Anyone with persistent acne knows how much of a challenge it can be to try to heal your skin. But even as you work to soothe the pimples you have, you can also take steps to prevent new ones from forming, breaking a breakout cycle that often seems relentless.
While there’s no failsafe way to rid your skin of acne forever, you can reduce your breakouts and help keep your skin as healthy as possible.
Pimples can appear anywhere on the skin, but they most often occur on the face. While the skin microbiome is complex, scientists have identified a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes that can cause acne breakouts. This bacteria causes inflammation when it turns sebum, the oil found naturally on skin, into fatty acids.
Removing excess oil, dirt, and sweat daily can help prevent pimples — but washing your face too much may make acne worse.
“When we strip our skin of its natural sebum with excess washing, it actually causes the skin to produce even more oil in order to rebalance your skin.
HOW TO WASH YOUR FACE
- Wet your face with warm (not hot) water.
- Apply a mild cleanser in a gentle, circular motion using your fingers, not a washcloth.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Pat dry.
Knowing your SKIN TYPE can help you determine which products to use and avoid. You can use the following parameters to identify your skin type, but you can also consult a dermatologist for help if you’re still unsure:
- Dry. Your skin often feels flaky and tight.
- Oily. Your skin tends to look shiny by the end of the day.
- Combination. You have both dry areas and oily areas. The oily area is usually the T-zone, or your forehead, nose, and chin.
- Sensitive. Your skin reacts easily to products and is prone to rashes, discoloration, or irritation. You can have sensitive skin along with any of the above skin types.
Moisturizers help skin stay hydrated, which makes a big difference for acne-prone skin. If your skin gets too dry, it will produce oil (sebum) to counterbalance the dryness. And, as noted above, an excess of sebum can cause pimples.
However, many moisturizers contain oil, synthetic fragrance, or other ingredients that may irritate your skin and cause pimples. Be sure to check the ingredient list before purchasing a moisturizer to make sure it’s fragrance-free and noncomedogenic.
If you’re dehydrated, your body may signal your skin’s oil glands to produce more oil. Dehydration also gives your skin a dull appearance and promotes inflammation and discoloration.
To keep your body well-hydrated, aim to drink at least 8-ounce glasses of water each day.
- after exercise
- when pregnant or nursing
- when spending time in a hot, humid environment
While you might feel tempted to use makeup to cover up pimples, know that doing so could clog pores and trigger outbreaks.
If you don’t want to nix makeup from your daily routine, opt for a foundation or concealer that’s noncomedogenic and fragrance-free so your skin doesn’t become even more irritated.
Be sure to gently wash any makeup off at the end of your day and especially before going to bed.
Touching your face can transfer bacteria — and those pore-clogging impurities — onto your skin.
It’s tough to avoid touching your face but try to pay attention to how often you touch your face and stop yourself in the act as much as possible.
Also helpful? Washing your hands regularly. That way, if you do touch your face — and in all honesty, you probably will — your hands are clean.
Catching some rays may dry out pimples in the short term, but it can have unwanted skin consequences in the long run. Frequent sun exposure dehydrates skin, which, over time, causes it to produce more oil and block pores.
Wearing sunscreen can help protect your skin year-round. Of course, as you might already know, sunscreens tend to be pretty oily. For both sun and pimple protection, opt for a noncomedogenic, oil-free sunscreen.
While it might feel practically impossible to resist squeezing that larger-than-life whitehead on the tip of your nose, your best bet is to avoid popping zits.
Popped pimples often bleed, but they can also make the problem worse by:
- becoming inflamed and clogging surrounding pores
- getting infected
- leaving behind scars
If OTC acne treatments don’t make much difference, a dermatologist can prescribe antibiotics to help reduce inflammation and bacteria on your skin. Antibiotics, which come in both topical and oral forms, work by reducing the amount of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on your skin, which can help ease breakouts.
Your dermatologist might recommend:
- topical antibiotics like clindamycin (Cleocin) for mild acne
- oral antibiotics like doxycycline (Vibramycin, Doryx) for severe acne
- using benzoyl peroxide gel along with your prescribed treatment
Your diet may also factor into acne.
Some of the common culprits contributing to skin concerns like acne include:
- processed foods
- dairy products
- refined sugars
Reducing your intake of these foods or adopting an anti-acne diet may help ease your breakouts. If reduction doesn’t seem to help your acne flare-ups, you can try an elimination diet to more clearly identify the cause.
Breakouts can be triggered by hormones, specifically androgen, which stimulates Trusted Source sebum production.
Genetics, diet, overuse of skin products, and environmental factors like pollution can also cause acne and other types of skin irritation.
Other common cause include:
- puberty, pregnancy, and the menstrual cycle
- squeezing or picking at existing pimples
- cleaning or rubbing your skin too harshly
- pressure from things like hats, helmets, and backpack straps
- high humidity
- cosmetics, like oil-based products
- some medications
Can you prevent acne scars?
Many people who deal with stubborn acne go on to experience acne scarring. Preventing acne scars comes down to preventing acne. You can lower your chances of scarring by:
- getting treatment for acne
- caring for your skin and not popping or picking at pimples (Popping and picking can increase inflammation, which can then worsen scars.)
- avoiding smoking and prolonged sun exposure, both of which affect how your skin heals
If you do notice some scarring, keep in mind that you do have options for treatment. Both OTC products and in-office treatments can minimize the appearance of acne scars.
Can you prevent cystic acne?
Cystic acne is caused by clogged pores that become swollen and inflamed. You can take steps to reduce your chances of developing cystic acne by:
- keeping your skin clean
- using the appropriate treatments for clogged pores
- washing your face regularly to prevent the buildup of bacteria and sebum
Still, you may not be able to prevent it entirely, since you can’t change some of the contributing genetic factors, like your age, family history of acne, and hormones.
Cystic acne is more difficult to treat at home, so if you suspect you have this type of acne, a good next step involves connecting with a dermatologist or other healthcare professional.
Most people get pimples now and then. Prevention efforts can help, but they aren’t guaranteed. Many factors can cause pimples, including hormones, stress, genetics, and diet. Some medications may even trigger breakouts.
That said, you do have plenty of options for treating and managing pimples. Just know that whatever pimple prevention plan you choose, patience and consistency are key to improvement. A dab of benzoyl peroxide may help shrink a single pimple overnight, but most treatments take several weeks to produce results.