Acne is one of the most common skin complaints and it effects around 90% of the world’s population at some point in their lives. Unless you win the genetic lottery then the prevention and treatment of acne will be a recurring battle. This is a battle that you can win in the long run, so read on to understand more on how to prevent acne.
What is acne?
If you want to learn how to fight back against acne then you need to start be understanding what it actually is.
Acne is an inflammatory skin condition that presents itself in the form of spots and pimples. It can vary in scope and severity and lead to scarring as well as having psychological effects like loss of confidence or self-esteem.
If you are currently suffering from acne then you should know that it's very likely it will just be a temporary phase. The best way for you to fight back against acne is to understand what causes it and take the necessary actions to help treat and prevent it.
What causes acne?
Let’s start with the scientific explanation for the cause of acne.
Our skin has pores that are connected via hair follicles to glands. It is these glands that produce oil (sebum) and acne occurs when a combination of our skin cells, oil, hair and bacteria merge together and block the hair follicle.
The bacteria can lead to inflammation that you see visually in the form of spots and pimples. The size colour and severity of this inflammation can vary but the resulting irritation will most likely be:
- Blackheads – pores that are plugged and open
- Whiteheads – pores that are plugged and closed
- Painful solid lumps beneath the skin, sometimes filled with pus
- Small red lumps, with or without puss at their tips
So now let's take a look at a few factors that can influence how often or how severely you suffer from acne. Some of these you have no control over, but others that you can mitigate.
Hormones Cause Acne
Fluctuations in your hormones can lead to acne and unfortunately there is not much that you can do about preventing your hormones going through these phases. This is just a genetic lottery.
Hormonal fluctuations can lead to acne by:
- Triggering your body to produce more oil (sebum) in the skin pores
- Increasing skin inflammation
- Increasing clogged skin cells
Hormonal acne in men is mainly prevalent during puberty. The main hormonal cause of acne for men outside of puberty is an imbalance of testosterone. This study shows that people with acne may actually produce more testosterone. For women things like menstruation and menopause can also lead to hormone imbalances.
Whilst you can't control how your hormones function, there are steps that you can take to help reduce the severity and number of acne outbreaks that they cause. We go into more detail on this later in the post.
Diet and Acne
The next influence is something that props up time and again when it comes to your general health and wellness - your diet. The link between diet and acne is not a straight forward as you may think however.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no concrete evidence that eating 'greasy' or 'oily' food causes acne for example. Our dietary fat is also not directly linked to how oily our skin is. Cutting our greasy fried food is still a good decision for your overall health, but it won't necessarily clear up your acne.
That being said, there are recent studies which indicate that eating too many foods that raise your blood sugar too quickly may impact acne. This is because they encourage the body to release insulin, which can cause your oil glands to make more oil. And excess oil in the skin does have a direct impact on acne.
Examples of foods that can cause a spike in blood sugar include:
- White bread
- White rice
There was also research published in the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology which suggested that the following food types can stimulate the production of hormones which can lead to your skin producing excess oil:
- Saturated and trans fats
- High-glycemic carbohydrates
Certain foods within these food groups could also cause inflammation, especially if you have a sensitivity or an intolerance. Research shows that inflammation can potentially lead to acne problems.
Overall, the exact links between diet and acne are not scientifically conclusive. The best approach you can take is to eat a diet that is healthy overall; limit your intake of junk food and refined carbohydrates, eat balanced nutrients, plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grains and good proteins.
Stress and Acne
Another possible cause and recurring issue in overall health/wellness is stress. Stress effects us all throughout different phases of our lives and can clearly contribute to many more negative implications than acne alone.
If your desire to reduce or prevent acne motivates you to take action against stress, then at least those irritating pimples have driven you to try and make positive lifestyle changes.
Too much stress can aggravate acne by:
- Releasing stress-related hormones (CRH) that lead to increased oil (sebum) production
- Increasing skin's itchiness and encouraging you to scratch
- Promoting unnecessary inflammation
Medication and Acne
When you hear the words medication and acne together you would usually be talking about how to treat acne, but in fact some medications can inadvertently lead to acne breakouts.
If you are on any particular medications then it is (hopefully) for good reason, but if you notice that the medication results in unwanted spots and pimples then it's worth consulting your GP to help understand whether there are any alternative ways forward.
How to Prevent Acne
So now you hopefully have a better understanding of what causes acne, lets hone in on how to prevent it. The information you have already read in this post may have given you some clues as to potential prevention techniques, and now here are 12 ways that you can help prevent acne from (re-)occurring, or getting worse:
1. Wash your face
Wash twice a day with an appropriate cleanser or face wash. By washing your face properly and with the right product you will help reduce the bacteria, dead skin cells and excess oils which can all contribute to clogged pores and acne.
For more on this check out our post on an easy 3 step skin care routine for men and look out for the launch of our deep-cleansing, charcoal face wash. You can be the first to find out about the launch by signing up to our newsletter.
2. Moisturize daily
It's important for your skin to stay hydrated, even if you have oily skin. Extra hydration is not the same as excess oil. It's a big misconception that you shouldn't moisturize oily skin or when you have acne. Don't fall for this, moisturizing should be a daily part of a healthy skin care regime.
A solid moisturization routine can actually help prevent acne by preventing dryness and irritation that cause the inflammation you see as acne.
You can read more about a on this look at our men's skin care guide.
3. Stop touching your face all the time
The unprecedented chaos and loss suffered throughout Covid-19 has hopefully taught us that touching our face without washing our hands can lead to the spread and infection of unwanted bacteria and viruses. Lose this habit - it's an easy way of reducing your risk of acne and infection.
4. Always Use Sun Protection
This is the single best way of ensuring you have healthier skin.
Limit how long you spend under the sun’s rays and make sure you are protected with appropriate levels of SPF - we recommend a minimum of factor 30 and above.
Some people believe that the sun helps dry out and reduce the appearance of spots, but this is only a temporary reaction and excessive sun exposure may cause much bigger problems for you further down the line.
Too much of the Sun's UV rays will cause inflammation, redness and possible allergic reactions by reacting with chemicals already on your skin. For more on this read about SPF, UVA and UVB rays explained. And always wear sun protection.
5. Follow a nutritionally balanced diet
You should be doing this anyway, but if acne is a problem then consider excluding or reducing certain foods for a while. Here are some foods to avoid:
- Sugar in all forms including sugary carbonated drinks
- Carbohydrate rich foods like white bread and white rice
- Foods that are high on the glycaemic index
The type of foods you should eat more of that may help include:
- Foods high in fiber - helps control blood sugar
- Oily fish like salmon - high in Omega 3 and helps lower inflammation and acne linked IGF-1 protein
- Nuts - boost your body's level of antioxidants and are high in Omega 3
- Turmeric - contains curcumin which is anti-inflammatory, regulates blood sugar and can prevent growth of acne-causing bacteria.
- Foods that provide Vitamins A, B complex, D and E - these are important for skin health.
- Foods that will help give you your daily value of zinc
6. Reduce your stress
Easier said than done, but reducing your levels of stress can have a majorly positive impact for your skin. Here are some stress reduction techniques for you to consider:
- Thai chi
- Getting enough sleep
- Keeping a journal
- Get more exercise
- Spending more time with family and friends
For more detailed advice on this, check out our post on how to reduce stress.
7. Stay hydrated
We have already talked about moisturizing your skin, but make sure you stay hydrated from the inside too by drinking 2.5 liters of water a day. If you exercise vigorously throughout the week then you will need to increase the amount of water you drink further to compensate for water lost during exercise.
By drinking enough water you will help your body to flush out toxins and increase blood flow to the skin. This will help significantly to improve skin health and also to give it an even tone.
When it comes to acne, drinking enough water helps to balance out the water and oil content in the skin. Less excess oil means lower risk of clogged pores and so lower risk of acne.
8. Don’t squeeze your spots
No matter how tempting, it's always best not to do it. You don’t want short term relief or satisfaction to lead to scarring, infection and spreading of the acne to other pores.
Spots and pimples contain bacteria, and so when you pop them it may feel satisfying but that bacteria may then spread to other skin pores and guess what - more spots.
9. Use the right products to help combat the acne
Research the ingredients that you will need for your skin type and particular circumstances, and then invest in the right product and monitor it’s effectiveness.
You can start with a cosmetic solution that you buy over the counter. Look for products that contain:
- Benzoyl Peroxide - lowers level of acne causing bacteria and helps with inflammation
- Salicylic Acid - helps unclog pores, shed dead skin cells and reduce inflammation.
- Retinol - helps stimulate cell turnover, bringing healthy cells to the top of the skin and pushing dead cells off.
- Niacinamide - antioxidant that helps to lower inflammation, fight acne and keep dark spots at bay
For more serious cases of acne you may need prescription treatments. You should only do this under the direction of a qualified medical practitioner, ideally a dermatologist.
10. Visit a dermatologist regularly
Whilst topicals and certain cosmetic solutions may help you, for long term prevention and more severe cases you should always reach out to the experts for further guidance.
A dermatologist is specialized in skin care and skin disorders so visiting one regularly is going to greatly increase the chances of you having health skin long term.
11. Wash Your Back Properly
Acne on the back (bacne) is one of the most common areas where men suffer break outs. Although 'bacne' is highly influenced by hormones and genetics, poor hygiene can also be a factor and this is one you can control.
When you're in the shower, use an appropriate cleaning tool to be able to reach all of your back and wash it properly. A cleaning brush with an extension will do the trick. Help get rid of all the dirt, bacteria and excess oil that is contributing to those embarrassing spots and pimples.
12. Get Enough Sleep
Most research shows that your body ideally needs 7-9 hours of sleep a day. This will give your body enough time to recharge effectively.
If you don't get enough sleep then your body may release the stress hormone cortisol. This stress hormone can cause inflammation and so encourages inflammatory conditions like acne.
We hope this article has helped point you in the right direction. Remember that acne is treatable and preventable in the majority of cases, so don't get too frustrated. Just take the right approach, exercise a little patience and your skin should hopefully clear up soon enough.