9 Ways To Get Rid Of Stubborn Chronic Acne

by Alexa Tucker

As anyone who's ever dealt with crater-sized breakouts or painful cysts can attest to, acne can be upsetting, frustrating, and even debilitating. Trying to get rid of chronic acne feels like an uphill battle, and more often than not, we lose. But it's not over till it's over, right?

"I've tried everything" is an all-too-common refrain for girls who've struggled with inflamed, red complexions (like yours truly.) To every girl that's been reduced to tears over zits and blemishes that refuse to GTFO, I feel you. There's nothing more annoying than waking up to find that the pimples you've made it your life's work to improve haven't gotten better at all (or worse, they've gotten even angrier.)

It's time to fight back against the demons on your skin, though (and the ones in your head that kill your confidence.) Sometimes, clearing up your skin means stepping away from your desperate attempts, reassessing your routine, and getting back to basics.

Dr. Annie Chiu, dermatologist and founder of The Derm Institute, is here to answer your prayers. She told me about the real deal on what works, what doesn't, and how to get a handle on your skin. Here are nine of her tips.

Keep Your Routine Simple

Neutrogena Oil-Free Facial Moisturizer, $13, U lta

"Studies have shown that using a regular skincare routine... can help improve skin health and clarity and decrease the likelihood of developing acne," says Chiu. She reccomends a gentle cleanser and an oil-free moisturizer twice a day, as well as sunscreen in the morning. If you're struggling, try ditching all of the fancy toners and creams and see how a simple routine affects your face.

Be Patient With Your Treatment

If you're ditching new products after a couple weeks without success, you're throwing in the towel too soon. "Jumping from one acne regimen to another not only can worsen acne, but it can be extremely frustrating," says Chiu. "Being patient to allow full effects of any acne regimen and letting your skin get used to a new product is key." Her rule of thumb? Give your regimen two months (at least) before moving to a new treatment.

Try Glycolic Acid Formulas

Skinmedica Glypro Exfoliating Facial Cleanser, $30, A mazon

Benzoyl peroxide gets a lot of love in the acne department, but glycolic acid is where it's at. "Over-the-counter product with glycolic acids promote exfoliation and reduce pore clogging. SkinMedica’s GlyPro Cleanser can be used a few times a week to promote exfoliation," says Chiu.

Assess Your Diet

Your diet can be a major player in your skin's appearance, for better or for worse. Many people have issues with dairy that manifest themselves in the form of acne, explains Chiu. (If you decide to try a dairy-free approach, though, don't expect overnight changes — see the two-month rule. Sorry.) Cleaning up other elements of your nutrition can also make a difference: "Avoiding a high glycemic diet with refined sugars, or processed starches may also decrease inflammation that can worsen acne."

Spot Treat With Salicylic Acid

Mario Badescu Drying Lotion, $17, N ordstrom

Use spot treatments on new breakouts to stop them in their tracks. Chiu's favorite? "Mario Badescu’s Drying Lotion utilizes salicylic acid and caffeine to quickly act as a spot treatment for random breakouts," she says.

Use A Weekly Clarifying Mask

Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask, $25, S ephora

Once a week, give your skin a fresh start with a clarifying mask. Charcoal formulas have become popular, and with good reason — "Origins Charcoal Clear Improvement mask can help absorb excess oils, tighten pores and draw impurities out of the skin," says Chiu. Or, try a mask straight out of your kitchen cupboard: "DIY masks with honey and chamomile can help calm inflammation on the skin," says Chiu.

Call Up A Derm

"When acne becomes distressing emotionally, or is present more days than not, seeing a dermatologist for early intervention can be really beneficial," reccomends Chiu. "Dermatologists can customize acne regimens to your particular skin type. For example, non-irritating anti-inflammatory prescription medications like Aczone for those with sensitive skin, or prescription retinoids to help with oily, clogged acne." A derm can offer options that aren't available with a DIY regimen.

Break Bad Habits

Dove Ultra Caring Gentle Cream Face Cleanser, $15, Amazon

You know what I'm talking about. Picking your skin does you zero favors, as tempting as it is. (Oh, so tempting.) "Resist the urge! It can lead to scarring and discoloration," says Chiu. Also, avoid over-drying your skin. Over-drying "often worsens the condition as your oil glands get confused into producing even more oil." Stick to cleansing no more than twice a day and choose a simple formula that doesn't foam — the sulfates in sudsy formulas may get your skin squeaky clean, but that can be counterproductive for acne.

Keep Up A Healthy Lifestyle

Health and beauty go hand-in-hand, especially when it comes to acne. "A healthy lifestyle decreases stress and overall inflammation in the body," says Chiu. Her advice? "Stick with a regular skincare regimen, exercise regularly, try to control your stress levels, don’t take out your frustrations by picking your skin, and seek a dermatologist’s help early as acne can significantly impact self-confidence and self-worth. Everyone deserves to have clear skin." Amen, Dr. Chiu.

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Images:,, kaboompics/; Amanda Mills/