The treatment options described below should be able to significantly reduce, if not completely eliminate acne breakouts, for 99% of people. The option that works best for you depends on your age, genetics, lifestyle habits, acne severity, budget, and time horizon.
Navigating the world of acne treatments can be overwhelming and expensive depending on the type of treatment options you go with. There are constantly new medications, skincare products, and supplements on the market claiming to be a “cure all” for acne. The truth is most medications, skincare products, and supplements are unlikely to completely clear your acne.
While this can be discouraging for many people trying to learn how to get rid of acne breakouts, it is has never been easier to effectively treat acne breakouts. The key is to have enough patience and consistency to see real results
In this article we will dive into thirteen effective strategies that anyone can use to get rid of their acne, from significant dietary alterations to carefully selecting your beauty products and making minor but pivotal lifestyle changes.
We will also review popular prescription medication options that can provide quicker results but come with several potentially severe side effects.
1. Follow a Low Inflammation Diet
While many of us have tried to reduce the severity of our acne by introducing healthier foods to our daily menu, it’s important to be mindful that what you do not consume is just as important as what you do.
For example, introducing more fruits and vegetables in your diet is a fantastic way to infuse your body with antioxidants that will prevent cell damage and reduce inflammation.
However, not giving up sugary and processed foods, dairy, and foods high in omega-6 acids, whose role in producing pro-inflammatory signaling molecules, makes them the culprit that leads to more angry pimples, regardless of how much spinach you eat.
Following a low-inflammation diet on all fronts, including consuming more anti-inflammatory foods while reducing the consumption of pro-inflammatory foods, is the most effective and budget friendly acne treatment option.
2. Use Non-Comedogenic Skincare Products
Comedogenic skincare products contain ingredients that are more likely to clog pores and lead to inflammatory conditions such as acne.
These components are usually thicker and oilier and are used to improve the consistency of the formula and help it spread easier on the skin.
However, some of these components are hard to wash off, and they can become burrowed deeper into the pores, where they block the pathways our natural oil uses to get to the skin’s surface, where it serves as a natural lubricant and mild protector against environmental aggressors.
This blockage will cause the oil to remain inside the pores or hair follicles, where it will harden and create a plug, which will then attract a particular strain of bacteria that will use it to feed on and proliferate.
Once overgrown, the infection will trigger the immune system to send white blood cells to fight it, which will manifest on the skin as red, swollen, pus-filled spots we see as pimples.
Some common comedogenic ingredients in skincare products you should watch out for include:
- Stearates – used as moisturizing agents in lotions and creams, these components can be comedogenic and cause skin that’s prone to excess oiliness to develop acne. Common stearates in skincare products include isopropyl myristate, isopropyl isostearate, and glyceryl stearate.
- Silicones – used as viscosity enhancers, these components can create a seal on the skin’s surface and prevent our natural oil from coming out of the pores. Common silicones in skincare products include dimethicone, cetearyl methicone, and cyclopentasiloxane.
- Butters – used for their occlusive and healing properties, these components in skincare products are hard to wash off, and particles can remain burrowed in our pores even after a good cleanse. Common comedogenic butters in skincare products include cocoa butter, coconut butter, and shea butter, which is the least comedogenic but can still be problematic for some.
- Oils – used for their nourishing and softening properties, oils in skincare products can oxidize on the skin and create plugs that will clog the pores. Common comedogenic oils in skincare products include coconut, wheat germ, and palm oil.
Ultimately, try to find facial washes with only a few ingredients like salicylic acid. This will help keep your pores clear, while minimizing the chances of a random ingredient on the back of the bottle that can clog your pores.
3. Use Natural Moisturizers
Natural, plant-based moisturizers can be beneficial in the battle against acne.
A prime example is aloe vera, an antibacterial component that can reduce the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria inside the pores, thus reducing the immune system’s response to it.
Additionally, aloe vera also contains aloin and aloesin, two components that soothe inflammation by reducing the mRNA expressions of inflammatory cells.
However, while natural moisturizers can be fantastic for soothing acne, it’s important to keep in mind that not all are created equal, and some might exacerbate the condition.
This can happen if the natural moisturizer contains heavy concentrations of natural oils, such as coconut oil, which can oxidize on the skin and form plugs inside the pores, clogging them and triggering an inflammatory response that leads to acne.
Therefore, it’s always important to not just read the label of the product you are interested in trying out but also check the ingredient list for potentially problematic components.
4. Take Skin-Friendly Supplements
Supplements can be incredibly useful in the battle against acne, as they help maintain a healthy skin barrier by infusing the body with nutrients and antioxidants that will repair the cell function and contribute to better hydration, improved ability to fight off pathogens, and increased resilience against environmental aggressors.
All these factors, or improvements, will help the skin function optimally, meaning it will produce enough oil to lubricate and protect itself without clogging the pores, defend itself against the overgrowth of acne-causing bacteria, and remain resilient against environmental aggressors such as external pathogens that can worsen acne.
Therefore, here are the best supplements that you should consider taking when dealing with acne:
Fish oil, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, is known to have potential benefits in reducing acne due to its ability to strengthen the skin barrier and reduce skin inflammation.
Omega-3s in fish oil work by inhibiting PGE2 and LTB4, two chemicals involved in the inflammatory response that can lead to acne.
Some studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil can reduce acne severity in as little as 8-12 weeks, which is the standard time most notice skin improvements from using more aggressive acne treatments, such as tretinoin.
Vitamin D is another fantastic supplement that can help reduce the severity of acne in multiple ways, including soothing inflammation, balancing oil production, and encouraging the skin to fight off pathogens.
Vitamin D is also a fantastic hormone regulator that particularly regulates IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor), which plays a significant role in the growth and development of skin conditions, such as acne, by creating inflammation in the body.
Zinc is an essential mineral in our body that protects the immune system and metabolism by fighting off harmful cells and bacteria.
Zinc can help soothe acne in several ways, including by interfering with the bacteria’s ability to process essential proteins, thus preventing it from overgrowing.
Additionally, zinc can reduce the activation of NF-kB, a protein complex that controls the production of inflammatory cytokines, thus reducing the inflammatory response to bacterial overgrowth and preventing its symptoms.
Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
This mineral can help soothe acne by inhibiting the immune system’s inflammatory reaction to the pathogen’s overgrowth, thus reducing the symptoms we see on the skin’s surface.
Additionally, magnesium is known for improving sleep quality and reducing the inflammatory stress hormone cortisol, thus preventing inflammation in the body that may manifest on the skin as acne in the long run.
Selenium is a trace element naturally found in our bodies in small quantities and an essential component of various enzymes and proteins that help make DNA and protect against cell damage and infections.
Selenium has been found effective in reducing the severity of acne through several mechanisms, including antioxidant protection and cell repair, regulation of inflammatory hormones, and boosting the production of glutathione peroxidase, an important enzyme that plays a significant role in protecting the skin from inflammation and damage.
However, although naturally occurring, many are deficient in selenium, and this mineral is particularly important for those taking birth control, as estrogen in this medication increases a protein called ceruloplasmin, which can bind selenium and reduce its availability in the body.
5. Sweat Regularly
While sweating is often associated with being dirty, sweating regularly can actually help cleanse the skin by forcing accumulated dirt, bacteria, makeup residue, and environmental debris burrowed inside the pores toward the skin’s surface.
Sweat is also antibacterial, thanks to the dermcidin peptide found in its composition.
Finally, sweating also means increased circulation, which brings more oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
However, while sweating regularly can help improve acne, it can also exacerbate this inflammatory condition in certain circumstances.
Prolonged sweating in the same clothes and accessories, such as headbands, can transfer bacteria back to the skin, which will cause it to overgrow and trigger acne.
6. Take Prescription Medications (Under Medical Supervision)
Severe forms of acne may take long to heal, so speeding up the process with prescription acne medication is often advised to prevent long-term issues such as acne scarring for moderate to severe causes of acne.
Prescription medications like topical tretinoin or oral Accutane are highly effective in clearing severe forms of acne, including those in larger body areas, such as the back.
However, since these medications often come with side effects that range from dry and flaky skin to headaches, nosebleeds, and mood swings, certain lifestyle adjustments are needed for a less uncomfortable experience.
This is why, when starting prescription medications, you should also consider becoming more diligent with your sunscreen application to prevent sun sensitivity and UV damage, cutting out alcohol to avoid liver damage, becoming more active to boost circulation and release endorphins (also known as the feel-good hormones), and practicing mindfulness to help prevent sharp mood swings.
However, while prescription medications will treat existing acne swiftly, they won’t tackle the root of the problem, which is why long-term diet, lifestyle, and skincare changes are needed to prevent acne from coming back.
7. Change Your Pillowcase Twice Per Week
Our pillowcases pick up oil from our skin and hair and cosmetic products, which then get transferred back onto our skin as we sleep.
Additionally, as we press our head into the pillow, these impurities may become embedded and harden inside our pores, which will cause clogging and trigger acne.
Therefore, changing your pillowcases at least once, or ideally twice per week, is another helpful factor in fighting acne.
Furthermore, you should consider investing in a high-quality pillowcase made from natural materials such as silk that’s less likely to absorb excess oils and transfer them back onto your skin.
8. Avoid Using Washcloths to Dry Your Face
Reaching for a towel or a washcloth to dry your face after cleansing might not be that great when dealing with acne.
Not only are towels and washcloths damp from humidity in the bathroom, which creates the perfect breeding ground for moisture-loving bacteria, but rubbing these harsh fabrics against our delicate skin can also be harmful.
This is how you end up with microtears, which are wounds invisible to the naked eye that act as pathways for external bacteria to potentially enter our skin and cause infections.
This may lead to conditions such as acne, rashes, and even permanent concerns such as dermatitis.
9. Avoid Harsh Facial Scrubs
Similarly to rubbing your face with rough towels and washcloths, harsh scrubs can also create micro-tears in the skin, allowing external pathogens to enter and exacerbate any skin conditions along with potentially causing infections that may even require a visit to the emergency room.
Therefore, instead of polishing your skin with facial scrubs that often contain skin-tearing nut kernels, opt for gentle chemical exfoliants that contain a low percentage of acids to gently dissolve dead skin cells and cellular debris accumulated on the skin’s surface and inside the pores and encourage them to shed on their own.
10. Avoid Wearing Makeup for Prolonged Periods
Makeup products may often contain multiple comedogenic ingredients, such as emollients, silicones, butters, and oils, which ultimately make acne worse.
These ingredients help enhance the formula, consistency, and texture, enabling it to spread easily on the skin.
However, because they are sticky, they can attach themselves to the skin and be difficult to remove.
When we leave makeup on for prolonged periods, these components become difficult to wash off and can get pushed deeper into the pores while we sleep or press complexion products into our skin with makeup brushes and beauty blenders.
This will then create a plug of hardened and oxidized components that will clog the pores and prevent our natural oil from traveling to the skin’s surface.
Instead, it will remain clogged in the pores, attracting bacteria that feed on it and overgrow, triggering the immune system into fighting it and resulting in acne.
Therefore, if you are dealing with acne and are wearing makeup, make sure to wear it as little as you possibly can and thoroughly remove it at the end of the day to prevent acne from worsening.
Additionally, when shopping for makeup products, read the ingredient list and opt for products with little to no potentially comedogenic ingredients.
Finally, a great option to figure out whether the makeup product you are eyeing won’t exacerbate your acne is to ask for a small tester or purchase a travel-size product that you will use in one facial area where you typically break out, such as the cheeks, chin, or forehead for at least a week or two.
If your pimples seem to be exacerbated or you notice the formation of new pimples in that particular area but not in others, this is likely a sign that the product isn’t working for you and that you shouldn’t continue using it or purchasing the full size.
11. Avoid Touching Your Face
While touching your face isn’t an underlying cause of acne, it can certainly exacerbate the condition.
By touching your face, you are spreading the bacteria on your hands or fingertips straight onto an already infected area, which can further inflame the skin and exacerbate existing acne.
Additionally, touching your face not only spreads bacteria but also transfers oils from your hands to your face, which can disrupt your skin’s delicate balance, further contributing to clogging and acne by providing a fertile ground for bacterial overgrowth.
Therefore, no matter how clean you think your hands are, bacteria are something that you can’t see with the naked eye, and touching your face is an easy way to transfer these microorganisms from one area to another.
12. Avoid Popping or Picking Pimples
While popping or scratching a pimple may be one of life’s biggest satisfactions, these practices are definitely dangerous to your skin health.
By popping a pimple, you are causing the tip, or the superficial layer of the skin, to rupture for the pus to come out.
This leaves behind a wound that can serve as an open door for external pathogens to enter and colonize, leading to various dangers, including worsening of existing skin conditions such as acne and triggering infections that may require antibiotics to subside.
Additionally, by causing a wound, you are instantly setting your skin’s healing back and are increasing your chances of scarring after the pimple or infection eventually heals.
A wound is slower to heal and more likely to scar than a pimple, so keeping your fingers away from any lesions that would otherwise heal on their own in a couple of days is always the best to ensure your skin remains healthy and scar-free.
13. Avoid Oil-Based Hair Products
Hair products containing oils and other heavy emollients can easily come in contact with your skin and transfer some of these components, especially if you have long hair or wear certain hairstyles, such as bangs, that touch any area of your face.
When these oils and emollients come into contact with your facial skin, they can get stuck to it and even become embedded in the pores, where they will mix with dead skin cells and natural oil produced by the oil glands and form a stiff plug that will exacerbate existing acne and cause new breakouts to form.
Therefore, avoid using oil-based hair products, or at least keep your hair away from your face as much as possible.
Is it Better to Use Natural or Pharmaceutical Treatments for Acne?
There isn’t a universal ‘best method’ for treating acne, as the effectiveness of your routine depends on several factors, including your skin type and sensitivity, the current state of your skin and its needs, as well as your general health.
However, both methods can have pros and cons and be effective in their own ways.
For example, natural treatments that include making significant dietary, lifestyle, and skin care changes will take time to give results, as inflammation can be incredibly hard to soothe, and since the skin is a peripheral organ that gets the best of the good habits last, it may take months before you start noticing any improvements.
On the other hand, taking the pharmaceutical route and opting for treatments such as antibiotics or Accutane will give faster results but won’t address the underlying cause of acne, which can be a variety of factors that have contributed to the issue.
Therefore, the best treatment for you will depend on your individual needs and circumstances.
That said, both natural and pharmaceutical treatments can be effective, but long-term acne maintenance will generally require substantial changes rather than quick and aggressive fixes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, benzoyl peroxide can help clear out clogged pores, however benzoyl peroxide is an extremely powerful chemical treatment and can cause excessive drying and irritation on sensitive skin.
Nodular acne is the most severe form of acne where the pimples on the skin’s surface look discolored while the inside is firm, lumpy, and feels like a knot under the skin.
Nodular acne presents a high risk of scarring, and the nodules are often associated with disfiguration.
Some popular home acne treatments that do not work include lemon juice, toothpaste, apple cider vinegar, and rubbing alcohol.
However, while most of them have antibacterial properties that should, in theory, reduce the overgrowth of the acne-causing bacteria, there is no evidence to suggest they actually clear acne long term.
This is mainly because these remedies are not effective at targeting the particular strain of bacteria, Cutibacterium acne, that causes this inflammatory condition.
Additionally, some studies suggest that due to their low pH (suitable for the stomach but not for the skin), most homemade remedies can disrupt the skin flora, which can actually exacerbate acne rather than soothe it.
Acne isn’t a curable condition because the bacteria that cause it permanently reside on our skin and only become problematic when the right environment for their overgrowth is created.
Since we can’t eliminate this bacteria, acne may come back at any point in our lives.
However, while not curable, acne can be maintained through healthy dietary choices and lifestyle habits, hormonal balance, and an adequate skincare routine for each individual’s specific needs that will prevent the formation of the perfect environment for bacterial overgrowth.