Nothing is worse than waking up to an acne breakout.
When you look in the mirror and see your face covered in bumps and blemishes, it throws off your whole day. No matter how self-confident you normally are, breakouts can break you down and bring you back to your teenage years—and that isn’t always a good thing.
Though acne is typically a problem associated with puberty and adolescence, adult acne affects as many as 15% of women. Not only can adult acne be embarrassing and frustrating, but it can shoot your stress levels sky-high and send you scurrying to the drugstore for solutions.
The secret to clear skin isn’t some expensive cream or gel. The key to preventing acne breakouts is to learn what causes them and to take steps to avoid those things.
If you want to keep your skin clean, clear and radiant, prevent acne breakouts by following these 10 simple tips.
As a woman, you are already familiar with the consequences of fluctuating hormones. Every month you deal with the irritability, the cramps and the bloating, but did you know that your hormones can also affect your skin?
During puberty, your estrogen and testosterone levels started to change, and in the process, you started to grow into the woman you are today. Each time you menstruate, your hormones fluctuate, and you may find yourself breaking out, particularly on the lower part of your face—the bottom of your cheeks and along your jawline. Other causes for hormonal acne may include pregnancy, menopause and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Hormonal fluctuations trigger acne by boosting sebum (oil) production in your pores, increasing overall inflammation in your skin and causing dead skin cells to clog your pores.
Another common cause of acne breakouts is stress. The sebaceous glands in your skin actually contain receptors for stress hormones so, when you become stressed, your sebaceous glands begin to produce more sebum which often leads to breakouts.
Though there are numerous studies suggesting that acne can lead to increased stress and mental health problems, there are relatively few which show the opposite correlation. A 2017 study published in the journal Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology tested the correlation between stress and acne. A total of 144 women were assessed using the global acne grading system (GAGS) and the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) to measure the severity of both their acne and their level of stress. The results showed a clear correlation between increased stress severity and increased acne severity.
Simply put, the women who had the highest stress scores also had the most severe acne.
In addition to hormonal fluctuations and stress, acne breakouts can also be triggered by poor hygiene (namely clogged pores), smoking, alcohol consumption, mental health problems and diet. Fortunately, you have some degree of control over most of these factors which means that you have the ability to prevent, or at least decrease the severity of your acne breakouts.
So, what can you do to prevent breakouts? Here are a few simple tips to get you started.
You might be surprised to learn that simple things you do each and every day might be making your acne worse. If you want to say bye-bye to breakouts, follow these simple tips:
Washing your face on a daily basis is important to remove dirt, sweat and excess oil. If you wash your face too often or with the wrong cleanser, however, you could actually make your acne worse.
So, what’s the proper way to wash your face?
Start by choosing a gentle, alcohol-free cleanser. Wet your face with warm water then apply the cleanser with clean hands, rubbing gently in a circular motion with your fingertips. Rinse thoroughly then pat your face dry with a clean towel.
To keep your face clean and clear, wash it once in the morning and right before bed. If your face feels oily during the day, use blotting paper to remove the excess oil rather than washing it again. If you sweat heavily, you can wash it again after working out, but avoid washing it too often or you’ll dry out your skin and make matters worse.
Walking down the skincare aisle at the drugstore can be overwhelming because there are so many products to choose from. What is the best way to shop for skincare products? By skin type.
There are four primary skin types:
If your skin is dry, you should look for products that moisturize and boost the protective outer layer to keep your skin supple and soft. Avoid foaming cleansers and clay or charcoal masks as well as skincare products that contain alcohol, because these will only dry out your skin more. Instead, choose gentle cream cleansers and moisturizing creams. You could also try using facial oil before bed at night.
For oily skin, you want to remove excess oil without completely stripping your skin of moisture. Avoid thick, oil-based creams and facial oils as well as harsh scrubs that might remove too much oil. Go for water-based serums, lightweight gel moisturizers and products that contain salicylic acid to help prevent breakouts.
If you have combination skin, you may need to use different products on your cheeks and jaw than you do on your T-zone, depending which type of skin you have in each area. Avoid heavy moisturizers, foaming cleansers and clay masks. Instead, stick with lightweight lotions and gentle cleansers, using thicker moisturizers as needed on dry spots.
When you find a new pimple on your face, you may be tempted to cover it with makeup when, in fact, that is one of the worst things you can do. Wearing too much makeup—or certain kinds of makeup—can clog your pores and lead to breakouts.
This isn’t to say that you should never wear makeup but be careful about the products you choose and how you use them. Instead of wearing heavy foundations, try a tinted moisturizer or opt for a light layer of powder foundation instead. Avoid greasy formulas and try to wear as little makeup as you can to achieve the desired effect.
When shopping for makeup, look for products that are non-comedogenic (this simply means that the product is formulated not to clog pores) and free from harsh chemicals and fragrances.
If you have oily skin, you may think that your skin is over-hydrated when, in fact, the opposite might be true. The truth is that oily skin can still be dehydrated.
When your skin is dehydrated, the protective barrier becomes compromised which leads to irritation. That irritation then triggers the hormones that increase sebum production which leads to clogged pores and more frequent breakouts.
Your skin is over 60% water so, to keep it hydrated and healthy, drink 8 to 10 eight-ounce servings of water throughout the day.
When you’re in the throes of an acne breakout, adding more moisture to your skin is probably the last thing on your mind. As you’ve already learned, however, dry skin produces more oil which leads to breakouts. The solution? Keeping your skin moisturized.
But what’s the best way to keep your skin moisturized to prevent breakouts?
Your skin is a protective barrier made up of water, fat and other substances. When the skin itself loses moisture, the sebaceous glands produce more oil that sits on the surface, clogging your pores. The best moisturizer is one that combines oil and water to keep your skin naturally hydrated and free from acne.
Start by choosing a moisturizer designed for your skin type. From there, make sure it doesn’t contain any drying agents like alcohol. Moisturizers made with glycerin and hyaluronic acid help lock in moisture, keeping your skin supple all day long.
In addition to knowing which type of moisturizer to buy, you should also learn how and where to apply it. Depending on your skin type, you may need different moisturizers for different parts of your face. If you have dry skin, you may need moisturizer on your cheeks and forehead while women with oily skin may only need it on the sides of the face.
For optimal hydration, wash your face with warm water before applying moisturizer and pat your skin dry so it soaks up some of the water. When you are ready to apply moisturizer, use a small amount and work it gently into your skin without rubbing too hard.
Even if you wash your hands fairly often, your fingers are still home to myriad germs and bacteria that could be transferred to your skin if you touch your face. Every time you touch your face, you could be transferring impurities to your skin which could clog your pores and trigger a breakout.
It is especially important to avoid touching your face during an active breakout. Squeezing or popping pimples might be satisfying in the moment, but you may end up increasing inflammation and making the problem worse. Popping pimples can also lead to pitting and scarring which might become permanent.
Try Medications Proven to Combat Acne
If you experience frequent breakouts, using a medication may help. But which ingredients should you look for?
Here are some of the top acne medications you can try:
Even if you choose to purchase an over-the-counter acne medication or prescription medication, you should still consult your doctor or dermatologist. Most medications come in different strengths and using the wrong concentration could dry out your skin too much and make your acne worse.
If you’re spending a small fortune on skincare products each month, you could be throwing money down the drain if you’re not washing your pillow case often enough.
You spend up to one-third of your life sleeping, so all of the dirt, sweat and makeup from your face seeps into your pillow—especially if you don’t wash your face before bed. Sleeping on a dirty pillow case means that you’re sleeping in all of that debris and it isn’t doing your skin any favors.
In addition to washing your face before bed each night, wash or replace your pillow case on a weekly basis. If you have oily skin, dermatologists recommend doing it more often.
While soaking up the sun is a great way to meet your daily needs for Vitamin D, you need to protect your skin against the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays.
Something as simple as wearing sunblock could make a huge difference in the frequency and severity of your breakouts, not to mention protecting your skin health in general. Simple as it may be, a recent study suggests that only 30% of American women routinely use sunblock on their faces.
Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen and apply it to your skin and face about 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. It’s also a good idea to protect your skin by wearing sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat, particularly if you’re going outside between the hours of 10am and 4pm.
You should also know that certain medications like antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and blood pressure medications could make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so take extra precautions if you’re on any of these drugs.
What you eat has a direct impact on your skin, so try to focus your diet around foods that prevent rather than trigger breakouts.
Common dietary triggers for acne include things like processed carbohydrates, refined sugar, high-glycemic foods, dairy products and fried or fatty foods.
Generally speaking, foods that raise your blood sugar can cause your skin to produce more oil, increasing the risk for a breakout. When you eat sugary and high-carb foods, your blood sugar level rises which triggers the pancreas to produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin enables your cells to absorb glucose from the bloodstream, but excess insulin can cause the sebaceous glands in your skin to produce excess oil.
The healthiest foods for your skin are complex carbohydrates (low-glycemic), colorful fruits and veggies, leafy greens, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. Antioxidants are particularly beneficial for skin health and foods with anti-inflammatory properties can be beneficial as well.
By taking care of your skin, you can greatly reduce the severity and frequency of your breakouts. But what do you do if you’ve already developed a pimple or two?
First and foremost, don’t touch it!
As tempting as it may be to pop that pimple, doing so can actually force the pus and bacteria deeper into your skin, increasing inflammation and making your blemish worse. The best thing you can do is keep your face clean and wait for it to pass. You can also try using a 5% benzoyl peroxide gel or cream to dry it out a little faster.
While looks certainly aren’t everything, your skin is key part of the face you present to the world—literally. If you want to look and feel your best, follow these simple tips to keep your skin clean, clear and breakout-free.
If none of these tips and tricks work, it may be time to seek help from your dermatologist, who can prescribe medications like tretinoin to help you keep your skin clean, healthy and clear.