Medically Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on August 04, 2020

Clear Skin: Step by Step


Zits happen! Blemishes or pimples often show up on your face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders, where skin has the greatest amount of oil glands. It happens to just about everyone, but treatments can help keep acne in check.

Take It Easy


Overdoing it can irritate your skin and make acne worse. So can grainy scrubs or soaps with harsh chemicals. Instead, wash acne-prone areas twice daily with a mild cleanser and warm water to minimize irritation.

Go Oil-Free When You Wash


Oil-free soaps or washes won’t clog your pores or cause blackheads, acne, and whiteheads. Choose products that are labeled "oil free," "nonacnegenic” (which means it won’t cause acne) or "noncomedogenic” (which means it won’t clog your pores). Some also have ingredients recommended by dermatologists, such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. Make sure your washcloths are soft -- you can use one made for babies -- and use a clean one every time, too. Or better yet, wash with your fingertips.

Enjoy Your Favorite Foods


It's a myth that oily foods or chocolate directly cause pimples. Acne happens when pores are blocked by oils, skin cells, and normal bacteria, causing inflammation. If certain foods seem to make you break out, avoid them. But you don't need to shun pizza or chocolate for clear skin.  

Lighten Up Your Cosmetics


Avoid oil-based cosmetics. How can you tell? Follow this simple guideline: Creamy foundation or blush generally can clog pores. Mineral-based cosmetics, which are light and powdery, may be less likely to do so. You can look for “noncomedogenic” on makeup labels.

Go Oil-Free


If you wear makeup, use an oil-free foundation. Also, no matter how tired you are, wash your makeup off before bed.  

Don't Sunbathe or Tan


It's a myth that tanning clears up your skin. UV rays put you at risk for skin cancer, premature aging, and wrinkles. Don't lie in the sun or use a tanning booth. Also, some commonly prescribed acne medications, including retinoids that go on your skin, can make you more sensitive to damage from UV rays. So always wear sunscreen and limit how much sun you get.

Choose the Right Sunscreen


Wear an oil-free sunscreen or moisturizer with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher that says "broad-spectrum" on the label. That means it protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Look for “noncomedogenic” products. Use a generous amount and reapply every 2 hours.

Don't Use Greasy Hair Products


Too much product such as pomades or gels can clog your pores when your hair brushes against your face. If you have oily hair, shampoo daily. Shield your face when you use any sprays or gels on your 'do.

Do Keep Hair Off Your Face


Got long locks? Pull them back when you sleep so they don't aggravate your skin. Try to keep them away from your face during the day as well. Why? Hair contains oils that can block pores and cause breakouts, even if you don't use hair products.

Hands Off


Avoid touching or rubbing your face, since that can make acne worse. Try to keep your cell phone from touching your face, too. Use earbuds instead of having the phone against your skin. Also, don't lean your face on your hands, which may carry oils and germs that can irritate blemishes. Sweat can also make acne worse. Sweaty after exercise? Wash up.

Use Tools


Use cotton balls, cotton swabs, or clean applicators when you smooth on creams or put makeup on. Don't reuse them -- start fresh every time. If you use your hands, wash them first and only use your fingertips. Also, clean your skin before you put on makeup.

Use Oil-Free Moisturizer


Choose one that says "noncomedogenic" on the label. Worried about moisturizing acne-prone skin? Don't sweat it. A good product will help calm irritated skin and keep acne at bay.

Don't Pop Your Pimples


It just creates more problems. Squeezing pimples may push infected material into the skin, where it can cause more inflammation and scarring. Resist the temptation so that those spots heal faster and are less likely to scar.

Use Acne Medicine as Directed


There’s no quick fix for acne. Medicines don't work overnight. Many treatments take weeks of daily use before your skin improves. Some acne may take up to 6 months to clear up. Afterward, basic skin care -- bathing daily and washing your face and hands with mild soap -- may not be enough. You may need to keep using your medicine even when your skin clears. Follow your doctor’s directions. Don’t use too much or too little.

Look Into All Acne Treatments


If the ones you're using now don't seem to be working, see your doctor or dermatologist to talk about other options. There are many types of medicines to help clear your skin. Some need a doctor's prescription.

Show Sources


1) Sydney Shaffer / Digital Vision
2) Jacob Lindner / Westend61
3) Ariel Skelley / Photolibrary
4) Stockbyte
5) © Javier Sánchez-Monge  / age fotostock
6) Thinkstock
7) Ralf Nau / Lifesize
8) Tom Merton / OJO Images
9) Ron Levine / Digital Vision
10) Jamie Grill / Tetra images
11) Steve Weinrebe / Photographer's Choice
12) Radius Images
13) Veronique Beranger / Riser
14) Jean-Pierre Boutet / Oredia
15) © Fancy / Veer / Corbis
16) PHANIE / Photo Researchers, Inc.

American Academy of Dermatology
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
Mitchell Goldman, MD, medical director, La Jolla Spa MD, La Jolla, Calif.
The Nemours Foundation