Acne is a tricky, tricky beast, and something I’ve struggled with since I hit puberty. Acne was a very alienating experience. No one in my family had it, and most of my friends growing up had very minor issues. In my 20s and 30s, I battled with hormonal acne, and at 34, I think I can honestly say that my acne issues are mostly behind me.
So, in the spirit of sharing, I thought I’d share my top tips and everything I’ve ever learned about how to deal with acne.
1. Avoid Dairy
I’ve always been lactose intolerant, which doesn’t bode so well for my stomach, but I also learned that my skin doesn’t enjoy dairy either. Back in my powerlifting days, I would eat a *lot* of dairy—greek yogurt for protein, lactose-free milk, whey protein—and let me tell you, my skin was not happy. Once I eliminated all of it from my diet and moved to dairy-free options like oat milk, dairy free protein powder, and coconut yogurt, my skin cleared right up.
2. Embrace Retinol
In my early 20s, I started using prescription strength retinol to get my acne under control. And because this was long before what I knew now, I definitely didn’t take care of my skin the way I should have. The first six weeks were literal hell. My skin was a flaking, peeling mess (I hadn’t discovered the power of actually moisturizing my skin), but after the tret-face debacle, my skin was glowing, luminous, and most importantly, acne-free.
If you’re planning on using prescription strength Retin-A, make sure to slather your skin in moisture and hydration. Also, be prepared for your skin to look much worse before it looks better—it’s part of the process.
3. Drink More Water
I’m going to be honest with you and say that I don’t know if drinking more water actively helped me deal with my acne, *but* overall, it has helped with the appearance of my skin. I will say though that excess sugar might be a contributing factor of acne, so if you’re downing sugary drinks and frappes, it’s a good idea to switch out those for some water, or if you wanna get fancy, sparkling water. My fave is Key Lime La Croix, any Spindrift flavor, and AHA Blueberry Pomegranate.
4. Start Double Cleansing
Making sure your face is clean is one of the major foundations of avoiding acne. If you’re not removing your makeup and sunscreen properly, plus all the dirt, grime, and pollution on your skin, it’s a recipe for acne. Use an oil or balm cleanser first to help remove all that gunk and debris, and then follow it up with a gentle foaming cleanser to make sure your skin is nice and clean.
5. Use AHAs and BHAs
If I could credit one single thing as the best thing I’ve done for my skin and my acne, it’s going to be incorporating AHAs and BHAs. AHAs slough away the debris on the top layer on the skin, while BHAs dig deep and get all the gunk out of your pores. When used together, they are a one-two punch for really clearing up acne and inflamed skin, plus keeping skin smooth and clear once things have calmed down.
6. Jump on the Oil Bandwagon
You might think that using oils on acne and acne-prone skin would be a recipe for disaster, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I was a child of the anti-oil branding of the ’90s and 2000s, where I was taught that any sort of oil on my acne-prone skin would cause it to flare up and break out more. I took this to heart so much that I used Noxema (dear god, it makes me shudder just to type it) and would not moisturize my face. Needless to say, I looked ashy and my skin broke out more.
Your skin needs oil—this is a fact. When you balance out your skin with oil, it helps your skin to stop overproducing oil, which is a contributing factor for acne. When your skin has enough oil, everything is nice and balanced. I love lightweight oils like watermelon seed oil, marula oil, rice bran oil, and oil blends like my favorite from Youth to the People.
7. Fall in Love with Hydrating Toners
If oils are still a bit too scary for you, hydrating toners are going to be your best bet. I load up on hydrating toners when I’m having a breakout to help calm and soothe my skin, plus give it a dose of extra hydration and nourishment. Use a toner that’s chock full of acne-soothing ingredients like centella asiatica, green tea, and aloe vera. A hydrating toner is also going to help keep the moisture levels in your skin nice and balanced, so you don’t go into overproducing oil territory.
8. Keep a Low pH Cleanser in Your Stash
And finally, my last tip for dealing with acne is keeping a low pH cleanser in your stash. Once I learned that high pH cleansers actually mess up the pH balance of your skin, causing it to become inflamed, ultra-sensitive, and acne-prone, I banished them from my routine. Low pH cleansers are going to be very gentle on the skin and not only soothe current breakouts but help keep your moisture barrier intact to keep new acne from forming. (I never bust out the pH strips though—I just go on gut instinct—and reviews from people—to determine if a cleanser is low pH or not.) Some of my faves include the 107 Chaga Jelly Low pH Cleanser and the CosRx Low pH Good Morning Cleanser.
What are some of the things you’ve learned in your acne journey and your best tips for how to deal with acne? Let me know in the comments!