Skin Care for People with Acne

Good skin care plays an important role in treating acne. Following these skin care guidelines — unless your dermatologist instructs otherwise — can help improve your results:

Gently Cleanse Acne-prone Skin

  • Limit washing to twice a day – and after perspiring. Once in the morning and once at night as well as after perspiring heavily should be the limit. Perspiration, especially when wearing a hat or helmet, can make acne worse, so the skin should be gently cleansed as quickly as possible after perspiring.

  • Use a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. Wash the face and other acne-prone areas with a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser that does not contain alcohol.

  • Use your fingertips. Apply the cleanser and wash with your fingertips. This reduces skin irritation. Using a washcloth, mesh sponge, or anything else can irritate the skin and lead to breakouts.

  • Never scrub the skin. Scrubbing the skin clean does not clear acne. In fact, scrubbing irritates the skin and can make acne worse.

  • Rinse with lukewarm water. Be sure to thoroughly rinse away the cleanser with lukewarm, not hot, water.

  • Shampoo regularly. If you have oily hair, shampoo daily.

Avoid Acne Skin Care Taboos
Astringents, rubbing alcohol, and tanning do not help clear acne nor keep acne-prone skin free from blemishes. Dermatologists recommend that their patients with acne and acne-prone skin avoid the following:

  • Astringents, exfoliators, masks, and toners. These products do not help clear acne. In fact, these can aggravate the skin and make acne worse. These products also may make it more difficult to tolerate prescription acne medications, so it is best not to use these when treating acne.

  • Greasy hair-care products. Oily hair-care products, such as oil-containing gels and pomades, can drip onto the skin and clog pores. This can cause acne.

  • Picking, popping, and squeezing pimples. People pick and pop pimples to get rid of them quickly. The truth is this prolongs healing time and increases the risk of scarring.

  • Rubbing alcohol. Some people apply rubbing alcohol in order to dry out the oily skin. This will not help clear acne nor prevent breakouts. It can irritate the skin and cause breakouts.

  • Tanning. Some people claim that their acne clears with sun exposure. The truth is that tanning does not clear acne. Tanning, however, does increase one’s risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.





  • Touching the skin throughout the day. Dermatologists advise their patients with acne and acne-prone skin not touch their skin frequently. This can cause flare-ups.

Select “Noncomedogenic” Cosmetics and Skin Care Products
Many acne patients are surprised to learn that makeup, moisturizers, and sunscreen are okay to use while treating acne. The key is to select products labeled “noncomedogenic.” This means the product does not clog pores. Just because a product says “noncomedogenic” does not mean that it works for everyone. You may have to experiment with different noncomedogenic products before you find one that works for you.

Makeup. The truth is makeup can be worn when treating acne — even when using topical medications. Just be sure to follow these guidelines:

  • Choose oil-free cosmetics that are labeled “noncomedogenic” (won’t clog pores).

  • Apply makeup after applying acne medication.

  • If you have trouble finding makeup that can be used with acne medication, consult a dermatologist.

Moisturizer. Did you know that moisturizer can help calm irritated acne-prone skin? If your skin feels dry and you want to moisturize, follow these guidelines:

  • Use a moisturizer that is oil-free and says “noncomedogenic” (won’t clog pores).

  • If you use a topical acne medication, apply the moisturizer after applying the acne medication. If your skin still feels dry or stings, try applying the moisturizer before applying the acne medication.

Practice Sun Protection
Dermatologists recommend sun protection, which includes but is not limited to regular use of sunscreen, for all their patients, including those with acne. Research shows that most cases of skin cancer can be prevented with sun protection. Sun protection also can help prevent sunburn in patients using topical retinoids, which increase the skin’s sensitivity to the sun.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone protect their skin by following these sun-protection practices:

  • Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin. Use a sunscreen that has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 and provides broad-spectrum protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or perspiring.

    People with acne or acne-prone skin should use a sunscreen labeled “noncomedogenic” (does not clog pores) and apply it after applying topical acne medication.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses, where possible.

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

  • Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.

  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds causes skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

  • Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin, see a dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Shave with Care
Men know that shaving when you have acne can be a challenge. Here are some dermatologists’ tips that can help give you a clean shave.

  • Before shaving, soften the hairs. Wetting the face thoroughly with lukewarm water can help soften the hairs.

  • Experiment. Try shaving with electric and safety razors to see which works best for you.

  • Make sure the blade is sharp. This helps prevents nicks from a safety razor, which can irritate the skin and lead to breakouts.

  • Shave lightly. This can help avoid nicking acne lesions, which can make acne worse.

  • Never try to shave off the acne. This aggravates the condition and makes the acne worse.

If after following these guidelines, you are not satisfied with the results, be sure to see a dermatologist. Today, virtually every case of acne can be effectively treated.

All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Acne medications should be used as directed.  Using more than directed will not improve results.  In fact, this can aggravate the skin and make acne worse.

For more information about using acne medication, see Psst...Topical Acne Medication Can Clear Acne.





© American Academy of Dermatology, 2011  All rights reserved.

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