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How to Get Clear Skin -- According to the Pros

These are the derm-approved secrets to complexion perfection
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Everyone wants it, but not many people are lucky enough to have -- or know how to get -- clear skin. We're talking the type of next-level, no makeup or filter required, flawless complexion that dreams are made of. And while it may seem unattainable, especially if you're dealing with breakouts and blemishes, clear skin is possible. Check out this expert advice for zapping zits -- plus the spots and scars that can follow -- and the complexion you've always coveted will be well within reach.

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Consider the Cause of Your Breakouts
File this piece of advice under, "how to get clear skin." When it comes to figuring out why your skin is acting up in the first place, think beyond the surface.

"It's important to look at acne and breakouts in a more global sense," explains Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine. "It's not just about throwing some cream on a pimple. Examine your lifestyle to figure out what's causing these pimples in the first place." Factors like diet and how much you're sleeping can all play a role, but the numero uno culprit behind most complexion concerns is stress. Stress hormones, namely cortisol, trigger excessive inflammation, which can both exacerbate existing breakouts and trigger new ones, says Gohara. Obviously, nixing stress entirely isn't humanely possible, but, whenever you can, try to chill the eff out. Trust us, your skin -- and your mind -- will thank you.

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Keep in Mind That Acne Is a Different Animal
True, medically diagnosed acne is different than sporadic breakouts or occasional pesky pimples. For mild acne, certain OTC products and ingredients can be helpful in the quest for clear skin (more on that later), but if you're dealing with deeper, cystic pimples -- the big red, inflamed ones that won't go away -- you really should see a dermatologist, says Dr. Sumayah Jamal of the Schweiger Dermatology in New York City. "We have access to a variety of different prescription topical and oral medications that can help treat acne that isn't responding to the products you may be trying," she points out. They can also offer stronger, in-office treatments, such as chemical peels or lasers.

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If You Do Have Acne, Keep Your Skin Care Simple
If you are diagnosed with legit acne, be extra considerate about any products you're putting on your skin. "Every step in your skin care routine is either going to stoke the fire and exacerbate the acne, or is going to help put that fire out," says Gohara (obviously, the goal is the latter).

Clear skin starts with cleansing. Face washes with acne-fighting actives such as benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid may seem like a good idea, but when you're dealing with acne and following a derm-prescribed regimen, these can often be too irritating, Gohara notes. Choose fragrance-free, mild cleansers, like Vanicream Gentle Facial Cleanser, $8.99, instead.

Exfoliating is another thing many people do incorrectly: "You can't scrub away acne, and you definitely don't want to irritate or inflame the skin any further," explains Gohara. Skip scrubs and opt for washes with gentler, chemical exfoliants, like glycolic acid. One to try: Glytone Mild Gel Cleanser, $33.

Finally, pick plain, oil-free moisturizers, like Kiehl's Ultra Facial Oil-Free Lotion, $27.50, avoiding formulas with too many potentially irritating active ingredients.

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Be Proactive About Treating Occasional Breakouts
How to get clear skin? As they say in sports, a good defense is the best offense. If you're simply dealing with a few blackheads or whiteheads, or the occasional pimple now and then, Gohara recommends using a cleanser with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid one to three times per week. "These ingredients will keep your pores clear, but aren't on the skin long enough to cause irritation," she notes. Our pick: Skin Laundry Acne Face Wash with Salicylic Acid, $25.

As far as exfoliation goes, glycolic acid is still choice; it's one of the most effective exfoliators out there, says Gohara, not to mention that it also has added anti-aging benefits to boot. Using a peel pad like Cane + Austin Miracle Pad, $88, is an easy way to get your daily glycolic fix.

Another way to get clear skin? Professional extractions. "Most people who suffer from occasional breakouts have whiteheads and blackheads that end up turning into pimples, typically around their period. If you have these pores extracted, there won't be anything in there that can turn into a blemish," Jamal explains.

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