Lifestyle Changes to Tame Acne

Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on January 17, 2019
4 min read

You want your acne gone ASAP. Apart from the treatments you use to clear up your skin, you can also take action to help prevent future breakouts. Start by making these shifts in your lifestyle.

“The most important thing you can do in terms of preventing or minimizing acne is to decrease stress in your life,” says dermatologist Ivy Lee, MD, of Pasadena Premier Dermatology in California.

The amount of oil (or sebum, as doctors call it) in your skin is “directly influenced by stress,” Lee says. The more stress (physical and emotional) that you feel, the higher the cortisol levels in the body and the more active the sebaceous glands in the skin.

“Anything you can do to decrease stress -- by relaxing, being more mindful, focusing on wellness and exercising -- all decrease levels of cortisol, lower stress, and reduce acne,” Lee says.

When you wake up in the morning, how do you feel? If the answer is anything other than rested, it’s time to take a look at what the problem is. Do you go to bed too late and get up too early? Or is the problem that your sleep isn’t restful?

If you don’t get good, restorative sleep, your body might not feel rested and could kick-start that cortisol surge, which could put you at risk for more acne.

The fix is simple, but not always easy: Make sleep a priority to give your body the rest it needs and your acne a chance to heal. And of course, you should always take all your makeup off before you go to bed.

Working out is a great way to handle stress. Just make sure you clean your skin before and after workouts so it doesn’t worsen body acne.

Take off all your makeup before you get started. Cleansing towelettes can make this easy. Look for wipes that say they’re oil-free and noncomedogenic, meaning they won’t clog pores, Lee suggests. Or simply wash up with a gentle cleanser and rinse with lukewarm water.

While you work out, pat your skin with a towel if it gets too sweaty. Rubbing it could be irritating.

When you’re done, take a shower and change into dry, clean clothes ASAP. This helps prevent breakouts caused by oils in sweat that your clothes absorbed.

Lee recommends washing your workout clothes at least twice a week, depending on how hard your workouts are. “I see some patients who don’t want to damage their pricey workout garments so they launder them once every 2 weeks,” she says.
“That’s not hygienic and it’s not great for acne-prone skin.”

Lee prefers laundry detergents that are hypoallergenic, dye free, and fragrance free since they’re gentler on the skin.

If you wear a sweatband or headband when you exercise, clean that, too. “[If it’s dirty] it can lead to further acne along the hairline,” Lee says. Stash a few headbands in your gym bag and toss used ones in with your laundry. If you wear a hat while working out, wash that often as well.

There are no specific recommendations for dietary changes to help with acne because the evidence is still coming to fruition at this point, Lee says. “The emerging data only shows that foods with high glycemic index, like processed carbs and sweets, can be associated with acne,” Lee says.

Some research shows weak links between cow’s milk and acne, but it’s not a proven cause.

“I usually say that what's good for the heart is good for skin as well,” Lee says. “You want a well-balanced, antioxidant-rich diet.” Avoid foods with empty calories and load up on fruits, veggies, whole grains, and healthy sources of protein to benefit your skin and the rest of your body.

You probably already know that touching your face often can lead to more breakouts. But when’s the last time you cleaned your cell phone or its case?

Even if you don’t make calls regularly, your fingers probably touch that dirty device all day long and then your face.

“Whether it's your smartphone, office phone, or a headpiece for a smartphone, those can be colonized with bacteria and may be covered in oil just from your hands touching it,” Lee says.

Wipe your phone down with a slightly damp microfiber cloth daily. Check your phone maker’s recommendations for your specific device.

You need to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) ray damage with a daily sunscreen.

“With acne, you want to normalize your skin, which is the main barrier between you and the outside world. Protecting that barrier involves moisturizing it and protecting it from the sun. Sunscreen is a very effective way to do that,” Lee says. She usually recommends that her patients look for an oil-free, noncomedogenic formula so it won't worsen their acne.

Choose an SPF of 30 or higher that’s broad-spectrum, meaning it blocks UVA and UVB rays. A lot of these sunscreens also help moisturize skin so it doesn’t dry out. “When skin is too dry, your skin can sense it, and then it signals the body to create more oil ... causing a negative spiral in terms of the oil production,” Lee says. Apply sunscreen daily in the morning and reapply throughout the day as needed.