If you’ve ever asked yourself why acne doesn’t seem to go away, no matter what you do, you might be making one or more skincare mistakes that are sabotaging your skin’s healing and exacerbating this pesky inflammatory condition.
Whether that’s not removing your makeup before going to bed or over-exfoliating your skin in an attempt to scrub acne away for good, there are a myriad of acne-causing (or at least acne-promoting) behaviors that even the best of us can fall into without realizing.
Therefore, in this article, I will break down the top ten common mistakes that may be causing your acne, followed by ten extra tips on how to maintain clear and healthy skin, struggle-free.
Here are 10 common skincare mistakes that could be causing your acne:
#1 Not Removing Makeup Before Bed
Sleeping in your makeup can have many negative effects on your skin, and clogging and acne are probably some of the most common ones experienced by those who often skip removing their makeup before going to bed.
Makeup sits on your skin for a long time, and during this time, it mixes with your natural sweat and oil as well as environmental pollutants, such as dust, dirt, and bacteria that stick to it when you’re out into the world.
So, not removing these elements for longer than a few hours and leaving them to marinate on your skin overnight will likely cause acne, and here’s how:
#2 Using Dirty Makeup Brushes
Another common mistake that can lead to clogged pores and acne is using dirty makeup brushes.
Every time you use a dirty makeup brush, all the old makeup that’s been sitting on the bristles, oxidizing and attracting dust, dirt, and bacteria to it, will be pushed onto your skin and trapped in the pores, leading to more clogging and acne.
Along with acne, continually using dirty makeup brushes can also lead to severe issues, such as allergic reactions, and conditions, such as bacterial conjunctivitis.
This condition is caused by staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that already resides on our skin.
But when allowed to accumulate on a makeup brush and come into contact with the eyes, can cause inflammation of the conjunctiva, leading to uncomfortable symptoms like red eyes, itching, burning, and blurred vision.
These can last for days or even weeks.
#3 Over-Cleansing Your Skin
Over-cleansing your skin won’t help dry out your acne and get rid of oily skin, but on the contrary, can lead to more breakouts and more oiliness.
This happens because when you frequently over-cleanse, you strip away the natural oils that lubricate and protect your skin, leaving it dry, uncomfortable, and unprotected.
When this happens, your skin will naturally try to compensate for the lack of hydration by producing more oil than usual in order to lubricate and protect itself.
However, the issue with this is not all the oil will manage to come out of the pores and to the skin’s surface, and some of it will remain stuck inside the passage, stiffening up over some time and creating a clog that will eventually turn into a pimple.
#4 Over-Exfoliating Your Skin
Similarly to over-cleansing, over-exfoliating your skin is another common skincare mistake that can lead to more breakouts.
Exfoliation is a process that removes several layers of dead skin cells accumulated on the skin’s surface.
Now what this does is it will bring out the healthier, more even, and clearer cells from underneath, making your complexion look more evenly toned, brighter, and clearer.
However, when you over-exfoliate, you will strip away more than it’s necessary, and this will leave your skin unprotected and sensitive, which leads to redness, irritation, and inflammation, which will exacerbate existing breakouts and cause new ones to form.
When your skin is over-exfoliated, this means that young and immature skin cells are left on the surface to fight potential pathogens and environmental aggressors.
And since these are immature cells, they won’t be able to do their job properly and will leave your skin exposed and vulnerable, making it easier for bacteria to penetrate the pores and cause infections.
#5 Using the Wrong Skincare Products
Using skincare products that are unsuitable for your skin type, concern, and the current condition of your skin is one of the main culprits behind clogged pores and acne.
This is because some ingredients in the skincare products you are using that are unsuitable for what your skin needs at the time you’re using them will cause different actions, and some of these might include clogged pores due to the components being heavy, greasy, or too occlusive for your skin type, or irritations that can exacerbate acne if the components are too harsh.
Therefore, while having a complete skincare routine is one of the best ways to get rid of acne, you also have to make sure that the products you are using are tailored to what your skin needs and can accommodate its current condition.
#6 Not Using a Retinoid
Exfoliation can be a fantastic way to soothe breakouts, but if you want to get rid of acne for good, a retinoid is what really works.
Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that unclog pores by pushing the gunk inside them toward the skin surface and speeding up cellular turnover so that dead skin cells don’t accumulate inside the pores again.
Additionally, retinoids will soothe inflammation and strengthen the skin in the long run, which will help reduce the appearance of acne scars and also improve the skin’s tone and texture.
Finally, by speeding up cellular turnover, retinoids will reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and other signs of skin aging, which means you can continue using them even after you’ve gotten rid of your acne, as they will make your skin better over time.
#8 Skipping Sunscreen
While heavy sunscreens containing pore-clogging ingredients are often the culprit that causes acne for many people, avoiding it completely isn’t a better solution, as environmental damage is a significant factor that prevents your skin from fully healing.
Pollution, UV rays, and free radicals are just a few things that damage your skin cells and increase inflammation, which can lead to exacerbated acne and increased chances of scarring, such as hyperpigmentation and post-inflammatory erythema lingering on the skin for longer than they would if you protect your skin with a high SPF every day.
#9 Touching Your Face
Touching your face is a huge no-no for acne-prone skin, and the reason why you should stay away from it as much as possible is because of all the germs that accumulate on your fingertips throughout the day.
Every time you touch your face with your hands, all the bacteria, dirt, and debris will be deposited onto the skin or even pushed into the pores and remain stuck inside them, leading to clogged pores, irritation, infections, and breakouts.
Therefore, even if you may think your hands are clean, try resisting the urge to pick at your skin or touch it with your fingertips as much as possible.
#10 Eating Inflammatory Foods
Another common contributor to acne is our diet, and although not always the main reason behind breakouts, some inflammatory foods can cause hormonal imbalances, leading to hormonal acne, which is the type that can be difficult to treat due to its internal component.
Foods like dairy, high-sugar foods, processed and refined carbohydrates, red meat, fried food, alcohol, chocolate, and caffeine are just some of the most common foods that can elevate certain hormones, such as cortisol or IGF-1, which will lead to inflammation in the body that may manifest on the skin as pimples.
Additionally, some foods, particularly red meat and dairy, are known to directly affect hormones that are responsible for the activity of sebaceous glands and, when imbalanced, can stimulate these glands to produce more oil.
This means that consuming them frequently can lead to excessive oiliness and blocked pores.
#10 Not Changing Your Pillowcase Regularly
Neglecting to change your pillowcase regularly can surprisingly be a significant contributing factor to your acne problems.
You spend roughly a third of your life sleeping, which means your face is in constant contact with your pillowcase for extended periods.
Over this time, it accumulates a mix of sweat, oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria – all of which get smeared across your face as you sleep.
This environment is a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive in, and if not changed regularly, the bacteria will continue to multiply, leading to infections and inflammatory skin conditions.
Additional Tips to Help You Get Rid of Acne
Besides eliminating some harmful habits that might be causing you acne and preventing your skin from healing, here are ten additional tips that will help you maintain clear skin in the long run:
This happens because when we are stressed, our body produces more cortisol, a hormone that stimulates the sebaceous glands into producing excess oil.
Evolutionary, this is because oil can protect the skin from external irritations, germs, and other pollutants during uncertain times.
However, in our modern lives, where stress is more of a response to daily triggers than a survival-related issue, excess oil can cause us more harm in the form of inflammatory skin conditions such as acne than good.
Therefore, even if it may not seem like something that will affect your skin, taking time to relax and reduce stress can make a huge difference in reducing acne flare-ups.
Get More Sleep
Similarly to stress, a lack of sleep or an unstable sleep schedule can do a number on our skin and trigger or exacerbate inflammatory skin conditions such as acne.
Our bodies need adequate and consistent rest of at least 7-8 hours per night, as this is when most of our hormones are regulated, and skin cells repair themselves.
When we don’t get enough sleep, cortisol levels spike, which, as previously mentioned, can lead to increased oil production and acne breakouts.
Additionally, when we are not well rested, our skin cells will have a harder time repairing, which is why your skin sometimes looks dry, sallow, and dull when you don’t get enough sleep.
Finally, when we are not well-rested, our bodies are less equipped to fight off the bacteria that can cause inflammation and infections, which can lead to more severe acne flare-ups.
While drinking a lot of water won’t directly clear up your skin, it will help your body filter out components such as bacteria, viruses, artificial hormones, and certain chemicals in cosmetic products that can find their way into our bloodstream and lymph nodes and can create a lot of damage for our cells, which could lead to imbalanced hormones and inflammation, and acne.
So, while there isn’t a study directly relating drinking water to clearer skin, it certainly serves a great purpose in improving our overall health and well-being, so it’s definitely worth incorporating into your routine.
Avoid DIY Trends
DIY skincare is an incredibly popular social media trend that involves making your own skincare products, such as rosewater toners, fruit and vegetable facial masks, spot treatments, moisturizers, and even sunscreens, by using easily accessible and often inexpensive ingredients.
However, while you may feel that taking the natural route will help improve your skin and clear up your acne, DIY trends are often useless at best and harmful at worst.
This is because our skin is an organ that’s designed to keep things out, which is why the ingredients have to be formulated in skincare products at certain molecular weights that would allow them to penetrate just slightly deeper than the surface of the skin for maximum effect.
Therefore, if you don’t have access to a lab where you can use avocado to create a face mask that would work, mixing it up in your kitchen won’t do anything positive for your skin and may cause more harm than good.
This is because our skin and our stomach don’t have the same pH, and while the stomach can dissolve fruits and vegetables that have lower pH, our skin cannot, and it could potentially become irritated and even experience chemical burns from certain substances in the produce you use, such as enzymes, acids, and oils.
On the other hand, eating that same fruit instead of wasting it to create a face mask will likely be more beneficial for your skin due to the antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals it contains that will actually help improve your health, and thus your skin from the inside out.
Therefore, while DIYs might sound like a fun way to save money, treat yourself, and hopefully address a skin concern that’s been bugging you, stick to products that are specifically designed for the skin, as this will be the safest and most effective way to get the results you want.
Avoid Picking Your Pimples
Pimples can often give you the urge to squeeze them until all the juicy white stuff inside of them is gone, which may give you temporary relief, but it will cause your skin more harm than good.
Touching your skin with dirty hands can spread bacteria, dirt, and debris and transfer oils and residue from lotions or other stuff you’ve touched, further clogging the pores and exacerbating inflammation.
Additionally, in order to pop a pimple and see the pus leak out, the tip of the spot, which is your skin, will have to rupture.
This will create a microscopic wound that’s going to be at risk of getting infected by bacterial colonization until it fully heals, and will also increase your chances of permanent scarring.
Avoid Using Antibacterial Products
Using antibacterial products might seem like the most logical thing to do in order to get rid of acne, a condition that’s caused by an overgrowth of bacteria; however, this can make matters worse.
This is because antibacterial products or ingredients such as benzoyl peroxide are band-aids for acne and not long-term solutions.
Antibacterial components will destroy all bacteria in its path, and this includes both the bad and the good bacteria that are a part of our microbiome and have important roles in maintaining our skin health, including preventing the growth of other potentially harmful microbes.
This will lead to an imbalance, and with the lack of good bacteria, the harmful bacteria can proliferate and cause even more skin issues, including more severe breakouts.
Therefore, if you really must, try using antibacterial products sporadically or giving them a break every now and again to avoid the risk of upsetting the balance of your skin’s microbiome and give the good bacteria a chance to balance out and participate in the healthy functioning of your skin instead of just killing them all off.
Stay Consistent With Your Skincare Routine
Trying to keep up with trends by constantly experimenting with new products or replacing a product if it doesn’t improve your skin overnight won’t help you get rid of acne.
Acne is an inflammatory condition that’s caused by many factors, and a skincare routine is just one piece of the puzzle of treating this concern.
Therefore, having a good skincare routine and being consistent with it is incredibly important, as the condition will have to go through multiple stages of healing until you can see signs of improvement.
Acne isn’t something that will go away overnight, which is why you have to give your routine at least 2-3 months before expecting to see visible results.
Therefore, be patient with your skin and try not to give up after the first few weeks. Stick to your routine, and you’ll eventually see the results that you want.
On the other hand, if acne seems to be worsening during this time, try to figure out whether your skincare routine contains products that are known to cause purging.
Purging, although uncomfortable, is a stage many of those with acne have to go through in order to get the results they want, so if this is indeed happening, try to not panic and drop the product, but instead give it more time and give your skin a break from other potential triggers, such as wearing heavy makeup, during this time of healing.
Always Check The Ingredients of Products You Want to Try
We all want to get the best results for our skin, and thus it’s common to be tempted to try out new products that promise us the world.
However, before you do that, always make sure to check the ingredients of said product first.
This is because not all skincare products are created equally, and some contain clogging ingredients, such as emollients, silicones, and oils, that might not do your acne-prone skin any favors.
Additionally, if you can help it, try to also avoid products that contain harsh and irritating ingredients such as alcohol and fragrance, as these can dry out the skin, leading to increased sebum production and further clogging of the pores.
Websites like iNCI Decoder are a good place to start when checking out the ingredients list of a product, as here you will find anything from product recommendations to ingredient breakdowns and safety ratings that can be useful when making a decision.
Try Prescription-Strength Topicals
Tretinoin is one of the strongest retinoids available and works by increasing cellular turnover and preventing clogs from forming inside the pores.
This action will reduce the severity of acne and even completely get rid of the condition in the long run.
Additionally, tretinoin is also fantastic for improving the appearance of acne scarring, hyperpigmentation, uneven skin tone, bumpy texture, and many other concerns, which makes using it, in the long run, a great choice for both acne and anti-aging.
However, because prescription-strength retinoids are known to cause initial side effects such as dryness, flakiness, peeling, redness, and irritation, it’s important that you start off slow and gradually increase the frequency of use over time.
Try Professional Treatments
Professional treatments such as chemical peels and light therapy are also viable options for those looking to get rid of acne.
Chemical peels work by exfoliating the skin, thus removing bacteria, excess oil, dead skin cells, and other debris that might be clogging your pores.
Light therapy, on the other hand, works by using various wavelengths of light to target and kill bacteria while also soothing inflammation and reducing the appearance of redness.
Professional treatments are often the more expensive option to treat conditions such as acne, but it’s definitely more effective and can even be less costly than wasting money on products you don’t really understand how to use or why they aren’t working.
Moreover, because these treatments are done by a licensed professional, you can rest assured that you will get the best results for your skin provided by someone with experience and understanding rather than trying to figure it out on your own.
My name is Simone and I am a certified skin specialist. I created this website to teach my readers how to take great care of their skin and I also like to occasionally share my honest opinions on skincare products I’ve tried. You can learn more about me here.
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