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How to Get Clear Skin and Stop Breakouts

Kristin Hall

Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP

Written by Our Editorial Team

Last updated 9/18/2020

Getting clear skin can be a lifelong battle for some women. For those who thought they’d leave acne struggles behind in high school, adult acne can provide a rude awakening. 

Adult acne is more common in women than in men, because of course it is. And with it often comes stress and even depression, as it can impact your self-esteem and your willingness to get out in the world and socialize.

Whether you’ve dealt with acne-prone skin since you hit puberty, or if it’s a new addition to your adult life, you don’t have to live in misery. 

There are proven treatment options available. Getting the right one for your skin is a matter of talking to your healthcare provider. 

Following their directions and taking steps to follow a consistent skin care routine can ensure healthy, clearer skin for years to come.

What Causes Breakouts 

Generally speaking, pimples are caused by oil getting trapped beneath the surface of your skin. That oil, also known as sebum, is nature’s moisturizer (and defense shield). 

But, when it can’t exit your hair follicles through your pores, things can get ugly. 

Dead skin cells clog your pores and block sebum’s exit. When this happens, bacteria grows and inflammation results. What you see in the mirror when this happens? A damn pimple. Ugh.

Getting a pimple every once in a while is no big deal. As a human, it’s sort of par for the course. Like blisters, warts and other undesirable skin conditions, pimples happen. 

But when you get blemishes often, when they’re painful or when there are several at a time, it’s more difficult to take in stride. 

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Treating Breakouts and Acne

When it comes to getting clear skin, your first step is resolving the acne or zits you have. And no, this doesn’t involve picking at your face or popping pimples — both of which can worsen things more than they help. 

There are several options for acne treatment — both those available over the counter and those you need a prescription for. 

Talking with a healthcare professional or dermatologist about your skin condition(s) can help ensure you’re not wasting money, while pursuing treatment options best suited for your skin type and acne severity. 

Here are four common options available for clearing acne-prone skin: 

  • Oral contraceptives: Believe it or not, birth control pills can regulate hormone fluctuations that can worsen acne breakouts.  

  • Benzoyl peroxide: Available over-the-counter, benzoyl peroxide is a drying agent. It can be too drying for some skin types, however.

  • Retinoids: Many retinoids, such as tretinoin, are available with a prescription. They’re commonly prescribed (and known to be effective) for moderate to severe acne. 

  • Antibiotics: Oral antibiotics can reduce the impact of acne bacteria on your breakouts, and may be prescribed in conjunction with a topical retinoid.  

Preventing Breakouts 

The above acne treatments will also work to prevent future breakouts, but you need to do your part too. That involves: 

  • Washing your face. Wash your face twice a day or when it’s particularly dirty or sweaty — but not more than needed. Frequent washing can irritate your skin and actually worsen it.

  • Don’t pick or pop your acne spots. It may be hard to keep your hands off, but picking and touching your pimples can spread bacteria and worsen your acne.

  • Wash your sheets, pillowcases and make-up brushes. It’s not excessive to change your pillowcase several times a week — the American Academy of Dermatology actually recommends it

  • Manage stress. Stress can worsen breakouts, so eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest and participate in enjoyable activities that reduce the burden of stress in your life.

  • Stop smoking. If you smoke cigarettes, acne-prevention is just one more reason to quit.

  • Use skin-care products (such as cleansers and moisturizers) and cosmetics that are oil-free and non-comedogenic. If you wear make-up and apply skin care products, make sure they’re not making your acne worse. 

  • Get help. If you haven’t already, talking with a dermatologist about your skin will help you determine how best to care for it, reduce or eliminate breakouts, and have clear, healthy skin for years to come.

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The Bottom Line on Getting Clear Skin — And Keeping It

When we were younger, we all thought acne was one of those things that was going to come and go.

Unfortunately, as the years have passed, many of us have learned the hard way that getting and maintaining clear skin is a constant battle between things like our diet, our hormones and our dedication to a skincare regimen.

Luckily, adult female acne is both common and treatable. 

Managing your stress levels, keeping your pores clean and making some conscientious lifestyle changes can make a world of difference in your fight to keep your face clean and clear. And if all else fails, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. They'll be able to prescribe proven and time-tested medication that'll help.

This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.