Ask any dermatologist for advice on how you can reduce the chances of breakouts, and they’re most likely going to mention taking probiotics as one of their top tips. This facial cleanser, infused with tea tree oil, willow bark and yogurt, targets irritation-causing bacteria while controlling oil production. It also features a biocomplex of vitamins A, C and E, coenzyme Q10 and antioxidants that diminish wrinkles and other visible signs of aging.
Acne scars are caused by inflammation within the dermal layer of skin and are estimated to affect 95% of people with acne vulgaris.[30] The scar is created by abnormal healing following this dermal inflammation.[31] Scarring is most likely to take place with severe acne, but may occur with any form of acne vulgaris.[30] Acne scars are classified based on whether the abnormal healing response following dermal inflammation leads to excess collagen deposition or loss at the site of the acne lesion.[32]
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Benzoyl Peroxide – A strong compound that kills the bacteria that causes acne1. It also gets rid of excess oil and the build-up of dead skin cells which clog your pores. This ingredient is exceptionally strong, and it can cause some side effects like redness, dry skin, burning or stinging and scaling. You’ll only find it in products at 2.5% to 10% strength. However, dermatologists recommend that adults stick to a low-dose of benzoyl peroxide, at around 3% for minimal irritation and to avoid bleaching your skin, hair or clothing.
The best acne medication differs from person to person, but because acne is caused by so many different factors, the best solution for most people is an acne treatment that includes multiple key ingredients. For the vast majority of people with acne, the best medicine for acne is a gentle, over-the-counter option that treats the causes of acne without irritation the skin. Below, we’ve included three of our favorite over-the-counter acne treatment options.

Retinol: Retinol is simply another word for vitamin A, sort of like how we call vitamin B7 “biotin.” It’s important that our bodies get systemic vitamin A through our diet for good vision, a strong immune system, and general organ function, but some research suggests that vitamin A could have a positive impact on the skin when applied to it directly. The problem is, regular retinol doesn’t actually do much for acne. That’s because the retinoic acid found in retinol isn’t always activated when left to its own devices. We typically have to activate the retinoic acid synthetically through the creation of various medications.
“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
In 2015, acne was estimated to affect 633 million people globally, making it the 8th most common disease worldwide.[9][17] Acne commonly occurs in adolescence and affects an estimated 80–90% of teenagers in the Western world.[18][19][20] Lower rates are reported in some rural societies.[20][21] Children and adults may also be affected before and after puberty.[22] Although acne becomes less common in adulthood, it persists in nearly half of affected people into their twenties and thirties and a smaller group continue to have difficulties into their forties.[2]

Azelaic acid is a natural acid that is derived from various grains like wheat and barley. It helps reduce acne by preventing skin cell buildup, killing p. acnes bacteria, and reducing inflammation4. This means it can help reduce all kinds of acne, from blackheads to pimples. Blackheads and whiteheads form when dead skin cells combine with sebum, the oil our skin naturally produces and get clogged in a pore. To get rid of this kind of acne, it helps to regulate your skin cell production and exfoliate your skin to remove excess dead skin cells. Azelaic acid is a great way to do both of these things, while also decreasing inflammation and killing bacteria. When the skin is inflamed, it swells slightly, causing the pores to constrict. This traps dead skin cells and sebum inside, leading to blackheads and whiteheads, and if bacteria get trapped as well, then pimples can also form.

Oral antibiotics are the standard of care in managing acne that is moderate to severe, resistant to topical therapy and covers large body surface areas. Oral antibiotics that may be prescribed to treat acne include tetracycline, doxycycline, minocycline, erythromycin, trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole, trimethoprim and azithromycin. Combination therapy (the use of two or more therapies) including oral antibiotics and topical medication (often retinoids) may help treat acne.
Antiandrogens such as cyproterone acetate and spironolactone have been used successfully to treat acne, especially in women with signs of excessive androgen production such as increased hairiness or skin production of sebum, or baldness.[10][46] Spironolactone is an effective treatment for acne in adult women, but unlike combined birth control pills, is not approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for this purpose.[1][35][100] The medication is primarily used as an aldosterone antagonist and is thought to be a useful acne treatment due to its ability to additionally block the androgen receptor at higher doses.[35] Alone or in combination with a birth control pill, spironolactone has shown a 33 to 85% reduction in acne lesions in women.[91] The effectiveness of spironolactone for acne appears to be dose-dependent.[91] High-dose cyproterone acetate alone has been found to decrease symptoms of acne in women by 75 to 90% within 3 months.[101] It is usually combined with an estrogen to avoid menstrual irregularities and estrogen deficiency.[102] The medication has also been found to be effective in the treatment of acne in males, with one study finding that a high dosage reduced inflammatory acne lesions by 73%.[103][104] However, the side effects of cyproterone acetate in males, such as gynecomastia, sexual dysfunction, and decreased bone mineral density, make its use for acne in this sex impractical in most cases.[103][104][105] Hormonal therapies should not be used to treat acne during pregnancy or lactation as they have been associated with birth disorders such as hypospadias, and feminization of the male babies.[46] In addition, women who are sexually active and who can or may become pregnant should use an effective method of contraception to prevent pregnancy while taking an antiandrogen.[106] Antiandrogens are often combined with birth control pills for this reason, which can result in additive efficacy.[35][107]
Sudden breakouts are incredibly frustrating. And even if you eat a healthy diet, wear makeup that won't clog your pores, change your pillowcase regularly, and use acne-fighting skincare products (such as cleansers that contain ingredients like salicylic acid), you can still wake up to the unpleasant discovery that a pimple has pushed its way to the surface of your skin.
Antibiotics for acne, both topical and oral, used to be the top prescriptions for getting clear skin, but research has revealed that they aren’t the best option for most people today due to something called antibacterial resistance. This is where bacteria mutate, become immune to certain antibiotics, then reproduce offspring that are also immune, creating entire colonies of bacteria that can’t be killed by certain antibiotics.
Sulfur – Not to be confused with irritating sulfates that can be found in some cleansers and treatments, sulfur is an element that can be quite good for your skin. It removes the dead skin cells and excess oils that clog your pores. But just like any chemical ingredient, too much of it can dry your skin out. You’ll likely find it coupled with other ingredients in your cleanser, like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and resorcinol.
Combination therapy—using medications of different classes together, each with a different mechanism of action—has been demonstrated to be a more efficacious approach to acne treatment than monotherapy.[10][46] The use of topical benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics together has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics alone.[10] Similarly, using a topical retinoid with an antibiotic clears acne lesions faster than the use of antibiotics alone.[10] Frequently used combinations include the following: antibiotic and benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic and topical retinoid, or topical retinoid and benzoyl peroxide.[46] The pairing of benzoyl peroxide with a retinoid is preferred over the combination of a topical antibiotic with a retinoid since both regimens are effective but benzoyl peroxide does not lead to antibiotic resistance.[10]
Acne treatment that you apply to the skin: Most acne treatments are applied to the skin. Your dermatologist may call this topical treatment. There are many topical acne treatments. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic, or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.
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