Depending on the type and severity of your acne, you may have a couple pimples every now and then or a lifelong battle with breakouts. The first thing to do when treating acne is to understand what type you have.1
Blackheads occur when pores clog with excess oil (sebum), bacteria, and dead skin. If that pore closes, a whitehead develops, which looks like a small white-or flesh-colored bump. A blackhead that goes deeper into the skin and causes inflammation is called a papule (or pimple). The papule becomes a pustule when it fills with yellowish fluid (pus).
Cysts and nodules can cause permanent scars as they heal because they’ve pushed deep into the skin. These conditions should be treated by a dermatologist. Take heart, though; almost all acne can be cleared.
General skincare guidelines
Contrary to popular belief, washing your face often is not helpful. Since moisture is good for the skin, stripping it away during washing causes oil glands to produce more sebum. “You really want to use gentle skin care when dealing with acne,” says Jeffrey Zwerner, MD, senior medical director of dermatology at Teladoc Health. Instead, cleanse your face only twice a day (and after you’ve been sweating) with a mild, fragrance-free cleanser. Apply the cleanser with your fingertips, and use your hands to rinse it off with lukewarm (never hot) water. Here are some other tips:
- Avoid irritating ingredients such as alcohol, and be careful when using astringents, toners, and exfoliants.
- Don’t skimp on moisturizer—oil-free versions are good for your skin.
- Protect your skin with oil-free sunscreen during the day, and don’t use tanning beds.
- Don’t give up on makeup. Just look for oil- and fragrance-free products with “hypoallergenic” (not likely to cause an allergic response), “non-acnegenic” (unlikely to cause or worsen acne), and “noncomedogenic” (less likely to clog pores) on the label. And be sure to clean your makeup applicators at least once a week.
- Keep your hands away from your face. (This is a great general rule, period.)
- Be sure to wash your pillowcase and bed sheets weekly.
Skin treatment fun in the kitchen
Many foods in your fridge and pantry—apple cider vinegar, avocado, cinnamon, honey, oatmeal, turmeric—have antibacterial, exfoliating, anti-inflammatory, and moisturizing properties, which make them ideal for homemade skin care. The witch hazel and tea tree oil in your medicine cabinet can be used too. Here are a couple recipes to get you started.
After cleansing, you might want to use a toner to calm your skin and help reduce redness. The amount of water you’ll use in this spritzer depends on whether your skin is sensitive, dry, normal, or oily.
- ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ to 1 tablespoon witch hazel
- 3 drops tea tree oil
- A few drops of essential oil (optional)
- Pour ½ tablespoon apple cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon witch hazel into a small, clean, sanitized spray bottle. (If the apple cider, which helps kill bacteria, is too strong for your skin, then nix it and use 2 tablespoons witch hazel.)
- If your skin is oily, add 2 tablespoons water. Increase the water to ¼ cup if your skin is dry or normal. If it’s sensitive, make it ½ cup of water.
- Add 3 drops tea tree oil and, if you’d like, a couple drops of your favorite essential oil (e.g., frankincense, lavender, etc.).
- After cleansing your face, shake the mixture vigorously and apply with a cotton ball. Leave on 5 to 20 seconds and rinse with cool water. Pat your face dry.
- Store the tightly sealed bottle in the fridge and use the remaining toner within a few days.
These skin-nurturing concoctions can be used once or twice a week. The honey in them makes them very sticky, so wear a headband to keep your hair away from your face. Cleanse your face before applying the mask. After removing it with lukewarm water, pat your skin dry and finish with a light, oil-free moisturizer.
Avocado honey mask (for dry, sensitive skin)
- ½ ripe avocado
- 1 tablespoon honey
- Mash the avocado and blend in the honey.
- Slather the mixture on your face, leave on for 10 minutes. (You can keep the mask on up to 20 minutes if you don’t feel any irritation.)
- Rinse, dry, and moisturize.
Cinnamon honey mask (to exfoliate and brighten)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a small bowl, mix one tablespoon of honey with 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon into a paste.
- Apply gently to your face with a makeup spatula or brush. The mask may start to tingle, so gauge for yourself how long you’re comfortable leaving it on—anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes.
- Rinse, dry, moisturize. While rinsing, use a gentle circular motion with your fingertips to lightly exfoliate with the cinnamon.
Spot blackhead treatment
Mix 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon baking soda into a paste. Gently apply it to and around the affected area. Rinse off after 10 minutes.
What Teladoc can do
“Acne is like a rash on your face that just won’t quit and is almost impossible to hide,” Dr. Zwerner says. You can’t just scrub it away (scrubbing actually makes it worse). Early treatment of a breakout can help prevent acne from progressing. But treatments need time to work. In general, give it one to two months to be effective. And whatever you do, don’t squeeze or pop a pimple! It may not be as visible by popping it, but you risk causing scar tissue or even infection.
If you’ve been dealing with acne for a while but it’s just not under control, Teladoc can help. Use the app to schedule an online visit with one of our U.S.-licensed dermatologists. Within two days you’ll have a customized skincare treatment plan to help clear up your condition and keep it cleared up.