8 Ways You May Be Making Your Acne Worse

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on June 20, 2016
3 min read

You may think you're doing everything you can to treat your acne. But little things could add up to make it worse. Do any of these mistakes sound familiar?

Think about it: Your face produces oil and sweat, which gets onto your phone when you're on a call.

If you don't clean that off, during your next call you're pushing it back into your skin, along with any bacteria that has grown.

To clean it, follow the instructions from your phone's maker. You might try ear buds or another hands-free headset. Pressure from holding your phone against your cheek can also cause breakouts by irritating your skin.

If you use an anti-frizz product, or a thick gel or pomade, apply it away from your forehead.

Otherwise, you can get a line of acne right there at your hair line.

"Everyone wants clear skin yesterday, but we have no silver bullet that works immediately; acne treatments take weeks to start kicking in," says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, of Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. He specializes in treating acne.

If over-the-counter acne products don't help within 2 to 4 weeks, then you may need to see a dermatologist. This is especially important if you have acne cysts or if your acne leaves scars.

"One of the biggest myths is: 'My face is dirty, and that's why I'm getting acne,'" says dermatologist Whitney Bowe, MD, of Advanced Dermatology P.C. in Westchester, N.Y.

"Washing too much can strip the skin of essential oils, leading the body to paradoxically produce more oil, which can lead to more pimples," Zeichner says.

Washing twice a day is all you need.

Don't use a dirty or damp washcloth when you wash. Bacteria can easily build up on them. Use a clean washcloth each time.

Also, don't exfoliate too often. Sandy or sugary products, rough scrubbing pads or loofahs, and even electric brushes can cause tiny tears in the skin if used daily. The result is irritation and inflammation.

That can make treating acne trickier. Exfoliate only once or twice a week, Zeichner says.

"More cream is not necessarily better. In fact, [some] ingredients can be quite irritating to the skin," Zeichner says.

You may need less than you think. "One green-pea-sized amount is all you need to cover your face."

It’s understandable to want to get rid of acne ASAP. But this particular plan of attack can cause deeper problems.

"Instead of clearing the blockage out, you're pushing it further down, and that can lead to scarring," Zeichner says.

Instead, put a little treatment directly onto the pimple to make it smaller and less inflamed.

"When Mom told you to stay away from those items, she may have been on to something," Zeichner says.

No food is proven to cause acne. But sugary, processed ones such as white breads, white pasta, potato chips, cookies, and cakes may be linked to acne, says Bowe, who has researched this. There's no downside to limiting sugary foods.

Some studies have linked dairy products to acne, but that's not certain.