Chemical peels: "A chemical peel is a treatment that uses the application of mild solutions for skin refinement and regeneration. Products containing glycolic acid promote cell turnover, which is the process where new skin cells form and help even out your skin tone," says Dr. Bowe. You can try an at-home peel like Peter Thomas Roth 40% Triple Acid Peel, which uses both glycolic and salicylic acids to help fade spots by exfoliating dead skin cells and smoothing out skin texture. "Or, your dermatologist can prescribe you a stronger peel based on your skin type and treatment goals," says Dr. Bowe.
Avoid picking at spots and scars. Though it may be tempting, picking at your scars interrupts the process by which your skin naturally heals and can worsen their appearance. Picking at existing pimples, meanwhile, can cause your skin to scar in the first place, as bacteria from your hands may be transferred onto your face, causing it to become inflamed and infected. Therefore, picking should be avoided at all costs.
The one food Dr. Schultz does recommend to avoid is iodine. "Iodine causes acne in everyone if you eat enough," he says. You can find it in shellfish, like lobster, shrimp, crab, and some greens like kelp and spinach. The different between iodine and those other "acne-causing foods" is that iodine builds up over weeks and months before it starts to affect skin.
Scrubbing your face daily with grainy cleansers and exfoliating products can do more harm than good. When done too often, it can cause redness, inflammation, and irritation. “Exfoliating a pimple can pull away healthy skin cells and create an open wound and higher risk for scarring,” says Jessica Weiser, MD, from New York Dermatology Group. “Exfoliation should be done with caution, and not more than 2-3 times a week maximum.”
Blackheads are, essentially, open comedones. "Comedone refers to plugging of the follicular opening," explains NYC dermatologist Elizabeth Hale, M.D., referring to hair follicles that technically cover your entire face and body (hi, peach fuzz). "Every hair follicle appears in a sebaceous gland." So a blackhead is the mixture of dead cells, bacteria, and grime that builds up and hardens in the follicular opening—but it's open to the world, which is why blackheads are so easy (read: tempting) to push out.
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.
When it comes to acne scars — especially difficult to treat indented or raised ones — the best offense is a good defense. If you’re still struggling with active acne and want to avoid future scarring, Avram likes this drugstore-staple Neutrogena wash because it contains salicylic acid, a beta-hydroxy acid that he says “exfoliates the skin, softens the appearance of the acne itself, and has some antibacterial properties.”
We've all heard the foods that allegedly cause acne—chocolate, fried foods, pizza, caffeine, nuts. But Dr. Schultz reminds us that in large, statistically significant studies, these have not been proven to cause zits, but there are always exceptions. "If you break out when you eat chocolate, don't eat chocolate." Same with dairy, which again, has been shown in some cases to have an effect but no concrete cause-and-effect relationship exists.
Drugs: Some medications may cause or worsen acne, such as those containing iodides, bromides, or oral or injected steroids (either the medically prescribed prednisone [Deltasone, Orasone, Prednicen-M, Liquid Pred] or the steroids that bodybuilders or athletes sometimes take). Other drugs that can cause or aggravate acne are anticonvulsant medications and lithium (Eskalith, Lithobid). Most cases of acne, however, are not drug related.