Acne treatments come with different ingredients and formulas, but our method for choosing the best acne products is hardly top-secret. As with all of our “best of” reviews, we looked for products that have plenty of positive reviews and a strong track record of delivering proven results over time. We ignore products that promise a quick-fix or aren’t backed by sound science. We like products with natural ingredients, but that didn’t determine our final choices. We think you’ll be well-served by the products listed here.
^ White, Stephen D.; Bordeau, Patrick B.; Blumstein, Philippe; Ibisch, Catherine; GuaguÈre, Eric; Denerolle, Philippe; Carlotti, Didier N.; Scott, Katherine V. (1 September 1997). "Feline acne and results of treatment with mupirocin in an open clinical trial: 25 cases (1994–96)". Veterinary Dermatology. 8 (3): 157–164. doi:10.1046/j.1365-3164.1997.d01-16.x. ISSN 1365-3164.
Comedonal is the mildest type of acne and doesn’t cause painful swelling or inflammation in most cases. It usually manifests as blackheads or whiteheads on the skin. Blackheads occur when dirt and germs under the skin’s pores cause the skin to appear dark. Males going through puberty, as well as young adults, will experience some form of comedonal acne in their lives. It also may occur because of allergic reactions to skin or hair products, but most acne lesions, such as whiteheads and blackheads, occur because of a hard blockage of excess sebum in skin pores.
Even though scientists know how pimples and blackheads are formed, they are still not sure what causes you to have a body full of blemishes and the guy sitting next to you not to have a single spot on his face? It’s probably related to hereditary factors. If your parents dealt with acne when they were younger, you’re more likely to struggle with acne, too.
The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943. Benzoyl peroxide was first proposed as a treatment in 1958 and has been routinely used for this purpose since the 1960s. 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. Subsequently, in the 1970s tretinoin (original trade name Retin A) was found to be an effective treatment. The development of oral isotretinoin (sold as Accutane and Roaccutane) followed in 1980. 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.
Acne, also known as acne vulgaris, is a long-term skin disease that occurs when hair follicles are clogged with dead skin cells and oil from the skin. It is characterized by blackheads or whiteheads, pimples, oily skin, and possible scarring. It primarily affects areas of the skin with a relatively high number of oil glands, including the face, upper part of the chest, and back. The resulting appearance can lead to anxiety, reduced self-esteem and, in extreme cases, depression or thoughts of suicide.
^ Hay, RJ; Johns, NE; Williams, HC; Bolliger, IW; Dellavalle, RP; Margolis, DJ; Marks, R; Naldi, L; Weinstock, MA; Wulf, SK; Michaud, C; Murray, C; Naghavi, M (October 2013). "The Global Burden of Skin Disease in 2010: An Analysis of the Prevalence and Impact of Skin Conditions". The Journal of Investigative Dermatology. 134 (6): 1527–34. doi:10.1038/jid.2013.446. PMID 24166134.
Acne inversa (L. invertō, "upside down") and acne rosacea (rosa, "rose-colored" + -āceus, "forming") are not true forms of acne and respectively refer to the skin conditions hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) and rosacea. Although HS shares certain common features with acne vulgaris, such as a tendency to clog skin follicles with skin cell debris, the condition otherwise lacks the defining features of acne and is therefore considered a distinct skin disorder.
Tea Tree Oil – Another anti-bacterial ingredient that is common in over-the-counter treatments, tea tree oil combats acne-causing bacteria. While the FDA hasn’t officially approved it for acne treatment, some dermatologists say it’s almost as effective as benzoyl peroxide for clearing skin, although it doesn’t work quite as fast. It can be used for spot treatment as well.
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In women, acne can be improved with the use of any combined birth control pill. These medications contain an estrogen and a progestin. They work by decreasing the production of androgen hormones by the ovaries and by decreasing the free and hence biologically active fractions of androgens, resulting in lowered skin production of sebum and consequently reduced acne severity. Although oral estrogens can decrease IGF-1 levels in some situations and this might be expected to additionally contribute to improvement in acne symptoms, combined birth control pills appear to have no effect on IGF-1 levels in fertile women. However, cyproterone acetate-containing birth control pills have been reported to decrease total and free IGF-1 levels. Combinations containing third- or fourth-generation progestins including desogestrel, dienogest, drospirenone, or norgestimate, as well as birth control pills containing cyproterone acetate or chlormadinone acetate, are preferred for women with acne due to their stronger antiandrogenic effects. Studies have shown a 40 to 70% reduction in acne lesions with combined birth control pills. A 2014 review found that antibiotics by mouth appear to be somewhat more effective than birth control pills at decreasing the number of inflammatory acne lesions at three months. However, the two therapies are approximately equal in efficacy at six months for decreasing the number of inflammatory, non-inflammatory, and total acne lesions. The authors of the analysis suggested that birth control pills may be a preferred first-line acne treatment, over oral antibiotics, in certain women due to similar efficacy at six months and a lack of associated antibiotic resistance.
Accutane (isotretinoin) has a mixed reputation, but among dermatologists it’s the finisher for patients with severe acne. “If you have an acne patient that doesn’t respond to anything, [Accutane] can really be a game changer,” board-certified dermatologist Adam Friedman tells SELF. Accutane is an oral retinoid, and it has all the same benefits of a topical retinol but is even more effective.
Hormonal activity, such as occurs during menstrual cycles and puberty, may contribute to the formation of acne. During puberty, an increase in sex hormones called androgens causes the skin follicle glands to grow larger and make more oily sebum. Several hormones have been linked to acne, including the androgens testosterone, dihydrotestosterone (DHT), and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA); high levels of growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) have also been associated with worsened acne. Both androgens and IGF-1 seem to be essential for acne to occur, as acne does not develop in individuals with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS) or Laron syndrome (insensitivity to GH, resulting in very low IGF-1 levels).
Although some people think they can get the best acne treatment by mixing and matching products, this is not the recommended method of treating blemishes. Aside from doctors, few people understand how different products can react with each other. In some cases, combining two products increases how well both work. For example, green tea extract and salicylic acid complement each other. Skin care system makers usually hire doctors to help improve the effectiveness of their systems.
Exposed Skin Care: Exposed Skin Care products include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and azelaic acid (see below for more details), all at low concentrations that are safe for all skin types. Plus they also incorporate powerful natural ingredients, like tea tree oil, vitamin E, and green tea extract. Before jumping straight to the strongest (and harshest) prescription treatment available, we highly recommend giving this gentle but effective brand a try for a few weeks. If it doesn’t work, you can always send your empty product bottles back to the company and they will reimburse you in full.
Our favorite for banishing blemishes on the fly, Glossier's zit stick is not only effective, but it's portable. Just stash it in your purse for any unexpected breakouts! Packed with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this convenient roll-on works extremely quickly. In a clinical trial, 83% of test subjects said that it lessened the appearance of pimples in just 3 hours. We've tried it ourselves and can confirm the 3-hour claim is true.
A lot of people have an urge to rub, squeeze or scratch the blemishes on their skin, and who can really blame them? Pimples can hurt, throb and itch, all the while being a sore sight to see. It’s only natural that we seek to remove these blemishes in any way possible, but some methods of removal are more harmful than others. When it comes to rubbing, squeezing and scratching your pimples, it can only make your skin worse.
Simple alcohols like isopropyl alcohol, SD alcohol, and denatured alcohol are everywhere in acne treatment because they trick you into thinking they’re working: Splash some on and any oil on your face instantly vaporizes. However, these ingredients destroy the skin’s barrier, called the acid mantle. When your acid mantle is damaged, you’re actually more susceptible to breakouts, enlarged pores, and inflammation. To make matters worse, evaporating all the oil on your face can actually set your sebaceous glands into overdrive, leaving your skin oilier than ever. If any product included a simple alcohol high up in its ingredients list, we nixed its whole kit.
Spironolactone has relatively minor side effects, like low appetite, weakness, or cramping, but there’s one major exception: spironolactone comes with a black box warning about its cancer-causing effects. The FDA is required to include this label based on a study conducted in the 1950s that found carcinogenic properties in the spironolactone given to rats in an experiment. However, the dose of spironolactone used in this study was nearly 500 times higher than the dose currently prescribed, and no studies since have found anything carcinogenic about spironolactone. Because of this, most dermatologists feel comfortable prescribing spironolactone for acne. Still, it’s something to be aware of before you take it. Additionally, those with low blood pressure or kidney conditions are likely not good candidates for spironolactone and may want to explore other acne treatment options.
P. acnes also provokes skin inflammation by altering the fatty composition of oily sebum. Oxidation of the lipid squalene by P. acnes is of particular importance. Squalene oxidation activates NF-κB (a protein complex) and consequently increases IL-1α levels. Additionally, squalene oxidation leads to increased activity of the 5-lipoxygenase enzyme responsible for conversion of arachidonic acid to leukotriene B4 (LTB4). LTB4 promotes skin inflammation by acting on the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARα) protein. PPARα increases activity of activator protein 1 (AP-1) and NF-κB, thereby leading to the recruitment of inflammatory T cells. The inflammatory properties of P. acnes can be further explained by the bacterium's ability to convert sebum triglycerides to pro-inflammatory free fatty acids via secretion of the enzyme lipase. These free fatty acids spur production of cathelicidin, HBD1, and HBD2, thus leading to further inflammation.
For daily washing, use cleansing products that are designed to care for your skin type. The composition of these funds should not contain soap, dyes and flavors, as well as components such as sodium lauryl sulfate and parabens. All these substances can cause redness, irritation, stimulate the formation of acne. You cannot use a usual soap, it only dries the skin. Gels or foams, which contain acids, are perfect for oily skin prone to imperfections. It does not matter where you buy a cleansing gel or tonic – in a pharmacy or in the nearest supermarket. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on it. It is important that the acne remedy works.
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