One of the most common misconceptions about acne is that it's caused by dirt. It's not! Acne is caused by a combination of factors you can't control, like your hormone balance and the natural pace of your skin's renewal system. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can control that may help you keep your acne in check. Begin by following these simple suggestions for healthy-skin hygiene.
Don't over-wash. Since dirt is not causing your acne, excessive scrubbing and washing won't make it go away. Try to limit yourself to two washings per day — anything more than that can leave your healthy skin dry, and your acne-prone areas irritated. Habitual over-washing may also stimulate extra oil production, which could result in more breakouts.
Skip harsh scrubs. It's okay to exfoliate, but be sure to use a gentle formula with small, smooth grains. Avoid products with almond or apricot shell fragments; they can irritate or even tear your skin and further aggravate your acne.
Say no to alcohol. If you use a toner, avoid products with high concentrations of isopropyl alcohol, or common rubbing alcohol. A strong astringent, alcohol strips the top layer of your skin, causing your sebaceous glands to produce more oil. The result? Dry, red skin — and possibly more blemishes.
Squeezing or picking your blemishes — with fingernails, pins or anything else — can force bacteria deeper into the skin, causing greater inflammation and infection. You'll also increase the damage to the surrounding skin, so the blemish is more likely to leave a permanent acne scar.
Propionibacterium acnes (the bacteria that causes breakouts) is a normal resident of your skin; it doesn't lead to acne until it gets trapped inside the hair follicle. Excessive touching of your face, including rubbing or even resting your chin in your hands, can drive bacteria into your pores — where it can begin its dirtywork.
When you exercise, your movement generates heat; clothing and equipment cause friction. Until you shower off, heat and moisture are trapped against your skin, creating an ideal breeding ground for the spread of bacteria. So whenever you can, shower off immediately after exercising.
Most cases of mild acne can be improved with "over-the-counter" products, or products that don't require a prescription from your doctor. There is a wide range of treatments available, and there’s a good chance one of them will work for you. If you start treatment before your acne gets severe, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding physical and emotional problems down the road. But if your acne gets worse or lasts more than a couple of weeks, see a dermatologist. Here's a quick listing of the most common products used to treat acne — click on the links that interest you for more information on that course of acne treatment.
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