Facial acne is one of the most common skin conditions. Getting an unwanted breakout before an important event, such as a photoshoot, work presentation, or first date can hinder your self-confidence. Attempting to blot your problem area with a drugstore concealer can exacerbate the issue.
Studies estimate people ages 11-30 have experienced mild acne, and most people have gotten acne at some point of their lives.
A wide range of risk factors may contribute to facial acne, such as oil-based skincare, genetics, dehydration, humid environments, and harsh acne treatments. Fortunately, there are many solutions to minimize these risks.
Oil-Based Products and Genetics
One of the potential causes of breakouts are the the skincare products you use. According to Sharleen St. Surin-Lord, MD, a dermatologist in Washington, D.C., “Oil-based makeup, some silicones, and some liquid foundations clog pores. Instead, she recommends using noncomedogenic products, which don’t clog your pores.
Another cause is genetic factors. If your skin is more oil prone, it’s important to find and stick to a skincare routine. While it can be tempting to cover your oily skin with makeup, using oil-based foundation and products can clog your pores and aggravate your breakouts.
Switching to water-based makeup or going bare faced allows your skin to breathe, and can minimize acne risk. It also helps to stay hydrated, limit trans fat and fried foods, and eat whole foods to reduce inflammation.
Not Drinking Enough Water
Drinking sufficient water each day keeps your body in balance and skin properly hydrated. Not drinking enough water can trigger sebum (excessive oil) production and cause breakouts.
Research has shown increasing your daily water consumption can keep your skin softer, especially when used with a moisturizer. Drinking at least 2 liters of water each day is recommended, especially for those with active lifestyles.
One study observed 49 women and their water consumption—the group that consumed an additional 68 ounces (2 liters) of water daily significantly improved their skin hydration. In turn, increasing water intake minimized skin dryness and roughness.
High Humidity Levels
Living in humid environments, particularly in the sweltering summer months is another potential cause of facial acne.
Dr. Ghada Ashour, a dermatologist in Dubai’s Medcare Hospital states, “Our skin prefers a balance of humid and arid climates,” meaning low humidity in the air can dry out your skin, while excessive humidity can cause breakouts from excess oil.
She explains, “Sweat evaporates more slowly because of the humidity levels in the air, and sebaceous glands work overtime due to the heat. This combination leads to clogged pores and pimples. People’s existing acne can worsen from too much humidity.” says Ashour.
To minimize breakouts, cleanse your skin daily with warm water and gently pat your face dry with a clean towel after sweating.
Harsh Acne Treatments
Since all acne treatments have a drying effect on your skin, using too many acne-fighting products simultaneously may lead to irritation, dryness, and inflammation.
For more minor acne, you can consider using over-the-counter (OTC) medication. Your OTC treatment should contain a combination of:
- Benzoyl peroxide to decrease bacterial overgrowth and remove dead skin cells clogging your pores. Targeting surface bacteria, lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide will irritate your skin less. A common side effect is dry skin.
- Salicylic acid as a lotion or cleanser to dissolve dead skin cells to prevent clogged pores and break down your whiteheads and blackheads. It helps remove the top layer of damaged skin.
- Azelaic acid as a cream, gel, or foam. A natural acid found in grains like barley or wheat with anti-swelling and antimicrobial properties, it takes more time to show results, so azelaic acid is typically combined with other topical treatments. Side effects may include tingling, peeling, or dryness.
For more severe acne, you can consider taking prescription retinoids, but always consult your dermatologist before adding new products to your acne treatment, even OTC medication:
- Vitamin A (retinoids): Praised for stopping acne scars, topical retinoids are usually only prescribed after other acne treatments have failed. By increasing new skin cell production, it helps unclog your pores and targets your whiteheads and blackheads.
Using too many harsh treatments may dry your skin out and result in your skin producing even more oil to compensate. This sebum (excess oil) then clogs your pores and triggers breakouts, a vicious cycle.
Though it may be tempting to scrub your skin dry, dry skin is a sign of irritated skin.
Instead, apply your acne treatments exactly as directed and apply a gentle moisturizer twice a day after cleansing. When buying skin products, avoid astringents, rubbing alcohol, and any other products that can dry your skin out.
More Skincare Tips to Treat Facial Acne
In short, when dealing with facial acne, keep your skin clean, avoid touching your face, use a lightweight moisturizer, and always consult a dermatologist when treating more severe acne.
For milder facial acne, consider these skincare tips:
- Keep your skin clean. Wash your face twice daily gently with warm water and a mild cleanser, especially after sweating. Do not scrub hard or your skin may become irritated.
- Avoid touching your face with your hands unless you’ve washed them. Never pick or pop your pimples either as tempting as it may be.
- Use a gel-based lightweight moisturizer. All acne treatments will have a drying effect on your skin and you’ll have a reflective oiliness unless you use a lightweight moisturizer. For dry or peeling skin, you can use an oil-free, water-based moisturizer.
- Try a DIY acne remedy, like plain Greek yogurt mixed with a spoonful of honey - another option is using plain egg yolk.
- Avoid alcohol-based astringents and toners - it can strip your skin and cause over oil production.