How to Care for Your Acne-Prone Skin

Remember when you believed that acne was just a hormonal teen thing? Whatever name you give the pesky problem—blemishes, pimples, zits, acne—about 20% of all cases occur in adults.1 The onset usually begins in puberty (during the ages 10 to 13), continues for five to 10 years, and diminishes during your early 20’s. However, it turns out that women are more likely to carry breakouts into their 30’s and beyond.1

Regardless of your age or gender, acne-prone skin can be hard to manage, especially for those of us with oilier skin. So keeping those blemishes at bay will require a skin care routine that’s tough on oil, with the benefits of active natural ingredients like salicylic acid—a beta hydroxy acid that acts as an exfoliator to unclog pores.2 But more on that later!

What Causes Acne?
In the most clinical terms, acne is caused when greasy secretions from the skin’s sebaceous glands (aka, oil glands) plug our pores. When bacteria grow in these plugged pores, we develop either blackheads or whiteheads. Some people will even develop deeper lumps beneath the skin’s surface called cystic acne.1

But beyond the bacteria and clogged pores, what are the other factors that contribute to acne-prone skin?

• Genetics: Unfortunately, heredity can play a role. Some of us have genetically larger sebaceous glands that produce excessive oil.3

• Hormones: During puberty, just before menstruation, and during pregnancy and menopause3, people can produce high levels of androgens, which are the male sex hormones1. These androgens increase sebum production, which directly translates to more oil.

• Medication: Certain oral, injectable and intrauterine birth control (IUD) may trigger acne—though, as you probably know, many contraceptives will also suppress it. Steroids can also contribute to increased acne.1

• Over-Washing Your Skin: Gentle cleansing is the way to go with easily irritated acne-prone skin. Avoid abrasive skin tools and harsh exfoliators that can strip your skin of moisture and cause your glands to overcompensate with more oil.3

The good news is: There are steps you can take to prevent excess oil and breakouts. Following a consistent skin care routine with effective yet gentle products that are noncomedogenic—meaning they won’t block pores—will make a big difference in your skin’s health and appearance.

What Skin Care Routine Works for Acne?
Before we dive into a recommended routine, there are a handful of general skin care tips that are useful for acne sufferers.4

• Look for products that read “noncomedogenic” because they are specifically formulated to NOT block pores.

• Use products with acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid, witch hazel and tea tree oil.

• Wash your face twice daily with warm water (not hot), but don’t over-wash. Even if you think washing frequently will eliminate more oil, you run the risk of irritating your skin and stripping it of good oils.

• Always moisturize after cleansing, since many products that are tough on acne have a tendency to dry your skin.

• Don’t pick your zits! It can spread bacteria, cause more breakouts and even lead to permanent scarring. (If you cave and end up picking, be sure to disinfect the area afterward).

For acne-prone skin, a routine of noncomedogenic cleansing, treating and moisturizing will net you a big difference in your skin’s health.

• Use a salicylic acid cleanser or gentle foaming cleanser. Wash with warm water.
• Use a salicylic acid toner, preferably one with skin-clarifying natural ingredients like witch hazel. If your skin seems extra sensitive, you can forego this step in the a.m. and only tone in the p.m.

• Tackle existing blemishes with a salicylic acid spot treatment or those made with naturally antiseptic ingredients like tea tree oil.

• Opt for a salicylic acid-containing moisturizer, which will do double duty of hydrating while nipping acne in the bud.

Naturally Powerful: Salicylic Acid from Willow Bark
Not all forms of salicylic acid are created equal. The type Burt’s Bees uses in its acne products comes directly from the bark of the black willow tree. Willow bark extract is a powerhouse of natural beta hydroxy acids—not just salicylic acid—and, collectively, these acids help exfoliate skin and fight acne.

If you want a gentle yet effective way to prevent breakouts and support healthy skin, keep your eye out for willow bark extract.

Does Diet Matter?
Though there isn’t much merit in the old myth that eating greasy foods causes acne (unless you get that grease on your face!), milk is a different story. Studies have linked milk consumption to an increased risk of acne, as well as high-glycemic-index foods, such as pasta, bread and white rice.6

So if you’re getting serious about curbing acne, we recommend focusing on a diet rich in fiber, with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Sticking to a consistent routine of cleansing, treating and moisturizing with noncomedogenic skin care products, specifically formulated for acne, will help you beat breakouts and balance your skin. To find a solution for more severe cases, such as cystic acne, you should consult a dermatologist who will be able to recommend a clinical treatment plan.