Have you heard the news?
Pimples aren’t the badge of shame they used to be. Whereas we used to do everything we could to cover them up, including using layers of the wrong shade of concealer, now teens, adults, and celebrities are posting pictures of themselves sporting these formerly humiliating spots without worry.
It may have started when activist Louisa Northcote started her #freethepimple campaign on Instagram. She shared selfies of herself with uncovered pimples and encouraged her followers to do the same.
So popular was the idea that there is now an entire @freethepimple Instagram account, but beyond that, there seems to be a general move toward being more accepting of these little skin eruptions. Even Justin Bieber declared “pimples are in” with a selfie in 2018.
“I punished myself for having acne and thought I was ugly and worthless,” Northcote posted. “Finding others like me, through using social media and being part of the acne community, has changed my life.”
It’s been a similarly freeing experience for many others, too, as let’s face it: pretty much everyone has to deal with breakouts at one point or another in their lives. How wonderful not to have to feel so humiliated anymore by a natural physical process.
Still, we know that despite the openness and acceptance, no one likes acne. Given our druthers, we’d all rather do without it, so to that end, we have some tips below to help you bring your skin to a healthier, acne-free place—all while making sure to fully accept yourself, pimples and all, of course!
1. Take Care of Your Microbiome
This may be a surprising first tip for getting rid of acne, but research has shown over the past several years that the skin has a microbiome much like the gut—a balance of good and bad bacteria that contribute to the overall health of the skin. Some studies now connect the microbiome closely with acne breakouts.
In a 2019 study, for instance, researchers found that participants with acne had a different microbiome than those who didn’t, and further, that acne had close connections with the gut microbiome as well.
Stress, depression, anxiety, and poor diet can all alter the gut microbiota and potentially contribute to skin inflammation and acne. Scientists now know that there is a gut-brain-axis that connects the gut microbes, oral probiotics (like those in yogurt), and diet, to acne severity.
- Take care of your gut microbiome. Eat a healthy diet, and get more probiotics in foods like yogurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, and tempeh.
- Take care of your skin’s microbiome. Avoid harsh cleansers that strip the skin, and stay away from moisturizers with harsh chemical ingredients you can’t pronounce. Use skin-friendly products that include natural oils, extracts, butters, ceramides, and triglycerides.
2. Change Your Face Towel and Cleanse Your Makeup Brushes
Acne is caused by bacteria, and these two items—the face towel and makeup brush—are often full of bacteria. Every time you use either of these, you deposit bacteria onto them. If you use them again without cleaning them, you risk depositing that bacteria right back on your face.
- Change your face towel: It’s best if you change it out every other day or if you’re really struggling with acne, try switching out every day for a while to see if you notice improvement.
- Wash your makeup brushes: Once a week is best. Simply wash with warm water and dish soap or shampoo, then allow to air dry.
- Change your pillowcase: This is another surface that regularly touches your face, and it can soon become filled with bacteria. To prevent breakouts, change at least once a week, or even twice.
3. Eat a Low-Glycemic Diet
It used to be that we weren’t sure if food affected acne, but recent research has suggested that it can. A 2016 study, for example, showed that high glycemic load diets—that are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates—could exacerbate acne. Other studies have found similar results.
Though scientists don’t know why this might be, the theory is that these foods spike blood sugar levels, which can lead to an increase in overall inflammation. Since acne is the result of bacteria combined with inflammation, it makes sense that reducing any such inflammation could help you avoid acne breakouts.
Some studies have found this to be the case. When over 2,000 patients were placed on a low-glycemic diet to lose weight, they found that they also reduced their acne, with 87 percent saying they had less acne and 91 percent saying they needed less acne medication.
- Avoid foods with a high glycemic index: These are simple carbohydrates that break down quickly in the body, spiking blood sugar levels. Examples include white bread and bagels, white pasta, sweetened breakfast cereals, white rice, and snack foods like pretzels and rice cakes. Choose instead whole-grain bread, pasta, and rice, as well as whole fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, nuts and seeds, and lean meats.
4. Carefully Choose Your Skin Care Products
In most cases, dermatologists classify those with acne-prone skin as having sensitive skin, particularly those with adult acne. The skin goes through an adjustment in the adolescent years that can make acne inevitable for just about anyone, but if you’re still struggling with breakouts as an adult, you probably have sensitive skin.
That means you need to be choosy in your skincare products. Those that are full of petrolatum ingredients like mineral oil can clog your pores, making acne worse. You also need products that will help reduce inflammation, as that can stop acne in its tracks.
- Choose products with anti-inflammatory ingredients: Look for products with anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric, calendula, chamomile, green tea, and white willow bark. These will help reduce inflammation, resulting in fewer breakouts.
- Choose your cleanser carefully: Harsh cleansers that strip the skin of its natural oils can cause a rebound effect, resulting in more oil and increased acne. Cleansers with sodium lauryl sulfate can also lead to irritation and drying, which can result in more breakouts. Use a gentle cleanser that leaves your skin feeling good, not tight or dry.
- Choose a light but moisturizing moisturizer: Some moisturizers are too heavy and can clog pores, so you want to look for one that feels good on your skin but truly moisturizes. It can also help to have a moisturizer that contains salicylic acid, as this naturally keeps pores clear and treats pimples while it hydrates.
- Go fragrance-free: Fragrance-heavy products can cause reactions in sensitive skin, including acne. Always choose fragrance-free and just avoid all those chemicals.
Have you posted a selfie with pimples?
Lisa Niven-Phillips, “Is the Beauty World Finally Embracing Acne?” Vogue, September 15, 2019, https://www.vogue.co.uk/beauty/article/beauty-world-embracing-acne.
AAD. “Can the Right Diet Get Rid of Acne?” American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed December 18, 2019. https://www.aad.org/diet.
Kucharska, Alicja, Agnieszka Szmurło, and Beata Sińska. “Significance of diet in treated and untreated acne vulgaris.” Advances in Dermatology and Allergology 2 (2016), 81-86. doi:10.5114/ada.2016.59146.
Lee, Byun, and Kim. “Potential Role of the Microbiome in Acne: A Comprehensive Review.” Journal of Clinical Medicine 8, no. 7 (2019), 987. doi:10.3390/jcm8070987.