How to Stop Acne Before It Starts

Breakouts can seem like a big mystery: one day you notice a couple of blackheads, and the next thing you know, your face is erupting with full-on angry pimples.

In truth, acne doesn’t just pop up, so to speak. Pimples have a predictable life cycle that starts at a microscopic level. To figure out how to stop acne before it starts, we talked to our founder — the authority on the subject — Sandra Lee, MD (aka Dr. Pimple Popper).

A man with blackheads and whiteheads that can turn into active acne

3 minute read


How does acne start?

Before you can interrupt the pimple parade, you need to know the key participants. All acne starts with clogged pores: when your hair follicles fill up with excess oil (sebum), and dead skin cells. A person’s tendency to have clogged pores is largely based on genetics, which determine how much oil your sebaceous glands produce, and how efficiently your skin cells shed.

Clogged pores are known as comedones, but they're more commonly called blackheads and whiteheads.

How can you stop acne before it starts?

Many people don’t realize that inflammatory acne — those painful, red papules, pustules, nodules and cysts — start out as clogged pores. So theoretically, if you can prevent pores from becoming blocked, you can avoid all types of acne.

In reality, completely bypassing breakouts probably isn’t possible, because some factors are beyond our control. The good news: there are some simple steps you can take that can help keep pores clear, which will certainly have an impact on your acne.

Dr. Pimple Popper’s acne-stopper tips

#1 Keep your skin clean

Washing your face twice daily removes not only excess oil, but also environmental pollutants that can compromise your skin barrier. Cleansing all of that away means it won’t become trapped in your pores. Find a face wash that doesn’t leave your skin feeling tight or stripped.

#2 Exfoliate regularly

Dr. Lee recommends using a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid to gently remove dead skin cells. Because it’s an oil-soluble beta hydroxy acid, salicylic acid can penetrate into your pores to break up and help remove the dead skin stuck inside.

Double duty cleanser: Dr. Lee’s go-to face wash is her SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser, which gently removes oil and debris while also exfoliating to prevent clogged pores and help even skin tone.

#3 Incorporate retinol

Adding this vitamin A derivative helps regulate cell turnover — which is one of the things that goes awry in people with acne-prone skin. This also has an exfoliating effect, which not only discourages breakouts but also helps diminish hyperpigmentation.

Dr. Lee suggests SLMD time-released Retinol Serum, which has added hyaluronic acid to hydrate and vitamin C to brighten.

#4 Try an acne kit

According to Dr. Lee, if you’re experiencing chronic breakouts, a comprehensive skincare approach is your best bet. A high-quality kit that combines all the right ingredients, when used consistently, can calm breakouts (at every stage) more effectively.

A better acne routine: the SLMD Acne System was the first to incorporate retinol — a clinically-proven acne fighter. It’s also the only system that includes a non comedogenic moisturizer — necessary to help balance and protect skin from the harsh effects of acne treatments.

For a limited time, click here to get our value-sized 60-Day Acne System for only $80 with code LEVELUP (choose "60-Day Kit" and enter code to reflect pricing)

Dr. Lee’s last word

I just can’t stress this enough: the first thing you can do to keep your skin as clear as possible is to use skincare products that help unclog your pores and gently exfoliate. Clogged pores, which are blackheads and whiteheads, are the building blocks of active acne. My favorite combination of ingredients for this is salicylic acid and retinol…it’s why I always recommend my Salicylic Acid Cleanser twice daily, and Retinol Serum every night.

—Dr. Sandra Lee


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