Acne is such a difficult skin disease to overcome, and there is a lot of (mis?)information out there on this complex subject. Of course, finding the right skincare products will make a big impact on getting your acne under control, but when I had severe adult acne in my early 20s, I found that there were so many other factors playing a part in achieving better skin health. For instance, I was stressed from university life, had severe insomnia, and didn’t always look after myself the way I should have. When I really committed to clearing up my acne, figuring out a good skincare routine was of course the first step, but it was only one part of the puzzle. I noticed that a few minor habits I had picked up were actually not that great for my skin, and it was surprising how changing those small behaviors made a huge difference.
Now, many people tend to make diet recommendations for people suffering with acne, but I personally will refrain from this because I think the evidence to support drastic diet changes, such as cutting out whole food groups, is flimsy at best. Anecdotally, I never saw any difference to my skin when I tried cutting out dairy, or when I was a vegetarian, or when I did that one random gluten-free diet trial. And besides, you can pry my evening cheese and nighttime dark chocolate out of my cold, dead German hands!
I noticed that a few minor habits I had picked up were actually not great for my skin, and it was surprising how changing those small behaviors made a huge difference.
So, here are five acne hacks not related to skincare that have made a huge difference in my own skin over the years.
1. Switch Your Pillowcases Daily
I saw drastic improvements in my skin when I implemented this non-skincare acne hack and have never gone back. As a side sleeper, my left cheek would always touch my pillow throughout the night, and changing the pillowcase weekly with the rest of my bedding definitely wasn’t good enough. I would just always get these pesky breakouts exactly where I would rest the left side of my face on the pillow. No wonder, given that sebum, bacteria, and dead skin cells can quickly accumulate on your pillowcase, leading to a potential risk of impurities.
I now have a couple of extra pillowcases ready and switch them out every other night, turning my pillow around in-between. Sure, it means more laundry, but it just makes a big difference for my skin health overnight.
If you want to be extra bougie, get yourself some fancy silk pillowcases, as they are said to help keep skin and hair soft due to the smoother surface of the fabric. Silk is also antibacterial, so this is an extra plus for acne sufferers.
2. Use a Separate Towel For Your Face
This non-skincare acne hack is based on a similar principle as the regular pillowcase change: Prevent the spread of bacteria and dirt from the rest of your body to your face. Think about how you’re rubbing your entire body with your towel, and then imagine what accumulates in there after such a nice rub. Now, imagine spreading that all over your already inflamed and oily face.
I don’t want to trigger anyone here and don’t want to sound like too much of a germaphobe—as long as you regularly clean your body towels, there’s no need to completely freak out about this. But especially if you suffer from acne, it helps tremendously to restrict the sebum, dead skin cells, shower gel and lotion residue that gets trapped in your large towel to your body alone. I now have a whole stack of small towels right next to my face cleansers and exclusively use them for drying my face. And just like my pillowcases, I switch them out every day.
Now, some people can go without even needing a towel for their face, and it’s said to be better not to rub the skin. Personally, my skin doesn’t react well to tap water being left to dry on there, so I can live with that bit of friction.
3. Keep Hair Away From Your Face at Night
Hair products tend to be coated in oils and heavy plant butters that can cause skin to break out. Leave-in products in particular can be very rich, which is great for thicker, curly hair, but not so great if those helpful hair products touch our face. I once tried a DIY coconut oil hair mask overnight, spreading out my hair on a towel I’d put over my pillow. Again, I’m a side sleeper, so my left cheek was touching those nicely oiled up strands all night long. So, of course I woke up with a massive zit the next day, given that coconut oil is an acne trigger, and I had learned another valuable lesson on how to deal with acne triggers.
I started putting my hair up in a loose high bun overnight after that experience, using one of those silk scrunchies to minimize the risk of hair breakage. Black people are of course already smart enough to put their hair in a satin or silk cap! Not only do these bonnets keep hair away from your face, they also help to keep curls in shape and frizz-free.
4. No Face Touching!
I think this non-skincare acne hack might be the most difficult one to follow if you, like me, are a nervous person. One of my hardest-to-break, acne-causing habits was resting my face on my fist while sitting at my desk, trying to come up with the next lines to write. But after noticing how there would always be those stubborn, angry red pimples right at the border between jaw and chin, right where I would put my hand, I started to actively remind myself not to touch that spot, working on finding other things to do with my hands while thinking. It’s really tough to break these types of unconscious behaviors, especially if they are stress-related or due to nervousness.
If touching your face is a nervous tick or a habit born out of discomfort, it might help to get an object that can occupy your hands, such as a fidget spinner or one of those little anti-stress balls. The important thing is to become more aware of the times you touch your face and consciously break through that behavioral pattern.
5. Address Mental Stressors in Your Life
Easier said than done, I know! There is nothing more annoying than someone telling you to lower your stress levels, because most of the time we don’t really have a choice here. Whenever a medical professional asks me if I have any stress in my life to get to the bottom of my numerous health issues, I feel like walking out of that doctor’s office right then and there. I mean, if you merely exist in this mad world and aren’t extremely privileged, stress will probably be a part of your life: work stress, relationship or family stress, caretaker stress, being alive and breathing stress. Heck, on some days, just deciding what to eat for dinner can cause a minor meltdown for me (why did no one warn me how exhausting it is to plan daily meals as an adult?!).
So, I would never ask you to cut out stress from your life entirely; that’s simply an unachievable goal. But it is a fact that stress and anxiety can play a part in skin issues, and it can aggravate acne, especially the type connected to your hormonal levels.
Daily meditation has helped me immensely, as has starting a gentle beginner yoga routine. It doesn’t have to be an outrageously long routine, just 10 to 15 minutes of yoga stretches followed by a 10-minute guided meditation before bed is already enough to help you destress and feel less overwhelmed. Some meditation apps even have short, 3- to 5-minute long meditations specifically designed for moments of intense stress, just to get your head a bit clearer again. Added bonus here: You will probably also sleep better, which in turn also benefits your overall skin health!
Have you discovered any acne hacks not related to skincare that have helped your breakouts?