The two key components to acne skin care are acne prevention and acne removal. Generally, dermatologists recommend focusing more on prevention than removal, since successfully preventing acne reduces the need for acne removal. However, it’s always best to have quality products from both camps. That’s why we’ve created this guide to the best tips and tricks for both acne prevention and acne removal. Before we launch into which products are best, we want to start with a basic explanation of what your skin really needs to be acne-free and why your current skin care routine may not be meeting those needs. Then we’ll discuss all kinds of acne prevention and acne removal tools, from salicylic acid acne solutions to benzoyl peroxide for acne, even a possible acne vaccine.
Acne Solutions: What is Good for Acne?
Lots of things can be good for acne, but generally, there are three steps to taking great care of your skin and finding the best acne solutions: be consistent, be gentle, and be smart.
First, be consistent and patient. Find a good skin care routine and stick with it every morning and night for at least six weeks. Few acne solutions provide immediate results, and jumping around from product to product is likely to result in more acne and more frustration. Similarly, using a skin care routine sporadically or missing multiple applications a week won’t give you the clear skin you want.
Second, be gentle with your skin. Our skin is very sensitive to irritation, and this irritation is one of the main causes of acne. Many skin care products are far too harsh in an effort to remove all signs of acne. This harshness is counterproductive because it irritates the skin, which then tries to protect itself in ways that actually cause more acne. When our skin is irritated, it becomes inflamed and produces a burst of extra oil, both of which are major contributing factors of acne. Because of this, it’s best to use gentle products. You might not see results as quickly as you might with some of the harsher products, but your results will be more long-lasting. Many harsh products work really well in the first few weeks, then acne quickly returns due to irritated skin, inflammation, and excess oil.
Third and finally, be smart about your skin care. There are a lot of internet fads out there. They aren’t all nonsense, but many of them are, and what’s worse, many of them are actually unsafe. Before trying any new skin care routine, make sure you do your research, and before applying a new product to your face, make sure you test a small area on your arm to see if you have any kind of negative reaction.
How to Stop Acne
The first step in improving your acne skin care routine is learning how to stop acne, and the best way to accomplish that is to cut off its three main causes: inflammation, excess oil, and acne-causing bacteria.
Acne can result due to inflammation because it causes the pores to constrict slightly, trapping oil, dead skin cells, and sometimes bacteria. This is how blackheads and whiteheads, and potentially pimples if there’s bacteria, form. Certain bacteria, called p. acnes, can also cause acne when they get trapped in a pore and start to multiply very quickly, creating a minor infection which results in a pimple. Finally, excess oil is the most widely known cause of acne and it can also cause blackheads and whiteheads and contribute to pimples. Our skin needs a thin layer of oil to protect itself from irritation, but when too much oil builds up due to hormones, irritation, or just an oily skin type, the excess can get trapped in the pores, causing blackheads and whiteheads. Because acne-causing bacteria feed on oil, excess oil also contributes to the formation of pimples.
Based on what we know about what causes acne, the best answers for how to stop acne revolve around gently exfoliating your skin and killing bacteria. Exfoliation removes excess oil and dead skin cells, but it can be a harsh process, sometimes removing too much oil and leaving our skin exposed to all kinds of irritants which can in turn cause more acne. Gentle exfoliants are out there, you just need to know how to sort through all the options. A simple rule of thumb is that if it stings or burns, it is too strong and is stripping your skin of the thin layer it needs, and it may even be damaging the skin.
Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
Salicylic acid acne treatment is a great example of a potentially gentle exfoliation process. We say potentially because acne products that contain anywhere between 0.5% and 2% salicylic acid gently exfoliate the skin, but amounts over 2% tend to irritate the skin and remove the thin layer of oil that our skin needs. But how exactly does salicylic acid acne treatment work?
Salicylic acid acne treatment is almost always used in conjunction with other acne treatments because it primarily takes care of excess oil and dead skin cells, but it has no effect on acne-causing bacteria and it can’t help decrease inflammation. Because it’s an acid, it might sound exactly like the type of overly harsh acne treatment that causes more acne than it prevents, but acids, when used correctly, are actually great skin care treatments. This is because our skin is naturally slightly acidic, so gentle acids, like low percentages of salicylic acid, work with our skin instead of against it. All acids work slightly differently though. Salicylic acid acne treatment works by slowing down how quickly our skin sheds skin cells in our pores, which helps prevent clogs, and removing those extra dead skin cells, which exfoliates the skin.
Using salicylic acid for acne every day helps prevent the buildup of excess oil and dead skin cells, which can cause a huge decrease in blackheads and whiteheads and some improvement in pimples as well. The best salicylic acid acne treatment on the market right now is our Facial Cleanser here at Exposed Skin Care. Using 0.5% salicylic acid along with other scientific and natural acne-fighting ingredients like sage extract and citric acid, this Facial Cleanser keeps your skin exfoliated without causing irritation.
Glycolic Acid Acne Treatment
Because acid is actually good for our skin (in moderation), you can always explore other acids beyond salicylic acid, like glycolic acid acne treatment. Glycolic acid for acne is different from salicylic acid for acne, but it’s another gentle exfoliant that can help reduce blackheads and whiteheads.
Like salicylic acid, glycolic acid acne treatment exfoliates the skin without causing irritation, when used at concentrations below 10%. However, glycolic acid functions in a slightly different way. Instead of slowing down the sloughing of dead skin cells, glycolic acid speeds up the creation of new healthy cells. The idea is to remove as many dead skin cells as possible to make way for fresh, new, healthy cells. These healthy cells make pores less prone to clogging and give skin a brighter, more even skin tone. Glycolic acid is one answer for how to stop acne, but it can also help reverse dark spots caused by past acne.
When acne forms, the skin gets inflamed, which sends increased amounts of melanin to the site of the acne, giving it a dark, hyperpigmented color for several days, weeks, or sometimes months. Glycolic acid increases skin cell turnover, which gets rid of old hyperpigmented skin cells and makes way for new, normally pigmented cells. Unlike some other products that reduce hyperpigmentation, glycolic acid is safe for dark skin when applied correctly because it doesn’t bleach out any color, it simply restores the color to normal.
The Clearing Tonic available here at Exposed is our favorite skin care product containing glycolic acid, and it includes a bunch of other great acne-fighting ingredients, both natural and scientific, like green tea extract, salicylic acid, and aloe vera.
How to Improve Your Skin Care Routine Using Hyaluronic Acid for Acne
Hyaluronic acid for acne is one of the lesser known skin care ingredients in this post because the jury is still out on its effectiveness. It might be able to help prevent acne formation by keeping the skin moisturized and resistant to irritation and inflammation, but research confirming this is limited.
People typically take hyaluronic acid in pill form to help with osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, and other joint and bone disorders, but because it’s a humectant in cream form, some people claim it can help with acne. Humectants are substances that help retain moisture, so they can be ideal ingredients for skin care. The more moisture our skin retains, the more resilient it is against irritation and the less prone it is to inflammation, which is a key aspect of acne prevention. If you’re wondering how to stop acne from forming, moisturizer probably wasn’t on your shortlist of possible answers, but it turns out that moisturizing your skin is one of the best ways to keep it acne-free.
When our skin gets dried out, it’s prone to irritation which can cause inflammation and increased oil production, leading to the formation of all kinds of acne. Many people with oily skin worry about using a moisturizer though because they don’t want to add to the oil, but all you need to do is find a water-based moisturizer. Hyaluronic acid is a great ingredient to look for in a moisturizer because it traps moisture in your skin, allowing the moisturizer to work all day long. One moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid we recommend for preventing acne is the L’Oreal Paris Hydra Genius Daily Liquid Care moisturizer. It contains citric acid, glycerin, aloe vera, and other acne-fighting ingredients along with the hyaluronic acid, to help your skin resist acne-causing irritation.
Will There Ever Be an Acne Vaccine?
Vaccines are marvels of medical progress that have nearly eradicated many illnesses that used to kill thousands of people—but could there ever be an acne vaccine? It might sound far-fetched, but some dermatologists are hopeful.
All other vaccines target bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens that invade the body from outside, but a potential acne vaccine would be the first to target a pathogen that isn’t an invader. P. acnes bacteria are part of our natural biome of bacteria that always live in or on our body. P. acnes don’t always cause acne though, it’s only when their numbers grow significantly due to excess oil production, or when they get trapped in a pore due to increased inflammation, that p. acnes generate an infection that causes pimples.
The potential acne vaccine would allow p. acnes to grow in number or get trapped in pores without causing pimples by targeting a specific aspect of p. acnes: a toxin called the Christie–Atkins–Munch-Peterson (CAMP) factor. The CAMP factor is a protein that p. acnes excrete when they start to grow into a full infection. It helps p. acnes spread by breaking down skin cells, allowing p. acnes to move beyond just one pore and into the surrounding pores, creating large pimples or even cysts. Damaging and destroying skin cells allows p. acnes to spread, but it also increases inflammation as the immune system struggles to beat the infection and repair the skin cells at the same time. This increased inflammation is why pimples and cysts tend to be so painful as well.
Some preliminary studies have already been conducted on mice to see if a vaccine could be developed to eliminate the effects of the CAMP factor, and researchers are hopeful, but for now, no acne vaccine exists.
How to Remove Acne
So far we’ve discussed a variety of ways to prevent acne from forming, but it’s also vital to know how to remove acne. Even the best preventative measures can’t eradicate acne completely, so it’s helpful to know what to do when blackheads, whiteheads, or pimples pop up.
Acne removal is most commonly mentioned when discussing ways to get rid of blackheads, but you can “remove” or get rid of pimples as well. Even though there are ways to remove various forms of acne, we recommend staying far, far away from any products or remedies that promise to “cure” your acne or remove acne in minutes/hours/one day. Acne is a skin condition caused by many different factors and it can’t be cured. Acne is simply managed, with prevention and removal. It also can’t be removed immediately. It can be made less visible or improved relatively quickly, but acne blemishes don’t disappear completely overnight no matter what you use.
That being said, there are still plenty of acne removal solutions that help reduce acne quickly. We’ve actually discussed some of them already. It’s true that salicylic acid and glycolic acid both help keep excess oil and dead skin cells at bay to prevent the formation of acne, but they can also help remove acne by clearing out the excess oil and dead skin cells that have clogged pores and have become blackheads or whiteheads. Pimples, on the other hand, can only be prevented using salicylic of glycolic acid. To get rid of pimples, you need something that kills p. acnes bacteria.
Benzoyl Peroxide for Acne
One of the most popular acne treatments available right now is benzoyl peroxide for acne. It effectively kills p. acnes bacteria, which helps prevent new pimples from forming and helps get rid pimples you already have, without all of the side effects and potential risks of antibiotics.
Benzoyl peroxide works by bringing extra oxygen beneath the skin, which kills p. acnes because they are an anaerobic type of bacteria, meaning they can’t survive very long in the presence of oxygen. Unlike antibiotics, p. acnes don’t become resistant to benzoyl peroxide, which is why it’s still so effective, even though it was introduced in the 1930s. The only drawback is that many people report stinging, itching, and peeling, which means the benzoyl peroxide is irritating their skin. One of the three basic rules of acne treatment is to always be gentle with your skin and avoid irritation whenever possible. So why do we recommend benzoyl peroxide for acne if it can cause irritation and produce more acne?
It’s true that benzoyl peroxide can cause irritation, but there are many feasible solutions to this problem. First, it’s always possible to get a product that contains a smaller amount of benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide for acne is available in prescription form, but it’s also available over-the-counter in smaller doses that are safer for dry or sensitive skin. Second, when paired with a hydrating moisturizer, benzoyl peroxide causes far less irritation.
Our recommendation? The Exposed Skin Care Expanded Kit. It comes with several amazing skin care products that are guaranteed to reduce your acne, including our Acne Treatment Serum, which contains 3.5% benzoyl peroxide, and our signature Moisture Complex which contains green tea extract, vitamin E, and other moisturizing ingredients to help combat any potential irritation.
How to Reduce Acne with Honey
For those interested in more natural answers to the question of how to reduce acne, we recommend trying honey. Of all the natural remedies out there, honey has the most research and practical use in modern medicine to back it up.
Honey is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and it speeds the wound-healing process, making it an ideal treatment for acne, especially pimples or cysts. Many natural remedies haven’t been studied enough to say for sure whether or not they should be used in a medical setting, but honey has been studied for years now and seems to have received the medical community’s stamp of approval. Many hospitals now use honey-soaked dressings on wounds because the honey helps them heal faster than more traditional, lab-made products, and many studies have confirmed that honey successfully kills most types of bacteria.
All of these qualities make honey an ideal solution for how to reduce acne. When applied to a large pimple, honey kills some of the bacteria causing the infection, encourages the production of new, healthy skin cells, and reduces the painful inflammation around it. Honey shouldn’t be the only product in your skin care routine though. It does a pretty good job of acne removal, but it isn’t ideal for acne prevention. Instead, we recommend applying honey as a spot treatment to particularly painful or large pimples, or applying a honey mask every couple of weeks.
How to Get Rid of Bad Acne
So, we’ve mentioned cysts a few times throughout this post, but we haven’t talked about them in depth very much, so you may be wondering if all these tips and guidelines for how to get rid of normal acne apply to how to get rid of bad acne too. While some advice works better for non-cystic acne than cystic acne, it’s important to remember that all acne is the same condition and is treated primarily the same way.
There are two big differences between pimples and cysts: size and depth. Pimples can be large, but cysts can be the size of a dime or larger. They also run much deeper in the skin, meaning they don’t have a head the way pimples do, and they often have a healthy layer of skin growing over the infection, making it harder to fight. So to treat cysts, you’ll need products that can reach deep beneath the skin, but you can also help prevent cysts by using products that reduce inflammation. Inflammation can help isolate bacteria and keep it from spreading, but because of the CAMP factor, inflammation in regards to acne often forces the infection to spread down deeper into the skin rather than out to the surface.
One trick for how to get rid of bad acne or cystic acne is tea tree oil, an essential oil that is known for its antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and oil-reducing properties. Taken together, these properties are perfect for preventing and reducing cystic acne, but it’s important to note that tea tree oil can be very harsh. Like all essential oils, it should never be applied directly to your skin; instead, try mixing it with a carrier oil like jojoba oil. Even when diluted, tea tree oil can be harsh, so it’s important to use tea tree oil in conjunction with a hydrating moisturizer.
How to Make Acne Go Away Fast
We understand the need to know how to make acne go away fast, but the truth is, most quick fixes end up making your acne worse. For instance, the toothpaste trick? Terrible idea. Even some of the more recent fads like coconut oil can cause more harm than good in the name of getting rid of acne on a time crunch. At the end of the day, it’s better to develop a consistent, gentle skin care routine to prevent acne, rather than grasping at straws for last-minute acne removal.
Still, we’ve all had a breakout the day before something important, and even if you can’t get rid of acne overnight completely, there are a few tricks for making acne less noticeable without making your acne worse in the long run.
Ice is a natural, non-harmful way to reduce inflammation quickly. Simply put an ice cube on any major breakout for five minutes, then leave it off for five minutes, then back on for five, and repeat for half an hour to an hour the night before your big event. If the breakout is still inflamed in the morning, apply some ice right before you head out the door.
Makeup won’t make your acne go away, but it can cover it up if you have an event where you’ll be in the spotlight and don’t want to be worrying about your breakout. Concealer, foundation, powders, creams—there are any number of makeup products out there that can make your acne less noticeable. Some even contain a little salicylic acid to help fight acne.
Lemon Juice and Honey Mixture
We hate to put honey on this list twice, but it really is that good. Combined with a small amount of fresh lemon juice, it can draw the infection out of a pimple and kill the bacteria. Applying a small dab of this mixture onto the breakout before you go to bed and putting a BandAid over it should help it decrease in size by the morning.