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7 Reasons Why Your Acne Isn't Going Away

If you've tried just about everything and your acne still won't go away, you're not alone. From hormones to diet and even possible underlying medical causes, treating stubborn acne isn’t always as easy as applying a cream to your face. One of the biggest obstacles is usually understanding your acne—what causes it, why it flares up, what makes it worse or better. We are not one-size-fits-all humans and neither is our acne. The first step is acceptance; after that it really can be as easy as applying products and adopting healthy habits that benefit our skin.

Experts weight in on how to help pinpoint exactly why acne wants to stick around—and how to get rid of it. 

1.You Have Hormonal Acne

Acne tends to occur around puberty when the sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, start functioning. It can often continue into young adulthood. "In your 20s and 30s, acne is often caused by excess sebum (oil), bacteria and debris clogging pores, as well as changing hormone levels," says board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman. While teen boys seem to suffer more than teen girls, the problem performs a gender reversal as time goes on, and adult women tend to suffer from more acne flare-ups than adult men. Why? Blame hormones. This is why birth control pills, which can normalize hormones, often help cut down on acne.

"While many people think they’ve left acne behind in their teenage years, our bodies continue to undergo hormonal fluctuations for various reasons in adulthood, which can trigger breakouts," says Engelman. "It can pop up at any point, even if you’ve gone your whole life without serious acne. Women who are starting to go through menopause commonly experience acne during this time, as levels of the hormone progesterone may become higher than that of estrogen (which helps prevent acne), causing breakouts." 

2. You're Using the Wrong Products 

The best over the counter products to combat acne are salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria that causes acne and helps to remove excess oil from the skin. It can also remove dead skin cells which can clog pores. Salicylic acid helps prevent pores from becoming plugged. The over-the-counter products include strengths from 0.5 to 5%. They may cause mild stinging and skin irritation.

Retinoids can work well by speeding up skin cell turnover but can cause significant dryness and redness to the skin. It is always best to start with a lower strength acne product before increasing its concentration.

Tip: Make sure you apply treatment to the entire affected area. If you spot treat, the bacteria could grow elsewhere.

3. You're Treating the Wrong Type of Acne

You've cultivated the holy-grail bathroom cabinet of top acne fighters, and you're still not seeing results. While you may have done all the research and chosen all the right products, you could be stocking up on all the wrong products for your particular type of acne. Hormonal and bacterial acne are the most common, especially amongst teens, so most literature focuses on ways to treat those specific types of acne. Fungal acne, however, is caused by yeast rather than bacteria or buildup, so it's pretty resilient to most acne medications. What is it not resilient to? Anti-fungal medications. A simple swap to an anti-fungal shampoo containing ketoconazole may prove to be drastically more effective.

4. You Might Be Overusing Products

When it comes to treating inflammation of the skin, you may think more is better. Perhaps you are applying treatment pads a few times a day or you are mixing your salicylic acid cleanser with facial scrubs and a host of products that have been recommended to you. Too much use can actually worsen your skin. You should not be using more than one salicylic or benzoyl peroxide product on your face at a time and certainly not in tandem with Retin-A or prescribed products. Do not cleanse with a salicylic acid product, then follow up with a salicylic acid pad, and then complete your regimen with an application of the gel. It's simply too much. Your skin will be aggravated, including mild stinging and dryness.

Also, acne products tend to be formulated for teen skin because a high percentage of teens suffer from acne. If you're an adult, you may be using too harsh a product to treat your acne.

Tip: Start with lower concentrations of the products to see how your skin responds. Also, make sure you aren't being too rough and scrubbing your face, as this can also cause irritation and aggravate your acne.


5. You Don't Practice Good Skin Hygiene

“Not taking care of your skin and going to bed without washing your face can cause or worsen acne,” says Engelman. In addition, you should wash your pillowcase frequently and keep your makeup brushes clean. Also, don’t share your makeup brushes with friends as this can transfer dirt and oil onto your skin.

Your makeup could also be clogging your pores and contributing to your acne. Look for makeup and skincare products that won’t clog pores or have labels like non-comedogenic, non-acnegenic, and oil-free.

6. You Ignore Diet

Greasy foods, chocolate, and dairy don't cause acne, but certain foods can exacerbate it. Diet can affect hormones that, in turn, can make acne worse.  Foods that are high in sugar can cause a spike in insulin levels which can alter your hormones and affect your skin.

So if you're on a strict skincare regimen but your skin isn't clearing up, you should take a look at your diet. Dairy, in particular, is known to cause problems with current acne-sufferers. Greasy foods are also bad for the skin. A higher intake of fruits and vegetables can be beneficial to preventing acne. A healthy diet, in addition to the right acne-fighting products, can help you have healthy and clear skin.

7. You Keep Picking

If there's one piece of advice we'll never stop giving, it's this: Don’t touch, pick, or pop pimples no matter how enticing it may feel. In fact, avoid touching your face altogether. Taking matters into your own hands (pun intended) can cause scarring and even make acne worse. Each time you pop a pimple, you risk pushing bacteria, buildup, or whatever is irritating the pore further into the skin. If these were acneic roots, you're deepening them. So that angry pimple will only take longer to go away and, if you're breaking the skin, even longer to heal. If you have a large pimple or acne cyst, talk to your dermatologist and they can determine if an acne extraction is needed.

The best way to rid the skin of acne is to reduce inflammation, kill bacteria and control oil.

Get a little help from our blemish control Herbal Complex Serum and Spot Treatment

Blog post from Byrdie, June 2024


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