9 acne mistakes you're probably making and how to fix them

Pimple, zit, blemish, whitehead, blackhead — whatever you call your acne, there's one thing we can all agree on — it's the absolute worst! It seems like there's an infinite supply of products (and a few well-known home treatment myths… toothpaste on your pimples anyone?) that promise acne treatment and prevention. Whether you get the occasional stress-induced pimple or struggle with chronic acne, finding the best way to keep those annoying blemishes off your face isn't always easy. To make things a little simpler, we've compiled some common acne mistakes and exactly what you can do to fix them.

Not washing your face enough

Your face goes through a lot each day. Just think about how many times you touch your face, all the sweat that clogs up your pores while you kill it at the gym, and all the makeup you wear (plus the nights you fall asleep without taking it off — naughty!).

Fayne L. Frey, M.D., a New York dermatologist who's been in practice for over 20 years, says "although there is no consensus on how often a person with healthy skin should wash their face, research clearly shows that folks with acne benefit from twice daily face cleansing." And if you regularly wear makeup, Lindsey Blondin, lead esthetician of George the Salon in Chicago, recommends doing two cleanses consecutively. The first cleanse "is to break up makeup, dirt, and oil on your face," while the second run through will "cleanse the skin itself."

Washing your face too much

Unfortunately, there is such thing as too much of a good thing. You might think washing your face religiously will make it just about impossible for your pores to get clogged, and therefore keep your skin free from breakouts. However, "over-cleansing the skin can dry out the skin," said esthetician Lindsey Blondin. This will cause your skin to produce even more acne-causing oil to make up for the dryness.

Washing your face first in the shower

Everyone's shower routine is a little different, but typically consist of the same three things: body, face, and hair. But one thing you might never have thought of is that the same products that make our hair silky smooth "contain ingredients that can cause congestion on our face," says licensed esthetician Jill Jodar. "If you cleanse in the shower, be sure to do it last, and don't neglect the hairline, neck, and around the ears," suggests Jodar. That way, you're getting rid of the leftover shampoo and conditioner, as well as the dirt and grime on your face.

Using too many products

Buying a facial cleanser can be intimidating. There are so many different products that all promise you clear, radiant skin. Between the cleansers, scrubs, and toners, it's easy to go overboard when it comes to washing your face. But when it comes to scoring zit-free skin, board certified dermatologist and medical director and founder of California Dermatology Specialists, Dr. Eric Meinhardt, says simple is usually better. "Routines that are complex with multiple steps are often too harsh for the skin," says Dr. Meinhardt, so don't worry about stocking up on tons of products or subscribing to a multi-step routine.

Using products that are too harsh on your skin

Just like over-washing your face dries out your skin, so can products that are far too strong for your skin type. According to board-certified dermatologist Margaret Ravits, M.D., people with sensitive skin should tread lightly when it comes to facial washes. "Avoid harsh exfoliants and physical scrubs which can irritate the skin," advises Ravits. She also suggests avoiding "alcohol-based products or products that make your face feel tingly and tight."

You're not moisturizing

Applying lotion should never be an afterthought or something you only do when your face feels dry. According to dermatologist Fayne L. Frey, M.D., FAAD, "studies show that well-hydrated skin is less likely to break out." And if you have oily skin, don't let moisturizer scare you, says Dr. Frey, claiming "even individuals with 'oily skin' can benefit from daily moisturizing." Neelam A. Vashi, MD, an assistant professor of dermatology and director of research in cosmetic and laser medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, suggests oily skin types try out "liquids, gels, and serums" instead of thicker, creamy lotions.

You're treating the acne after the fact

There's more to treating acne than just washing your face twice a day and applying layers and layers of zit cream to any blemishes that pop up — and it starts when you're sleeping. "If you are acne-prone, it is important to change your pillowcase every day or every few days as opposed to every week," advises Debra Jaliman M.D., board-certified NYC dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets From A Top New York Dermatologist. And when it comes to choosing pillowcases, stick with cotton. "Cotton pillowcases are better than other fabrics because they are natural fabrics and they breathe," Jaliman says.

Another easy way to prevent acne-causing bacteria from invading your pores is to make sure your phone (yes, your phone!) is clean, says dermatologist Margaret Ravits, M.D. "Your device travels with you all day — from home to the car or subway, to work, to the gym, to the restaurant for a night out. Even to the bathroom!" explains Dr. Ravits. "It can get grimy and then you press it against your face for hours each week and transfer that grime, sweat, and bacteria onto your skin. An easy way to prevent breakouts? Wipe down your cell phone or mobile device regularly," Dr. Ravits suggests.

You're not eating right

Eating healthy is vital to keep your organs functioning properly, and don't forget — your skin is an organ. "Our skin is a bellwether of our internal health, and so what we eat can either help or hurt our skin," explains Maria Marlowe, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach and the creator of EatBeauty, a 12-week program and meal plan for reversing acne. Marlowe says for the clearest skin, you generally want to stay away from sugary, processed foods. "Research shows that eating a high-glycemic diet, one that spikes your blood sugar, particularly one filled with sugar and refined foods, can trigger redness and acne breakouts," she advises. So the next time you get a donut craving, consider opting for a smoothie instead. "Anti-inflammatory foods, such as dark leafy greens, blueberries, and broccoli can help bring down that inflammation and keep our skin clear and glowing," says Marlowe.

Not going to the dermatologist

Pimples are so common that it's easy to forget they're actually a pretty serious skin condition, one that you should seek treatment for. Dermatologist Fayne L. Frey, M.D., FAAD says, "acne is a condition involving irritation, inflammation, and infection. It is potentially scarring."

Everyone's skin is different, so the routine and facial cleanser that works for your best friend probably won't work for you. "It is always best to see a dermatologist to determine a best skin routine as often times prescription products are needed as well," says board certified dermatologist and medical director and founder of California Dermatology Specialists, Dr. Eric Meinhardt.

Not sticking to a routine

Anyone who's ever had a pimple (so basically, everyone) knows what a struggle it is to get rid of them. Your best bet is to stop acne before it even starts by eating right and making sure you keep your face clean. If you do happen to have a breakout, don't stress! Visit your dermatologist and let them help you figure out a skincare routine that's perfect for you. And most importantly, be patient! "Don't panic if the cream that your dermatologist gave you doesn't dissolve the zit in one or two days," says dermatologist Margaret Ravits, M.D. Your face will clear up in time… and don't forget the moisturizer!