Acne is one of the most frustrating things to research and attempt to remedy on your own. The internet swarms with misinformation and inaccurate “how to” articles, and trying random products off the drugstore shelf rarely works for anyone.
Clearing acne is best done with a comprehensive plan developed specifically for your skin type. Your dermatologist is the best person for this job, but a lot of us don’t want to pay for a doctor’s visit just to try something new that may or may not work.
Fortunately, many of us find success with the following comprehensive acne treatment plans. Remember, one product is rarely going to work for you – it’s usually a combination of synergistic products that work in harmony to produce clear, acne-free skin.
How to Clear Acne
Although you can skip ahead and just start with a treatment plan, it’s best to understand what causes acne and how treatments work before you dive right in. This allows you to understand what’s going on at a cellular level, and leaves you more capable of tweaking your products and routine to maximize your results.
Acne begins with a clogged pore – either from dirt, dried oil, or (most commonly) a dead skin cell that gets trapped in the pore. From there, bacteria feeds on oil trapped in that pore, expands, and produces a (benign) infection. Your immune system takes note, and reacts by dispersing endogenous chemicals (such as a naturally occurring form of hydrogen peroxide) to kill the infection. This results in inflammation, producing the characteristic red, swollen zit.
Another byproduct of this process is puss. Puss fills the acne lesion, and often results in a “white head”. When you “pop” a zit (which is usually not recommended), the white goop that comes out is puss. Unfortunately, popping that zit makes the inflammation worse, causes the pimple to last longer, and can result in scarring.
Treatment methods revolve around preventing one of these steps from happening. They will either attempt to prevent the pore from becoming clogged in the first place, get rid of oil so the bacteria has nothing to feed on, kill the bacteria directly, reduce the inflammation, or simply try to speed the healing process so the zit doesn’t last as long.
Finally, it’s important to remember that irritation leads to acne. If you rub your face vigorously, you will increase inflammation. Therefore, a good acne treatment plan will do everything possible to minimize irritation.
Armed with that information, let’s take a look at how you can put it to use in the acne clearing process.
Ways to Clear Acne
Step 1 – A clean face is a happy face.
This is a pretty simple step, and probably one you’re already familiar with. Washing your face alone isn’t likely to clear up your acne (as you may have personally experienced by now), but it is a vital foundation for a treatment regimen. Put in other words, a clean face doesn’t always result in an acne free face – but an acne free is rarely produced without first being clean.
What to look for: The word “non-comedogenic” is key here. That means it won’t clog your pores. Most cleansers made specifically for acne will fall into this category. If you have the option, look for a cleanser free of dyes and perfumes, which can irritate your skin. Don’t buy a cleanser with an “active ingredient”. We’re not looking for a combination product, just one to clean your face. Women should generally stay away from cleansers that are “exfoliating” or have “scrubbers”. Men may be able to get away with that, as they have thicker skin, but some men may also experience irritation. When in doubt, play it safe.
How to use it: Wash your face twice a day (once in the morning, once before bed). If you have extremely oily skin, or work in a greasy or oil-filled environment, a third washing session mid-day may be advised. Using warm water, gently wet your face. Work a small amount of cleanser into a lather on your hands (not on your face). Gently apply the cleanser to your skin using your fingers. It’s not necessary to rub it in (in fact, you should avoid doing so). As long as the cleanser makes contact with your face, it will do its job. Gently rinse the lather off your face, and pat dry with a clean towel (making sure not to rub your face).
Step 2 – Treatment, treatment, treatment.
This is where the magic happens. Now that you have a clean face (and have waited a couple of minutes for it to fully dry), let’s put some goop on there that will zap those zits right into outer space. Remember the explanation above of what causes acne? This is where we’re going to either kill the bacteria directly using benzoyl peroxide, or prevent the pore from becoming clogged using salicylic acid.
Now, if you’ve tried many products before, you might be skeptical of these two ingredients. Don’t be. They are in almost every acne product, and while it’s true that most of these products don’t work by themselves (you’ve probably tried them and had little luck), they are very effective when combined with this other steps in this treatment guide. Also, most products contain these ingredients in the entirely wrong proportions for fighting acne.
What to look for: The first line of treatment here should always be benzoyl peroxide. Look for a formula containing 2.5% BP (most products are 10%, which is way too much). If you get stuck, looked for Neutrogenia’s “On The Spot” product. It is a 2.5% BP cream. Amazon can be a great place to order these products. If you choose to use salicylic acid instead (which you should only do if you are sensitive to the sun or haven’t had results with BP after at least 3 weeks of consecutive use), look for a cream, pad, gel, or astringent containing 1% to 2% salicylic acid. Don’t use both BP and salicylic acid, however, as this is too irritating for most people (experiment at your own risk!).
How to use it: Use after washing your face, twice per day (if you end up doing a third wash mid-day, it’s advisable to skip this step). For the first week, only apply it once per day. This will allow your skin to get used to it slowly, and prevent irritation. If your skin is particularly sensitive, you can start with every-other-day application. Apply a liberal amount of product to your fingers (if it’s a liquid, you can put it straight on your face) and gently massage it into the affected area using your finger tips. Don’t apply any more pressure than what is needed to maintain contact with your face. Massage until the product is fully absorbed, then wait a few minutes before moving to the next step.
Step 3 – Hydrate
Your skin should be pretty dry by this point – between washing the existing oil off of it, and applying a treatment solution (both BP and salicylic acid are incredibly good at drying out your face). It may be tempting to leave your skin like this, but don’t. The body is very good at producing equilibrium. If your skin is left dry, even more oil will be released to compensate (making your acne worse). Use a moisturizer to keep your face shine-free and the pimples at bay.
What to look for: Again, a “non-comedogenic” product or one made specifically for acne is recommended. Find one without an active ingredient (you don’t want to be double-applying treatments). If you’re sensitive to sunlight, get one with an SPF rating (build-in sun protection).
How to use it: Use a lot of moisturize – as much as your skin will soak up after a straight minute or more of massaging. You’ll get a feel for how much to use after a while. Again, be gentle with application and use only the slightest pressure. When done, make an effort to avoid touching your face throughout the day (transferring oil, bacteria, and other irritants to your skin).
Clear Acne Naturally – The Holistic Option
The above guide is very effective for treating acne – but you may have noticed some chemical names. This isn’t necessarily bad, but some people prefer to clear their acne using natural methods instead. Let’s take a look at some all-natural options.
Lemon Juice: Lemon juice contains citric acid, a potent chemical exfoliant and skin-lightening agent. Place a small amount of undiluted lemon juice on marks left over by previous breakouts, to help lighten and fade them. Dilute lemon juice with 2 parts water to 1 part juice, and apply to problem areas. Rinse off after 10 minutes. If you don’t want to cut up lemons all the time, the bottled juice does the same thing.
Salt Scrub: Pour a dime-sized amount of table salt into the palm of your hand. Drizzle it with a small amount of water, and gently apply it to your face with the tips of your fingers. Very gently massage it around your face for 15 seconds, let it soak for a minute, then rinse it off. This does two things – it removes dead skin cells due to the texture of the salt, and it kills bacteria that causes acne. Remember, salt very good at killing germs. It’s used as an alternative to chlorine in some swimming pools, it’s recommended by dentists to treat gum infections, and it was used to preserve meat before refrigerators. Most people don’t realize how potent salt is, and unlike harsh chemicals, it doesn’t cause irritation (as long as you don’t rub it in hard!). If the scrubbing action is too much for your skin to handle, just make a paste and dab it on your face. Let it sit for a minute before rinsing.
Honey: This is another one that may shock you. Honey is a great antiseptic. For best results, apply honey to your problem areas and leave it there for a few minutes before you wash your face. Trust me, you’ll want to wash your face after this acne treatment! Not recommended for use around bears.
Now that you know where to start, the next step is to dive in! Pick your ideal combination, and commit to using it consistently for at least 2-3 weeks. Consistency and commitment is required for any acne treatment. Even if the treatment is highly-effective, you’ll almost never see results right away. Most products take time to work. Be patient, stick to it, and results will follow.
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