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16 Lifestyle Changes that Fight Acne + SHOP Skincare | Acne

Table of Contents

UGH! Does acne ever go away?

"Put it this way: It is so common that pimples are meeting wrinkles. For the last 10 to 20 years, adult acne has been increasing. It can even go into your 50s, right to menopause."  - Dr. Neal Schultz, Dermatologist in Manhattan

Now that's exactly what you wanted to hear, right?!

If breakouts make you want to hide your face, you don't have to rely on skincare products alone. Following are 16 lifestyle changes that can help fight acne too!

No. 1. Drink More Water.

You already know that drinking water is good for your health. But it's good for your skin too. When you're dehydrated, your skin is dry and starts to flake. That dryness signals your skin to ramp up its oil production. It's your body's attempt to rehydrate your skin. But more oil is bad for acne. The dry skin flakes get stuck in the oil and clog your pores. So the moral of the story is this:  make sure you drink enough water every day, especially at times when you're prone to dehyration - when you're sick, exercising, or it's really hot out.

No. 2. Watch What You Eat. Some Foods May Make Your Acne Worse.

Decades ago, we were told that diet had no effect on acne. That thinking is changing. New studies are showing there probably is a link, but most of the studies are small. More research is definitely needed! At this time, the American Academy of Dermatology does NOT recommend any specific diet changes for acne.

Here's the latest research from the January / February 2018, Journal of the Dermatology Nurses Association:

DAIRY:  Drinking milk and eating milk products, skim milk in particular, seems to make acne worse. Researchers aren't sure why. Here's what they think is causing it.

There are 2 ways milk causes breakouts. This is the condensed version:

A. Essentially, the hormones (growth hormones & anabolic steroids) in cow's milk cause a hormonal imbalance that increases sebum production, inflammation, and creates more p. acnes bacteria (the bacteria responsible for acne).

B. Milk contains sugar (carbohydrates). When you drink milk or eat dairy products, your body releases insulin, then more hormones. More sebum, more p. acnes bacteria, and more inflammation are the result.

How Do Hormones Create More Acne?

Adult acne in women is driven by the fluctuation of hormones - NOT an abnormal level of hormones. The levels change during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, peri-menopause, menopause, and anytime your birth control method changes.

Both men and women are affected by changing levels of testosterone. But women especially have a delicate and ever changing hormone balance. Estrogen and progesterone are our biggies. But we also have testosterone (an androgen hormone women have in much smaller amounts than men) produced by the ovaries and adrenal glands. It helps us maintain our muscle and bone strength, and it enhances our sex drive. Testosterone is also a key influence in our skin's oil production.

Testosterone levels increase at ovulation and just prior to your period. As testosterone levels increase, so does your skin's oil production. The development of skin cells that line hair follicles in your skin is altered and the inflammation that promotes acne formation and progression increases. In turn, your chances of clogged pores and pimples is much more likely.

It's why androgen receptor blockers, like spironolactone, work for acne. But they also can have some ugly side effects like menstrual irregularity, birth defects, and liver damage.

HIGH CARBOHYDRATE FOODS:  High carbohydrate foods like white bread, fruit juice, dried fruit, dairy, white rice, carbonated cola drinks, sugar, and sweets, may make your acne worse.

Cultures with low carbohydrate diets (like the Kitavan Islanders of Papua, New Guinea, and the Ache hunters of Paraguay) have NO acne. It could be due to a genetic predisposition, but researchers think that their low carbohydrate diet plays a major role.

WHEY PROTEIN:  Whey protein is a component of milk. Body builders use it to gain muscle mass and improve their performance. Several small studies have shown that it increases acne. Read more in our post, Do Dairy Products and Milk Cause Acne?

CHOCOLATE:  A 2014 study by Caperton, et al., was double-blind, placebo controlled, and randomized (a high quality study). They studied 14 men, ages 18–35 years with mild acne. The men were given 6 ounces of cocoa encapsulated in gelatin daily for 7 days. After 4 days, the men who got the cocoa capsules had increases in acne.

FATTY ACIDS:  Omega-3s are thought to reduce inflammation, and so they may reduce the inflammation of acne. But there's conflicting information about omega-3 fish oil supplements and acne. Studies show they don't make acne worse, but they might not make it better either.

There's one thing you need to remember - there aren't large, statistically significant studies that definitively prove a food - acne link. But there are always exceptions. Keep a food diary and look for foods that could be triggering your breakouts.

"If you break out when you eat chocolate, don't eat chocolate."  - Dr. Neal Schultz

Coffee drink with whipped cream and chocolate
Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Food Photographer, Jennifer Pallian

No. 3. Take a Multivitamin & Eat More Antioxidants.

Vitamins A and E are antioxidants. A study published in Clinical and Dermatology in 2004, studied the blood levels of vitamin A and E in 100 people with acne. Then researchers compared those levels to the levels of 100 healthy people. They found that the patients with severe acne had significantly lower blood levels of vitamins A and E than people with less severe acne and people without acne. So taking a multivitamin daily and eating antioxidant rich foods (like blueberries, pomegranates, cranberries, and other whole fruits and vegetables), should help your skin to heal. Topical antioxidants like Vitamin C and E should help too.

No. 4. Limit Your Stress

Stress can cause hormone changes.

"When you're stressed, you have an organ called the adrenal gland that makes the stress hormone cortisol, and puts it out into the body to help the body deal with stress."  -  Dr. Neal Schultz

Cortisol stimulates oil production in your skin, priming you for breakouts. To control your stress levels, try activities like walking, yoga, etc.

No. 5. Wash Your Face Twice a Day - But Don't Overwash!

The oil glands that make sebum are found all over your body (except on the palms of your hands and the soles of your feet). They're found in especially high numbers on your scalp and face. And even though your pores may become full of cellular debris, your glands keep making that sebum. The sebum builds up behind the debris, creating a lovely new "home" where bacteria can grow and flourish. And the result is the swelling and redness of cystic acne or a pimple.

Top all that off with a day's worth of makeup, sweat, dust, and dirt. Then add pollution. (Learn more about how pollution affects your skin in our Clarisonic post.)

"Air pollution just puts this layer of crap on your face."  - Dr. Neal Schultz

Quite simply, if you don't wash your face regularly, all that stuff will fill your pores, causing more blackheads and pimples. Wash your face gently twice a day, morning and evening. But don't overwash. Cleansing more than twice a day can cause dry skin, which tells your skin to make more oil.

"Overwashing your face can make acne worse, which can cause [it] to produce more oil to overcompensate."   - Dr. Rebecca Kazin, Dermatologist at the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery

You also need to be careful with spin brushes like the Clarisonic. Make sure you use a really soft brush head.

"It helps remove all makeup and helps your cleanser work better, but I worry about the coarse ones. It's almost like giving yourself microdermabrasion twice a day, which can cause a breakout."  - Dr. Rebecca Kazin

Closeup of bike rider with tattoos on his arms
Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Dan Russo

No. 6. Wear Sunscreen Every Day

The sun won't clear your acne. In fact, it'll only make your acne worse. Sunburn dehydrates skin. Your skin responds by making more oil in an attempt to rehydrate the skin. And that, my friend, leads to more acne.

No. 7. Get Some Exercise

Exercise helps cut stress. It also improves your blood circulation, which sends more oxygen to your skin and carries away cellular waste.

BUT the sweat from your workouts can also cause breakouts. So be sure to shower right after your workout. If showering after exercise isn't an option, use one of the disposable cleansing cloths available at the drugstore.

No. 8. Exfoliate Regularly!

"Exfoliation is the most important thing you can do on a regular basis to be fighting acne both in terms of preventing it and treating it."  - Dr. Neal Schultz

Beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid are lipid (fat) soluble. This means they are able to penetrate the sebum within the follicles. While alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs, like glycolic acid), which are water soluble, cannot. Salicylic acids are also anti-inflammatory, meaning they reduce redness and swelling.

A study by A. Kligman published in Cosmetic Dermatology in 1995, compared the skin of women treated with 2% salicylic acid to women treated with 8% glycolic acid. The salicylic acid  group got significantly better pimple clearance than the glycolic acid group.

Another 1995 study by J. Di Nardo, published in Cosmetic Dermatology found that a combination of AHAs and BHAs was more effective against acne than salicylic acid alone.

No. 9. Look for Products that Fight Skin Inflammation

Inflammation is the redness and swelling you see when you get acne. Dr. Leslie Baumann recommends these anti-inflammatory ingredients in her book, Cosmetic Dermatology, Principles and Practice, 2nd Edition:

  • aloe vera
  • chamomile
  • coenzyme q10 / ubiquinone
  • cucumber extract
  • feverfew
  • green tea
  • licorice extract
  • mushrooms
  • niacinamide
  • pycnogenol
  • silymarin

No. 10. You May Need to See a Dermatologist.

"Medications that manipulate hormonal levels, such as oral contraceptives and spironolactone, are helpful in curbing hormonal chin and lower face outbreaks,"  - Dr. Julia Tzu, Wall Street Dermatology in New York City

No. 11. Don’t Pick at Pimples or Cysts.

Picking at your pimples will only leave you with scars. For pain relief, try ibuprofen (which reduces inflammation) and a warm or cold compress - use the one that feels best. Then schedule an appointment at your dermatologist.

"The only way to reduce it [cystic acne] quickly is to drain it, and that's not a DIY deal."  - Dr. Neal Schultz

"Cortisone shots are the true 'spot treatments' for painful cystic acne lesions."  - Dr. Julia Tzu

No. 12. You Can Treat Dark Spots Yourself. For Scars, You’ll Need a Professional.

If you have dark spots that are flat - you'll hear them called hyperpigmentation - skincare products can help. Exfoliate and try products that target discoloration. There are several listed in our melasma treatment post. And you'll need to use sunscreen (like your life depends on it!) to make sure your dark spots don't get any darker.

Indented or raised acne scars won't go away on their own. You'll need to see a specialist. Lasers, subcision, chemical peels, fillers, micro-needling, and platelet rich plasma (PRP) all can help.

No. 13. Use Hair Products Carefully

Pomade acne is a real thing. It's when hair care products get on your skin, clogging your pores, and causing breakouts. It usually happens near your hairline.

Fortunately, there's an easy fix. Apply your hair products then wash your face OR use oil-free hair products. Either one should work.

No. 14. Change Your Pillowcase Every Day. Leftover Makeup & Bacteria that Gets on Your Pillow Will Only Cause More Acne.

No. 15. Get More Sleep. 7 - 9 Hours a Night Should Do It.

A survey on the sleep-stress cycle is published on the American Psychological Association website. The survey showed that:

"When they do not get enough sleep, 21% of adults report feeling more stressed. Adults with higher reported stress levels (8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale) fare even worse — 45% feel even more stressed if they do not get enough sleep."

That stress is bad for your skin and your general health.

"Stress increases glucocorticoid production, which can lead to abnormalities in skin structure and function."  - Dr. Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, Dermatologist in Danville, CA

woman sleeping next to a book | 7 Lifestyle Changes that Fight Acne + SHOP Skincare | Acne | Masterpiece Skin Restoration
Photo courtesy of Unsplash & Zohre Nemati.

No. 16. Keep Your Electronics CLEAN!

Computer keyboards accumulate loads of bacteria. When you touch the keyboard, that bacteria gets transferred to your hands.

"Leaning on the palm of your hand as you look at your computer during the day can transfer dirt and oil from your palm onto your skin, [thus] causing pimples."  - Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Dermatologist in New York City

"Your cell phone accumulates dirt and oil from your skin — and bacteria from the environment — as you put your phone down on a table or chair."  - Dr. Joshua Zeichner

Sadly, for some people, acne doesn't get any easier with age. Finding the best way to treat your pimples is best accomplished by trial and error. Below you'll find some of the best, most cost-effective products I've found for acne. They'll help you achieve beautiful, clear skin! And you might find this post helpful:  17 of the Best Ways to Treat Adult Acne.

And life might get even easier - there's an acne vaccine on the way! Good luck!

SHOP | Below you’ll find some skincare products that are great for acne!

But First, Let’s talk About the Elephant in the Room: SHIPPING COSTS.

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Amy Takken, RN

Amy Takken is a registered nurse with 20+ years of experience helping people improve their health. Her in-depth skincare articles have been featured on Nazarian Plastic Surgery and The Palm Beach Center for Facial Plastic & Laser Surgery. She's also been quoted on Amy loves research and constantly watches for new products and treatments to help you improve your skin’s health – because healthy skin is beautiful! To reach Amy, visit our contact page.

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Nurture yourself so you can enjoy life to it’s fullest!

When you care for yourself first, everything in your life benefits. We all need time to refuel, and for each one of us that means something a little bit different. For most of us, it means making sleep, good nutrition, emotional, or physical health a priority. We make things like gym time nonnegotiable, or follow a certain diet, or stop checking the cell phone after 7 p.m. Most of us are happier when we are healthy - and it shows. That's where we come in. Masterpiece Skin Restoration gives you all the information you need to restore your skin's health - because healthy skin is beautiful!

We have all the information you need to restore your skin.

Masterpiece Skin Restoration was founded on the principle that each one of us is beautiful. It's an online resource to help you, our valued reader, find the very best of all things medical aesthetics, skincare, beauty, and wellness. Our registered nurse provides all the information you need to make the best choices for your skin - in language you can understand. We research skincare products and treatments that are backed by science and have proven results.

References:  How Do You Get Rid of Chest Acne?  The Role of Androgen and Androgen Receptor in the Skin-Related Disorders  American Cutaneous Oncology Society - Hormonal Treatment of Acne in Women  Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Assessing the Effect of Chocolate Consumption in Subjects with a History of Acne Vulgaris  Does the plasma level of vitamins A and E affect acne condition?

Baumann, L., Saghari, S., Weisberg, E., & Allemann, I. B. (2009). Cosmetic Dermatology: Principles and Practice (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill Medical.


The Information provided on our website is not medical advice and should not be viewed as such. By law, only a medical doctor can diagnose or give medical advice. As a registered nurse, my goal is to educate, so I provide information on skin care, skin care products, and skin care treatments. If you have any condition that concerns you, please see a medical doctor. While most skin conditions are benign, some - like melanoma - can be deadly. If there is any doubt, please, please consult your physician. Thank you!

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