By Deanna Pai, Glamour
It's like clockwork: You spy--or, almost as bad, feel--the beginnings of a zit. The next thing you know, you're applying layer after layer of your go-to spot treatment and scrubbing it to death. But is that really doing the trick, or could you actually be making it worse? You probably know where this is going. Read on for the biggest mistakes women make when it comes to dealing with acne--and tips on how to fix them.
Mistake #1: Putting on a spot treatment every time.
Reaching for the spot treatment is, at this point, a natural reaction to a breakout. But it's not doing as much for your skin as you may think. "Your face has thousands of pipes connecting your oil glands to the surface of your skin," says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., dermatologist and director of cosmetic and clinical research in Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in NYC. So it's tough to tell which will get clogged enough to result in a pimple. Sure, it'll help diminish the zit of the week, but it won't prevent a new one from popping up right beside it. Instead, check Mistake #2.
Mistake #2: Only using acne products when you have a breakout.
If you know you're breakout-prone--or you have telltale zits at the same time every month--calling on anti-acne products as needed is like chasing your tail. "Instead of treating pimples as they appear, it's more effective to use a gentle product that contains salicylic acid every day," explains NYC dermatologist Whitney Bowe, M.D. "This helps prevent breakouts on a regular basis." Bonus: Salicylic acid is an anti-inflammatory ingredient, so it'll also minimize irritation. We love Origins Zero Oil Oil-Free Moisturizing Lotion ($29, sephora.com).
Mistake #3: Scrubbing away at your breakouts.
It can be tempting to try and strip off your top layer of skin in the hopes that your zits will go with it (spoken from personal experience). "Acne is to a great degree inflammatory, so if you're not gentle, you'll only create more inflammation," says celebrity facialist Tracie Martyn. Ditch anything abrasive, including physical scrubs, and try an exfoliator that does the trick with gentle fruit acids, like Kate Somerville ExfoliKate Cleanser Daily Foaming Wash ($38, sephora.com).
Mistake #4: Using the highest concentration of benzoyl peroxide you can find.
You might have heard that benzoyl peroxide (an antibacterical ingredient that targets acne- and inflammation-causing bacteria) is great for treating whiteheads. That's true. But more doesn't always equal better. "Even at low levels, benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria and opens pores," says Zeichner. In fact, studies show that high amounts of benzoyl peroxide (the most available is 10 percent) are more irritating but no more effective than their lower-concentrated counterparts. Arithmetic Acne Control Complex ($30, arithmeticproducts.com) balances a low 3 percent benzoyl peroxide with nourishing shea butter and jojoba oil. Translation: It'll zap blemishes without drying out the skin around them.
Mistake #5: Picking!
Popping zits used to be a capital-D Don't, because picking at your skin can lead to bacterial infection and scarring, notes Bowe. But now, most derms agree that as long as you use a clean extraction tool, it's OK. Look for one with a lance to delicately pierce whiteheads (like Sephora Collection 3-in-1 Extractor, $23, sephora.com), and then center the metal loop over blackheads--and gently press down--to remove them. Just note that deep acne, however, still needs to be treated by a derm.
Mistake #6: Believing every skin care hack you see on Pinterest.
You've no doubt at some point read (or heard) that toothpaste is an effective zit zapper. Eh, not so much. "Flavors like menthol or cinnamon in toothpaste are super-irritating and could even cause a mild chemical burn on skin," says Bowe. Save toothpaste for your teeth, and acne products for your acne.
Mistake #7: Rinsing off your face wash ASAP.
If your trusty, salicylic acid-spiked cleanser doesn't seem to be doing anything for your skin, that doesn't necessarily mean it's a dud. "Cleansers need contact time on the skin to work," says Zeichner. If it's only on your face for a few seconds, the ingredients don't have time to do their job. His rule: Massage the cleanser into your skin, sing the alphabet, and then rinse it off.
Mistake #8: Not using moisturizer, even if your skin is oily.
Turning your face into the Sahara won't make acne disappear so much as piss off your skin. "Oil and water content in the skin are separate issues," says Zeichner. "You can have oily, acne-prone skin but still lack hydration." Skipping moisturizer only causes your skin to overcompensate with more oil. Just use an oil-free moisturizer like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel ($19, drugstore.com) before your acne treatment to hydrate and prime skin. This extra step also reduces the risk of irritation from a heavy-duty acne regimen.
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