Ten tips for treating acne (some you may never have thought of!)

Dr Hannah Sweilam

Looking for ways to banish breakouts? Look no further than Dr Hannah Sweilam’s 10 tips to treat acne. Some might surprise you. 


  1. Sterilise your mobile phone

Mobile phones are usually host to a motley crew of bacteria, and when researchers at the London School of Hygiene swabbed 390 phones, they found bacteria on 92% of them. Holding a phone to your face transfers bacteria to your cheek and jawline. And not just bacteria, but dirt, oils and whichever weird and wonderful contaminants have accumulated on your phone.  This increases the likelihood of skin irritation, blocked pores and spots.  To help keep your phone grime-free, give it a daily clean with an antibacterial wipe.


2. Step away from the sugary snacks

It has long been disputed whether diet affects acne but new research indicates that it does, and that sugar makes acne worse. Sugar causes the body to release more insulin, which causes increased levels of hormones called androgens and ultimately, more sebum production. This equals blocked pores and spots. Try eating more fruit and veggies and fewer sugary desserts.


3. You could try avoiding dairy too

Several studies have observed that acne is more common among people who consume dairy products and although the evidence is inconclusive, it is thought that hormones in milk might cause skin to produce more sebum.  Some studies suggest that skimmed milk causes more spots than whole milk.  If you do decide to cut-out dairy, it is important to include in your diet plenty of calcium-rich foods such as broccoli, pulses, nuts and tofu.  Before making major changes to your diet, it is best to seek medical advice.


4. Hands off

Your hands have bacteria, oils and dirt on them and every time you touch your face, you rub that concoction onto your skin.  If you repeatedly touch your face throughout the day, your skin won’t thank you for it and you could end-up with more spots.  So try to not touch your face more than necessary- and don’t even think about picking or squeezing spots.  Prodding and poking spots (we’ve all been there) drives bacteria further into the skin and increases inflammation.


5. Wash pillowcases regularly

Sweat, oils, skin cells and bacteria build-up on pillowcases and can transfer back onto your face while you sleep.  Hair products build-up on pillowcases too and often contain heavy, pore-blocking ingredients. Try changing your pillowcases at least twice per week and wash them in hot water.


6. Avoid alcohol in products

Steer clear of cleansers and toners that contain alcohol because it strips away natural oils and leaves skin dehydrated. Dehydrated skin produces more sebum to compensate, and is also more prone to scaling and cracking, which all in all, allows bacteria to have a field day.  Check ingredient lists for alcohols such as cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol – these are fatty alcohols and can be beneficial for dry skin and are often used in moisturisers and conditioners, but may clog pores. Benzyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol can be drying and irritating and may make your breakouts worse.


7. Moisturise

Do not be tempted to skip the moisturiser out of concern that it will worsen acne.  Acne skin is stressed skin and needs moisturising.  Just make sure you use the right moisturiser: one that is good quality, absorbs well into skin and is non-comedogenic (non-pore blocking).  Finding the right moisturiser can be a mission but don’t give up- there is no need to settle for a moisturiser you’re not happy with.  Make use of free samples to try as many moisturisers as possible and don’t be shy to ask for samples- some stores have a secret stash.


8. Do not sleep in make-up

Skin renews itself at night by sloughing off dead skin cells and replacing them with new ones. When make-up is not removed before bedtime, the natural skin sloughing is hindered.  Dead skin cells accumulate and block pores, leading to dull, dry skin and acne.  Double-cleansing (cleaning the skin twice) is best to ensure make-up is completely removed but if that sounds too much like hard work, cleaning once is much better than not at all.


9. Make-up brushes bathtime

Make-up brushes collect bacteria, dirt, and debris. Wash make-up brushes weekly by soaking them in a mixture of warm water and gentle shampoo, then rinse thoroughly and let them air-dry.


 10. Keep calm and carry on

Easier said than done but keeping stress levels to a minimum really does help skin. Stress causes increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and of androgens, which results in more sebum production and acne.  Try to get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and make time to do more of the things that you enjoy.




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