
Need to deal with the pain acne brings on? Apply some ice! Grab an ice cube from the freezer, wrap it in a paper towel and hold it to the area for five to 10 minutes. Repeat twice with 10-minute breaks in between.
Never ever pop a zit. Seriously, you’ll just make your acne worse.
Sure, squeezing a pimple may be satisfying because you get some of that infection out. But you may also push bacteria deeper.
The American Academy of Dermatology reports that popping pimples can lead to even worse acne, an infection or scarring.
Bacteria may also spread and you could wind up with more zits. No, thank you!
If you are worried you won’t be able to resist popping, visit a healthcare professional instead. They can help advise on treatment, possibly do extractions for you, or even give you a corticosteroid injection to expedite healing. Injections like these can be especially helpful for severe acne, like cystic acne.
It’s sad but true: Dealing with acne-prone skin is a drag. (And you don’t have to be a teenager, either. Adult acne is a thing!)
But the good news is that there is a way to deal with it.
From over-the-counter topicals to prescription medications and natural options, there are a plethora of ways to treat acne, all at your fingertips.
The best way to determine what’s best for you and your skin is to talk to a healthcare professional. They’ll be able to assess your situation and tell you exactly how to treat your acne.