We’ve been cruel, harsh and sometimes punishing in our quest for clear skin. But as it turns out, scrubbing, rubbing, and picking at our faces doesn’t do our skin any favors. When it comes to getting clearer skin, dermatologists are now encouraging more kindness in our regimens. From products to practices, we’ve asked some top dermatologists how to achieve skin clarity once and for all. Find out what they had to say, ahead.
1. DO: Use a Cleansing Brush
A cleansing device “takes off more dirt, bacteria and makeup from your skin,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. Cleansing brushes also exfoliate the skin’s surface, leaving it looking and feeling softer and smoother. Just be sure to use a device that’s designed for acne. Some bristles can be too rough, causing redness and sensitivity.
2. DON’T: Use Just Any Face Wash
Despite the common urge to blast away zits, Dr. Jaliman suggests a mild cleanser specifically designed for acne-prone skin. It seems counterintuitive, but any cleanser that strips the skin of its natural oils can kick up oil production, which often results in, yes, more breakouts. In other words, it’s the boomerang effect right there on your chin. Additionally, it is best to wash your face twice a day — morning and night — to rinse away dirt, debris, and sweat. And, if you participate in a particularly intense workout, using a gentle cleanser post sweating is always a good idea.
3. DO: Use a Toner (But Not Any Toner)
Skin-stripping high-alcohol toners are a bad idea for most people, especially those susceptible to acne. Instead, Dr. Jaliman suggests a toner with glycolic acid or salicylic acid morning and evening after cleansing to prevent dead skin cells from clogging pores. The right toner can also balance the skin’s natural pH level, soothe and calm skin, while reducing redness.
4. DON’T: Pick, Poke or Pop
Perhaps you’ve seen the unavoidable, stomach-turning videos that glorify zit popping. Watch them if you must, but don’t follow their lead. Instead, channel that energy into applying a spot treatment. This will dry out the affected area and keep inflammation down. You can also reach for acne-clearing masks, peels and even skin care devices to help banish redness and restore your clear skin.
5. DO: Say Hello to Retinoids
A topical retinoid can prevent clogged pores and help acne treatments work better and faster, says Dr. Jeremy Brauer, Director of Clinical Research at the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. These products can be harsh, though, so start by applying only a pea-size amount to your face and do it just once every three days. As your skin adjusts, you can increase to a nightly application and revel in the knowledge that your face is now “after” picture material.
6. DON’T: Skip Sunscreen
The idea that sun exposure can burn away breakouts is a long debunked myth. In fact, “sun, heat and humidity can cause oil glands to become overactive, which can lead to acne breakouts,” says Dr. Dendy Engelman, board-certified dermatologic surgeon and associate at Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery. To prevent breakouts, choose an oil-free, non-comedogenic sunscreen and apply it liberally.
7. DO: Play with Clay
Clay is an excellent ally for oily, acne-prone skin. It draws out impurities and absorbs oil, yet doesn’t leave skin dry, stripped or irritated. Dr. Jaliman suggests a once-a-week clay mask. If your skin is inflamed, look for a clay mask that also boasts clarifying enzymes and/or sulfur to treat breakouts and soothe redness.
8. DO: Feed Your Face
There’ve been so many mixed messages about food—don’t eat pizza, grease begets grease, chocolate is the enemy—that it’s tempting to ignore it all. Recent research to the rescue! Experts have found that sugar, high-glycemic foods—white rice, white bread, pasta, potatoes—and skim milk can exacerbate breakouts. Dr. Jaliman recommends a diet rich in antioxidants, including fruits, vegetables, nuts, green and black tea and fish. If it’s difficult to get those antioxidants from food, supplements are a wise alternative.
9. DO: Consider LED Light
If topical acne treatments aren’t working fast enough, consider an LED (light emitting diode) device. “LED therapy is a form of low-level light energy that penetrates the skin to cause different reactions and target different issues,” explains Dr. Robin Evans, board-certified dermatologist at Southern Connecticut Dermatology. “This can repair tissue and promote wound healing. The energy can also target bacteria, inflammation and stimulate collagen,” she adds.
10. DO: Clean Your Phone — And Stop Touching Your Face!
The bacteria on your cell phone could make you break out, which may explain the zits on your cheek. “Don’t rest your phone against your face, use earbuds instead!” says Dr. Jaliman. We used to treat our phones gingerly; now we know we can clean them with a disinfecting wipe or cotton pad dampened with rubbing alcohol. Whether you’re on the phone or not, it’s also important to be mindful of how often your hands touch your face and, if you can, avoid touching altogether. Your hands also pick up dirt and bacteria and transferring this to the skin on your face could cause further breakouts.
11. DO: Go to Sleep
It’s called beauty sleep for a reason. When you sleep, the skin repairs itself, producing collagen and healing wounds. And if you’re sleep-deprived, not only do you end up with under-eye circles and bags, you’re also more likely to experience increases in acne, fine lines, dehydration and irritation. Whew! Adults need seven hours of restful sleep a night, minimum. So, an hour or two before your new, early bedtime, put away the electronics and get into a nice warm tub or shower. The rise and subsequent fall of your body temperature will make you sleepy and improve the quality of your sleep throughout the night.
12. DO: Stay Hydrated
“Staying hydrated is an important goal in maintaining clear skin,” says Dr. Loretta Ciraldo MD FAAD a Miami-based board certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta skincare. “Nearly all forms of acne start with the trapping of dead cells within our pores,” she adds, noting that dehydrated skin cells are much more likely to get stuck in our pores. “Maintaining good skin hydration is one part of preventing and even clearing acneic skin so that you can potentiate the healthy rate of shedding of dead cells from pores.” When it comes to staying hydrated, it’s important to consume a recommended amount of water to quench from the inside out. Additionally, moisturizing the complexion in the morning and at night can keep skin supple, soft, and well-nourished.
13. DO: Consider Your Makeup Choices
According to Dr. Ciraldo, “some ingredients commonly found in makeup can cause or promote acne and are best to avoid.” These ingredients are artificial fragrances, sulfates, and D&C, “which is a red dye that can be very acne producing,” explains Dr. Ciraldo. In addition to keeping an eye out for makeup ingredients, Dr. Ciraldo says to always wash makeup off before going to bed as “makeup residue can penetrate into [the skin] and clog pores as we sleep.” She also recommends washing makeup brushes once per week “since they can collect bacteria and promote acne.”
14. DO: Try Doctor Recommended Topical Medications
Some topical medications such as BHA, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid can also help improve the look of skin and promote a clearer complexion. Although, it’s always best to ask your dermatologist about these first to see if they make sense for you. “BHA, also called salicylic acid, is especially good at penetrating deep into the pores where it works to unglue dead cells from each other so that we can purge them from our pores,” explains Dr. Ciraldo. “This helps to clear existing and prevent new acne breakouts,” she adds. As far as benzoyl peroxide is concerned, Dr. Ciraldo says that this topical medication is also an exfoliant but works as an antibacterial, too. That being said, if your skin tends to be on the dryer and sensitive sides of the spectrum, it might be best to stick with salicylic because benzoyl peroxide is “typically more drying and irritating than BHA.” If your goal is clear skin and a brighter-looking complexion, azelaic acid might be for you as it works to bring clarity and, according to Dr. Ciraldo, can help promote a brighter complexion, too.
How to Get Clear Skin For Your Exact Skin Type
Achieving clearer skin isn’t a one size fits all approach. As with most skincare practices, it’s important to consider skin type when devising a plan for clarity.
Dry Skin: If you have dry skin, Dr. Ciraldo says to “avoid any products that seem to cause flaking or redness on your skin” as it can cause the skin to “overreact to aggressively drying regimens and often produce more unhealthy skin oils to compensate for dryness.” As a result, you might experience even more breakouts.
Oily Skin: For those with oily complexions, Dr. Ciraldo recommends using BHA to “dislodge the excess oils that get trapped into the clogged pores.” She also recommends adding a retinol to your regimen.
Combination Skin: “Most people really have combination skin,” says Dr. Ciraldo. “The rule here is to always apply your skincare in front of a well lit mirror,” she adds, noting how you might need to spot treat in areas that have “the most concentrated breakouts.” These spots tend to be along the hairline or nose. As an added precaution, Dr. Ciraldo says to “never apply acne treatment products to areas that are already very inflamed or peeling.”
The secret to getting clearer skin is not just in the formulas we use, but the practices we establish, too. And, while we might have not always had the best methods in place — read: the scrubbing and picking — it’s never too late to try a new way. When it comes to our bodies (our complexions included), kindness goes a long way. That also extends to trying new skincare regimens out. No matter what your skin type is, Dr. Ciraldo says “more is not better” in the name of clear skin. She recommends applying products sparingly and to consider starting new acne products gradually.