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Expert Advice on How to Finally Get Rid of Your Acne

10 Sep, 2019
By Valda Noble
We know. We feel your pain. You're desperate.

You've tried all the acne treatments, cut back on certain foods, read just about every article online, taken medication, visited your derm - and more.

And the worst? You still have a problem. You may clear up for a short period of time but the problem always returns. Sound familiar? That’s why just settling for standard acne creams, potions and treatments just doesn't work.

Here's the thing: not all acne is created equal. Some types respond well to over the counter products. Still others need a trip to the derm for the really serious stuff. And many types of acne actually require a change in lifestyle and/or diet. It may be caused by internal or external factors - or both.

Acne is complicated - that’s why many of us have tried everything under the sun to get rid of it but it still persists.

Your Skin is Telling You Something

When you break out, your skin is trying to tell you something. An enormous number of scientific and clinical studies are pointing very clearly to what's happening inside your body as the culprit. Our body is a hugely complicated machine and things can so easily go wrong - anything from hormones, stress, diet to lack of sleep and poor lifestyle habits can cause skin (and other health) problems.

Not surprisingly, clinical specialists have come to the conclusion that the best approach is to deal with the underlying causes of acne as opposed to just treating pimples once they appear. There’s good reason for that - your skin reacts and erupts when something is going a little awry inside your body. That's why most types of acne actually require a change in lifestyle and/or diet.

The good news is that once you know the underlying causes of your acne, it's a lot easier to treat. It as simple as looking at a holistic approach to tackling all the external and internal causes as opposed to just dabbing cream on a spot and hoping for the best.

There is a clear skin light at the end of the tunnel - a way you can get rid of your acne once and for all.

Firstly, start by tackling all the 'hidden' problems... and then find out the best way to treat your pimples from the outside.

It All Starts with Your Hormones

Are you one of the unlucky ones who regularly lands up with a great big zit (or two) as soon as your period starts? That's because the relative level of the hormone, testosterone, is greater around your period which results in a higher level of sebum (oil) production. For some this can mean a healthy glow - for others an oil slick! Oil is great food for the acne bacterium which causes breakouts and inflammation.
Most of what causes acne results from an imbalance of hormones. The two main culprits are androgens (testosterone is an androgen) and insulin. If your insulin levels are a little off balance this can make matters even worse as it multiplies the effect of testosterone on the skin.

A third culprit which is becoming more and more prevalent in our fast-paced world is cortisol. It's best known as the ‘stress hormone' but also helps with the body's metabolism. Consistently high levels of stress ultimately prevent insulin from performing as well as it should - which just results in more acne problems.

What you can do:

You can ask your doctor for birth control pills which can help with testosterone (and other) hormonal levels, but you cannot eliminate this hormone entirely without significant side effects.

However, you can do a lot to regulate your insulin levels.  
  • As a start, eat a well-balanced diet for all round good health.
  • Reduce sugars and refined carbs in your diet (white bread, flour and rice, sweets, cakes and biscuits) - these can spike insulin levels. Rather focus on complex carbs which are rich in fibre such as oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat bread, starchy vegs (sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkin), beans, peas and lentils.
  • Moderate saturated fat intake (e.g. junk foods, fried foods, dairy and fatty meat products) as this can cause insulin resistance and aggravate acne. Recent research has also found that skim milk can make acne worse in certain people so be careful of low fat dairy options (check if this applies to you by eliminating it entirely and see if your zits clear up). Include more fish, skinless chicken and nuts in your diet and use liquid vegetable oils in cooking and prepping salads (e.g. olive, canola, avocado, grapeseed, peanut).
  • Include more fish, skinless chicken and nuts in your diet and use liquid vegetable oils in cooking and prepping salads (e.g. olive, canola, avocado, grapeseed, peanut).
  • Get enough sleep and exercise regularly.

Read More. You Need to Know How Diet Can Actually Help Clear Your Acne

Managing Those Stress Points

Like me, I'm sure you have been through some serious stress points in your life. When your boss is putting pressure on you to meet an impossible deadline. Or you are writing exams. Or you could have just been through a big breakup with the love of your life. Lack of sleep can also cause serious skin stress. And without fail, when this happens you start breaking out (this is when I get those dreaded blind spots).
Stress can be more serious than you think - so you need to take it seriously.It has been shown to increase all three primary acne triggers - sebum production, increased skin cell growth and inflammation. Because of this, you may be surprised to learn that for many acne sufferers it's often better to reduce stress than it is to change their diet.
What you can do:
  • Exercise regularly to work out all the aggro and get those wonderful endorphins coursing through your body.
  • Try yoga, meditation or any other calming technique which appeals to you. Even long walks can help.
  • Get your 7/8 hours of sleep every night. Lack of sleep triggers the stress hormone, cortisol, which causes havoc with your skin. They don't call it beauty sleep for nothing. Cortisol levels naturally fall and both your body and skin regenerate themselves while you sleep.
  • And if you are battling to get to sleep because of worry, introduce a calming ritual before you go to bed. Turn off all electronics - the blue light interferes with your ability to fall asleep. Have a long relaxing hot bath to increase your external body temp. Try a hot drink, read a book, dab calming lavender essential oil on your temples and behind your ears. Whatever takes your mind off your worries.

Read More. Tired of Being Tired? 11 Easy Things You Can Do to Sleep Better

How Heathy is Your Stomach?

There is good reason to believe the health of your gut affects the health of your skin. For over 50 years' doctors have suspected a connection between gut problems and acne - a fact now supported by a number of scientific studies.

So if you have ever had any digestive problems, a condition known as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), food allergies or suffer from sleep deprivation or stress, there is a distinct possibility that this is what is driving your acne problem. Gut problems lead to systemic (all over body) inflammation which has been proven to be higher in people with acne problems - and can cause a number of other health problems as well.

What you can do:  
  • Minimise your antibiotic usage. Antibiotics are known to disrupt the good and bad bacterial balance in your digestive system. Sometimes you will need them - then ask your doctor to prescribe one which will have a minimal effect on probiotic bacteria.
  • Reduce the amount of processed foods you eat. Instead include a lot of fibre rich foods in your diet (fruit, vegetables, unprocessed/whole-wheat grains, beans).
  • Up your intake of probiotic bacteria (the good bugs), either through probiotic supplements or fermented foods (an excuse to learn how to make home-made yoghurt!).
  • Drink organic spearmint tea, the most potent anti-inflammatory of all the mints. A recent study indicated that 2 cups a day significantly reduced inflammatory acne lesions over a 3-month period.
  • Try and reduce your stress levels (take up yoga).
  • Get enough sleep.
  • And if you suffer from any digestive related problems like constipation, flatulence, stomach pain or any other issue, seek help from your doctor.

Read More. Why a Healthy Gut Is the Key to a Happy Skin, Body - and Life

Keep Track of Your Food Triggers

Is chocolate your enemy? Or like me, are occasional binges on Kentucky Fried Chicken your weakness? And lo and behold, the very next day you have a great big zit. While some people definitely have reactions, food related acne is actually less common than you realise.
However, there are some things like dairy which have been shown to make acne worse. And if you suffer from any food sensitivities or allergies, it's possible that these may also be triggers.
What you can do:
  • Avoid dairy. The correlation between acne and dairy products is the strongest of all food types. Dairy increases the levels of both androgen and insulin hormones which have been proven to aggravate acne. The only exception is homemade yoghurt where fermentation reduces the one type of insulin. And the probiotics are also good for your gut health.
  • Try gluten-free. While this is not a problem for everyone, there is evidence to suggest that gluten intolerance may trigger acne in some people.  If you suspect it may be a problem, then try a gluten-free diet for about a month and see whether or not your acne clears up.
  • Avoid those foods which you know to be triggers. Like chocolate. Or fried chicken (sob!). Or just live with the bump for a few days...

Read More. Want to Fix What Is Really Causing Your Acne Breakouts?

Be Smart - Use the Right Cream for the Right Spot

Now that you've tackled all the internal issues, you can now focus on treating the spots themselves.

It helps to know what causes acne to work out exactly which treatment to use. There are three contributing factors: higher than normal shedding of dead skin cells, excessive oiliness and the action of P. acnes bacteria.

So you need to consider an exfoliator to get rid of the dead skin cells, something to minimise the oiliness, and an anti-bacterial cream. And because the bacterial action causes all that nasty redness and swelling (inflammation can also lead to scarring), you need to address these issues as well.

What You Can Do:  
  • Start with salicylic acid. This helps with the first problem by dissolving the skin debris that clogs pores and causes acne. Its particularly effective with blackheads and whiteheads and helps a little with cystic acne (those ghastly blind spots which are very difficult to treat).
    Our product picks for salicylic based ranges: BioNike Acteen, Bioderma Sebium, or Eucerin Dermo Purifyer. Look for any product that includes BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) or salicylic acid.
    Aspirin (not paracetamol) is pure salicylic acid which is why crushing one and mixing it with a little warm water to apply as a paste can be a big help.
  • Tackle the oiliness with an oil control regimen (which also includes salicylic acid) like Garnier Pure Active or Neutrogena Visibly Clear.  Be careful of falling into the trap of over cleansing or exfoliating your skin to get that super squeaky-clean feel - this just overstimulates the sebaceous glands which respond by creating even more oil, which you don't want.
    Many of the normal acne remedies like benzoyl peroxide will also help dry up the offending zit. A word of caution if you have a dark skin. You should first experiment with benzoyl peroxide as this can sometimes cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (AKA dark spots). Rather stick to salicylic acid or sulphur-based products which are particularly good at drying out your spots.
    Good natural alternatives for controlling oiliness are argan and grapeseed carrier oils.
  • Then reduce the swelling. After washing, you need ice cold temperatures to constrict the blood vessels and bring down the swelling. Wrap an ice cube in a paper towel and ice three times for an hour in ten-minute intervals i.e. ten minutes on, ten minutes off.
    Hydrocortisone creams can also help reduce swelling and redness. And for natural alternatives? Both Jojoba and Lavender oils are well known for their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Kill the bacteria. Benzoyl peroxide is the most effective treatment here. It destroys the bacteria trapped inside the follicle causing inflammation and also has a mild peeling and drying effect. We recommend Benzac AC 5 Gel.

    Don't fall into the trap of believing more is good. Seriously, a small thin layer over the spot is all you need - you want to avoid any skin reactions. However, benzoyl peroxide can be a problem for those with sensitive skin. A perfect natural and very effective alternative for those who can't tolerate benzoyl peroxide is tea tree oil.

    Sulphur can also help by limiting the growth of bacteria but is more effective in drying out the offending spot.

    For the more serious bacterially induced spots (small red zits) you may need antibiotics.
  • Reduce the redness. An over the counter hydrocortisone cream with a low dose of steroids can help shrink pimples and reduce redness. Wait for the benzoyl peroxide cream to dry first before you apply. And here you can layer on as much as you want - the more you use and the longer it stays on the more effective it will be.  

    If you want to try a natural alternative, eucalyptus oil , known for its anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties, is a good option particularly for sensitive skins.

Know Your Acne Type

Before you go into manic mode and rush out to buy ALL these products you need to be aware of the which types of skin conditions respond best to which treatment. You don't need to do everything for every type of acne. So identify which type of problem you have first, then choose the correct product to go with it.
  • With blackheads, you have a couple of options.  Firstly, you can treat yourself to a deep cleansing session (with a qualified aesthetician or derm). The second option is exfoliation either by using a sonic cleanser or treatment products (think mild scrubs, salicylic acids , and even retinols). Just don't OD and try everything as your skin could become over sensitive and react by producing more unwanted oil. Stick with one treatment only.
  • Whiteheads respond best to classic acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or sulphur based products to help dry out the zit. If you are inclined to sensitivity, stick to salicylic acid which is the gentlest of all these options.
  • Those small red zits (known as papular pustules) are a form of cystic acne and generally do not have a head. They are highly inflamed, bacteria rich and require a different approach. They respond best to antibiotics - you will have to visit your derm for these - although a topical antibiotic cream can also help. Or you can use an anti-bacterial treatment like benzoyl peroxide. Hydrocortisone cream can also temporarily reduce swelling and inflammation but won't make them disappear completely.
  • Monthly hormonal breakouts on your chin and jawline or the odd pimple which appears after you've eaten one of your trigger foods are best treated internally. A visit to your doctor for a birth control script (and to rule out any other underlying conditions) or avoiding the bad foods are your best remedies here. In the meantime, follow a regular salicylic acid regimen or try the aspirin trick for a dose of pure salicylic acid to get rid of the offending spot.
  • The absolute worst are blind pimples. Also known as cysts, these monsters are those painful underground ones which don't have a head and you pretty much have to wait them out (help them along with a little salicylic acid). Any picking can lead to potential scarring or sebum leaking into the skin which causes even more breakouts - so best leave them alone. They will only get worse. If you have a big event or hot date and can't wait for the week or so for them to disappear you can visit your derm for a cortisone injection which should clear them up within about 24 hours. Just don't do it too often as this can also lead to scarring or skin depressions.

You Gotta Be Kidding…

By now your head is reeling from all this info. You probably never realised just how complex a condition acne is. It’s why most of the stuff you read online often doesn’t help. Much of it is focussed on treating the external problem – the pimples themselves. However internal factors are just as important. You have to look at both if you are going to get rid of acne once and for all.

Before you have a panic attack and think you have to follow everything – relax. You just need to identify those issues which affect you. You know your skin better than anyone. You can probably easily identify the two or three issues which affect you personally. Every single acne case has to be treated individually.

Not everyone has food intolerances. And some people can eat as much chocolate as they like and never see a pimple. Monthly periods may never affect your skin. Maybe you have had too many late nights and your skin is reacting? You could also be lucky enough to have a healthy gut so that would rule that one out.  Work out what your external triggers are or may be.

And then, just as importantly, understand exactly what type of acne you have so you know how to treat it. You don’t have to throw all the medications at your pimples – just the ones that are specific to your problem. For example, if you have whiteheads you really should just be using a salicylic acid or another mild treatment cream. However, small red zits need a more focussed anti-bacterial approach and possibly a trip to your derm.

Fortunately, we have found something to help you along. Take this comprehensive quiz from Acne Einstein which deep dives into your lifestyle and acne type to help identify both the internal and external factors which are causing your acne problem.

And please contact us if you need more info or help.

As a footnote, just remember that there's more to healthy skin than just keeping acne in check. Find out if your skin care routine is checking all the right boxes.

Read More. Here's How to Effectively Treat Every Type of Acne (And Hide Them Too!)

Want all the in-depth insider info on how to treat your acne?

Imagine how much easier (and happier) your life would be if you could just get rid of your pimples - once and for all? Well you can – all the answers you need to solve your problem are in ‘The Proven Path to Acne Free Skin’. Drawing on all the latest scientific research and clinical studies, this book will help you:
  • Understand exactly why you have acne.
  • Uncover your specific acne type.
  • Identify the underlying root cause of your precise problem.
  • Adjust any diet, health and lifestyle factors to fix this problem.
  • Choose the best skin care products and medical treatment for your exact acne type.
  • Know what not to do.

References: Acne Einstein is a science based natural acne treatment advice blog run by a chronic acne sufferer who eventually decided to take his own life (and skin) into his hands after many years of hell. He reviewed nearly a thousand medical journals and scientific studies on the subject and after much trial and error, is now acne free. A real life story to help a real life problem.

Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now