A sad fact of life: Breakouts don’t only happen to teenagers. But you can win the war against pimples by following these clear skin rules.
1. Cleanse Gently
Deeply cleansing oily skin sounds like a great strategy but harsh cleansers can strip skin of its protective barrier, leaving it vulnerable to bacteria. And soap has a higher pH than your skin, which can over-dry skin and cause oil production to go into overdrive—which you definitely don’t need. Try a balancing face wash like Jurlique Purifying Foaming Cleanser ($34,jurlique.com) to rebalance oiliness while smoothing and soothing skin, or a gel cleanser such as Spa Technologies Marine Gel Cleanser ($30,spatechnologies.com), which is full of anti-inflammatory ingredients to soothe inflamed skin.
2. Skip Exfoliation
Scrubbing seems like the perfect way to cleanse and purify, but for most acne-prone skin, anything more than a teensy bit of exfoliation is way too much. Use fingertips to massage skin gently (a little blood flow is good, but don’t go crazy) and avoid abrasive ingredients like beads altogether. Afterward, pat skin dry—never rub with a washcloth or towel.
3. Avoid Over-Drying
Many products meant to combat acne are super drying to skin and can trigger extra oil production, which, as you now know, is bad news. Avoid alcohol-based astringents (they’ll parch you in an instant) and moisturize immediately after washing while skin is still damp to optimize absorption. Look for oil-free products that will hydrate without gunking up pores. Try Arcona AM or PM Acne Lotion ($40-52, arcona.com), which is formulated with a blend of stabilized retinol, salicylic and lactic acids to control breakouts, or Juice Beauty Oil-Free Moisturizer ($28, juicebeauty.com), which offers lightweight hydration from algae, pomegranate, and aloe.
4. Make Salicylic Acid Your BFF
It’s scientific-sounding, but salicylic acid is totally natural (it’s derived from plants like willow bark) and it’s one of the most effective anti-acne ingredients around. It targets acne by sloughing away dead skin cells that clog pores and lead to breakouts. Unlike benzoyl peroxide, it won’t kill bacteria, but it also won’t suck all of the moisture from your skin or cause peeling and redness. Try Eminence Organic Skin Care Clear Skin Willow Bark Booster Serum ($56, eminenceorganics.com) or Mychelle White Cranberry Cleanser ($18, mychelle.com), which contains 5% willow bark to cleanse pores.
5. Clean Your Makeup Brushes
Makeup tools harbor dirt and bacteria like white on rice. Brushes and puffs for loose powder should be washed every 2 weeks and sponges at least once a week. (Toss the sponge if there are no remaining white sections.) To wash brushes, make a solution using a few drops of facial cleanser or shampoo and temperate water, swish brushes in the solution, rinse thoroughly, pat dry, and lay flat on a towel to air dry. For puffs and sponges, moisten, apply a drop of facial cleanser and gently rub under temperate water until it runs clear. Air dry.
6. Choose Makeup Wisely
When your skin is acting up, reaching for concealer and foundation is a knee-jerk reaction. But consider switching to mineral-based cosmetics. They contain ingredients like silica, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide that sop up excess oil without clogging pores, are usually a good bet for pimple-prone skin. Try La Bella Donna Loose Mineral Foundation ($55,labelladonna.com) or Compressed Mineral Foundation ($55,labelladonna.com), which will calm skin with anti-inflammatories, provide natural-looking coverage, and won’t clog pores.
7. Examine Your Hair Care
If you’ve been breaking out on your forehead, back, or neck, check out the ingredient list on your shampoo and conditioner: they may contain aggravating ingredients (namely artificial fragrances and preservatives). Try changing up your hair care routine with products that are fragrance-free and don’t contain paraben preservatives.
8. Stay Hands-Off
Keep your mitts off your face, please. The last thing acne-prone skin needs is added dirt and bacteria from roving hands. And fight the urge to pick or pop pimples: Squeezing skin not only causes irritation and aggravates breakouts, but it also comes with the risk of scarring. Not cute.
9. Ditch Dairy Products
The jury is out whether there is a definitive link between dairy and acne, but many skin care experts agree that the components in milk related to testosterone hormones may stimulate oil glands, creating a breeding ground for acne. Try cutting out dairy for 2 weeks to see how your skin reacts. Or swap out cow dairy for goat and sheep dairy—some say these have less of a negative effect.
10. Beware of “Noncomedogenic” Claims
Noncomedogenic is a fancy way of saying a product won’t clog your pores. So, these products are an ace in the hole for acne-prone skin, right? Think again. There is no official FDA definition of the term noncomedogenic or a defined list of ingredients proven not to clog pores. The best bet is to look for oil-free products that don’t contain additional ingredients like artificial fragrances and preservatives, as these commonly cause skin reactions.