We’re pretty sure that everyone is aware of how non-discriminatory acne can be, whether it chooses to populate your skin in spades or visit once every moon cycle. Those who are not necessarily acne-prone might have a more difficult time addressing the occasional zit or pimple, overzealously picking and prodding at it to go away, until it erupts into an infected wound and leaves a scar. But rather than assault your face with products that are way too harsh for the ONE zit that might pop up once or twice a month, there are other ways around it to find the best acne treatment, no matter what degree of severity and your skin type.
First Things First: A good skin care “base” routine is what you need to keep your skin happy on the regular. This includes whatever face cleanser, toner, serums, exfoliators and moisturizers you use daily. If you rotate exfoliators, face masks, or even day and night cleansers, that’s okay too. Finding what works for you takes time—remember, you won’t really see successful results of anything you incorporate into your skin care routine until your skin cycle has been able to do one complete turnover. On average it takes 28 days for your skin cells to all turn over. You will however be able to see any adverse reactions almost immediately, so that susses out all the things that won’t work for your skin pretty quickly.
The Cyclical Breakout. A lot of us experience some flare-ups hormonally, generally right before our periods. You can always tell when one’s about to crop up from the area feeling tender, tight, and sometimes painful to prod (kind of like a bruise). In these times, do NOT pick. Keep your hands off as much as possible. Acne medications that treat cystic acne would be best to tackle these underground horrors—something that can penetrate your skin on a deeper level, like a retinoid treatment. Also, this would be the time to lay off the physical or manual exfoliators on these areas since the scrubbing can potentially irritate your sensitive skin. Focus on keeping that area clean and free of heavy or super-oily moisturizers. Some people say that upping zinc in your diet or popping a zinc supplement can keep those cystic flare-ups at bay as well.
The Pesky Patch. Many of us tend to always have some area of our skin that’s perpetually inhabited by acne, be it tiny millia, blackheads or teeny bumps. This can be really annoying, especially if it messes with your otherwise smooth even skin texture. Keep in mind that this type of steady breakout, especially if it’s anyplace on your face below your nose, is generally hormonal. The best thing to do would be to talk to your dermatologist as to the best means of treatment, depending on how severe these patches are. If they are in fact quite minor (blackheads and millia, mostly), switching to an exfoliating cleanser (meaning with chemical exfoliants, not necessarily with scrubby bits) or incorporating an exfoliating toner might be your best bet to keep your skin free of excess build-up of dead skin cells and sebum, all of which might contribute to clogged pores.
Severe Acne. Get thee to a dermatologist. If your poor skin is perpetually acne-stricken with red, irritated breakouts in large clusters, there could be any number of reasons. Genetics is one—it’s a bummer, but not insurmountable. Other reasons could be food allergies, allergies to something you’re putting on your skin (this will take some trial and error testing of singling out which products are irritating you), or hormones. Some dermatologists will recommend trying a form of hormonal birth control to clear your skin. The only potential downsides to that is that birth control hormones can also affect your moods and periods. This is something that also takes a bit of trial and error since different types of birth control offer different levels of hormones. Seeing a nutritionist could reveal any food allergies that are wreaking havoc on your skin but not necessarily on your digestive system (gluten, sugar and soy are usual suspects). Accutane is another common option here, but it is a serious prescription treatment plan that does involve some lifestyle changes but has been successful in treating severe acne. Topical acne-fighting systems like Proactiv are also popular options that are over the counter. Either way—consult a dermatologist before making any rash moves since what you do could potentially exasperate your acne.