If you deal with acne and frequent breakouts, surely you have tried everything under the sun to get clearer skin. Hopefully you’re getting results with your efforts, but if not, then you might be making these all-too-common mistakes. As an esthetician (learn more about me here) and someone who has been working hands-on with clients for 25+ years, I’ve noticed that there is a lack of education surrounding how the skin works and what is truly necessary for blemish-free skin. Read on for my expert advice.
Mistake #1: Sticking To An Acne-Focused Routine Well Into Adulthood
There comes a time in life (usually mid-20s) when breakouts decrease in frequency. However, many people continue to use a skin care routine focused on acne prevention. They carry the same regimen over from their teen years, thinking that if they stop using that routine, the blemishes will return. Sound familiar?
Most people outgrow their breakouts due to changes in hormones, but adults make the mistake of treating the entire face with harsh and drying products. What’s more, they use these products in places where acne is never present. If breakouts are only occasional and show up here and there, this is not the best plan for your skin. Instead, use a spot treatment once breakouts occur, or use a gentle salicylic acid serum regularly to keep pores clean and prevent breakouts without drying. The bottom line is that once breakouts become less common, you need to adapt your routine to what the skin needs right then—not what it needed a few years ago when your breakouts were more frequent.
If you’re in your mid to late 20s, I recommend that you start transitioning to more of a preventative, anti-aging focus for your skin. Search for lightweight anti-aging products formulated for your skin type since many companies make “anti-aging” products that are too rich and heavy. This can block the pores and cause more breakouts. I can assure you that anti-aging products do NOT have to be thick or rich to be effective; there are many potent youth-enhancing ingredients formulated in lightweight bases that deliver amazing results. A well-formulated antioxidant serum like Vitamin C&E Treatment is a great product to start using that protects the skin and prevents visible aging.
Mistake #2: Using Acne Spot Treatments Incorrectly
When a blemish appears, the goal is to get it to heal quickly— agree? Most people have a variety of zit-zapping spot treatments in their bathroom. They tend to apply these products generously the moment a blemish pops up, hoping to dry it out and eliminate it quickly.
This may come as a major surprise, but most spot treatments actually make the blemish last longer when used in this way. This type of regimen also leads to a prolonged recovery time due to scarring.
It is important to understand how the natural healing process for an infected blemish (known as a papule or pustule) works. The infection (that oozing yellow-ish whitehead that appears) wants to come up and out through the skin’s surface. This is how the skin wants to heal itself. However, when a harsh spot treatment is applied the moment a blemish appears, it immediately dries out the skin’s surface and creates dead, flaky cells. These cells keep the infection trapped, making it harder for it to come out. The longer that infection is trapped in the skin, the longer your blemish will be there. The longer the blemish is there, the more damaged the skin becomes, resulting in discoloration and scarring. Not good.
The best solution is to leave the blemish alone. Let it do its thing without applying a drying spot treatment. This will help to get rid of it faster—and getting rid of a blemish as fast as possible is the ultimate goal, right?
When the infection comes to the surface appearing as a whitehead, you can apply a warm, damp washcloth to it for 2 minutes to soften the skin and to make extraction easier. Next, wrap your fingers in tissue and gently squeeze the whitehead twice. If you have a sterile lancet, you can pierce the blemish to get it out more easily. If it doesn’t come out in one or two tries, it means it wasn’t ready. Squeezing before the blemish is “ripe” will only further injure the skin, resulting in redness and a dark scar. Take that as a lesson, and wait a little longer next time.
Once the whitehead is removed (along with a little clear liquid and blood), it can now actually be useful to dab on a drying zit-zapping product. During this phase, the ingredients permeate the pore lining. This quickly dries up any remaining bacteria, and closes the opening on the skin’s surface. Night Time Spot Lotion is a powerful acne spot treatment that I recommend to my clients.
After a few days once it’s healed and a scab is no longer present, you may be left with a dark, discolored mark. When this happens, Post-Breakout Fading Gel is a great product to make the scar disappear more quickly. Also, Daytime Blemish Gel is formulated to be used under makeup to prevent interference from liquid foundations and primers.
You can’t always prevent a blemish from appearing, but you CAN control what happens when it does. I encourage you to be patient and let the healing process run its course. Your skin will be clearer and less scarred. It’s always best to work with Mother Nature, and never go against her. And I also encourage you to check out my Zit Care Kit which contains all of the mentioned blemish spot treatment products as well as a step-by-step guide for how to use them to make a blemish go away FAST.
Note: Cysts are a unique type of blemish. These are hard, painful, infected bumps that appear deep within the dermis layer of the skin. When left alone, the body will eventually reabsorb the infection, as cysts aren’t meant to come out through the surface. This can be a lengthy process, taking up to 1-3 weeks.
Many people are tempted to pick at cysts. If you’re someone who gets these, they are uncomfortable and you can “feel something under there”. I can assure you that picking at a cyst is not effective. It will only result in discoloration that can linger for months. If you attempt to use a traditional spot drying treatment, this won’t do anything other than dry out the surface of the skin… which is NOT where the infection is.
A go-to option for reducing cystic breakouts has often been to get a cortisone injection performed at the doctors’ office. This is not only expensive, but it can also have negative side effects such as injection atrophy. This is where the skin appears indented once the cyst goes away. Twenty years ago, I developed Anti Cyst Treatment. This is a groundbreaking problem skin treatment exclusively formulated to quickly relieve types of blemishes. When applied directly on the cyst, it can eliminate cysts more rapidly – without a trip to the doctor’s office. This product has been a life saver for thousands of users, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
If you get monthly hormonal breakouts, you’ll definitely want to read this.
Mistake #3: Skipping Sunscreen
People who get acne are often so focused on dealing with their blemishes that they overlook one surprising blemish product — sunscreen! Those with acne-prone skin types will generally shy away from sunscreen because traditionally, formulas feel too heavy on the skin. Some formulas can actually worsen breakouts. But did you know that NOT using SPF daily can make the post-breakout red and dark scars linger for even longer?
The biggest problem with those who have acne is not the actual blemish (since most breakouts will heal up in 4-7 days). It’s the discoloration left behind from the skin’s injury. Acne scars are the result of inflammation within the dermis layer of the skin. Inflammation triggers pigment cells, resulting in red or purple discoloration. The severity of the scarring depends on how much you picked at the blemish. This can linger for 1-2 months.
Pigment cells stay active whenever your skin is exposed to UV daylight (in spring, summer, fall and winter). This means a blemish scar takes longer to fade. Sunscreen keeps pigment cells calm, so the fading process for blemish scars begins more quickly. Wearing a lightweight, non-pore clogging sunscreen like Daily Protection SPF 30 will protect the damaged cells and give them time to properly heal, recover and fade. Your skin can get even-toned much faster. And of course, sunscreen also offers amazing anti-wrinkle benefits.
Mistake #4: Over-Exfoliating
Brushes like Clarisonic, or all rotating brushes for that matter, are marketed as cleansing brushes. Consumers are led to believe that the skin isn’t really clean if we aren’t scrubbing. What most people don’t understand is that these are exfoliating tools rather than just cleansing tools. The oscillating bristles are designed to remove dead skin.
Exfoliating the skin is very effective for preventing blocked pores, but using a brush twice daily (which is recommended by most manufacturers) is equivalent to using a facial scrub twice daily. Most people know better than to manually scrub their skin twice a day, but with the Clarisonic, they defer to its marketing materials.
Acne is an inflammatory disease of the skin. If you’re scrubbing too much, you’re actually creating more inflammation. This is especially true for people who really grind those brushes down hard on their skin. Ouch! Over-exfoliating will damage your skin’s natural moisture barrier, leaving it unbalanced. When people add other exfoliating products in their routine (acid serums and acid peels), in addition to the brush, it really stresses out the skin and adds to the inflammation.
I have two posts that you really should read to learn more about exfoliation.
Many people find their breakouts, redness and dryness diminish once they cut back on using the brush. If you’d really prefer to use a brush rather than a facial scrub, I recommend using it 3 days per week. If you want to up your exfoliation game in in a safer and gentler way to clear breakouts, start using an acid serum with salicylic acid a few nights a week. The benefit is that the antibacterial ingredients enter the pore lining and help clear out breakout activity. (Read my Clarisonic review for more of my thoughts.)
Mistake #5: Not Using Moisturizer
FACT: People with acne-prone skin are paranoid about using moisturizer. They worry that it will clog their pores and not let the skin “breathe”. There are a few problems with this type of thinking. First, wearing moisturizer does not directly cause breakouts. Acne occurs when the cells that line the inner pores fail to fall off properly and the pore becomes clogged. This process happens whether you moisturize or not.
Second, respiration doesn’t happen in the skin. The concept of your skin breathing is false.
Those with oily, blemish-prone skin must use moisturizer no matter what. Your skin needs sufficient water to keep it healthy and balanced. Skipping moisturizer disrupts the skin’s proper water levels, and this dehydration process stimulates more oil production. This potentially causes more breakouts, as it encourages the formation of bacteria and the build up of dead cells within the pores.
So there you have it— my expert advice on what NOT to do. But hopefully this clarifies what WILL help you in your quest to get clearer, less-blemished skin.
If you are still confused about what skin type is, don’t worry. I can help. I believe there are nine different types of skin, and an example of a routine that addresses both occasional breakouts AND preventative aging is skin type #2. But take my Skin Type Quiz to find out your unique skin type.
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Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”