Spot the mistake: errors we make trying to get rid of acne

Heather Stephen

If you have acne you’ll try almost anything to get rid of it. Our experts look at some of the most common errors people make and what they should do instead.

Most of us have battled with acne at some stage.  Although your doctor can help it’s hardly surprising if you try your own zit-busting tricks too – but sometimes you might just be on the wrong track.

What we do: Use facial oils

Celebrities like Gywneth Paltrow and Emma Stone swear by natural oils to remove makeup and keep their skin clear but while some studies have claimed that coconut oil is good for acne consultant dermatologist Dr Emma Wedgeworth, from  the 152 Harley Street clinic, says facial oils could actually make your acne worse.

“The theory behind using facial oils for acne is that dehydrated skin produces more oil, but there is little scientific evidence to back this up,” she says.

What we should do:

Reach for a moisturiser that is what they call ‘non-comedogenic’ – that is, it doesn’t block pores or cause more pimples. “I find that facial oils are not helpful for patients with larger pores and acne prone skin as they are likely to clog pores, and the use of a non-comedogenic, hydrating moisturiser is a much better way to improve the skin texture,” says Dr Wedgeworth.


What we do: Ditch the moisturiser

We used to think we needed to dry skin out to clear up spots but this process can actually make acne worse by over stimulating  the oil producing sebaceous glands and by eliminating the moisture that could wash away that pore-clogging oil.

What we should do:

Dr Anjali Mahto from London’s Cadogan Clinic points out: “Just because your skin produces excess oil doesn’t mean it is hydrated. You still need a moisturiser but go for a gel-based one with salicylic acid to reduce blemishes.”

And Dr Justine Hextall, medical director of the Tarrant Street Clinic, in Arundel, West Sussex, recommends “soothing moisturisers too, and I think calming inflamed skin is the most important step to tackling this common skin problem.”


What we do: Overexfoliate with scrubs

Some people go to town on exfoliation in the belief it will unblock pores and strip the oil from their skin but overdoing it only irritates and inflames the skin, so go easy.

Do this instead

Dr Wedgeworth says exfoliation can be helpful for acne as it removes skin cells from the outer layer of the skin which could block pores. But instead of scrubs she recommends chemical exfoliants that contain alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy-acids (BHA) like salicylic or glycolic acid cleansers. She says these are gentler and more effective than physical exfoliants like grains and brushes.

Dr Justine Hextall, medical director of the Tarrant Street Clinic, in Arundel, West Sussex, agrees. “Exfoliation can be good for the skin, especially for those with blemishes because often blocked follicles can cause oil to build up and lead to spots and unblocking these follicles will help to prevent breakouts.”

While some dermatologists ban scrubs for people with acne Dr Hextall says you can still use them as long as you follow a few simple steps.

“My advice is to make sure hands are clean as are any flannels or brushes,” she says. “The most important rule is not to over-exfoliate as this can strip the skin barrier. You don’t need to exfoliate every day – a maximum of a couple of times a week is fine.”

Dr Anjali Mahto from the Cadogan Clinic in London, who has acne prone skin herself, says she exfoliates once a week.

“If I have a lot of blackheads I might have a chemical grade peel. But you shouldn’t have one of these more than once a month and it should always be given by a dermatologist,” she says.


What we do: cleanse too much

A proper cleansing regime can make a big difference to our skin as it removes the oil and bacteria which can trigger acne and blackheads, but like like the exfoliators, we tend to over do it with harsh cleansers or alcohol-based wipes.

“Individuals with acne and rosacea often really go for it with harsh products to try and counteract oiliness and blemishes and as a result end up stripping the skin’s barrier and over-stressing the skin,” says Dr Hextall, who recommends avoiding soap or alcohol based cleansers as these leave the skin tight and dry.

What we should do:

“Our skin is homeostatic (self-regulating), so the more we strip the skin, the more oily and inflamed it becomes,” explains Dr Hextall. “For my patients with acne I advise a salicylic acid wash to unclog pores or a gentle cleanser such as Cetaphil wash or Avene cleanser, as calming acned skin and restoring the skin barrier is key.”


The last word:

A last word of advice from consultant dermatologist, Dr Penelope Tympanidis, a consultant dermatologist and owner of the Dermaperfect Clinic on Harley Street – if you have acne consult a dermatologist if you can. She says a lot of people go to beauticians or other places for advice and treatments and end up spending a lot on treatments that are not necessarily the best ones for their skin condition.


“I wouldn’t advise people go to a beautician about acne but if they can afford it they should see a dermatologist who can prescribe a tailor made programme of treatment like Roaccutane or peels to get acne under control and prevent and reduce scarring,” she says





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