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6 Facts About Breakouts That Surprised Even Us

By Klaudia Tirico / April 21, 2014

Photo: Edita Vilkeviciute shot by Solve Sunsbo for Numero 93

As someone who struggled with acne growing up, I know how it feels to dread the warmer weather months. While everyone else was rocking a bare face at the beach, I would layer on foundation to cover all the breakouts and redness. 
But no one should have to worry about going makeup-free, especially with summer just a few months away. To help you solve your skin issues before beach season, I asked Dr. Michael Lin, dermatologist and creator of Dr. Lin Skincare, for a quick lesson on acne and how to prevent it. Remember these pointers and watch your face clear up in no time.  

1. It can take years for a clogged pore to become a zit.

To combat acne, you must know your enemy first. So what actually causes breakouts? “It starts with a clogging of the pores — sebum, dirt, cells,” says Dr. Lin. “When the clogging occurs under the surface, its called a closed comedone, or whitehead. When [the clog] comes up to the surface and reaches the air, it becomes oxidized. That’s a blackhead, or open comedone.”
But clogged pores don't always turn into breakouts right away. “It could take years before you even notice the closed or open comedone becoming inflamed or infected. Conceivably, you could have a lot of open and closed comedones in the skin that you wouldn’t necessarily call acne,” Dr. Lin explains. It’s not until bacteria enters the equation that what we typically think of as breakouts occur. “Some of these comedones could be in your skin for years before they become clinically evident.”

2. Whiteheads and blackheads get the same treatment. 

Whether it’s a closed comedone or an open one, your plan of attack should be the same. “You want to use salicylic acid for both white- and blackheads. It will exfoliate the top surface of the skin, but it also penetrates deep into the pore to pull out the material” that’s causing the blemish, Dr. Lin says. “Once that material is removed, you should use benzoyl peroxide to kill the bacteria that’s in there.” 

3. Scrubbing skin is a bad idea.

“If you exfoliate too much, you will irritate your skin,” Dr. Lin explains. “I always tell my patients to wash no more than twice a day. Some people wash five to six times a day, and they are just stripping their skin of all the oil. Then the body produces more to compensate.”
But all types of exfoliation are not created equal. “I’m not a big fan of too much exfoliating with scrubs or sonic cleansers — you have to be careful with those,” Dr. Lin says. The reason? It’s too easy to accidentally overdo it and create micro-tears in the skin, which leaves it exposed to bacteria and can make breakouts worse. Instead, use a cleanser that exfoliates with AHA or BHA ingredients. Since the strength of chemical exfoliants is already prescribed by their concentration, there's less room for human error. “I tend to be a believer in chemical exfoliating, especially using cleansers. Basically, you wash your face and you know you’re done.”

4. Toner could be making your breakouts worse.

When creating his latest acne fighting kit, Dr. Lin decided to leave out the toner step that's included in most anti-acne regimens. “This product only has two steps, instead of the traditional three steps,” he explains. “What we found is that the third step, which is the toner, often overly dried the skin and wasn’t needed for a lot of the patients.” Many dermatologists agree. Dr. Lin said that one of the top acne treatment guideline points by top derms was to avoid overuse of toners because of their overdrying abilities. 
“By removing the toner, we made it simpler to use and less irritating. The products are made with botanical products like arbutin from the bearberry tree. It treats the dark and red spots as well.”

5. Your hair products can cause acne. 

Warning: you may wash your hair differently after reading this. According to Dr. Lin, “There is a special type of acne called ‘pomade acne’ that forms on the forehead. This is a result of hair products. You also want to rinse hair conditioner away from the face because the conditioner contains special oils that coat the hair to keep it shiny and strong. But if they get on the skin, it clogs the pores.”

6. So can your phone, sunglasses and athletic gear. 

Surprise: your iPhone may be bad for your skin, thanks to the breakout-causing bacteria on its surface.
“We see it a lot with cell phones, but also with athletes wearing helmets and shoulder pads. Any kind of rubbing is going to cause breakouts. Even sun- or eyeglasses,” Dr. Lin says. Your best bet? Use a hands-free headset next time you strike up a conversation. Or send a text instead.


Dr. Lin Skincare Acne Clarifying Treatment is available at Ulta for $19.99.