How to Prevent Acne: 10 Tips to Reduce Pimples

Anyone with persistent acne knows how much of a challenge it can be to try to heal your skin. But even as you work to soothe the pimples you have, you can also take steps to prevent new ones from forming, breaking a breakout cycle that often seems relentless.

While there’s no guaranteed method to completely eliminate acne forever, you can minimize breakouts and maintain healthier skin.

Read on for 10 strategies to prevent pimples and be on your way to clearer skin.

1. Properly wash your face

Pimples can appear anywhere on the skin, but they most often occur on the face. While the skin microbiome is complex, scientists have identified a bacteria called Propionibacterium acnes that can cause acne breakouts. This bacteria causes inflammation when it turns sebum, the oil found naturally on skin, into fatty acids.

Removing excess oil, dirt, and sweat daily can help prevent pimples — but washing your face too much may make acne worse.

“When we strip our skin of its natural sebum with excess washing, it actually causes the skin to produce even more oil in order to rebalance your skin,” says board certified dermatologist Anar Mikailove, MD. “Thus, washing your face excessively can indeed make acne worse, as does using cleansers or astringents that dry out the skin too much.”

As a general rule, you’ll want to wash your face no more than twice a day.

Mikailove suggests using cleansers that are sulphate-free, fragrance-free, and gentle enough for twice-daily use. Skip the harsh physical scrubs or drying foaming cleansers.

To wash your face:

  1. Wet your face with warm (not hot) water.
  2. Apply a mild cleanser in a gentle, circular motion using your fingers, not a washcloth.
  3. Rinse thoroughly.
  4. Pat dry.

2. Know your skin type

Knowing your skin type can help you determine which products to use and avoid. You can use the following parameters to identify your skin type, but you can also consult a dermatologist for help if you’re still unsure:

Dry. Your skin often feels flaky and tight.

Oily. Your skin tends to look shiny by the end of the day.

Combination. You have both dry areas and oily areas. The oily area is usually the T-zone, or your forehead, nose, and chin.

Sensitive. Your skin reacts easily to products and is prone to rashes, discoloration, or irritation. You can have sensitive skin along with any of the above skin types.

In general, people with oily skin are more prone to acne, Mikailove says, but anyone can get pimples. Having your skin type information on hand can make it easier to choose an acne regimen that helps your skin clear up.

If you have sensitive, acne-prone skin, too many products with active ingredients — like a Tretinoin Cream, salicylic acid wash, a salicylic acid exfoliating toner, and a Retin a Cream might benefit your skin  and lead to less breakouts.

“If your skin is on the oilier side, using a moisturiser formulated for dry skin may be too occlusive and lead to clogged pores,” Mikailove says.

3. Use a moisturizer

Moisturizers help skin stay hydrated, which makes a big difference for acne-prone skin. If your skin gets too dry, it will produce oil (sebum) to counterbalance the dryness. And, as noted above, an excess of sebum can cause pimples.

However, many moisturizers contain oil, synthetic fragrance, or other ingredients that may irritate your skin and cause pimples. Be sure to check the ingredient list before purchasing a moisturizer to make sure it’s fragrance-free and noncomedogenic.

4. Use over-the-counter acne treatments

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments can help heal pimples, and sometimes even prevent them in the first place.

Just know that overusing OTC treatments can sometimes lead to irritation and dryness, so it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s usage instructions.

Here’s what you should know about the most common active ingredients you’ll find in OTC acne treatments:

Benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide works best on inflammatory acne, like cysts and red bumps, because it kills acne-causing bacteria.

Salicylic acid. This ingredient is ideal for blackheads and whiteheads because it works to unclog pores and reduce inflammation.

Sulfur. Sulfur is a natural ingredient that’s often gentler than the two mentioned above. It can dry out dead skin cells to unclog pores and absorb excess sebum.

Not sure which OTC acne treatment might work best for your skin or your specific skin goals? It may be worth connecting with a dermatologist for an expert opinion on your skin.

A dermatologist can provide professional product recommendations, along with advice on any potential medication interactions to keep in mind. For instance, using a beta hydroxy acid (like salicylic acid) along with retinol can cause excessive dryness and irritation, so you’ll typically want to avoid mixing products with these ingredients.

5. Stay hydrated

If you’re dehydrated, your body may signal your skin’s oil glands to produce more oil. Dehydration also gives your skin a dull appearance and promotes inflammation and discoloration.

To keep your body well-hydrated, aim to drink at least eight, 8-ounce glasses of water each day.

Drink more:

  1. after exercise
  2. when pregnant or nursing
  3. when spending time in a hot, humid environment

6. Limit makeup

While you might feel tempted to use makeup to cover up pimples, know that doing so could clog pores and trigger outbreaks.

If you don’t want to nix makeup from your daily routine, opt for a foundation or concealer that’s non comedogenic and fragrance-free so your skin doesn’t become even more irritated.

Be sure to gently wash any makeup off at the end of your day and especially before going to bed.

Along with limiting makeup, it never hurts to stay mindful of any other products you use near your face, particularly hair styling products.

Hair spray, dry shampoo, and texturizing products can come in contact with your skin and cause outbreaks, so you may want to consider oil-free, non comedogenic options for these products.

7. Try not to touch your face

Touching your face can transfer bacteria — and those pore-clogging impurities — onto your skin.

It’s tough to avoid touching your face but try to pay attention to how often you touch your face and stop yourself in the act as much as possible.

Also helpful? Washing your hands regularly. That way, if you do touch your face — and in all honesty, you probably will — your hands are clean.

8. Limit sun exposure

Catching some rays may dry out pimples in the short term, but it can have unwanted skin consequences in the long run. Frequent sun exposure dehydrates skin, which, over time, causes it to produce more oil and block pores.

Wearing sunscreen can help protect your skin year-round. Of course, as you might already know, sunscreens tend to be pretty oily. For both sun and pimple protection, opt for a non comedogenic, oil-free sunscreen.

9. Avoid popping pimples

While it might feel practically impossible to resist squeezing that larger-than-life whitehead on the tip of your nose, your best bet is to avoid popping zits.

Popped pimples often bleed, but they can also make the problem worse by:

  • becoming inflamed and clogging surrounding pores
  • getting infected
  • leaving behind scars

10. Use antibiotics

If OTC acne treatments don’t make much difference, a dermatologist can prescribe antibiotics to help reduce inflammation and bacteria on your skin. Antibiotics, which come in both topical and oral forms, work by reducing the amount of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on your skin, which can help ease breakouts.

Your dermatologist might recommend:

  • topical antibiotics like clindamycin (Cleocin) for mild acne
  • oral antibiotics like doxycycline (Vibramycin, Doryx) for severe acne
  • using benzoyl peroxide gel along with your prescribed treatment

Over the long term, your body can become resistant to antibiotics, which makes these drugs less effective. It’s essential to follow the regimen your dermatologist outlines so you can get the most out of your prescribed treatment. Also, make sure to mention any other medications you’re taking to avoid any harmful interactions

The bottom line

Most people get pimples now and then. Prevention efforts can help, but they aren’t guaranteed. Many factors can cause pimples, including hormones, stress, genetics, and diet. Some medications may even trigger breakouts and this all skin medication is easily available at

That said, you do have plenty of options for treating and managing pimples. Just know that whatever pimple prevention plan you choose, patience and consistency are key to improvement. A dab of benzoyl peroxide may help shrink a single pimple overnight, but most treatments take several weeks to produce results.

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