While unfortunately there isn’t just one secret elixir that will free you of zits forever (sigh), following certain simple rules will help prevent them from popping up in the first place. Since we hate mountain-sized blemishes just as much as you do, we asked some of the top skin care pros for their very best tips on how to get a clear face and compiled the genius advice into a commandments list to live by, below.
1. Don’t wait until that zit pops up—it starts with prevention.
Sorry, but a little work is required. “Spot treatments never work as well as all-over preventive measures,” says celebrity dermatologist and acne expert, Dr. Whitney Bowe. “It’s so much more effective to stay one step ahead of acne by applying a product known to control acne flares all over the face, chest, and back every single day.” That means cleansing regularly and effectively and keeping key products stashed on your shelf.
Dr. Bowe says she often recommends Aczone to keep acne under control without irritation. “Another great ingredient is retinol or a prescription strength retinoid, if your skin can tolerate it,” she says. “By applying these products all over every day, you not only minimize acne flares, but when you do have a flare it’s much less severe.”
2. Go see an expert to find out what really jives with your skin.
Going through the trial-and-error process of testing skin care products can be scary and could lead to more problems than you had to begin with. Save your time (and skin) by going to see a professional who can walk you through suitable formulas. “Invest in a visit with a dermatologist to find products that are right for your skin type, so you do not end up with a medicine cabinet full of half used products,” notes dermatologist Dr. Annie Chiu. “The array of skin care on the market can be confusing, and can worsen skin conditions if used on the wrong skin type.”
3. Avoid high glycemic-index foods.
It’s a no-brainer that your diet can play a part in your skin health, and the stuff to avoid is basically the bad stuff you’re always craving. Dr. Bowe says to avoid things like white bread, pretzels, sugary drinks, and cookies. “It’s the refined carbohydrates in these foods that can trigger outbreaks through a hormonal cascade,” she notes.
4. Find out how dairy affects your skin.
Not everyone has these sensitivities, but Dr. Bowe says that certain dairy products can have an affect on acne. “Many acne patients also benefit from cutting out skim milk. Certain dairy products have been shown to exacerbate acne, and skim milk is the worst offender,” she says.
5. Never pick. Ever.
Go ahead and roll your eyes, but popping that pimple isn’t doing anything for your skin. “Don’t pick! As tempting as it is, picking only makes things worse,” says Dr. Bowe.
6. But there are expert-approved ways to help clear up a blemish.
Dr. Bowe suggests dabbing cortisone on the pimple. But be weary on how frequently you do this—she notes that using this technique too often can thin the skin.
You can also try the ice cube method. “Apply an ice cube for a few minutes during the day and then use a strong benzoyl peroxide topical 5-10%, like Proactiv+’s Emergency Blemish Relief, and hydrocortisone 1%, followed by a topical sulfur mask, Proactiv+’s Skin Purifying Mask, at night,” says Dr. Katie Rodan, a co-founder of Proactiv.
Finally, if you have the ability and have a cystic pimple, Dr. Chiu says you can visit the dermatologist for a cortisone injection.
7. Look for products with active ingredients that address acne.
Dr. Rodan says that one of the bigger mistakes she sees in her practice is people using non-medicated products that only end up cleaning and hydrating their skin. “If they are acne prone, I encourage them to use cleansers, toners, moisturizers, and masks that contain an active ingredient medicine to treat their breakouts,” she says. Speak to your derm to find out what active ingredient will serve you best, as some can really mess with sensitive skin types.
So the next time you’re dealing with the pimple from hell, take a step back, take a deep breath before you try to pop it, and recite your commandments.