We’ve been cruel, harsh and sometimes punishing in our quest for clear skin. But dermatologists are now encouraging kindness. We asked four of the top doctors how to achieve clarity once and for all.
1. DO: Use a Cleansing Brush
A cleansing device “takes off more dirt, bacteria and makeup from your skin,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. Cleansing brushes also exfoliate the skin’s surface, leaving it looking and feeling softer and smoother. Just be sure to use a device that’s designed for acne. Some bristles can be too rough, causing redness and sensitivity.
2. DON’T: Use Just Any Face Wash
Despite the common urge to blast away zits, Dr. Jaliman suggests a mild cleanser specifically designed for acne-prone skin. It seems counterintuitive, but any cleanser that strips the skin of its natural oils can kick up oil production, which often results in, yes, more breakouts. In other words, it’s the boomerang effect right there on your chin.
3. DO: Use a Toner (But Not Any Toner)
Skin-stripping high-alcohol toners are a bad idea for most people, especially those susceptible to acne. Instead, Dr. Jaliman suggests a toner with glycolic acid or salicylic acid morning and evening after cleansing to prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores. The right toner can also balance the skin’s natural pH level, soothe and calm skin, while reducing redness. Ahhh.
4. DON’T: Pick, Poke or Pop
Perhaps you’ve seen the unavoidable, stomach-turning videos that glorify zit popping. Watch them if you must, but don’t follow their lead. Instead, channel that energy into applying a spot treatment. This will dry out the affected area and keep inflammation down. You can also reach for acne-clearing masks, peels and even skin care devices to help banish redness and restore your clear skin.
5. DO: Say Hello to Retinoids
A topical retinoid can prevent clogged pores and help acne treatments work better and faster, says Dr. Jeremy Brauer, Director of Clinical Research at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. These products can be harsh, though, so start by applying only a pea-size amount to your face and do it just once every three days. As your skin adjusts, you can increase to a nightly application and revel in the knowledge that your face is now “after” picture material.
6. DON’T: Skip Sunscreen
The idea that sun exposure can burn away breakouts is a long debunked myth. In fact, “sun, heat and humidity can cause oil glands to become overactive, which can lead to acne breakouts,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, board-certified dermatologic surgeon and associate at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. To prevent breakouts, choose an oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreen and apply it liberally.
7. DO: Play with Clay
Clay is an excellent ally for oily, acne-prone skin. It draws out impurities and absorbs oil, yet doesn’t leave skin dry, stripped or irritated. Dr. Jaliman suggests a once-a-week clay mask. If your skin is inflamed, look for a clay mask that also boasts clarifying enzymes and/or sulfur to treat breakouts and soothe redness.
8. DO: Feed Your Face
There’ve been so many mixed messages about food—don’t eat pizza, grease begets grease, chocolate is the enemy—that it’s tempting to ignore it all. Recent research to the rescue! Experts have found that sugar, high-glycemic foods—white rice, white bread, pasta, potatoes—and skim milk can exacerbate breakouts. Dr. Jaliman recommends a diet rich in antioxidants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, green and black tea and fish. If it’s difficult to get those antioxidants from food, supplements are a wise alternative.
9. DO: Consider LED Light
If topical acne treatments aren’t working fast enough, consider an LED (light emitting diode) device. “LED therapy is a form of low-level light energy that penetrates the skin to cause different reactions and target different issues,” explains Dr. Robin Evans, board-certified dermatologist at Southern Connecticut Dermatology. “This can repair tissue and promote wound healing. The energy can also target bacteria, inflammation and stimulate collagen,” she adds.
10. DO: Clean Your Phone
The bacteria on your cell phone could make you break out, which may explain the zits on your cheek. “Don’t rest your phone against your face, use earbuds instead!” says Dr. Jaliman. We used to treat our phones gingerly; now we know we can clean them with a disinfecting wipe or cotton pad dampened with rubbing alcohol.
11. DO: Go to Sleep
It’s called beauty sleep for a reason. When you sleep, the skin repairs itself, producing collagen and healing wounds. And if you’re sleep-deprived, not only do you end up with under-eye circles and bags, you’re also more likely to experience increases in acne, fine lines, dehydration and irritation. Whew! Adults need seven hours of restful sleep a night, minimum. So, an hour or two before your new, early bedtime, put away the electronics and get into a nice warm tub or shower. The rise and subsequent fall of your body temperature will make you sleepy and improve the quality of your sleep throughout the night.