The best acne-fighting ingredients will offer several benefits, including reducing or eliminating excess oil and removing the dead skin that builds up and clogs your pores. There are two main chemical ingredients that are FDA approved for fighting acne and you can find them in a range of acne-fighting products, including the ones in the chart above. The natural ingredients, on the other hand, have been proven to work by scientific studies but not all have been approved by the FDA as a guaranteed acne-fighting ingredient, like tea tree oil for example. Nonetheless, you will still find a combination of these chemical and natural ingredients in many skin care products on the market, and many of them work amazingly on the right skin type.
Sodium sulfacetamide-sulfur is another acne medications often found in over-the-counter treatments, and it works especially well for those with mild-moderate acne that is largely made up of pimples. This is because it effectively dries out excess sebum without drying out the skin, and some studies suggest that this combination of sodium sulfacetamide and sulfur has antibacterial properties. According to one study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, sodium sulfacetamide 10 percent-sulfur 5 percent can significantly reduce the size of p. acnes colonies when used as an emollient foam6. This treatment option is also available as a facewash, topical gel, and topical cream, and can be found at most drugstores.

This type of skin can be oily and dry or oily and normal. Different places on your face will have different symptoms. The good news is that you probably won’t have acne on your cheeks since the skin there is usually less oily. You may have to use different treatments on different areas of your face, though. The T-Zone area of the forehead, nose and chin may be oilier, so exfoliating with a gentle cleanser each day should keep your facial skin balanced. You should look for a moisturizer that isn’t too heavy but that will hold in your skin’s moisture. Gel-like moisturizers are absorbed into combination skin quickly, but don’t over moisturize or your pores may become clogged. You may need to try several brands before finding one that works for you.
In one 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereolog, researchers found that milk consumption—particularly skim milk, which is higher in sugar than whole milk—was associated with a greater risk of acne. Beyond the higher sugar content, scientists believe that proteins and hormones found in milk products, including IGF-1, may play a role in acne flare-ups by increasing oil production and inflammation.
Dapsone is not a first-line topical antibiotic due to higher cost and lack of clear superiority over other antibiotics.[1] Topical dapsone is not recommended for use with benzoyl peroxide due to yellow-orange skin discoloration with this combination.[10] While minocycline is shown to be an effective acne treatment, it is no longer recommended as a first-line antibiotic due to a lack of evidence that it is better than other treatments, and concerns of safety compared to other tetracyclines.[88]
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Efforts to better understand the mechanisms of sebum production are underway. The aim of this research is to develop medications that target and interfere with the hormones that are known to increase sebum production (e.g., IGF-1 and alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone).[10] Additional sebum-lowering medications being researched include topical antiandrogens and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor modulators.[10] Another avenue of early-stage research has focused on how to best use laser and light therapy to selectively destroy sebum-producing glands in the skin's hair follicles in order to reduce sebum production and improve acne appearance.[10]

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Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.
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Before you can find the best acne treatment for you, you have to know what type of skin you have. It’s also good to understand how your skin reacts to different weather conditions and foods that you may eat. Most people don’t realize that the skin is your body’s largest organ. It’s complex and is designed to encase and protect your body and all of your vital organs.
In severe cases, oral isotretinoin may be considered. This medication can be very effective but can also cause serious side effects including severe birth defects. Strict protocols must be followed. Monthly appointments with the treating doctor must be kept throughout the treatment period to monitor for any side effects. In females of child-bearing age, protocol includes two forms of birth control. The treatment period is usually five months.
Salicylic Acid – One of the most common topical ingredients you can find over-the-counter, salicylic acid is generally used to reduce the appearance of acne, by reducing swelling and redness. Also known as a beta-hydroxy acid, it exfoliates your skin4 and unclogs your pores, too, but it is quite strong. You’ll only be able to find this in strengths around 2%, but it can still dry and irritate your skin, especially if yours is sensitive. The safest way to use this ingredient is according to the directions!
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For mild to moderate acne, dermatologists often suggest an acne face wash with bacteria-killing benzoyl peroxide (to minimize irritation, 3.5 percent strength should be your max if you have sensitive skin), along with a prescription topical antimicrobial such as clindamycin or erythromycin. If you rather go with a gentle face wash for sensitive skin, you can use that and apply a benzoyl peroxide acne spot treatment instead.
Accutane is especially good for cystic acne in women and body acne in men. “Oral vitamin A basically shuts down your sebaceous glands. If you suppress [them] for a long enough period, you can cure someone of their acne, and about 50 percent do hit that cure rate,” says Linkner. A course of Accutane can take about six to nine months. Sometimes patients need to repeat the course at a higher dosage in order to truly eliminate acne.
Skincare is an extra challenge for those with sensitive skin because certain ingredients might cause irritation or inflammation. Spending too much time out in the wind and sun can also increase reactions. You can have oily, dry or combination skin and still have sensitive skin, too. For both skincare products and cosmetics, try out only one product at a time to see what effects it will have on your skin. The best way to start out is by patch-testing the product on your inner forearm. If you see no negative impact, you can apply it to the area behind your ear before trying it on your face. There are many products on the market now that advertise as effective for sensitive skin, but testing them is the only way to determine which is best for your skin.
Conversely, not using any facewash on your skin leaves you with the build-up of dead skin cells, dirt, grime and excess oils. While many others swear by using the simple combination of warm water and a facial cloth for their skincare routine, warm water isn’t always enough to penetrate your oil-clogged pores that have dirt and bacteria trapped inside. If you think you might disagree, imagine rinsing an oily, used frying pan with just warm water. Without a proper cleanser, you can’t cut into the grease buildup or eliminate harmful bacteria. The same applies for your skin.

Every expert we spoke with said the most critical part of combating acne is combating it every day. “The only way to make any medication work is to use it on a daily basis,” says Dr. Green. Fitz Patrick emphasizes that it really comes down to what you can maintain for the long term: “Kits are great because they take out all the guesswork -- you just follow the instructions. But if four steps is going to be too many for you to keep up week after week, you’ll be better off finding one that has fewer treatments.”
The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943.[83] Benzoyl peroxide was first proposed as a treatment in 1958 and has been routinely used for this purpose since the 1960s.[167] Acne treatment was modified in the 1950s with the introduction of oral tetracycline antibiotics (such as minocycline). These reinforced the idea amongst dermatologists that bacterial growth on the skin plays an important role in causing acne.[163] Subsequently, in the 1970s tretinoin (original trade name Retin A) was found to be an effective treatment.[168] The development of oral isotretinoin (sold as Accutane and Roaccutane) followed in 1980.[169] After its introduction in the United States it was recognized as a medication highly likely to cause birth defects if taken during pregnancy. In the United States, more than 2,000 women became pregnant while taking isotretinoin between 1982 and 2003, with most pregnancies ending in abortion or miscarriage. About 160 babies were born with birth defects.[170][171]
Keep in mind that even if some products market themselves toward severe acne breakouts, all the kits we looked at are definitely designed for mild to moderate acne. Not sure if you fit on that scale? You’re not alone! When you’re in the middle of a breakout, all acne seems severe, so it can be difficult to self-diagnose your symptoms. We talked to dermatologists and cosmetic chemists to better understand the differences between the various types of acne (see below).

The best acne-fighting ingredients will offer several benefits, including reducing or eliminating excess oil and removing the dead skin that builds up and clogs your pores. There are two main chemical ingredients that are FDA approved for fighting acne and you can find them in a range of acne-fighting products, including the ones in the chart above. The natural ingredients, on the other hand, have been proven to work by scientific studies but not all have been approved by the FDA as a guaranteed acne-fighting ingredient, like tea tree oil for example. Nonetheless, you will still find a combination of these chemical and natural ingredients in many skin care products on the market, and many of them work amazingly on the right skin type.

Globally, acne affects approximately 650 million people, or about 9.4% of the population, as of 2010.[157] It affects nearly 90% of people in Western societies during their teenage years, but can occur before adolescence and may persist into adulthood.[18][19][22] While acne that first develops between the ages of 21 and 25 is uncommon, it affects 54% of women and 40% of men older than 25 years of age,[46][158] and has a lifetime prevalence of 85%.[46] About 20% of those affected have moderate or severe cases.[2] It is slightly more common in females than males (9.8% versus 9.0%).[157] In those over 40 years old, 1% of males and 5% of females still have problems.[19]


All the dermatologists we talked to agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to acne. Every patient responds to treatments differently, and sometimes it can get worse before it gets better. But with the help of your dermatologist, you can find an acne treatment regimen that works for you. And, yes, we do stress how helpful it is to work with a derm to get it right.
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