Acne. It always seems to pop up when you need it least, a bloom of breakouts in the dead center of your face when you have a big date or meeting or family gathering, or it’s your annoying constant companion. We empathize and feel your pain.
At a high level, acne can be the result of a few things: a compromised skin barrier, excess sebum production, and/or inflammation. All of those may sound like daunting causes, but they needn’t be! We’ve come up with 7 key things to think about when it comes to tackling acne and leaving it behind in 2018!
1. Proper Cleansing
If you struggle with acne, we can’t stress the double cleansing technique enough — start with a gentle oil-based cleanser to melt away makeup, grime, and oil, then follow that with a water-based cleanser with a low pH level.
If you’re thinking it’s counterintuitive to apply oil to already acne-prone skin, rest assured that it's not, and the reason is simple: oil attracts oil. An oil-based cleanser is better able to go into your pores and draw out excess oil and grime, which means your pores are able to "breathe," clear of the gunk that contributes to acne. Not only that, but an oil-based cleanser gently dissolves away makeup, grime, and impurities, so you’re not tugging at skin and irritating it further.
Following up with a water-based cleanser thoroughly gets rid of any remaining makeup, grime, or excess oil, leaving you with clean, supple skin.
One of the contributing causes of acne breakouts is the accumulation of dead skin cells on the surface of skin, blocking pores and trapping oil and bacteria. Exfoliating helps slough off those dead skin cells, so your pores can "breathe."
There are two kinds of exfoliants: physical and chemical. Dermatologists don’t always recommend physical exfoliators for acne-prone skin, which are exfoliators like harsh scrubs, cloths, or other similar abrasive substance that physically clear the surface of skin — they can further irritate skin, and they really only work on the surface.
Chemical exfoliators are acids, and AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) are the most commonly known, though PHAs (poly hydroxy acids) are starting to emerge as an acid group that works much like AHAs and are popular for being very gentle. AHAs are water-soluble, and they work by loosening dead skin cells by targeting the “glue” that's keeping them in place. BHAs, an oil-soluble acid, go into your pores and pull out impurities. If you have acne-prone skin, you’ve probably used many products with BHAs in them because salicylic acid is the most common BHA!
We recommend that you exfoliate 1-2 times a week if you have acne-prone skin; keeping your skin clear of debris and opening up your pores can help keep breakouts under control — and remember: when using a product that contains AHAs, always, always, always remember to apply sunscreen! AHAs make your skin more photosensitive, which means skin is more likely to burn, so please don’t forget to apply your favorite sunscreen as the last step in your morning routine and continue reapplying throughout the day!
3. Hydrating, hydrating, hydrating
One of the common misconceptions to dealing with acne-prone skin is that you should be taking products away and minimizing your skincare routine. Acne-prone skin (and oily skin) is just as susceptible to dehydration as any other skin type, and it is just as important to layer hydration and lock it in. When your skin is dehydrated, it overcompensates by triggering more sebum production, which can result in even oilier skin and, possibly, more breakouts.
Also, importantly, dehydrated skin can trigger an inflammatory response, which, in turn, can trigger more sebum production and a slower cell turnover process. That chain of triggered responses — more oil and less exfoliation — can lead to clogged pores that turn into breakouts. Keeping skin hydrated can help keep that inflammation domino effect at bay, helping to prevent breakouts.
One of the techniques to achieve hydrated skin is through layering! Don’t skip any steps in your routine, and look for products that contain humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Another technique is to supplement your routine with a well-formulated serum or oil that will sink into your skin to help hydrate and lock that moisture in.
4. Regulating Sebum Production
Excess sebum production can lead to more breakouts, so regulating sebum production and stopping it from going into overdrive are crucial to making acne go away. One of the keys to regulating sebum production is to hydrate your skin, which is why we stress it so much — like we said earlier, even acne-prone and oily skin can get dehydrated, which increases sebum production because your skin wants to compensate for its dryness.
Another way to regulate sebum production is actually by using oils. Jojoba oil, particularly, is great for acne-prone skin because jojoba oil (which, fun fact, is actually a wax!) mimics our own natural oils. That means it absorbs quickly and, even better, that it can signal our skin to balance itself — in other words, jojoba oil can tell our skin to stop producing so much excess sebum and to regulate sebum production.
5. Keeping bacteria at bay
Clogged, oil-laden pores are happy places where bad bacteria thrive because there is no oxygen. It’s one reason it’s so crucial to exfoliate and make sure your pores are clear, sloughing away dead skin cells that block pores and create bacteria-friendly environments that can lead to more acne. We also recommend looking for products with ingredients that have antibacterial properties that will help fight bad, acne-causing bacteria and maintain a healthy microbiome of good bacteria on your skin.
6. Managing acne when it happens
Acne happens! Unfortunately, there’s nothing that can guarantee a 100% eradication of acne, and, sometimes, everything in life — stress, busy lifestyles, harsh environs — comes together to make your skin break out. That’s okay! There are ways to manage active breakouts quickly and effectively, so you don’t have to stress out about them.
Whatever you do, don’t pick at or pop your breakouts! We know it can be very tempting (we have to fight hard to resist, too!), but picking at your breakouts can invite infection, delay healing, and cause scarring.
7. Preventing scarring and other residual effects
Acne care doesn’t just stop when the acne goes away; you have to continue caring for skin to prevent scarring and hyperpigmentation and to limit acne from coming back as much as possible. One of the best ways to reduce acne scarring is to use ingredients that are known to help brighten skin, like niacinamide, vitamin C, or arbutin.
We also recommend oils to help prevent scarring or help diminish the appearance of already existing scars! Rosehip oil, in particular, is fantastic — it contains vitamin C, which is known to help brighten skin and fade hyperpigmentation, and it is also high in linoleic acid and low in oleic acid. That helps balance out the surface of acne-prone skin, which tends to be high in oleic acid and low in linoleic acid, affecting the texture of sebum and making it thicker.
A higher level of linoleic acid helps soften the texture of sebum, making it more flexible, and that, in turn, helps control acne and prevent future breakouts, which gets to the second part of continual acne care — to limit acne from coming back as much as possible. One of the ways to do so is to maintain a healthy skin barrier by hydrating, nourishing, and maintaining balance. A healthy skin barrier is key to keeping inflammation, redness, and sensitivity at bay, as well as regulating sebum production and staying hydrated.