Overview

Pimples, also called acne, occur when your skin’s oil glands are overactive and pores become inflamed. Some types of skin bacteria may make pimples worse. Pimples can appear anywhere on the skin, but they most often occur on the face.

Because pimples are usually triggered by androgen hormones and, in some cases, genetics, there’s no surefire way to prevent them. Still, there are many methods to reduce their severity and keep them in check. Here are 14 of them.

1. Properly wash your face

To help prevent pimples, it’s important to remove excess oil, dirt, and sweat daily. Washing your face more than twice a day may make acne worse, however.

Don’t wash your face with harsh cleansers that dry skin. Use an alcohol-free cleanser.

To wash your face:

  1. Wet your face with warm, not hot, water.
  2. Apply a mild cleanser in a gentle, circular motion using your fingers, not a washcloth.
  3. Rinse thoroughly, and pat dry.

2. Know your skin type

Anyone can get pimples, no matter their skin type. Oily skin is the most pimple-prone. It’s caused by your skin’s sebaceous glands producing too much oily sebum.

Another type of skin that may cause pimples is combination skin. Combination skin means you have both dry areas and oily areas. The oily areas tend to be your forehead, nose, and chin, also called your T-zone.

Knowing your skin type will help you choose the right skin care products. For example, if your skin is oily, choose noncomedogenic products that are formulated to not block pores.

3. Moisturize skin

Moisturizers help skin stay hydrated. But many moisturizers contain oil, synthetic fragrance, or other ingredients that may irritate skin and cause pimples.

To help prevent pimples, use fragrance-free, noncomedogenic moisturizers after you wash your face or when your skin feels dry.

4. Use over-the-counter acne treatments

Over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatments may help zap pimples fast or prevent them in the first place. Most contain either benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur.

Use an OTC treatment to spot-treat pimples. Or use it as a maintenance regimen to control outbreaks. To help prevent side effects such as redness, irritation, and dryness, precisely follow the manufacturer’s usage instructions.

5. Stay hydrated

If you’re dehydrated, your body may signal your skin’s oil glands to produce more oil. Dehydration also gives your skin a dull appearance and promotes inflammation and redness.

To keep your body well-hydrated, drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Drink more after exercise, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or you spend time in a hot, humid environment.

6. Limit makeup

It’s tempting to use makeup to cover up pimples. However, doing so may clog pores and trigger outbreaks.

Go au naturel when you can. When you do wear makeup, avoid greasy, heavy foundation, and use products that are noncomedogenic, sheer, and fragrance-free.

Greasy or oily shampoos, body washes, shaving creams, and hair styling products may all cause pimples. To help prevent outbreaks, choose oil-free, noncomedogenic options.

7. Don’t touch your face

Your hands encounter grime and bacteria constantly throughout the day. And each time you touch your face, some of those pore-clogging impurities may get transferred to your skin.

By all means, if your nose itches, scratch it. But wash your hands regularly, and try to touch your face as little as possible.

8. Limit sun exposure

Catching some rays may dry out pimples in the short term, but it causes major problems in the long run. Frequent sun exposure dehydrates the skin, which over time causes it to produce more oil and block pores.

It’s important to wear sunscreen to help prevent skin cancer. However, many sunscreens are oily. For both sun and pimple protection, wear a noncomedogenic, oil-free sunscreen.

9. Don’t be a pimple popper

As tempting as it may be to squeeze that larger-than-life whitehead on the tip of your nose, don’t. Popping pimples may cause bleeding, severe scarring, or infection. It may also increase inflammation and clog surrounding pores, making your pimple problem worse.

10. Try tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a popular folk remedy for pimples. According to the Mayo Clinic, it may “reduce the number of inflamed and non-inflamed lesions.”

To use tea tree oil for pimples, apply a couple drops to the inflamed area. You can also add a few drops to your daily cleanser or moisturizer.

Prior to using undiluted tea tree oil on your face, do a patch test to see if it irritates your skin. Apply a few drops behind your ear or to your forearm, and wait several hours. If irritation occurs, dilute the oil using a 50-50 ratio before using.

11. Use antibiotics

Antibiotics help reduce inflammation and bacteria on the skin.

Antibiotics are often prescribed. They may be applied topically to your skin or taken by mouth. Those taken by mouth are usually a last resort for people whose acne is severe or doesn’t respond to other treatments.

Long-term antibiotic use increases your risk of antibiotic resistance. If your healthcare professional recommends antibiotic therapy for pimples, make sure you talk to them about the risks and side effects.

12. Apply French green clay

French green clay is an absorbent, mineral-rich clay with healing abilities. According to 2010 research, French green clay has potent antibacterial properties. It helps draw out impurities, reduce inflammation, and absorb excess oil that may lead to pimples.

French green clay is available in a powder form you mix with water to make a face mask. You can also add other skin-soothing ingredients such as yogurt or honey.

13. Avoid certain foods

If your mother ever told you junk food caused pimples, she was on to something. According to a 2010 review, eating a high glycemic diet may cause acne.

High glycemic foods and beverages such as chips, baked goods made with white flour, and soft drinks spike blood sugar levels and are often less nutritious than low glycemic foods.

The study also found eating dairy may trigger pimples.

14. Reduce stress

Stress doesn’t cause pimples, but it may make them worse. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, research has shown that when you’re stressed, your body produces more oil-stimulating hormones.

Some options to help you manage stress are:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • journaling
  • massage
  • aromatherapy

Managing pimples

Many of the ways you prevent pimples can also help you manage them. For instance, eating right, reducing stress, and not popping pimples may help contain them and reduce how long they stay around.

If you have bad acne despite taking steps to prevent it, you may need a prescription-strength treatment such as:

  • topical retinoids (derived from vitamin A) to help prevent clogged pores
  • oral contraceptives or antiandrogen agents to reduce hormones that increase sebum production
  • oral isotretinoin (Accutane), a retinoid that helps prevent clogged pores, and reduces sebum production, inflammation, and skin bacteria

Prescription-strength treatments may cause serious side effects. Your dermatologist can help you weigh the pros and cons and determine which treatment is right for you.

The takeaway

Everyone gets pimples now and then. Many things may cause pimples, such as hormones, stress, genetics, and diet. Some medications may even trigger breakouts.

At their best, pimples are annoying. At their worst, they may cause permanent scarring, serious anxiety, or depression. Prevention efforts may help, but they aren’t foolproof.

Whatever pimple prevention plan you choose, patience and consistency are key. A dab of benzoyl peroxide may shrink a single pimple overnight, but most treatments take several weeks to produce results.