Clear Skin Forever

12 rules for achieving a perfect complexion—no matter how bad you think it is.

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The importance of exfoliation cannot be overstated, even if you've got sensitive skin. You'll have to experiment to figure out how often you need to do it—every day, twice a week, etc.—and what strength works best for you, but it's always better to start with a milder or less abrasive product. Never scrub so hard that you cause irritation—think of sweeping dead skin cells away lightly and you're on the right track.
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Retinoids chemically exfoliate, kill bacteria, clean pores, make skin generally healthier and stronger—and are antiaging in the bargain. Ideally, apply them every day. They vary in intensity—from prescription Accutane, for the most serious cases, to Tazorac and Differin to over-the-counter retinoids (pictured), which will treat mild to moderate problems.
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You don't have to wash your face in the morning unless you're feeling greasy. At night, however, your skin absolutely needs to be cleansed. (Even if all you want to do is sleep.)
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There is a persistent myth that sun exposure will reduce acne. In the (very) short term, it will—because UV rays damage and dry out skin—but once your body goes into recovery mode, it produces more oil than ever to compensate. Use sunscreen: Your skin will look better. These formulas (pictured) not only don't irritate your skin, they actually fight oiliness and blemishes.
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The only topical treatment to even slightly faze the dreaded body acne is copious amounts of isopropyl alcohol. Even then, it's a battle that's hard to win. Oral antibiotics have also been known to do the trick; ask your dermatologist.

Isolaz, an in-office dermatological treatment, zaps and prevents acne. You have to do three to four treatments over six months, and it's not cheap ($500 each time), but it really does work. The new at-home device from Tria Beauty (pictured) functions in a similar way.

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Every regimen needs salicylic acid: It gently but super-effectively exfoliates, clears pores, brightens skin, and kills bacteria. It's also anti-inflammatory. (Aspirin is salicylic acid too, and yes, ground-up aspirin is a great in-a-pinch spot treatment.)
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The situation often gets worse before it gets better, so pick a strategy and stick to it for at least six weeks.
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While you may have memories of a too-drying spot treatment that made your breakout more obvious, benzoyl peroxide potions have improved—and still clear everything up quicker than anything else. Bacteria never become resistant to this ingredient, so it will always work.
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Almost all acne relates to hormones in some way. For this reason, oral contraceptives, like Yaz and Alesse, can relieve some cases.
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Cleansing cloths can be oilier than is ideal. We love pads, which sweep away dead skin cells and leave treatment ingredients behind. They're especially good if you're the type who gets home late and forgets to wash her face. Remember: Eye makeup left on overnight isn't going to cause breakouts—it's foundation and concealer you need to get off.
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Once you're "cured," it's important to remember that you're actually not. This is the hardest rule to follow and perhaps the most critical. The bacteria are always there, invisibly waiting for an opportunity—so stick to your regimen. Always.

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