How to Prevent Acne Using Acne Facials

Jeff Hautala
By Jeff Hautala, Co-Founder of Exposed Skincare

Learning how to prevent acne is actually far more important than figuring out how to treat it, and acne facials are one of the best ways to keep your skin fresh, healthy, and acne-free. But facials are more than a day at an expensive spa or a two dollar drugstore face mask. Facials designed specifically for acne cover the full range of prices, from affordable to indulgent, but they use different methods and ingredients than normal facials. Acne is caused by several important factors, so in order for a facial to prevent acne, it needs to target these factors and reduce their influence on the skin. Everyday facials typically don’t accomplish this task, so what makes a facial good for acne?

Picture of woman relaxing with cucumber on her eyes.
Acne facials range from practical to luxurious, and they come in all colors, shapes, and prices.

How to Prevent Acne

First, let’s take a look at how to reduce acne in general. Many people think of acne as just an oil problem, or just a bacteria problem, but in reality, acne is primarily an inflammation problem.

Acne is considered an inflammatory condition, meaning that all acne starts when the skin is inflamed. This can happen for a number of reasons, from irritation to illness, but inflammation causes the pores to constrict and trap oil and bacteria inside. Excess oil can contribute to acne, and so can p. acnes, the specific type of bacteria related to acne, but without inflammation, these factors pose much less of a threat to the skin. Because of this, some of the best preventative measures for acne are based on reducing inflammation.

Still, reducing oil and p. acnes bacteria can also help prevent acne, so there are acne facials designed for that purpose as well. Our skin needs a thin layer or oil to help protect it from irritation because it can cause inflammation, but sometimes it produces too much oil. This excess oil can clog pores, but it can also contribute to p. acnes growth.

When it comes to p. acnes, the best we can do is keep their reproduction at a minimum. P. acnes are a natural part of the bacterial flora on our skin, so if they don’t get caught in the pores via inflammation, they actually pose no threat to our skin at all. Still, their primary food source is the oil we produce, so if you have oily skin, there could be quite a lot of p. acnes on the surface of your skin. Acne facials can specialize in killing p. acnes bacteria, but usually that task is left to daily acne treatment.

The Best Chemical Peel for Acne

When you think acne facial, your first thought might be a chemical peel for acne. That’s definitely not the only kind of facial you can get for acne, but because it’s the stereotypical idea of a facial, we’ll start there.

A chemical peel is a procedure that involves applying strong chemicals to your skin in order to peel away the outer layer of skin to reveal a new, fresh layer. There are three main types: the mild peel, the medium peel, and the deep peel. Medium and deep peels are generally not preferred for acne treatment. They’re very expensive, ranging anywhere from $250 to $1500, and they require long recovery times. The best chemical peel for acne is definitely the mild peel.

The mild chemical peel (sometimes called a superficial peel) is the least expensive, coming in somewhere between $75 and $200, and it’s the only type of peel that can be performed by an aesthetician rather than a doctor or nurse, although they can perform mild peels as well. The chemicals used in mild peels are called alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), which include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid, to name a few. Do any of those sound familiar? They should, because they are key ingredients in many acne skin care products. AHAs are designed to encourage skin cell turnover, so they’re great for peeling away the top layer of the skin and removing excess oil that might clog pores and cause acne. Unfortunately, mild chemical peels need to be repeated relatively often to keep up the good results—some peels require an appointment every two weeks, while others allow for four to six weeks between appointments.

Microdermabrasion for Acne

Like a chemical peel, the goal of microdermabrasion for acne is to remove the top layer of skin in order to encourage new skin cell growth and get rid of the oil and dead skin cells that often clog pores and cause acne. However, unlike chemical peels, microdermabrasion is best used for mild acne or acne scars, and is generally not recommended for pimples or cystic acne.

Woman in chair receiving dermabrasion procedure.
Microdermabrasion is a facial procedure best used to help reduce and prevent blackheads and whiteheads.

This is due to the nature of the procedure. Microdermabrasion is essentially a procedure where you sand down your skin. A special device with an abrasive surface is applied to the skin so that it can gently remove excess oil and dead skin cells on the outer layer of the skin. This is a great way to help reduce blackheads and whiteheads, but if this were applied to pimples or cysts, it might force them to pop, which would be painful and would only cause more issues with acne.

Microdermabrasion can be performed by an aesthetician, doctor, or nurse for anywhere from $75 to $200 per session, but to maintain the results of the procedure, you have to keep going back for more. To help with this issue, there are also microdermabrasion kits you can use at home. Generally speaking, at-home devices rarely work as well as in-office procedures, but if you’re on a budget and want to give it a try, there are at-home devices that cost anywhere from $15 to $150.

The biggest benefit of microdermabrasion for acne is that it can help reduce the scarring acne often leaves behind. Again, it works best on mild scars like dark spots, slight indents, or slightly raised scars rather than large keloids or deep box scars, but it’s still progress. The abrasive tool encourages the scar tissue cells to fall away and generate new, healthy skin cells in their place, which can help reduce scarring.

Bentonite Clay Acne Mask for Oily Skin

If oil is your number one acne nemesis, then the bentonite clay acne mask is the best at-home acne facial for you.

Bentonite clay is a type of clay that forms from volcanic ash, and is exceptionally absorbent when it comes to oil. In fact, many studies that research how oil affects acne use bentonite clay to measure oil production. The clay absorbs the oil as it’s produced, and after a predetermined amount of time, researchers remove the clay and measure how many millimeters of oil are present. This is common practice in many acne studies to get a baseline for how much oil each participant produces, so we know it is reliable when it comes to absorbing oil. That’s why it makes such a great acne facial for oily skin.

As we said in the beginning, inflammation is more of a problem when it comes to acne than anything else, but excess oil production can clog pores and feed p. acnes bacteria, leading to more blackheads, more whiteheads, and more pimples. If you have particularly oily skin, once or twice a week you may want to apply a bentonite clay acne mask. If you enjoy skin care and have the time to make your own mask, this is the more affordable option. Simply buy bentonite clay powder (usually around $7-10) and mix it with water. If you’re feeling creative, check out our article on natural remedies for acne and combine the bentonite clay with other healing mask ingredients like honey, green tea, or tea tree oil. If skin care isn’t your thing and you just want a pre-made mask you can apply in a hurry, those are available too from a variety of brands and drugstores, though the prices are typically higher ($15-45).

Charcoal Mask for Acne

In some ways, the charcoal mask for acne is very similar to a bentonite clay mask for acne, except charcoal is better at removing all kinds of impurities, while bentonite clay is better at absorbing oil specifically. If you have blackheads, a charcoal mask is one of the best at-home acne facials for you.

Although charcoal has been used in medicine for centuries, not just any charcoal will do. To help remove the oil and dead skin cells that cause blackheads, you’ll need “activated charcoal.” This is regular charcoal that has been heated with steam or with chemicals that help increase the surface area of the charcoal by creating “pores,” small holes that can absorb things, just like our skin. When activated charcoal is applied to skin with blackheads, the charcoal removes the oil and dead skin cells clogging our pores, and they are transferred to the charcoal’s pores instead.

Like bentonite clay, you can buy activated charcoal powder and mix it into a face mask on your own for around $5-$15, but if you’d rather buy a pre-made version, there are countless charcoal masks available online or at any drugstore with prices ranging from $5 to $35. At Exposed Skin Care, we actually make our own Clarifying Mask that contains active charcoal along with other great skin care ingredients like bentonite and sulfur. All of these ingredients help absorb oil or remove oil, so if you have dry skin, it may not be the best option for you, but if you have combination skin or oily skin, our Clarifying Mask contains all the right ingredients to help remove blackheads and prevent them from forming in the future.

Bottle of Exposed facial mask
Our own Clarifying Mask is the perfect charcoal treatment for acne if you’re looking for a ready-made solution with all the right ingredients to get rid of blackheads while taking good care of your skin.

Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub

At only $7, the Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub is one of the most popular charcoal skin care options out there, but we actually strongly advise avoiding this particular product. It contains ingredients that will likely cause more acne in the long-run, not less.

The problem with the Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub is that it contains too many ingredients that will irritate and likely inflame the skin. Like we said at the beginning, reducing and avoiding inflammation is the number one goal in acne skin care, and this is especially important when using a drying ingredient like charcoal. The Acne Scrub contains good skin care ingredients like water, glycerin, charcoal, and salicylic acid, but it also contains ingredients like laureth-4 and sodium laureth sulfate. These ingredients clog pores and irritate the skin, so they’re important to avoid when it comes to treating and preventing acne long-term. The Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub might be able to get rid of blackheads quickly, but within a week or two, they’ll be back in full force because the skin will be so inflamed.

Instead, try some of the other Bioré charcoal products that don’t include sodium laureth sulfate and laureth-4, like their Charcoal Cleansing Micellar Water or their Charcoal Whipped Purifying Detox Mask.

Be Very Selective When Choosing a Face Scrub for Acne

Many people believe that a face scrub for acne is the ideal acne facial because it helps exfoliate the skin, sort of like the chemical peel or microdermabrasion procedures. However, this is only the case for the right kind of face scrubs.

Many face scrubs contain all kinds of irritating ingredients that might clear up a few blackheads very quickly, but will likely bring plenty more in the near future. We saw this problem in the section above, concerning the Bioré Charcoal Acne Scrub, but it is definitely not the only scrub out there with this problem. In fact, most drugstore scrubs contain sodium laureth sulfate or its close relative sodium lauryl sulfate because they are both foaming agents that give scrubs a nice lathery feel. Even though this feels nice in the moment, it can cause all kinds of irritation for acne-prone skin, so these ingredients should be avoided if possible.

To find the best face scrub for acne, you need to take a close look at the ingredient list and know what to look for. If you don’t have sensitive skin, you can probably withstand a fragrance and a few dyes, but if your skin is sensitive, fragrance or dyes should be an automatic no-go. You’ll also want to avoid those beads made of polyethylene or other plastics, partially because they’re terrible for the environment, but also because they are very likely to irritate your skin.

So if you avoid all these things, how are you supposed to actually exfoliate your skin? Remember when we talked about alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) in the section on chemical peels? They are great exfoliators, and used in the right concentration, they won’t irritate your skin the way those other ingredients will. The best face scrub doesn’t scrub with rough ingredients, it scrubs with gentle acids.

Are Acne Peel Off Masks Just At-Home Chemical Peels?

Girl removing acne peel off mask
Acne peel off masks are a fun facial option to try at home, but it’s important to do the research to find one that’s gentle enough for your skin.

Acne peel off masks are actually very different from real chemical peels and function using some different principles. Both use chemicals to help exfoliate the top layer of the skin, but they do so to very different degrees, and much of the exfoliating power of peel off masks comes from the painful process of ripping it off at the end.

Chemical peels are gently washed away after the treatment is complete, but many acne peel off masks are quite the opposite. Basically, the masks glue themselves to your top layer of skin cells which forces you to rip them away in order to get the mask off. This “exfoliation” is terrible for acne because it’s very irritating, but also because it takes away that protective layer of oil our skin needs. Too much oil is a bad thing for acne, but so is no oil at all. This leaves our skin vulnerable to all kinds of irritation, which can lead to more inflammation, which results in more acne, not less.

So if you’re going to try an acne peel off mask, make sure you get the right one. Check reviews and make sure there aren’t any YouTube videos displaying how painful it is to remove (this has happened with several masks and is actually a very good way to find out which masks to avoid). You also want to be sure to only apply the mask to the oiliest parts of your skin. If you have combination skin, for example, you’ll want to keep the mask limited to the oily areas, like the forehead and nose. If you have sensitive skin, we recommend staying far away from acne peel off masks in general, since they’re very likely to cause far more issues than they solve.

The Truth About Acne Drying Lotion

Like face scrubs or peel off masks, acne drying lotion is not all it seems. It might sound like the ideal acne treatment, especially for oily skin, and it can come in handy, but it’s been seriously overhyped.

Acne drying lotion is such a well-known treatment, that we usually just accept that we should be using it without questioning how it works, but when it comes to skin care, it’s vital to know how your products work to make sure you’re getting the best results. Most drying lotions work through astringent properties. Something is astringent when it pulls moisture out of something else; in this case, astringent drying lotions pull the moisture out of our skin cells. This has several effects, some good and some bad.

The good news is that drying out our skin cells pulls them closer together so our pores are smaller and less noticeable. It’s also helpful for reducing pimples because it can remove some of the pus from the p. acnes infection residing in the pimple. However, as you might suspect, acne drying lotions can sometimes pull too much moisture, especially when they’re overused. This leads to dry skin that’s missing the protective layer of oil that it needs, leaving it exposed to irritation and far more likely to become inflamed.

We recommend using acne drying lotions sparingly, as a spot treatment that only gets applied once or twice a week. Drying lotions are a lot like peel off masks and face scrubs when it comes to price; all three types of acne facial products can be found selling for anywhere from $5 to upwards of $50. Basically, you can make any of these products work on any budget, just be careful how you use them.

Can You Really Make a Facial Out of Aspirin for Acne

When making homemade facials, some people like to include crushed up aspirin for acne, but we have to advise against this method. Although aspirin might be able to help the skin, the costs outweigh the benefits.

Aspirin can be used to reduce inflammation, which is what makes it so ideal for acne. Typically, aspirin is taken orally, which distributes the anti-inflammatory benefits throughout the whole body. This is necessary when trying to reduce a fever, but it won’t have as strong of an effect compared to applying the aspirin directly to the skin. Including aspirin in your acne facial means that those anti-inflammatory products are concentrated entirely on your skin, making it far more potent and useful.

Aspirin and advil bottles and tablets on a table.
Aspirin shouldn’t be crushed up and applied on the skin, but you might be able to dissolve it.

The trouble is, crushed up aspirin is definitely going to irritate your skin in a big way and you’ll likely end up causing a lot of inflammation. Best case scenario: the aspirin cancels out the inflammation it causes and nothing changes. But more often than not, the inflammation caused by the aspirin outweighs its benefits and more acne can result. If you’re determined to try aspirin for your acne, you can always buy some dispersible aspirin tablets.

Dispersible aspirin is aspirin designed to dissolve. Instead of crushing up aspirin and irritating your skin with the points and edges of each piece, dissolve a dispersible aspirin tablet in a small amount of warm water. From there, you have all kinds of options. You can dip a cotton ball in the mixture and run it over your skin several times, you can pour the mixture into an ice cub mold and press the ice to particularly inflamed pimples, or you can combine the mixture into a homemade acne facial involving other ingredients like honey, lemon juice, or aloe vera.