The 10 best ways to treat acne

Acne is a skin condition that can affect anyone, from teenagers to adults. It can cause itching, scarring, and affect our health and confidence. What causes acne varies from person to person, with hormonal changes and stress being two common triggers. Thankfully, there are a few simple lifestyle changes that can help.

Who is most affected by acne?

Acne can affect anyone at any stage in their lives. It’s most common in children aged 14 to 19 and affects approximately 90% of teenagers in some way. 

In later life, this number drops to around 5% of women and 1% of men in their 40s. Teenagers are more prone to acne because of the various hormonal changes that take place during puberty. 

These top tips will help you improve the look of your skin without the use of any lotions or potions.

Can you get acne anywhere?

Acne is not limited to the face. 

Many people suffer from painful, uncomfortable, and unsightly spots on their backs, necks, and chest. In fact, acne can crop up anywhere other than the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet.

What causes acne?

There are many myths about the causes and origins of acne.

Acne is not caused by being unclean or eating greasy food. It is caused by a genetic tendency to form both blocked pores and greasy skin. 

These blockages prevent sebum (naturally produced oils) from leaving the body. This feeds the bacteria trapped in the follicle, causing them to multiply. Your body reacts to this by sending white blood cells to fight the bacteria and this causes inflammation. 

For some, acne can be a relentless condition that needs medical treatment, for others changing lifestyle and nutrition may provide an antidote or help ease the condition.

The best way to treat acne

Different treatments work for different people. This is because no two cases of acne are the same.

Thankfully, making sensible lifestyle choices and changes can have a real positive impact on the severity of acne. 

The following tips can help improve the look of your skin, reduce the appearance of spots and scars, and boost your confidence in the process: 

1. Lightly exfoliate regularly

Regular exfoliation helps unblock pores and prevent new spots occurring. 

For best results, use a light and natural body scrub once or twice a week and avoid harsh or chemical scrubs (this includes glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid-based cleansers) as they can aggravate spots. 

If you are okay using chemical exfoliators, salicylic acid is especially useful for oily skin as it can help penetrate oily pores.

No matter what you’re using, it’s important you don’t exfoliate too harshly or regularly, as this can aggravate your skin causing greater inflammation. Avoid using mitts or brushes as they build up bacteria that can make your skin worse.

2. Use the right products for you

All skin is different. What is safe for treating acne in one person can cause inflammation and damage in another.

Glycolic, salicylic, and lactic acid basic cleansers are chemical exfoliators that are especially useful for removing dead skin cells and unblocking our pores. Products containing - topical vitamin A are very effective for acne-prone skin as they can decrease the outbreak and reduce the severity of acne scars.

Benzoyl peroxide and azelaic acid are also useful anti-inflammatory agents that reduce redness and the size of inflamed red spots.

When it comes to products you shouldn’t be using, take care to avoid topical vitamin C, as this often aggravates acne.

3. Exercise regularly

Don’t give up on exercise if you have acne. 

Many acne sufferers stop exercising because sweating seems to make it worse. Exercise actually helps by keeping you healthy. Strong natural bodily processes during exercise can help unblock your pores by making you sweat. 

Just make sure you wash straight after exercise, preferably before the sweat has had time to dry. 

3. Eat these foods 

Almonds, blueberries, avocados and kidney beans are among a range of foods which may help to reduce and prevent inflammation. This may make your skin less likely to develop the painful and inflamed spots that can make life miserable. 

4. Enjoy the sun (but avoid sunbeds)

Exposure to the sun is essential for people’s wellbeing as this is how we absorb vitamin D which helps strengthen our bones. 

Just 15 minutes of sun exposure a day could help treat the symptoms of acne by drying out the sebum. However, any longer and the drying effects could be counteractive, blocking the pores further with dry skin. 

It’s important to always wear sun protection with UVA and UVB protection when in the sun and avoid sunbeds at all costs as they emit huge levels of UV rays which are very damaging to your skin. 

5. Don’t shower more than twice a day 

Regarding showering and washing your face, avoid doing so more than twice a day.

Overwashing the skin is counterproductive and can result in more sebum production which flares up acne prone skin.

When you do wash your face, use a gentle facewash that does not strip the skin of its natural oils. Medicated facewashes with GA/SA/LA are best. For best results, always leave these products on your skin for a minute before washing them off.

If you exercise regularly, always wash your skin immediately after. This helps rid the skin of the sweat which can block our pores and become an irritant.

6. Drink lots of water

Water is essential for all of your bodily functions and this includes the liver which controls hormone production. Hormones play a part in acne by increasing sebum production, this is why acne often presents in teenagers who go through hormone spikes in those years. Drinking water will help keep you in optimal health. Drink two litres a day or more as appropriate if you are exercising. 

7. Go make-up free, or use mineral-based make-up

If possible, wear no make-up, as make-up may block your pores further. 

But if you feel the need to cover up marks and scars, use a mineral-based foundation (avoid variations with Bismuth salts in them) and concealer which doesn’t contain additional oils. The natural substance won’t aggravate your skin or cause additional inflammation and is less likely to clog your pores. 

When applying your makeup, try to avoid layering on thick amounts of foundation to cover the acne. A lighter coverage with thin layers is less likely to block your pores.

8. Wash your face before bed

Just because you are asleep at night, doesn’t mean your skin is. Washing make-up off with water and PH-neutral soap before bedtime will unblock your pores allowing your skin to breathe and reducing the likelihood of skin eruptions. 

9. Avoid touching it

As tempting as it can be to poke and prod at spots, don’t. Touching your spots not only introduces new bacteria to the area, but it can also break the seal of the pore.

This can cause the bacteria to spread into your skin causing inflammation, turning blackheads and whiteheads into red, sore spots. Instead, keep following your natural skin cleansing routine.

10. See a professional

With severe acne, seeing a professional before taking action is the best thing you can do.

Your GP or dermatologist may recommend antibiotics (topical or oral) which are often used to get acne under control and avoid the progression of inflamed spots that can cause scarring.

In women, the contraceptive pill can be of use, as it typically suppresses the production of sebum.

You may also find that the presence of acne on your skin (especially the face) is having a mental impact on you. Seeking help for the psychological impact of acne is common and can be discussed with your GP.

In severe cases, you may require a referral to a skin specialist for oral vitamin A.

Last updated Tuesday 7 November 2023

First published on Friday 19 June 2015