Cruelty-Free Beauty and Skin Care

10 Things you Might be Doing that can Worsen your Acne

If your skin is anything like mine (as in, after 3 Acutane regimes I’m still dealing with blemishes), there seems to be no end to the factors that cause acne. Even when it seems you’re doing everything right, your face is never 100% clear of pimples and zits. You sit back and bitterly think, “This isn’t damn fair! Christina sleeps in her make-up, washes her face with cleanser from the Dollar Store, spends 8 hours in the sun without sunscreen–and her skin is f*#%ing flawless!”

Sadly, we can’t all be Christina, and often the burden of having acne prone skin requires a sort of hyper-vigilance that others don’t have to worry about. It isn’t just about finding the right products for the right skincare regime, or researching every ingredient of all of your make-up. Yet often we are so caught up in the latter that we fail to consider other, simple factors or habits that might actually be sabotaging our hard efforts.

Here are some things to consider that I learned (the hard way) over time. A few might seem obvious or intuitive, but others might surprise you!

10 Daily Habits that could be Contributing to your Acne

1. Your pillow/pillowcase. Considering how long our face remains in contact with our pillows and pillowcases, this is definitely something you’ll want to think twice about if you have acne prone skin. Not only do our pillows absorb our face oils over time, but your nighttime products will also begin to build up on your pillow case. While we should be changing our bedsheets weekly (in an ideal world), you might want to consider switching out your pillowcase twice weekly if you are prone to waking up with new blemishes. Personally, I change mine out three times per week (I sleep on one side one night, then take it off and flip it around to the other side), and I always tuck a neck towel underneath it to absorb any face oils or product that might come off of my skin.

2. Exfoliating too often with rough, physical exfoliants. This is a tough one to get through to some people, since we all love that squeaky-clean feeling of baby soft skin. And while I do recommend exfoliating your skin to remove dead skin cells, if you have acne prone skin, avoid face scrubs like the plague! Exfoliants containing grit do microscopic damage to the skin cells on your face, and can actually aggravate and worsen your acne. Instead, try turning to chemical exfoliants, like glycolic acid, to loosen and dissolve dead skin, but even then, I wouldn’t exceed exfoliating more than three times per week.

3. Avoiding sun screen. I have been notoriously guilty of this in the past, especially when I was a teenager and my skin was at its oiliest. I didn’t tent to burn all that often, and figured I’d take a tan over adding a greasy substance to my already greasy face. While some sunscreens can linger on the comedogenic side and should be avoided, the myth that the sun will ‘dry up’ or that UVA/UVB rays will ‘kill’ your acne is just that–a myth. In fact, UVA and UVB rays can actually cause the oil and dirt in your pores to oxidize, which can lead to breaks outs and brand new pimples. If you hate the feeling of sunscreen on your face, maybe opt for a moisturizer with an SPF of no lower than 30, or invest in an oil-free sunscreen if you already regularly use a moisturizer. Mineral (as opposed to chemical) sunscreens, such as those containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide, are the best suited for acne prone skin.

4. Using only oil-free products. This might sound counter-intuitive; after all, doesn’t oil case acne? The answer is yes and no, and the reality of your skin is that it is not meant to feel bone-dry all the time. Sebum is our skin’s natural moisturizer, and while we want to keep it in check, removing oil without replacing that moisturizer can actually have the opposite effect of what we are intending. As we strip hydration from our face, our skin will compensate by actually producing even more sebum, which can then lead to break outs and blemishes, and that oil-free moisturizer won’t do the job. Remember, not all oils will cause us to break out, so finding a moisturizer with oils that have a significantly higher linoleic content than oileic content can do the trick. Heck, some oils can even mimic natural sebum, which can trick your face into not overproducing its own sebum!

5. Incorporating too many active ingredients into your skin care regime. This all depends on what your skin chooses it can handle, but sometimes, less is more when it comes to active ingredients that target acne. Sometimes, mixing two ingredients that perform the same action can inhibit the way your skin absorbs it, diminishing its effectiveness. Experiment with different active ingredients to see what works for you (i.e. benzoyl peroxide vs. sulfur for spot treatments), and stick to that ingredient. If you find that over time your acne no longer responds to it, then that is when you should try switching to a comparable product. Using two at once could not only sate your skin on the effectiveness of both ingredients, leaving them both less effective, but can put you at risk for dehydrating or over-drying your skin. And, what does our skin do when it feels it is too dry? Produces more sebum!

6. Washing your face too often. This one might be rather intuitive. I was very guilty of doing this in high school, and it did nothing to help my acne. Again, stripping your face of its natural moisturizer will only cause it to overproduce sebum, and upset the pH balance of your skin. Furthermore, it will too frequently kill the good bacterial cultures that naturally make a home on our skin, which then leaves it prone to environmental and free radical damage. You need no more than a morning and evening cleanse to keep your skin ideally clean, and some people with drier skin actually skip washing their face in the morning entirely, and only rinse it with warm water (though I can’t bring myself to do this because I tend to sweat in my sleep). If you incorporate facial treatments into your skin case regime, such as at-home chemical peels, limit those to no more than twice per week (and even less frequently if you seek professional facials). If you need to get rid of excess sebum during the day, try using the blotting sheets to take care of that unwanted shine.

7. Touching/picking at your skin. This is a difficult habit to drop, since many of us will lean on our hands or touch our face throughout the day in other minor ways without thinking about it or realizing it. Touching your face transfers the oils and bacteria on your fingers, which can encourage break outs and blemishes. Whenever applying products to your skin, make sure your hands are clean and sanitized.

8. Leaving your make-up on too long. Depending on how your day unfolds, this can be difficult. But if you tend to wear make-up on a daily basis, during an 8-9 hour work day, then try to bear in mind that is a long time that that make-up has been sitting and oxidizing on your skin. Even make-up deemed ‘safe’ for acne prone skin is still a layer of residue smothering your pores. If ever I develop blemishes throughout the day, it will typically happen on days where I am wearing make-up, which has led me to stop wearing a full face of it every single day. I now save that for special occasions, and I remove it as soon as I get home.

9. Skipping double-cleansing. Confession time–I don’t double-cleanse every day, all the time! Typically I will skip this step in the morning, since the only thing on my face (other than, y’know, sebum) is whatever skin care product I applied the night before (which is usually glycolic-acid based, followed by a moisturizer). If there is little product or substance to wash from your face, then you can get away with skipping that first step, which is using an oil-based cleanser. However, that step is extremely important if you’ve applied anything lasting to your skin, namely make-up. As much as those of us with oily skin want to avoid oil, cleansing oils or oil-based cleansers actually bring make-up and impurities to the surface, making them easier to remove with step 2, which is a gentle, water-based cleanser. If you’re using a water-based cleanser only, then I guarantee some of that make-up, sunscreen, or product is still hiding in your pores, ready to cause a break-out.

10. Washing your hair irregularly. Chances are, if you have oily skin, you are likely to have an oily scalp/oily hair, which can lead to more oil rubbing off on your face. Now, I know that it really isn’t healthy for your hair to wash it every day, and for the past month or so, I’ve been skipping to every other day and using a dry shampoo in-between. Unfortunately, I feel that this has resulted in more frequent blemishes, at my temples and on my forehead (though I should also note that I have bangs). Those days that you choose not to wash your hair, particularly ones that are hot and humid and leave you sweating, try to wear your hair up to keep it away from your face to avoid that extra oil from building up. I have found that using a dry shampoo (I use Drybar Detox Dry Shampoo for Brunettes) helps to absorb and control the oil in my bangs on days like these, though it does leave your hair feeling like it’s full of product, and if the brunette formula I use can leave brown residue on your forehead.


Have I missed anything? Are there other daily factors that contribute to your acne? Let me hear them!


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