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How to Prevent Acne Breakouts, According to a Dermatologist

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The only thing better than getting rid of acne? Preventing it from happening in the first place. But depending on the type of acne you’re dealing with, that can be very difficult to do. Whether it’s blackheads or persistent breakouts, if you’ve always felt like the skin condition was a fact of life, there may be hope. With one or more skincare swaps (and yes, maybe some lifestyle adjustments), clear skin is more achievable than you think. To learn more, we reached out to New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD to break down just what you need to do, and why.


About the Expert:

Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a New York City-based dermatologist. He is the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.

7 Ways to Prevent Acne Before It Starts

1. Treat acne before it arises

Playing whack-a-mole every time you get a blemish is as hard as it sounds. Instead, Dr. Zeichner recommends getting to the root of the problem before it becomes, well, a problem. “Think of your face as having thousands of pipes connecting your oil clamp to the surface of the skin. In acne, all of those pipes are somewhat clogged,” the derm explains. “We cannot predict which one will become clogged enough to lead to a pimple, so the best way to treat your acne is to cover the entire face.” And while salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide spot treatments can be useful, they should be used as backup. “Spot treating your pimples addresses acne that has already developed, but it’s not preventing new pimples from popping up,” says Dr. Zeichner.

2. Maintain a skincare routine

Sometimes your skin needs time to adjust to new ingredients and formulas. Sticking to a daily skincare routine gives your skin consistency, and helps avoid acne flare-ups. “Especially if you're oily or acne-prone, I recommend washing your face twice daily,” says Dr. Zeichner, who says “Stick to a foaming cleanser or one that contains salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and excess oil from the surface of the skin.” (We love MURAD Clarifying Cleanser, which contains 1.5% salicylic acid and soothing green tea extract.) And yes, washing your face is essential. “It’s important to wash your face at night to remove oil, dirt, and makeup that build up during the day,” he stresses.

3. Use products for your skin type

Ever try an exciting new product, only to immediately break out (or worse)? Better not to waste time and money on those that won’t work with your skin. “Even if you are acne-prone, you still may have dry skin. So it’s important to listen to what your skin is telling you,” says Dr. Zeichner. For instance, “Not everyone with acne is oily,” he says. In other words, you may not need to use oil-free products, which are typically recommended to those with oily skin.

4. Don’t forget to moisturize

And don’t skimp on hydration just because of a breakout, either. “I commonly recommend applying a moisturizer alongside your acne products,” says Dr. Zeichner. “They can help maintain skin hydration and minimize potential irritation from any harsh acne medications.” (If you’re worried about clogging your pores, try a non-comedogenic formula, such as IT COSMETICS Confidence in a Gel Lotion.) And the same rule applies for your other skincare products, too. “While I generally recommend foaming or salicylic acid cleansers [for acne], if your skin is dry or sensitive, a hydrating cleanser might be a better option for you,” advises the derm. If that sounds like you, consider KORRES Greek Yoghurt Foaming Cream Cleanser, which is soap-free and won’t strip away your skin’s natural oils.

5. Swap out your pillowcase

Sometimes, the easiest acne treatment is right underneath your nose—literally. “Especially if you’re not washing your face every night, it’s important to change your pillowcase regularly,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Oil, dirt, and makeup can't transfer from your face onto your pillowcase. As you sleep on it, the soiling can block the pores and lead to irritation and breakouts.” A satin pillowcase such as the one in the KITSCH Satin Sleep Set may help too, as the fabric doesn’t absorb like cotton does.

6. Manage stress

It’s not just you—zits always seem to pop up before a big date, wedding, or job interview. Well, there’s a reason for that. Stress manifests in the body in countless ways, including our skin. “As part of the stress response, hormones stimulate your oil glands and increase oil production leading to breakouts,” explains Dr. Zeichner. Stress reduction is unique to everybody, but everything from a soothing bubble bath to yoga can help, and in some cases, you may want to seek medical advice.

7. Avoid dairy

If you’ve tried everything and your acne just won’t go away, the culprit could be—we’re sorry to say—cheese (sorta). “Diet has been associated with the development of acne,” says Dr. Zeichner. “Cow’s milk, particularly skim milk, as well as food with a high glycemic index, may lead to acne breakouts in predisposed individuals.” Cutting down on greasy food may help too, but it’s important to get medical advice from your physician before making any major changes in your diet.

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About the author
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Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated May 12, 2021 12:00 AM