For many people, the occasional blemish isn’t a big cause for concern. They’ll use a bit of over-the-counter cream and the blemish will disappear in a few days. However, for others, stubborn acne can be a constant problem, plaguing their appearance and their self-confidence.
Angela Dunlap, RN, BSN, Director of VCI Med Spa in Tinley Park, Illinois, has seen and treated many clients with chronic acne. She fully understands the challenges, both physical and emotional, that this skin disease can cause. “While acne affects about 75% of the population ages 11 to 30, most of it can be very mild. Unfortunately, for some, acne can be life-changing. At VCI Med Spa, we recommend four changes to combat acne. These changes can facilitate significant improvements in this disease, leaving clients’ skin looking healthier, smoother and cleaner while also benefiting their mental health.”
1. Change what you’re putting into your body
The first modification Angela recommends is changing the things clients put into their bodies. “If people are only willing to do one thing, increasing their water intake should be that thing,” says Angela. “Drinking more water flushes and hydrates all the cells throughout your body, including in your skin. Dry skin triggers your body to produce more oil, which in turn causes more acne. Drinking water improves your immune system and because acne is caused by bacteria, a healthy immune system can better fight off this bacteria.”
Consuming a low-sugar diet full of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables is also important, says Angela. Lower sugar diets decrease inflammation and regulate hormone levels in the body, which in turn relieve and reduce the risk of acne flare ups. High sugar diets also increase the levels of insulin in the body, which causes oil production increasing the likelihood of acne.
Keep track of your diet, especially when you have a flare up. Allergies or sensitivities to certain foods may be triggering your acne and you may be able to reduce acne merely by eliminating these foods from your menu.
For adults who smoke and are frustrated with acne, Angela says, “Quit. Now.” Research has shown again and again that there is a direct correlation between smoking and post-pubertal acne. “About 42% of smokers have acne, compared with just 10% of non-smokers. Smoking decreases the flow of oxygenated blood to your skin and reduces nutrients needed for healthy skin,” says Angela. “There’s also evidence that the amount of smoking you do per day isn’t the issue; it’s the fact that you’re smoking at all. So whether you’re having just a few each day, or smoking several packs, you’re doing alot of damage to your skin.”
2. Change what you’re putting on your skin
It may seem counterintuitive, says Angela, but having a chemical peel when you have no active acne is really a good idea. “Chemical peels exfoliate the skin quickly, preventing dead skin cells and excess oil from blocking pores and hair follicles. Chemical peels are a very effective preventative measure.”
Weekly facials can also be an enormous help, but they must be the correct treatments for your skin or you might make matters worse. Angela says, “A professional aesthetician can evaluate your skin’s ongoing condition each week and use the specific products that will best soothe and heal the skin. A facial should cleanse the skin, unclog pores, reduce inflammation, kill bacteria and then thoroughly hydrate the skin. When getting professional facials, your aesthetician will also have the option of using steam, gentle exfoliation, light or laser therapy, and safe extraction of whiteheads and blackheads if needed that week.”
Skin should be cleansed each morning, each night and after workouts. “You don’t want sweat to sit on or dry on your face,” says Angela. A twice-daily routine of gentle exfoliate cleansing, such as Elta MD Foaming Face Wash, should be instituted. Angela recommends following this with a serum such as Elta MD AM Therapy or iS Clinical Active Serum. “Again, it may seem illogical to apply a moisturizer after cleansing, but when your skin feels dry, your body will trigger your oil glands to overproduce and make acne worse. You’ll want to apply a water-based, light product while skin is still damp to seal in the hydrating effects of the water and prevent an abundance of pore-clogging oil,” says Angela.
She also stresses to finish with sunscreen except before bedtime. “While the short term effects of sunshine can be drier skin and fewer blemishes for a couple of days, in reality those UVA and UVB rays are causing long-term damage to your skin. That dryness will cause inflammation and then breakouts. Always wear sunscreen, every single day,” says Angela.
If you wear makeup, Angela recommends using only water-based products. “These products are light and gentle, add moisture and won’t clog pores. They look very natural and give you a dewy, fresh-looking finish."
3. Change your bedtime habits
Changing your pillowcase every other day or so sounds like a pain, but it’s a very good idea to relieve and prevent acne. “Your face sits on your pillowcase for 6-8 hours at a time. That fabric is picking up oil and dirt and bacteria - and then you put your face right back in that,” says Angela. “Even after your evening cleansing routine, your body will produce oil and bacteria all through the night.” Consider using 100% cotton cases that will be less likely to irritate skin and change frequently. Wash the cases in fragrance-free, dye-free detergent and don’t use any fabric softeners.
Put on a headband before you sleep, to pull hair away from the face and forehead. “Headbands help keep the oils in your hair from sitting on your face all night long,” says Angela.
4. Change your hands’ habits
One of the most difficult habits to break is “picking” at blemishes - and it’s a really bad habit. “When you pick at acne, you’re worsening the situation in many ways. You’re spreading the bacteria, so you’ll get more acne. You’re interfering with a natural healing process so blemishes will last longer and get worse. You’re raising your risk of infection. You’re also increasing your risk for scars and permanent skin damage,” says Angela.
She recommends carrying a squeeze ball to keep hands occupied and less likely to stray to the face. At night, wear gloves to prevent picking and touching. Enlist help; ask your partner or parent to gently remind you when you begin to pick. “Settle on a non confrontational reminder word or sound, perhaps even a soft whistle, to remind you to mind your hands.”
You don’t have to live with stubborn acne. By implementing these changes to your diet, health, and habits, you will see significant, positive changes quickly. You’ll look better, feel better and have more self-confidence.