How to Get Clear Skin

You can reduce breakouts with healthy habits and acne-fighting products

We’re all after clearer skin, and there are some quick and easy strategies to achieve it. To keep it as clear as it can be, your skin needs regular washing, moisturizing, a healthy diet, and more. Adopting these healthy habits while using gentle acne-fighting products can help to reduce breakouts and bring out healthy, clear skin.

Young woman bent over bowl, washing face, smiling

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Cleanse Twice a Day

Our skin requires regular cleansing to wash away dirt, bacteria, and excess oil. Acne breakouts occur when the pores in the skin become clogged with dirt and oil. If you tend to have oily skin, washing twice per day can help to reduce the oil, or sebum, on your skin. This is especially important during the adolescent years when the skin’s oil production is at its highest. 

While washing your face will help reduce acne and promote clear skin, it’s possible to overdo it. Research shows that washing your face twice daily is more effective at producing clear skin than once-daily washing. Washing more than twice daily, though, can dry out the skin. When the skin is dry, it causes an increase in oil production to lubricate it. Stick with twice-daily washing; it’s okay to wash once more if you’ve just put in a sweaty workout.

Use Oil-Free, Noncomedogenic Products

Acne breakouts and skin irritation can be caused by our skin’s natural oils, as well as by skincare products we buy and use every day. When choosing beauty products such as a cleanser, moisturizer, makeup, or sunscreen, look for labels that specify oil-free or noncomedogenic formulations. These labels signify that the product is not known to clog pores and lead to acne. 


Exfoliation can lead to brighter, clearer skin by clearing away dead cells on the skin’s surface. These dead skin cells can lead to dryness and acne breakouts because they can clog pores and hair follicles. However, exfoliation must be done safely; otherwise, it can cause more harm than good.

The exfoliation method you choose should be based on your skin type. Sensitive skin needs a mild exfoliation, while thicker, oily skin can handle a more aggressive treatment. Decide if you will try a chemical exfoliant like a retinoid cream or mechanical exfoliation like a dry brush. If you currently have acne breakouts, opt for a gentle exfoliating method such as a washcloth and mild chemical exfoliant. Apply a moisturizer afterward to prevent your skin from drying out.

Apply Topical Acne-Fighting Products

In addition to prescription treatments, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) acne products that you can try before going to your healthcare provider. Most of these products are designed to fight acne as opposed to prevent it. Always read the labels carefully before starting a new regimen.

The most common OTC treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid works by dissolving the top layer of dead skin cells. When these dead skin cells build up instead of flake off, they can clog pores and lead to irritated skin and breakouts. Salicylic acid is usually available as a cleanser or lotion.
  • Benzoyl peroxide promotes clear skin by removing bacteria that can lead to acne. It is usually available as a leave-on cleanser and comes in different levels of concentration. The higher the concentration, the more effective it is at removing bacteria. Higher concentration levels are more likely to cause skin irritation and dryness, however. Try starting with a lower concentration and see how your skin responds. 
  • Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and have become a popular addition to beauty products in recent years. They work by removing blackheads and whiteheads that clog pores and lead to acne outbreaks. They are available OTC or in prescription strength. The most common side effects of topical retinoids are redness and irritation. Start with a small patch of skin to see if you have a reaction; applying a gentle moisturizer can help with the irritation.

When Should You See a Dermatologist?

If you have tried some at-home skin treatments without any improvement in the look and feel of your skin, check in with your dermatologist. They will recommend treatment options, so you won't have to keep going it alone. 

Start with lifestyle changes like regular cleansing, moisturizing, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. If those don’t seem to make a difference, talk with your healthcare provider about possible topical treatments, oral medications, or other options. Your healthcare provider may be able to offer the following acne solutions:

  • Prescription retinoid products (topical or oral)
  • Antibiotics
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Steroids
  • Laser treatments
  • Chemical peel 

Use a Moisturizer

Moisturizing greasy or acne-prone skin can feel counterintuitive. However, clear skin needs to be adequately lubricated. In fact, overly dry skin can lead to increased oil production by the sebaceous glands and cause more acne breakouts. Many acne treatments like retinoids and salicylic acid can cause dryness and irritation as well, so finding a gentle moisturizer is important. Studies have found that patients with acne noticed an improvement four to eight weeks after starting a regular moisturizer routine. 

Choose a moisturizer that is oil-free or noncomedogenic to prevent clogged pores. Apply it after cleansing and any time your skin feels dry.

Get Enough Sleep

It’s called beauty sleep for a reason. Getting enough sleep can help promote clearer, healthier-looking skin. That’s because sleep helps us regulate stress and balance hormones. When you don’t get enough sleep, your body produces more stress hormones like cortisol. These hormones can then lead to increased inflammation in the skin; this can look like redness, irritation, and acne breakouts. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.

Find Ways to De-Stress

Finding effective ways to de-stress can lead to clearer skin. Stress alone won't cause acne. However, we know that stress can lead to a worsening of existing acne symptoms.

When we’re under stress, our bodies release stress hormones, which can lead to increased sebum production in the skin. This excess oil can clog pores and lead to breakouts. Stress can also lead to other behaviors that make acne worse, such as sleeping less or eating more sugary foods. 

Start incorporating proven stress-busting techniques like mindfulness, meditation, or exercise. Get plenty of rest, and talk with your healthcare provider if you’re having a tough time managing daily stress. 

Eat the Right Foods

Do chocolate and greasy foods really cause acne? It sounds like an old wives tale, but there is evidence that our diets really do affect our skin’s appearance. Studies have linked eating a low-glycemic diet to improved skin health. Low-glycemic foods do not spike your body’s blood sugar level and insulin response like high-glycemic foods do. High-glycemic foods to avoid include sugar and refined carbohydrates.

Low-glycemic foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can lead to less inflammation in the body. High blood sugar can increase inflammation, which triggers sebum production in the sebaceous glands. 

One possible exception to the low-glycemic rule is cow’s milk. Low-fat dairy, including skim milk, does not spike blood sugar, but may worsen acne symptoms. Dermatologists usually recommend cutting out a type of food for a week or month and monitoring for any changes in your skin. If your acne dramatically improves, you may want to make the dietary change permanent. 

Wear Sunscreen

Greasy sunscreen may sound like the last thing acne-prone skin needs, but wearing a light sunscreen every day can lead to clearer skin. Just like with moisturizers, look for oil-free and noncomedogenic products that won’t clog your skin’s pores. Dermatologists usually recommend applying sunscreen in the morning after washing your face and applying your acne medication. This way, the sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s rays without blocking your medication. 

Wearing daily sunscreen can also help to protect against signs of skin aging like redness, dryness, wrinkles, and rough patches. Age spots are a result of sun damage over time. Sunburn can lead to flaky skin that could scar if you find yourself picking at it. In addition to an oil-free sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat can help to protect your skin and keep it clear. 

A Word From Verywell

Achieving clear skin may take time, but it’s possible, even if you are prone to acne. Start with lifestyle changes like twice-daily cleansing, healthy eating, gentle moisturizers, and plenty of sleep. You should be aware of sun damage. Make sure to protect your skin by wearing sunscreen, finding shelter when you are outdoors, and wearing hats to shield your skin from the sun. If you’re not seeing the results you’re after, talk with your dermatologist about your options. 

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Acne: who gets and causes.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology Association. How to safely exfoliate at home.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Acne.

  4. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Treating acne? Is it time to see a dermatologist?

  5. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Moisturizer: Why you may need it if you have acne.

  6. How sleep improves your skin.

  7. Bondade S, Hosthota A, Basavaraju V. Stressful life events and psychiatric comorbidity in acne-a case control study. Asia Pac Psychiatry. 2019 Mar;11(1):e12340. doi:10.1111/appy.12340

  8. Time. Acne and stress: can worrying really cause pimples?

  9. American Association of Dermatology Association. Can the right diet get rid of acne?

  10. Skin Cancer Foundation. Ask the expert: sunscreen and acne.

Additional Reading

By Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH
Carrie Madormo, RN, MPH, is a health writer with over a decade of experience working as a registered nurse. She has practiced in a variety of settings including pediatrics, oncology, chronic pain, and public health.