How to Stop Acne

These tips for acne management can improve your skin

In This Article

The right skin regimen is critical for preventing and treating acne. Acne is one of the most common skin conditions and also one of the most annoying. Acne starts when oils and dead cells plug your oil glands. 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. Here are some do's and don'ts to get on the path to clearer skin.

a woman examining her face for acne
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Don't Touch

Squeezing or popping pimples can be counterproductive by inadvertently pushing the oil and debris, plugging a follicle deeper into the skin. This is likely to increase inflammation and make the blemish worse.

Picking at pimples or scabs prolongs healing time as well and can cause scarring. It's best to leave it to a dermatologist to get rid of problematic blemishes that won't resolve on their own to avoid this potentially permanent complication.

A dermatologist is the best person to get rid of a pimple. A dermatologist can use a method such as extraction or injection to destroy a pimple while protecting your skin. 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

Go Easy on Your Skin

An essential part of healthier, blemish-free skin is to go easy on yourself. Constant cleaning and scrubbing can do more harm than good, so be gentle with your skin.

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 pores. Exfoliating up to twice per week is adequate. Gentle scrubs are usually fine, as are soft facial brushes— but keep them clean. Brushes can harbor bacteria, and bacteria is a source of acne. There are numerous exfoliating products on the market. Your dermatologist is the best person to recommend one for your skin.

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

Over-Cleansing

Keeping acne-prone skin clean is important, but don't wash so much that it becomes dry and irritated. During a breakout, wash with a nonabrasive, alcohol-free cleanser and use your fingers to gently massage it into your skin rather than 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.

Choose Products Wisely

There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for acne. It may take trial-and-error to find a treatment that works 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 very severe acne and limited periods because it has severe side-effects, including the risk of congenital disabilities.

When to See a Dermatologist

There may come a time that self-treatment isn't enough to prevent or clear up acne breakouts. It may be time to get professional help. 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, or dark spots.

A Word From Verywell

Acne can change the way you feel about yourself. It may make you feel self-conscious, embarrassed, ashamed, and angry. These feelings are common.No matter how bad your acne may seem, nearly any case of acne can be successfully treated with the right products and skincare regimen.

This article was originally written by Angela Palmer.

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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. Isotretinoin: The Truth About Side Effects. The American Academy of Dermatology.

  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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