I’ve been struggling with acne for as long as I can remember. After trying out all the three-step acne systems, the prescription creams, antibiotics, spironolactone, birth control, and more, my acne journey has been a long, winding road — and I can bet it’s been the same for you, too.
Doctors are still learning so much about acne, its causes, and its treatments, but there are many practices, products, and ingredients dermatologists know are either harming or helping your blemished skin. Below, we asked two skin experts for the biggest acne routine mistakes you should be avoiding, and what tips they might have for clear skin, instead.
Acne Routine Mistakes to Avoid
Using too-strong products.
When it comes to product selection to treat your acne, you want to make sure you aren’t seriously damaging your skin barrier or exfoliating too aggressively in the process. “People with acne should focus on chemical exfoliants, not physical ones, but the chemical ones should not be used too often,” explains Danielle Gamble, an esthetician at The Spa at 5th Avenue Aesthetics. “People often want to ‘dry out’ their acne, but that isn’t always appropriate. Start slow and gentle and you can build from there.” The Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment is an ideal product for those with acne, as it contains a gentle exfoliator called lactic acid to lightly lift the surface of the skin, revealing smooth, brighter, and clearer skin over time.
Thinking that the sun is good for your acne.
According to Diane Madfes, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and Assistant Professor of Dermatology Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, this is simply not true. “The sun will tan the skin to mask the acne,” explains Madfes. “The sun also inhibits collagen production, resulting in a prolonged healing and fading process.” Although low-level UV exposure can decrease inflammation associated with acne, the long-term risk of skin cancer and wrinkles is not worth it.
If you do want to try and cover up your acne, you can either apply a tinted moisturizer with SPF or mix in a bit of foundation with sunscreen. The Sunday Riley Light Hearted Broad Spectrum SPF 30 is ideal for those with acne, as it’s lightweight, contains antioxidant turmeric (a known anti-inflammatory), and blue-light-blocking xanthophyll. It’s a breathable, weightless, and transparent sunscreen that sinks into the skin without leaving a white, chalky residue or an oily finish. As both a physical and chemical sunscreen, this 99.99% oil-free formulation is perfect for all skin types and tones.
Using products that fixed your friends’ acne or listening to a blogger.
“People are often listening to the internet for skincare tips — this is especially true for acne clients,” explains Gamble. “There are different types of acne and needs to be treated differently, so it’s always best to speak to a professional.”
Trying to pick out your blackheads at home.
Many of Madfes’ patients believe that they can pick out their blackheads themselves, but this isn’t true since most blackheads are under the skin and what we see is only a small portion. “Exfoliating scrubs or acid pads loosen the blackheads and helps with exfoliation and controlling acne,” explains Madfes. “Warm the skin with a washcloth or steam first.”
The Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask is a great blackhead-fighting product that uses 10% sulfur to help clear up blemishes, dry out excess, pore-clogging sebum, and remove dead skin cells, too.
Using products that are too rich or oily because your skin feels dry.
“In that case, the client should be using water-based moisturizers or serums,” explains Gamble. “Something that attracts or adds water, not oil.” We recommend trying the Sunday Riley C.E.O. Afterglow Brightening Vitamin C Gel Cream, which is a lightweight, oil-free gel-cream to help lightly moisturize dry skin, or the U.F.O Ultra-Clarifying Acne Treatment Facial Oil, which is a very lightweight, fast-acting, quick-drying formula that contains 1.5% salicylic acid to target blemishes while hydrating the skin.
Overwashing your face.
“Our skin increases oil production when the top layer becomes too dry, and over-washing actually stimulates increased production of sebum,” explains Madfes. “A thin layer of an antioxidant serum or light moisturizer over an acne medicine will slow oil production.” We love the C.E.O. 15% Vitamin C Brightening Serum because it’s a hydrating antioxidant formula that diminishes the appearance of pores and reinforces the skin’s moisture barrier for a skin-smoothing glow.
Trying everything for your acne at home and feeling like you want to give up.
According to Madfes, there are different causes of acne, including genetics, hormones, product sensitivity, and external factors, too. “It only makes sense that combinations of medications and topicals are needed for stubborn acne, but don’t overdo it,” she says. “When starting a new product, give it a week before adding the next. If over-the-counter products, like benzoyl peroxide wash, retinol, or zinc are not helping, please make an appointment with a dermatologist for help. Treating acne with prescription medications, chemical peels, lasers, and diet modifications can prevent long-term scarring as well as improve the older acne marks.”
Acne routine steps you should do
- Change your pillowcases often. Gamble recommends changing your pillowcases two times a week if you can— this will help avoid bacteria from transferring onto your face at night
- Apply acne medications thoroughly. Since oil production collects at the base of hair follicles, Madfes suggests applying acne medications all the way to your hairline.
- Get facials regularly, as routine extractions will help clear up your acne dramatically.
- “Decrease dairy and processed foods, as studies have shown increased insulin resistance and correlation with acne activity,” explains Madfes. “Eat foods with a low glycemic index instead.”
- Find a way to destress for at least 10 minutes a day. “Stress increases cortisol levels, resulting in increased androgen levels and sebaceous gland production.”
- Make sure you’re removing all of your makeup before heading to bed. “Never ever go to sleep without washing your face,” explains Madfes. “If you are too tired, keep cleansing wipes next to your bed for those late nights.”