Want to banish zits forever? (Stupid question?) These are the rules to live by.
1. KEEP IT CLEAN
Your makeup might hide zits, but it also traps free radicals against your skin, says Zoe Draelos, a professor of dermatology at Duke University. Wash your face morning, night, and after the gym with a cleanser that contains up to 2 percent salicylic acid.
2. DON'T POP YOUR ZITS
It's so hard not to, we know. But try to resist. Popping your pimples will only result in inflammation, scarring, and yes, more acne. If you're truly tempted, some experts suggest keeping your hands busy with a squeeze toy.
3. BUT IF YOU DO...
OK, what's done is done. Now disinfect the area with a 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide product and dot on a salicylic acid to help unclog the pore.
4. STICK WITH THE BASICS
There are certain ingredients that have proven themselves in clinical trials (benzoyl peroxide or glycolic or salicylic acid for acne)—use them. And give them a chance: They need at least six weeks to work. "If nothing has changed by week six, the product will never work for you," says David Bank, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Then, it's time to see a dermatologist—prescription products or in-office treatments may offer some relief.
5. TRY RETINOIDS
Retinoids aren't just for wrinkles. They also fade spots, build collagen, and prevent acne—but only when used correctly. At night, instead of your overnight acne treatment, dot a pea-size amount on your fingertips and rub it all over your face. Using them on the skin as a whole helps with cell turnover, says Heidi A. Waldorf, director of cosmetic and laser dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
6. TREAT EARLY
Spot-treating your pimple can reduce its lifespan by one to two days. But the real goal is a clear complexion—and early intervention is key. "You need to prevent acne from forming, and that means treating skin that's prone to pimples even if there are none present," says dermatologist Karyn Grossman. So use all acne products over your entire face.
7. BUT DON'T OVERTREAT
Overusing acne products can lead to excess drying and, in some cases, chemical burns. Apply the amount recommended on the packaging (usually enough for a thin layer), not a giant palmful. Finish with an oil-free moisturizer.
8. CALM DOWN
Easier said than done, we know. But stress hormones increase oil production, which can lead to clogged pores and whiteheads. So make an effort to relax when needed. "Anything that reduces stress in your body—tai chi, running, sex, a warm bath—will make you have less acne, less often," says Richard Fried, a dermatologist and clinical psychologist in Yardley, Pennsylvania.
9. PROTECT YOUR SKIN
Acne products can make your skin more susceptible to sun damage, so be sure to use SPF 30 or higher. Look for formulas labeled noncomedogenic, which won't clog pores.
10. FADE SCARS
Just because the pimple's gone doesn't mean it disappeared. Use a scar treatment with salicylic acid and licorice-root extract on dark spots to fade them over time.