How to Stop Acne

4 Ways to Help Prevent Breakouts

The right skin regimen is an important step in preventing and treating acne, a common skin condition characterized by pimples and other lesions that arise when excess sebum, oil, or dead cells plug hair follicles. It comes in many forms, including blackheads and whiteheads. But the most severe type is highly visible: The pimple that grows deep inside the skin and forms a red and swollen bump.

a woman examining her face for acne
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Don't Touch

Picking at pimples (or scabs that result from popping pimples) prolongs healing time and can cause scarring.

Squeezing or popping pimples can be counterproductive: You can inadvertently push oil and debris deeper into a follicle. This is likely to increase inflammation and make the blemish worse.

Instead of popping a pimple, keep the area clean and allow it to heal naturally to prevent scarring

Make an appointment with a dermatologist for problematic pimples. They can safely extract them if that's needed, and sometimes an injection of cortisone will do the trick.

Go Easy on Your Skin

While keeping your skin as clean as possible is essential in preventing breakouts, it's possible to be overzealous with cleansing. Washing your face too often or scrubbing it can do more harm than good.


Keeping acne-prone skin clean is important, but don't wash so much that it becomes dry and irritated. During a breakout, use a nonabrasive, alcohol-free cleanser, gently massaging it into your skin. Rinse with warm water and pat dry with a clean towel.

Clean your face no more than twice a day—when you wake up and before bedtime (never sleep in makeup). The exception: If you perspire a lot during physical activity, wash your face as soon as possible to remove sweat.

If you're on the go, cleansing wipes can be a convenient, effective way to clean your face. But they can make your face dry or oily, so be sure to select products that don't aggravate your acne.

Scrubbing and Exfoliating

Scrubbing can irritate your skin, cause inflammation, and tear the heads off pimples. A sign you're rubbing your skin too hard is if it appears red and burns or stings afterward.

That said, gentle exfoliation can be useful for treating acne by removing dead skin cells before they can mix with oil and plug up pores. This method isn't right for everyone, especially people who have delicate skin. Check with your dermatologist before you exfoliate.

Exfoliating up to twice per week with a gentle scrub should be adequate. A soft facial brush can be effective as well, but keep it clean. Brushes can harbor bacteria, which often is a factor in the formation of blemishes.

Be aware that prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) topical acne treatments containing retinol, such as Retin-A Micro and Differin, work in part by chemically exfoliating skin. If you use one of these, don't use another exfoliant.

Use Products Wisely

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for acne. It may take trial and error to find the best treatment that's right for you. Stick with proven OTC acne products, such as benzoyl peroxide, or doctor-prescribed medications.

Be consistent and patient. It can take weeks for acne to clear up, and with certain prescriptions, the condition may get worse before it gets better. Continue to use your treatment as directed even after your skin has cleared up to prevent future breakouts.

The notable exception to this rule is isotretinoin, an oral retinoid formerly sold as Accutane. It is used for moderate to severe inflammatory acne and for limited periods of time because it can have serious side effects; the most serious of which is birth defects if a woman becomes pregnant while taking it. The prescribed course of isotretinoin often extends beyond the time that acne clears up, but it isn't usually used long term.

When to See a Dermatologist

There may come a time when self-treatment isn't enough to prevent or clear up acne breakouts.

See a dermatologist if:

  • The products you've tried are not working.
  • Your acne is leaving scars or dark spots.
  • Your acne makes you feel embarrassed or insecure.

Do this sooner rather than later. The earlier you get help with your acne, particularly cystic acne, which can cause permanent scarring, the better. Darker skin is predisposed to developing scars, keloids (painful, itchy scars), or dark spots. You should see a dermatologist if you have dark skin and you're developing acne.

4 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. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: National Institutes of Health. What is acne? Published September 2016.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: tips for managing.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Isotretinoin: the truth about side effects. Updated December 3, 2020.

  4. Alexis A. Acne vulgaris in skin of color: understanding nuances and optimizing treatment outcomes. J Drugs Dermatol. 2014;13(suppl 6):s61-s65.

Additional Reading

By Cherie Berkley, MS
Cherie Berkley is an award-winning journalist and multimedia storyteller covering health features for Verywell.