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Acne Facts and Myths - What to Know to Get Rid of Pimples

My Face (circa 2012) - The bulk of my acne is on or around my chin area.

My Face (circa 2012) - The bulk of my acne is on or around my chin area.

Who are you and what is your authority here?

I am not a doctor or dermatologist. I am simply a woman who had mild acne as a teen that devolved into mild to moderate acne (and moderate hormonal acne) over the last decade. I have learned a lot about how acne works through my own experiences, reading/researching, and from medical professionals that I have met with about my skin over the years.

I wrote this article because I was sick of seeing inaccurate information online about skincare. I hope that what I have learned can help others that are struggling with their acne prone skin.

Acne Fact: What Works For Someone Else May Not Work for You

Your journey to clear skin is yours an yours alone. Sounds cheesy, right? The truth is, if you want to get rid of your pimples, you will need to customize your skincare routine to fit your own skin. Why would follow what the cosmetic companies, faceless skincare "gurus," and product reviewers tell you to buy? They couldn't possibly know exactly what triggers your breakouts or causes your acne. They also don't know what your skin can tolerate.

This is not to say that you shouldn't try what a doctor or dermatologist prescribes for you. You shouldn't avoid non-prescription recommendations whole cloth either. Your best bet is to find the products or remedies have proven to work for a group of people and give it a shot. It might clear up your skin, it might be ineffective, or it might make your skin worse, but the only way you will know is if you try it for yourself.

The Acne Experiment

The Acne Experiment

Acne Fact: Trial and Error is A Necessary Evil

From my own experiences, I can tell you that getting rid of pimples is very much so trial and error. You have to play around with your routine by trying different products, brands, potencies, frequencies of application, combinations of products, and other treatment plans/methods to find out what works and what doesn't. Remember, it will also take a good amount of time to figure out what works and what doesn't, so be patient. Unless you're lucky and find a fantastic treatment that clears up all your pimples quickly in the beginning, you will have to go through some frogs before you find your prince.

I've found that the best method for getting rid of pimples is to purge your skincare/makeup routine fully (save for a cleanser and maybe a light moisturizer) then introduce your products (or new ones) one by one. This way, you can find out which products make your skin worse, which ones do nothing, and which improve it.

Think of it this way: Lets say you know you're allergic to certain fruits, but you love to eat fruit salad. How would you know which fruits you were allergic to unless you tried them one by one?


(PS: I'm going through this process on my blog in a series called The Acne Experiment. You can follow along with my progress as I try out different products to find out what agrees with my skin and what doesn't.)

Acne Myth: Products That Are Non-Comedogenic Won't Clog My Pores

If you have problem skin, I'm sure you've scoured drugstore shelves and online stores for those glowing words: "non-comedogenic." It translates to "won't clog pores" and virtually every major skincare, makeup, and cosmetic company will use the phrase (or something similar: non-acnegenic, dermatologist approved, etc) to sell products. What these companies won't tell you is that this term doesn't actually mean "won't clog pores" - it simply means that it is less likely to than other products.

This is why product reviews drive me batty. Often times a product will have a ton of low ratings because it caused someone to have breakouts. I have news for you: virtually any product has the potential for causing acne breakouts, regardless of the labeling. This includes acne medications.

Beyond this, there are plenty of products that aren't specifically labeled "non-comedogenic" that could work perfectly fine for your acne prone skin. MAC cosmetics are a good example of this. MAC makeup isn't explicitly labeled "non-comedogenic" but there are certainly people that tolerate it well and don't get pimples from it. You may find a reviews online that say otherwise, but MAC is a very popular brand - if a product is reviewed enough, you will eventually find negative reviews.

You should not wholly discount products that some negative reviews. A better approach is to figure out what ingredients trigger your breakouts, and only use product that do not have your known acne triggers in it.

Grapeseed Oil is known to be beneficial for those with acne prone skin.

Grapeseed Oil is known to be beneficial for those with acne prone skin.

Acne Myth: Oil is Bad for Acne Prone Skin

"If you have acne prone skin or oil skin, you should only buy oil-free products."

Sound familiar?

While there are people that don't do well with products that contain oil, there are certainly people that have acne that tolerate product with oil in them just fine. In fact, there are entire groups of people that swear by using oil to treat acne and oily skin. The key is to find the specific kind of oil that agrees with you.

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The take-home message here is that while oil-free products can be a safer bet for acne prone skin, it certainly doesn't preclude you from using ALL products that contain oil. There just might be a kind of oil that works, nay even improves, the look of your skin.

Acne Fact: Simpler is Better

As you may be gleaning from this article thus far, there are lots of skincare ingredients that can cure acne, some that make it worse, and some that don't do anything to it at all. When trying to get rid of your pimples, the best method is to choose products and routines that are streamlined.

The reason for this is simple: The less ingredients you use, the less chance you'll have that an ingredient will trigger a breakout. So, start simply and add to or "tweak" your routine as you go. That way, your routine will only be as complicated as it needs to be.

Acne Fact: Touching Your Face Can Give You Pimples

Admit it. We've all been guilty of picking at a pimple at some point or another.

Picture it: You've got nice, big, red, shiny zit on your face and you don't want it there anymore. You've been able to get rid of them quickly in the past by popping it, but as you probably know, sometimes the attempted "popping" just makes it worse. Then, of course, you're stuck with an EVEN BIGGER ZIT and subsequent dark spot (or even scar) for exponentially longer than if you had never touched it at all.

I've found that it's best to keep your hands off your face in general. Touching your face not only brings more bacteria to it, it can also aggravate already fussy skin. By touching your face or picking at pimples, you run the risk of making existing acne worse, and causing a few new pimples to pop up next to the original, like zit siblings. Gross. It's a vicious cycle.

Try this experiment: Make the conscious effort to not touch your face or pick for an entire month. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Acne Fact: External Elements Can Cause Breakouts

Certain types of acne are caused by bacteria on the skin. As such, it's easy to see that putting not clean objects on or around your face could trigger a breakout.

But, "Ew" you say. "What kind of dirty objects could I possibly be putting on my face?" How about your cell phone? How often do you clean it? What about your pillowcase? How often are you washing it? And what about glasses or sunglasses? Do you disinfect them regularly?

You can clean your cell phone and glasses with a cotton ball dipped in astringent/toner or rubbing alcohol. Just be sure that whatever you are using doesn't damage the surface/finish on the phone/glasses.

As for your pillowcase - if you're a mouth breather like me, you could be drooling all over it every night and our mouths are teeming with bacteria. You could also be rubbing your dirty face or dirty (and possibly pore-clogging, product-covered) hair into it night after night. An easy solution to this is to sleep on your back. Back sleeping will also prevent a kind of wrinkles called "sleep lines." If you can't break the habit, change your pillowcase out nightly (or, come now, at least once or twice a week), and try to go to bed with a clean head.

(Don't get me wrong, I love In-n-Out as much as the next gal!)

(Don't get me wrong, I love In-n-Out as much as the next gal!)

Acne Myth: Poor Diet Has Nothing to Do With Your Skin

The connection between nutrition and overall health is one that the mainstream medical community does not like to push as a priority (outside of say, heart disease or obesity). The same goes for skincare.

While the "jury" is still out as to whether diet will effectively clear your skin, there are plenty of people that have seen the skincare benefits from diets that are low in sugars, fats, dairy, and grains. Just because something has not been proven definitively by science (yet), doesn't mean it is not true.

Acne Myth: Dermatologists Are One Size Fits All

If you have the money (or the health insurance coverage), I highly recommend going to a dermatologist for acne treatment - especially if you're acne is severe or if you have cystic acne. A doctor will often be able to provide more options for you than what you can for yourself.

That said, dermatologists certainly are not one size fits all. Some dermatologist are better at diagnosing and treating non-cosmetic skin conditions (such as rashes, skin cancer, skin diseases, etc) than they are at treating acne. As such, they may not have the best treatment options for you. The same goes for general practitioners that dispense acne medications.

If you find that your current doc is not up to snuff, and have the means to do so, find yourself a new one. The best dermatologist I've ever been to was one that focused more on holistic treatments, but also had a strong knowledge of the acne medications and products available.

But, as we've learned here, what worked for me, may not work for you!

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Foyjur Razzak from Dhaka on May 11, 2013:

Modifying bed sheets frequently can have a surprising positive result on acne troubles. These oils transfer on to bed linens at the time sleeping. They then find their back to the skin again. sheets and pillow cases should wash one or more times every week to interrupt the cycle.

Shay Marie (author) from California on May 01, 2013:

You're definitely right. Prescription acne treatments do not work for everyone. I've tried my fair share! I think that the important thing, regardless of whether or not you go to a doctor, is to hone your routine (and your lifestyle) until you get your skin how you like it. It takes patience and time, which is getting harder to come by in our society of "quick fixes" and "miracle" products.

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