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Skin care for acne-prone skin

Last Update: July 28, 2016; Next update: 2019.

Many people try to manage acne by squeezing pimples, following a thorough skin care routine or wearing foundation. Others hope things will improve if they change their diet or expose their skin to sunlight. But which of these strategies helps, and which might be harmful?

Countless soaps, toners, lotions and creams for people with acne are available in shops and on the internet. These products are popular because many people with acne are willing to spend a lot of time and money on skin care. But less is often more: Touching or rubbing your skin too much and constantly trying out new skin care products can make acne worse.

What kind of skin care is best?

Normal soaps have a high pH (8 to 10) and can irritate your skin. Soap-free cleansing products that have a similar pH to skin (5.5) are more suitable for people with acne. Antibacterial face washes can have a positive effect in mild acne, but might also irritate more sensitive skin. Washing your skin too much – several times a day – can dry your skin out and irritate it even more.

Oil-in-water emulsions or moisturizing gels (hydrogels) are often recommended for acne-prone skin because greasy skin care products can clog skin pores even more.

Pimples: Squeeze them or leave them alone?

Anyone who has had acne has most likely squeezed a pimple before. It is understandable that people would like to get rid of visible pus-filled spots. Although squeezing pimples may make your skin look better in the short term, it might force the pus even deeper into your skin, which can make it become even more inflamed. Squeezing the odd pimple does not always cause scarring. But doing it a lot, and not leaving deeper pimples alone either, can make acne worse and increase the likelihood of scarring in the long term.

One option is to have pimples squeezed professionally under hygienic conditions, for example in a medical beauty salon or a dermatology practice. This usually involves first exposing facial skin to warm water or steam in order to open the pores. Then the pimples are opened up and squeezed, often with the help of a special small tool (a comedone extractor). In Germany, this treatment is sometimes covered by statutory health insurance funds if someone has severe acne.

How can pimples be concealed?

Girls and women often use concealer or foundation to cover up their pimples. This makes them feel more comfortable in public. Young men sometimes use subtle foundation, powder and concealer as well.

Generally speaking, very greasy cosmetics and skin care products can block pores. But it is hard to predict how a specific product will affect acne. Trial and error is often the best way to find out which cover-up products work best for you personally. A consultation with a dermatologist or in a medical beauty salon might help here.

Shaving: Wet or dry?

Many young men who have acne are not sure how to best shave their face. There are no good scientific studies on whether it is better to wet shave or dry shave if you have acne. One thing that is clear, though, is that touching or rubbing your skin a lot can encourage inflammation, make your complexion worse and increase the likelihood of scarring. So being careful to avoid skin irritation or damage while shaving is probably more important than whether you wet shave or dry shave.

Can sunlight and UV light help improve acne?

There are a number of very different theories about how sunlight and artificial UV light affect acne. Some people think that sunlight improves acne, while others believe that it makes acne worse. Unfortunately, there is a lack of good-quality scientific research in this area. But exposing your skin to sunlight or artificial UV rays for too long is known to damage your skin.

In Germany and other countries, children and teenagers under the age of 18 are not allowed to use tanning beds or solariums because, compared to adults’ skin, their skin reacts more sensitively to strong UV rays.

Does diet affect acne?

It is often claimed that there is a link between what you eat and acne. People sometimes change their diet as a result, in the hope that their acne will improve.

Some say that avoiding things like meat, milk or chocolate improved their complexion. A number of scientists believe that high-sugar diets in the Western world play a large role in the development of acne, and that changing your diet will help. But scientific research has not confirmed that there is a link between acne and a specific diet, such as a low sugar diet.

How can I cope with acne in everyday life?

If your acne is really getting you down, it is important not to bury your head in the sand. Acne can be treated. But it can only be treated if you take the step of going to a doctor first. Successful treatment can make you feel better about yourself and – if started early enough – perhaps also prevent scarring. You can also turn to psychosocial information centers or make use of services like telephone helplines. These are free and anonymous.

Some people who have acne say that it bothered them less when they were in a steady relationship. Stable friendships and a loving partner can make it easier to cope with acne in a more self-confident way.

People often find it is important to feel in control of their own treatment, for example by being able to buy and try out different things without having to go to a doctor first. But the wish to take matters into their own hands can also mean they end up trying out all sorts of things. They might use too many skin care products, or try out every single new product that comes onto the market. But less is often more in this case.

This is also true when it comes to washing your face. Having acne does not mean you have to wash your face more often. On the contrary, washing your skin too much can irritate it, particularly if you use soap. Very greasy products can clog the pores in your skin.

The most important thing is to be aware of the fact that you are not to blame for having acne. Acne is not caused by things like eating the wrong kinds of foods or poor hygiene. It is mainly caused by hormones that are especially active during puberty.

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  • IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

    Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. We do not offer individual consultations.

    Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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