How to Stop Acne

4 Ways to Help Prevent Breakouts

In This Article

The right skin regimen is critical for preventing and treating acne, a common skin condition characterized by pimples and other lesions that arise when excess sebum (oil) and 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

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

The only time it may be OK to pop a pimple is if it is a whitehead that is clearly on the verge of releasing itself, in which case you may be able to safely press on it with clean hands to help it along. Keep the area clean and allow it to heal naturally to prevent scarring

Otherwise, be aware that picking at pimples (or scabs the result from picking) prolongs healing time and can cause scarring. For pimples that are especially problematic, see a dermatologist. They can safely extract them; sometimes an injection of cortisone will do the trick.

Go Easy on Your Skin

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

Over-Cleansing

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 ski with your fingers rather than with a washcloth. 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 are a convenient, effective way to clean your face.

Scrubbing and Exfoliating

Scrubbing can irritate your skin, cause inflammation, and tear the tops off pimples. An indicator you're rubbing your skin too hard: 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. 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 including Retin-A Micro and Differin, work in part by chemically exfoliating skin. If you use one of these, you don't need to use another exfoliant.

Choose Products Wisely

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for acne. It may take trial-and-error to find the best treatment that 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 drugs, 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 only for severe inflammatory acne and for limited periods of time because it has severe side-effects: Isotretinoin is known to cause severe birth defects in babies of whose parents took the drug before the baby was born.

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 acne, particularly cystic acne, which can cause permanent scarring, the better. The same holds for people of color because darker skin is predisposed to developing scars, keloids (painful, itchy abnormal scars), or dark spots.

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Article 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, Musculoskeletal, and Skin Diseases: National Institutes of Health. What is acne? Sept. 2016.

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: Tips for Managing.

  3. The American Academy of Dermatology. Isotretinoin: The truth about side effects.

  4. Alexis, A. Acne vulgaris in skin of color: understanding nuances and optimizing treatment outcomes. J Drugs Dermatol. 2014 Jun;13(6):s61-5.

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