Top 5 Tips for Cleansing Acne-prone Skin

girl washing her face
An acne-free face starts with a smart cleansing regimen. See more personal hygiene pictures.

It's the night before the big event, and you're completely prepared. The perfect outfit? Check. Great haircut? Check. Beautiful, healthy, glowing skin from taking such good care of it day after day? Check. Wait a minute, is that a zit? Are you kidding me?

We've all had them -- those bright red beacons of embarrassment that, while small, can sometimes feel like a giant neon light blinking "Look at me! Look at me!" over and over again. Sometimes it even seems like pimples have a mind of their own, like they're lying in wait and calculating the worst time to burst onto the scene and spoil that big job interview, first date or keynote speech.


For some of us, pimples are a rare occurrence. But for those of us who aren't so lucky, it can seem like a constant fight to keep the battleground of our faces clear from dermatological disaster. So we think it's time you began winning the war -- which is why we're arming you with our top five ways to clean acne-prone skin.

5: Wash Daily

You might think that acne is simply caused by bad hygiene. This is, in fact, one of the biggest myths about the condition. Breakouts begin a little deeper, in our follicles, which are the canals out of which our hair grows. Acne appears when the male hormone testosterone (in both men and women) causes these follicles to produce more oil, or sebum, than normal. As the sebum makes its way to the surface, it carries cells with it which clump together and clog the pore -- the opening through which it would usually pass and get washed away. Once the pore is plugged, a pimple begins forming and bacteria moves in, causing it to get red and inflamed.

That said, even though bad hygiene isn't the root of the problem, it's still a good idea to maintain a clean face to keep anything from clogging follicles or providing a breeding ground for bacteria.


Your best bet is to wash your face twice a day, but avoid soaps. Soaps can rob your skin of its protective barrier, and many of them have a pH higher than your skin, which can negatively alter your skin chemistry. Chemicals called surfactants in some soaps can be very harsh and irritate your face. Instead, it's best to use a gentle facial wash to clean your skin twice a day.

4: Don't Scrub

Whenever we get something we don't want on our skin, our natural reaction is to scrub it until it goes away. This is a bad strategy for acne-prone skin, however. Instead of clearing things up, excessive scrubbing can irritate the skin, causing existing ruptures to get even more inflamed. So avoid gritty exfoliant facial washes as well as cleansing tools like scratchy loofahs or scrubbers. Instead, massage in your gentle facial cleanser with your fingertips using lukewarm water. When you're finished, rinse, then pat -- don't rub -- your skin dry.


3: Try a Cleanser Containing Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid, which is derived from plants, is one of the most effective anti-acne chemicals on the market. It works by entering follicles where it encourages the shedding of dead -- and potentially pore-clogging -- skin cells. It also helps shrink blackheads and whiteheads.

Salicylic acid is found in relatively low percentages (.5 to 2 percent) in a variety of drugstore cleansers, such as Neutrogena and Oxy Balance, as well as in higher concentrations in prescription preparations. Your skin may initially become more irritated in the first few days of application, but this should settle down after a few days. It also might take several weeks to see results from the salicylic acid treatment, so be patient.


For more information about acne treatments, read Acne Treatments: Fast Facts.

2: Consider a Cleanser with Benzoyl Peroxide

Just like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide works by breaking up dead skin cells that can clog pores. It has the added benefit of killing the bacteria that help contribute to acne.

Benzoyl peroxide is the active ingredient in such acne-fighting preparations as Clearasil and ProActiv. Just like salicylic acid, it can take a while to be effective, so give it a good four to six weeks to kick in. A range of strengths is available, so look for something containing about 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide and then work your way up if it isn't effective. (Benzoyl peroxide can irritate the skin in high dosages.)


If benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid proves too harsh for your skin, you might want to consider using a gentler product such as the Cetaphil antibacterial bar, which can help keep the skin germ-free and clean without causing irritation. Another possibility would be to use a 5 percent solution of tea tree oil, which has natural antibacterial properties.

1: Don't Dry Out Your Skin

Many acne preparations have a significant drying effect on the skin. This might seem like a good thing, but overdrying can make things matter worse -- oil production might go into overdrive. To avoid this, keep skin moisturized.

It's important to use products that are oil-free or marked "nonacnegenic" or "noncomedogenic," meaning they won't wedge roadblocks of gunk in your pores. If you're treating a breakout with topical acne medication, be sure to apply the moisturizer after the medicine.


In your quest to keep your skin moisturized, avoid ingredients such as certain alcohols and witch hazel. While they might seem like just the things with which to blast annoying pimples, they'll dry out the skin and lead to trouble.

Want more acne tips? Visit the links on the following page.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

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