Old-School Acne Advice Worth Following (And Some to Forget)

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

One of the biggest beauty and grooming bummers, it not only messes with your physical appearance, it also impacts your emotional well-being. Research shows that pimples can affect self-esteem and quality of life, and that psychological disorders like depression are more common in those living with acne. To top it off, one studyWomen and acne: any difference from males? a review of literature. Skroza N, Tolino E, Proietti I, Bernardini N, La Viola G, Nicolucci F, Pampena R, Zuber S, Balduzzi V, Soccodato V, Mancini MT, Potenza C. Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia. 2014 Sep 18. shows that women in particular are more likely to become anxious and depressed because of breakouts. The silver lining? That same study shows that an improvement in skin leads to a better quality of lifeWomen and acne: any difference from males? a review of literature. Skroza N, Tolino E, Proietti I, Bernardini N, La Viola G, Nicolucci F, Pampena R, Zuber S, Balduzzi V, Soccodato V, Mancini MT, Potenza C. Giornale Italiano di Dermatologia e Venereologia. 2014 Sep 18., so nailing an effective treatment plan isn’t vanity, it’s the ultimate in self care.

And that’s why we wanted to sort the solid skincare advice from outdated bunk. Check out the most common acne-related fixes below, and discover what’s legit and what’s totally bogus.

2. Old-school wisdom: Fancy or expensive face washes are most effective.

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Face facts: Skip the hype here. While you get what you pay for when it comes to mattresses, watches, and blenders, that just isn’t the case with face washes. Because they stay on your skin for seconds, experts believe it’s really unnecessary to shell out big bucks on this cleansing cosmetic. Instead, pay more attention to a cleanser’s attributes (i.e. the info that indicates that the cleanser won’t aggravate acne-prone skin) than its price tag. The key terms you should look for: oil-free, non-comedogenic, and mild. You could also select a product that contains acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, or, for a natural alternative, tea tree oil. Just keep in mind that cleansers containing meds may irritate your skin if you’re already using a blemish-banishing medication. As for scrubbing away at your face, it can help slough off dead skin cells, paving the way for clearer pores. Just remember to scrub with care (don’t be overzealous) and be choosy about what product you’re using. Skincare experts recommend opting for a formula with round, non-plastic exfoliating particles and only using the scrub twice a week.

3. Old-school wisdom: It’s OK to pop a pimple.

Face facts: Well, yes and no. When a big ol’ zit strikes (and inevitably lingers —right before a hot date, of course), one of the hardest things to do is to avoid messing with it and ultimately popping it. But picking and prodding may just make matters worse by damaging the tissue surrounding the area. It can also lead to a skin infection and scarring, which will greet you in the mirror waaaay longer than today’s red bump. The bottom line: It’s really best to leave your blemishes alone.

That said, if you just can’t stand the sight of your spots, there is a way to pop a zit to minimize the risk of scarring. First, determine whether the pimple is ready to be popped. (If it’s raised with a white/yellow surface, it’s good to go.) Press a warm compress to the area to soften your skin and bring the gunk closer to the surface. Douse a sewing needle with rubbing alcohol to disinfect it, and then gently poke the surface of the zit. Wrap two tissues around your index fingers—this helps avoid the spread of bacteria—and gently squeeze from the sides of the blemish. If you start to see blood or clear fluid coming out of the incision, stop! One thing to note: If your pimple is deep and painful, don’t touch it. See a dermatologist to bring out the heavy artillery (prescriptions or other plans of attack like cortisone shots).

4. Old-school wisdom: Touching your face causes acne.

Face facts: Yup, there’s truth in the look-but-don’t-touch approach to skincare. Dermatologists and skincare professionals far and wide agree: Touching your face can lead to breakouts—even if your hands are clean. Basically, every time you touch your face, you’re introducing whatever germs you’ve come in contact with directly onto your skin. Break the habit for a clearer, smoother complexion.

6. Old-school wisdom: Destress to stop acne flare-ups.

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Face facts: This advice is solid and stands the test of time: As if it weren’t bad enough on its own, stress actually can lead to breakouts, too. Stress elicits an inflammatory response that can make the walls of your clogged pores break and the area redden and fill with pus. (Gross, we know.) Times like these can also boost androgen (a hormone) production in the body, which can lead to a less-than-stellar complexion. While it’s definitely difficult to keep calm, try any of these 23 strategies to decrease stress—and improve your complexion—every single day.

7. Old-school wisdom: You can treat acne with oral antibiotics.

Face facts: Yes, but… like we mentioned above, taking antibiotics will indeed help to banish breakouts. Still, it’s not a magic pill. There are many caveats: First of all, research suggestsRandomised controlled multiple treatment comparison to provide a cost-effectiveness rationale for the selection of antimicrobial therapy in acne. Ozolins M, Eady EA, Avery A, Cunliffe WJ, O’Neill C, Simpson NB, Williams HC. Health Technology Assessment. 2005 Jan; 9(1): iii-212. that it’s only effective in about half the people who try it, and its benefits may only be moderate. Plus popping these pills is generally intended for those with mild to severe acne, and the treatment period can be pretty lengthy (three to six months of regular pill use followed by a topical treatment, like a retinoid, for three to 12 months—or sometimes even longer). Taking antibiotics may also make acne bacteria (and other kinds, for that matter) resistant to the medication, which would stall your quest for clear skin. To top it off, researchers suggest that going antibiotic-happy may kill off certain bacteria that live in the gut, possibly leading to food allergies, celiac disease, and other pretty scary disorders. So, as with all meds, downing antibiotics in the hopes for better skin comes with its fair share of possible drawbacks.

8. Old-school wisdom: You can “dry out” acne by sunbathing.

Face facts: Simply put, this is 100 percent wrong. A sun-kissed glow might mask the problem by making zits less evident—but it’s by no means an acne treatment. In fact, it may actually mess with your skin by making it produce more oil. Plus, soaking up those rays is bad for your overall well-being (ahem, skin cancer) and appearance (s’up, wrinkles, freckles, and discoloration), and it can be especially problematic if you’re using acne medications. These meds can boost your odds of burning and your chances of getting all the no-fun cosmetic and health issues previously listed. So laying out in the hopes of zapping some zits really isn’t the best course of action.

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