Outside of Face tune, there’s no magic eraser that can instantly get rid of acne or make your skin smooth. But if you want to know how to get clearer skin without spending a fortune, there are some reasonable steps you can take to make your complexion glow brighter and feel softer—provided that you don’t have chronic adult acne or a skin condition. Ahead, we asked estheticians and dermatologists to share their best skin-care tips and home remedies that are actually quick, affordable, and—most important—effective. While they’re not a replacement for a solid skin-care routine and won’t have the same kind of long-term effect as lasers or injectables, experts say they really can make a difference no matter your budget.
Here’s their top advice on how to get clear skin—or at least clearer skin—for free.
Identify your stress busters.
We know “stressing less” is way easier said than done, but it’s something to consider. “Our bodies and minds are directly linked and stress or lack of sleep can often manifest itself in health conditions and exacerbate skin problems like acne,” says Ramanadham. “Stress and lack of sleep induce the hormone, cortisol, which triggers our skin clearer to produce more sebum or oil.” This increase of oil then can clog pores and lead to more breakouts.
“It’s so important to set aside time during the day for self-care, even if it’s just for a few minutes,” says Ramanadham. “It can be working out, reading a book, meditation, whatever works for you to de-stress and unwind.”
Wash your face as soon as you’re done working out.
While working out is great for your skin, body, and mind, lingering sweat is not. “Washing your face immediately after you exercise removes oil, sweat, and bacteria rather than allowing it to sit on your skin, where it can clog pores and cause breakouts,” says Ramanadham. While you may be tempted to wait until you shower, wash your face as soon as you can after your workout to prevent this buildup.
Back away from the bath towel.
Just like your pillow, your towel can be a sneaky cause of acne. “If you’re struggling with breakouts, use a paper towel instead of your bath towel to dry your face after cleansing,” says Vargas. “Using a towel will result in a possible harbor for bacteria, which can spread breakouts.”
Clean your makeup brushes.
We know you’ve been putting it off, but regularly cleaning your makeup brushes can make a huge difference in your skin. “Brushes harbor bacteria, debris, and oil and can frequently cause acne or inflammation in your skin when repeatedly used without cleaning,” says Ramanadham. Check out our guide to properly cleaning your makeup brushes to make sure they’re bacteria-free.
Make a DIY moisture mask .
When it comes to exfoliation and blemish fighting, clearer skin the DIY route and go with products made by pros. But if it’s hydration you’re after, you can whip up a moisturizing mask in your own kitchen. “I have a great DIY at-home mask recipe for dry winter skin,” says Vargas. “It contains yogurt, which is an anti-inflammatory with a lactic acid component, and avocado, which I recommend for any skin type because it has lots of B vitamins and fatty acids. I also add a little honey for hydration.”
You don’t have to step foot into a class or let the word namaste out of your mouth to reap the clearer skin perks of yoga. “Our skin benefits from poses that send blood flowing toward your face,” says Karen Young, founder of Oui the People. Even holding a Downward Dog for three to five minutes can boost circulation, giving your skin a glow.
Ice a zit to calm it down.
When you’re dealing with a red, inflamed pimple, head to your freezer instead of trying to pop it. “Applying ice directly to the blemish will help to decrease inflammation, reducing the size and visibility of the spot,” says Marino. She also recommends hydrocortisone cream to help reduce redness and swelling, which most people have on hand in their medicine cabinet.
Apply skin care to damp clearer skin.
An easy swap to make? Improve the absorption of your skin-care products by applying them to damp skin. “After washing with warm water, our skin is generally damp and our blood vessels are vasodilated,” says Ramanadham. “By applying our serums and other products at this time, we improve their absorption and efficacy.”
Wash your hands.
“Your hands are covered in tons of bacteria from touching doorknobs, keyboards, etc.,” says celebrity aesthetician Joanna Vargas. “When you touch your face, you’re spreading that bacteria to your skin, which then can trigger breakouts and other skin problems.”
While you don’t really need to be reminded to wash your hands in 2020, just be sure to give them a good rinse before you touch your face, even if you’ve been inside all day. Or better yet, try to keep your hands off your face entirely.
If you’re comfortable skipping makeup most days, do—especially if you’re working from home because of COVID-19. “My clients who wear minimal or no makeup on the daily have the clearest and healthiest skin,” says Marino. “Save makeup for events, just be sure you’re wearing a SPF every single day to protect your skin.”
Use gentle soap.
According to Smita Ramanadham M.D., a plastic surgeon and founder of Skin by Dr. Smita, harsh soaps are a big no-no. “They can irritate your skin by stripping its natural oils that are important for hydration,” she says. “Using harsh soaps can cause any previous skin conditions to worsen or flare up, including acne or rosacea.” Swap a harsh cleanser for a more gentle formula like CeraVe.
Sleep on your back.
We’re not going to remind you to get eight hours of sleep (which is probably the oldest free skin-care tip); we figure you already know. But as essential as how much sleep you’re getting is the position in which you sleep. It really does matter. “After U.V. exposure, the second most common cause of wrinkles is squishing your face into a pillow at night,” says celebrity aesthetician Renée Rouleau. “It’s like ironing wrinkles into your skin.” Sleeping on your back is ideal, since even pressing your cheek into a pillow can cause lines.
Switch your pillowcase.
We hate to add to laundry to your to-do list, but keeping your pillows clean is a top beauty secret. Pillowcases can hang on to dirt, oil, and bacteria from our faces, hair, and environment, and can become a breeding ground for acne. Aim to swap out your pillow covering at least once a week to reduce the risk of breakouts. (Treat your face masks the same way, and swap them out as much as possible to decrease “maskne” from forming.)
Louise recommends a silk pillowcase to “keep your products from escaping from your skin, so you can really ensure they’re penetrating.” Sure, it’s money, but if you are looking to invest in a solid option, we’re huge fans of Slip’s Silk Pillowcases, which not only help ward off wrinkles (no creases in your pillow equals no long-term creases on your skin), but also make your hair shinier.
Rinse your face with cold water to clearer skin.
Louise loves her signature Facial Freeze Tools to depuff and sculpt your face, but if you’re looking for a budget option, she recommends this Old Hollywood trick: Wash your face using ice water.
“I always recommend rinsing with cool water if your skin is in need of refreshing,” she says. Not only does the chilly temperature make you feel more awake; it can quickly reduce puffiness, tighten the appearance of your skin, and calm inflammation.
Celebrity facialist Candace Marino adds that you should always use cool water instead of hot when washing your face. “Hot water not only leaves your face feeling stripped,” she says. “It can also weaken your skin barrier, lead to dehydration, and aggravate any inflammatory processes—like acne, rosacea, and melasma. Washing with cool water will keep your skin calm and prevent exacerbations of any skin conditions you’re trying to ward off.”
Give yourself a face massage.
Got puffy eyes? No problem. Sure, you could stock up on eye cream…or you could use your fingers to give yourself an undereye massage. “Use your ring fingers to press gently on the orbital bone, moving from the inner corners of your eyes to the outer and repeating two to three times,” says celebrity facialist Cecilia Wong. “This will not only stimulate circulation, but it also helps minimize fine lines and reduce inflammation.”
Celebrity facialist and La Mer global skin-care adviser Georgia Louise is also a huge proponent of massage all over your face to stimulate collagen and activate the skin-care products you do use. “Your hands are your most powerful weapon,” she says. We’re also big fans of this face “workout” that helps strengthen your facial muscles and boosts circulation.