Basic facial hygiene / acne routine for adults.
September 16, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

I'm a male in my late 20's and my teenage acne never went away. I acknowledge that I could be doing more to prevent acne and that my facial hygiene routine is probably lacking. What can I add to my routine (detailed within) that will make the biggest difference?

I guess I never cared enough about getting a few blemishes to try anything and everything in my teens to prevent acne and to baby and coddle every pimple until it dried up: I just squeeze them out.
I wash my face with a facecloth in the shower every morning (just water) then when I get out I use an extra strength Oxy pad. Then before bed I use another Oxy pad. That's it.
Generally at any given time I have 2 or 3 blemishes on my face, along with a veritable blackhead factory on my nose.
I don't even really know what a normal person's facial hygiene routine is, but I might guess it involves washing the face with soap, and also washing it before bed rather than just a quick Oxy pad wipe down.
I suspect I don't have a real acne problem beyond just not having a basic facial hygiene routine down. What should I be doing that would make the difference?
posted by GleepGlop to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
You may have an accumulation of oily dead skin on your face that is not being washed off by the facecloth. Try something more abrasive, do use soap, and try just rubbing the skin with a finger to see if any dead skin residue is going to accumulate under the fingertip. Extreme cleanliness is the only way to really defeat acne. It is caused by anaerobic bacteria, and as long as they are protected from oxygen by a layer of oily dead skin, they will continue to flourish. Even the Oxy pad is not going to be truly effective unless the skin is truly clean before you use it.
posted by grizzled at 9:39 AM on September 16, 2010

QUIT SQUEEZING. And use an actual facewash, not just the Oxy pad. Washes with salicylic acid have worked best for me—I'm currently using this system, and I like it, although I mainly just use the wash and the moisturizer. You should also be moisturizing your skin after each time you wash it.
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 9:40 AM on September 16, 2010

I've been fighting persistent acne for years.

Things I have learned:

- New pillowcase every night. Failing that, sleep on a clean towel every night.
- Don't use soap. Try a gentle facial cleanser like Cetaphil.
- Moisturize. Yes, even if you're a boy.
- Don't touch your face EVER, and especially don't pick or prod or poke or taunt the spots.
- Blackhead extractors are handy.
- PRID drawing salve is amazing when you have stubborn cystic acne.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:41 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

You should, indeed, be washing your face with soap, both in the morning and evening. My dermatologist recommended Neutorgena products, so I use the Fresh Foaming Cleanser. You might also think about a moisturizer with sunblock.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:41 AM on September 16, 2010

Every morning I use a salicylic acid facewash, and then apply a 10% benzoyl peroxide ointment. I don't think you're doing enough to actually eliminate the buildup from your face and pores.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2010

Washing your face with just water in the the morning isn't effective. The basic idea of soap is that it forms micelles which allow normally hydrophobic oils to dissolve in water. I've heard others advise to only use water, but these generally tend to be people who wouldn't have an acne problem to begin with. I don't know if you tend to have dry or sensitive skin, but if at all so using oxy pads will worsen the condition and potentially worsen your acne.

I suggest using a gentle cleanser like cetaphil (buy the generic). It won't annihilate the buffers in your skin like harsher products might.
posted by WhitenoisE at 9:44 AM on September 16, 2010

All these suggestions are reasonable and well meaning and there is now reason to delay a change in regimen. However, you MUST get yourself to a board certified dermatologist as soon as possible. You likely need treatment beyond any face cleaning regimen.
posted by txmon at 9:51 AM on September 16, 2010

1. Wash your face twice a day with a cleanser with salicylic acid in it, like this. If that dries out your skin too much, try alternating between the stronger stuff and something gentler, like Cetaphil. Don't scrub your face too hard- try ditching the facecloth.

2. When you have a pimple, use a cream with benzoyl peroxide in it, like this. Apply it to your blemishes every night after washing your face (and switch to white pillowcases, since it tends to bleach).

3. Stop picking at your skin. The more you pick and squeeze and mess with pimples, the more irritated they get. Just don't do it- you're only making them last longer.

4. Try a moisturizer, morning and night (preferably something with SPF in it for the day). You don't need anything fancy. Moisturizer is not just for girls!

This might not work for you, but it's a pretty standard routine for getting rid of blemishes. The main thing is sticking with a program and resisting the urge to mess with your skin. As time passes, and especially if you move to a different climate or the weather changes, you might need to try different things or drop things entirely.
posted by MadamM at 9:55 AM on September 16, 2010

Further info: my skin is dry and oily.
posted by GleepGlop at 9:56 AM on September 16, 2010

Stop using the cloth.

I use Hibiscrub (chlorhexidine) exactly as described on the bottle and only that. Rinsed very well.

What shaver do you use? If it's not disposable drop the parts you can clean in something that will kill any bugs then air-dry.

Don't touch your face, really try to not touch it at all.

Check the diet too - I'm close to tracking down the sugar which makes my skin go very bad overnight.
posted by episodic at 9:57 AM on September 16, 2010

Also, I get acne on my shoulders (trapezius area as well as lateral deltoid area) despite showering everyday with soap if that adds anything to the picture.
posted by GleepGlop at 9:58 AM on September 16, 2010

If you have body acne as well then it's likely this is systemic and you need something that goes beyond topical application. Go see a dermatologist.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:03 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

I had pretty serious teenage acne that stubbornly carried on into adulthood. I did everything I was supposed to do but there it still was, not just annoying to look at but also painful much of the time. Some said it was stress related. Some said it was just my genes.

In the end, two things happened.

1. It became less of an issue because, simply, adults are more grown-up that teenagers. My contemporaries ceased to care whether or not I had acne, and so in my way, did I.

2. It very slowly went away, sort of two steps forward one step back. And as such, I slowly stopped worrying about it. So that by the time I was twenty-five, an annoying zit on my nose was just that: a passing annoyance.

And now, for what it's worth, I've been told that the few small scars that I still carry make me seem more interesting somehow, like I earned them in some dangerous way.

Good luck.
posted by philip-random at 10:10 AM on September 16, 2010

Extreme cleanliness is the only way to really defeat acne.

Totally untrue. If that were true, prescription medications for acne would be unnecessary, right? Since I just have to wash my face more.

Start using a gentle face soap (Cetaphil is pretty great.) and a gentle moisturizer, even if your face is oily. My face would be dry and oily if I didn't use moisturizer.

The Oxy pads were really really drying for me. I know that a lot of people recommend the regimen from, but I haven't tried it myself.

Really, if you take one thing away from this thread, let it be this: Go to a dermatologist. If you're getting acne on areas other than your face, you need something other than what you can get over the counter. Not necessary stronger, but something different.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:15 AM on September 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Diet is the biggest factor for me. My skin is leaps and bounds better when I don't drink caffeine.
posted by something something at 10:16 AM on September 16, 2010

I hate to argue with you, but I don't think that your skin can be dry and oily; these are opposite conditions. Oiliness keeps skin moist (it prevents water from evaporating). That's the reason for the oil glands in the skin. Your skin is oily, not dry. And it needs to be washed with soap, otherwise you will never be able to remove the layers of oily dead skin.
posted by grizzled at 10:16 AM on September 16, 2010

This is a weird solution, but FWIW...

Just the other day (I'm 40 now) I was complimented (yet again) on my skin. I remember thinking, "OH! If you only knew the truth!!"

Long story short, I take after my dad's side of the family and he had acne problems as a teenager. My mom scared the bejeezus outta me w/ this fact as soon as I hit puberty. I definitely developed blemishes and seemed destined to follow in his footsteps. Then, I had an idea. And I tried it. And it worked.

My secret for acne blemishes? NEOSPORIN. I use the gel kind.

I do exfoliate maybe twice a week with something mildly abrasive, and have done so since my teens. And whenever I get a break-out, Neosporin before bed. I haven't gotten big break-outs for years, but if the odd pimple starts to form, I still dab a little on the spot. That's it.

My theory here is that harsh drying chemicals won't help my skin heal itself, and harsh stuff will ruin my skin by giving me wrinkles when I'm old. Since I see pimples as infections in my pores (and aren't they??) I put anti-bacterial healing salve on them as needed.

I never regularly slathered my whole face with the stuff, but I see no problem treating individual blemishes. When I was younger, there were a lot of blemishes. But they healed quickly thanks to my "trick."

I am not a dermatologist. YMMV.
posted by jbenben at 10:17 AM on September 16, 2010

Go to a dermatologist, please please please. Acne is not a failure, it's a condition - actually, a spectrum of conditions, some of which are almost impossible to control or cure without treatments only available by prescription.

The cosmetic industry has turned it into this shame-hygiene thing so they can sell more shit, most of which will just give you more acne (like those Oxy pads). And the industry sells a lot of myths, many of which have been quoted as truth in this thread. (And a lot of them get quoted as truth by GPs, so even if you have to jump a hoop or two, go see an actual skin specialist.)
posted by Lyn Never at 10:22 AM on September 16, 2010

More than any soap, lotion, or whatever, I cannot recommend Benzaclin highly enough. It's prescription only and recently went generic, so you should be able to get it pretty easily (unlike in the past, when I had to fight for it - it used to be incredibly expensive).

After an acne-free adolescence, I developed cystic acne as an adult (chin, and back, lucky me). This stuff stops it dead in its tracks.
posted by chez shoes at 10:24 AM on September 16, 2010

Anecdata: I'm a guy and roughly your age, who still gets some acne. I find there's a very strong correlation between my diet/exercise routine and how bad my complection gets. So if you're not eating well or exercising, that's probably a good place to start.

Otherwise, Nthing benzoyl peroxide as a good over the counter solution (you can get more concentrated stuff from your dermatologist).
posted by auto-correct at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2010

See your GP. I had pretty severe acne into my 30s, and tried lots of face washes, creams, etc..

None of that worked; prescription medication did.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 10:32 AM on September 16, 2010

So, this is entirely anecdotal, not medical, and is based on my own experience. However, what worked for me was a series of small changes that, looking back, just make sense. I had bad acne up until I was about 20. Here are the things that I have no doubt contributed primarily to my acne pretty much going away completely:

1. I had long hair that hung over most of my face in high school (it was the late 80s. I was an "alternative music person." Everyone should go through an unfortunate hairstyle phase. Don't judge me.) Then I cut it all off. No more hair touching my face.

2. I changed my diet and started eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, very little meat, and no fried food, ever.

3. I started shaving with a blade instead of with an electric razor. This was, I think, the biggest factor.

And, with those three changes, the acne was gone. Just like that.
posted by The World Famous at 10:34 AM on September 16, 2010

I second and third "something something" and "The World Famous." I would completely revamp your diet. I have no idea what you're regularly eating but I would stop as much processed food, fast food, possible. I've seen this clear up the face of my nephew in the 40 days of Lent. I only have analogies to support this.
posted by swmobill at 10:47 AM on September 16, 2010

Oh, and my dietary change also included never, ever eating anything processed or packaged, including never eating anything other than bread made fresh that day in a bakery, never eating cereal, and that sort of thing.

I really should go back to that, now that I think of it. Those were delicious times, and I was much thinner than I am now.
posted by The World Famous at 10:50 AM on September 16, 2010

Nthing "go to a dermatologist". Plenty of guys go to the derma. Get advice from a pro. There are so many factors and people's skin is so individual. I fucked around trying to figure it out myself for years. Best thing i ever did was just go to the dermatologist.
posted by micawber at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2010

It sounds to me like you're doing not enough cleaning and too much treating - maybe this is why your skin is both dry and oily (i.e. you're overdrying it with the Oxy pad and it's producing more oil to compensate). I agree with the advice to use a gentle face soap and to moisturize - there are plenty of moisturizers for oily skin so don't worry that you'll make it worse.

As for which soap, it's a bit on the expensive side, but my skin has never been so clear as since I started using Fresh Farmacy soap from Lush. (And this includes the years I was going to the dermatologist and using everything he prescribed me. YMMV.)
posted by SymphonyNumberNine at 11:01 AM on September 16, 2010

What do you eat? What do you drink?

How do you sleep? What are your stress levels?

To me, that's where the hygene is.
posted by amusem at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2010

sorry *hygiene*
posted by amusem at 11:11 AM on September 16, 2010

I hate to argue with you, but I don't think that your skin can be dry and oily; these are opposite conditions. Oiliness keeps skin moist (it prevents water from evaporating). That's the reason for the oil glands in the skin. Your skin is oily, not dry. And it needs to be washed with soap, otherwise you will never be able to remove the layers of oily dead skin.

Actually, sounds like he has combination type skin, which is really common. Oily skin in the T-zone, drier skin on the cheeks and temples.
posted by two lights above the sea at 11:21 AM on September 16, 2010

Consider whether there are environmental factors. Being around cats gives me acne. My sister gets it from scented detergent. Another friend gets it from being around cigarette smoke. If you have any environmental allergies that make you sneeze or whatever, try getting them out of your life entirely to see if that helps.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:37 AM on September 16, 2010

The doctor prescribed tetracyclene to keep my acne at bay until I was in my mid 20s. This was back in the 70s-early 80s.
posted by bonobothegreat at 11:50 AM on September 16, 2010

This is just what has helped with me. I noticed that in old photos, people almost never had acne, so I tried to find out what they did with their faces back then.

I wash my face in the shower with a very mild soap that doesn't have a ton of chemicals - it happens to be Pear's, but I've used others and they work as well. Soap is ok, detergent (usually sodium lauryl sulfate or a variant) is bad. I use a soft washcloth, which seems to remove dead skin without irritating my skin. Supposedly other exfoliants can make tiny tears in your skin. It took a while, but now I don't have flakey skin.

After my shower, I use jojoba oil as a moisturizer since I've read it's very close to natural skin oils. I used to have majorly greasy skin, and this has really made a huge difference. The theory I've read is that when you dry out your skin, it freaks and then makes too much oil. If you keep it at a comfortable oil level, it chills out.

In the evening if I wore makeup or got dirty, I use Pond's cream and a tissue to clean my face - no water. Otherwise I just wash with water and then use a bit of the jojoba oil.

If I can manage to avoid touching my face, I end up with clear skin now, and much smaller pores and fewer blackheads. As an added bonus, this is so much cheaper than buying all the anti-acne creams and things.
posted by sepviva at 11:52 AM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all of the responses! I will have to pore over this information... get it?
posted by GleepGlop at 12:15 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oil Cleansing Method. Google it, look at the boards. Really research, it has changed my skin forever!!
posted by pearlybob at 12:28 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I tried a million different skincare regimens and moisturizers and whatever else. Finally got to a dermatologist, who prescribed an exfoliant and an antibiotic gel. Five months later my face was almost completely clear (with old scars clearing up). I'm off the meds now and have only an occasional blemish that's pretty easy to hide, and I'm using a very mild oatmeal soap and moisturizer -- nothing harsh. My skin looks great.

Go to a dermatologist. It really can't hurt. I had a bad experience with one as a teenager that made me delay for this, but I'm so glad I went.
posted by olinerd at 1:02 PM on September 16, 2010

I did the benzoyl peroxide route for a few years to treat acne. It mostly worked well but it does have a serious drying effect on your skin and limits your ability to be out in the sun and not get sunburned. I finally switched to using a soap made with Neem oil, as well as taking neem pills internally. Neem oil is derived from the leaves of the neem tree, which is common in India. I was skeptical at first but it really reduced acne within 5 days, while leaving my skin well-hydrated and "normal feeling" in a way I never got from benzoyl peroxide. I live in a very, very sunny climate and no problems with sunburn anymore.
posted by caveatz at 2:07 PM on September 16, 2010

One of the best tips I heard for a face routine is that the first step to washing your face: wash your hands!
posted by radioamy at 3:38 PM on September 16, 2010

my god i have to be like the 398458475th person but YES go to a dermatologist. i wish i'd gone to one a lot earlier when my hormones went all crazy and i started breaking out like MAD. your derm will be able to figure out a course of action for you- i was sort of piecemeal applying random advice and trying out a billion products on my own before and of course made it worse/wasted a ton of money.
retin-a righted me out. your dermatologist will figure out what will right you out.
posted by raw sugar at 5:15 PM on September 16, 2010

Just to pile on - dermatologist. Trying to treat this on your own will involve letting salespeople of all kinds lie to you and steal your money.

A few extra tips that may help you follow the dermatologist's advice better:

- any treatment you put on, leave it there for at least 30 minutes so it gets a chance to bind to your skin. When I started doing this the difference was enormous.
- if your treatment dries your skin an awful lot, good moisturizers to try are in the Cetaphil range (apply after the 30 mins). I don't bother with anything else because nothing else is anywhere near as good.
- ditch the facecloth. It's abrasive and germridden.
- ditch the soap. Soap will irritate your skin which is the opposite of what you need. Also, the ph of soap can be favourable to acne bacteria. You need to wash your face in a basin of water, using Cetaphil lotion. Rinse 25 times, use lukewarm water instead of hot or cold water which will also just irritate.

Have you found a dermatologist yet? No you haven't. Go get one. I'm waiting.
posted by tel3path at 7:11 AM on September 17, 2010

I strongly recommend the regimen at It is the only thing that has ever helped my skin (33/F, dealt with acne for 20 years, took accutane and tried every prescription and also proactiv). The products are cheap but good quality and my skin has never looked better. I don't even have to use the BP gel anymore.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:43 AM on September 21, 2010

Anecdotally, I've found that the biggest factor for me is how much sleep I get. Every time I get into a decent, consistent sleep pattern (not very often), my acne gets much, much better.
posted by threeants at 3:42 PM on October 25, 2010

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