Oral contraceptives can help normalize hormonal surges and regulate monthly cycles so that oil glands don’t go into overdrive, says Dr. Zeichner. Doctors may prescribe one of four brands of birth control pills—Yaz, Beyaz, Estrostep, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen—that are FDA approved for treating acne. As always, patients taking oral contraceptives should be aware of potential birth control side effects, including blood clots or vaginal dryness.
But Accutane has mixed reviews for a reason. It makes the skin super dry and sensitive, which means it’s important to keep moisturizers and lip balm nearby while you’re on the treatment. Oh, and don’t even think about waxing your eyebrows (just imagine your skin ripping off). There’s another downside to Accutane: It requires a lot of paperwork and office visits. Since isotretinoin can cause birth defects, you have to come into the dermatologist once a month to get a pregnancy test and take a lengthy survey with embarrassing questions about your sex life to prove that you are using sufficient birth control. These precautions are intense, but dermatologists agree that the final results for Accutane are like no other. “This is one of the few medicines that I can look [patients] in the eye and guarantee them it will work,” says Friedman.
Retinoids: Retinoids are substances that are derived from vitamin A, which includes retinol, but also includes synthetic versions of retinol with activated retinoic acid which tends to be more effective in treating acne. Retinoic acid has been shown to reduce sebum production8 and regulate skin cell production9, which together can greatly reduce acne. These synthetic retinoids include adapalene, tretinoin, isotretinoin, and others. Although these synthetic options are more reliably effective, they also tend to have more side effects, like burning, itching, and dryness. Unlike retinol, which is available over-the-counter, nearly all synthetic retinoids are prescription-only. One of the main exceptions is Differin, which is a brand that sells a topical gel containing adapalene, a mild synthetic retinoid, over-the-counter.
Contrary to the marketing promises of “blemish banishers” and “zit zappers,” immediate results are not the trademark of acne treatments — a frustrating truth to anyone suffering through a breakout. And while pimples are personal (your stress-induced spots will look and act differently than your best friend’s breakout), the best acne treatments will include a regimen of products to hit all of acne’s root causes. We tested 43 kits to find the most well-rounded breakout-fighting solutions on the market.

How to Handle It: If you've tried the usual anti-acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (which, we should warn you, rarely work for this), you should consider paying your dermatologist a visit. "You may need a cortisone injection or an oral medication, like an antibiotic, in addition to topical formulas," says Zeichner. He's also a fan of a prescription topical medication called Epiduo Forte Gel, since, he says, it's been shown to be effective at controlling severe acne without the help of oral treatments.
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.
Most studies of acne drugs have involved people 12 years of age or older. Increasingly, younger children are getting acne as well. In one study of 365 girls ages 9 to 10, 78 percent of them had acne lesions. If your child has acne, consider consulting a pediatric dermatologist. Ask about drugs to avoid in children, appropriate doses, drug interactions, side effects, and how treatment may affect a child's growth and development.
What it is: Originally under the brand name "Accutane" but now available only in generic form, isotretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A taken in pill form for 15-20 weeks. Doctors normally prescribe it for people with "severe nodular acne" that does not respond to other treatments. Nodules are inflammatory lesions with a diameter of 5mm or more. A single course of 15-20 weeks has been shown to result in complete clearing and long-term remission of acne in many people.1-2 Learn more on the Accutane page of acne.org.
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A California privacy law that went into effect on January 1, 2005, the "Shine the Light" law, allows California residents to obtain a list of third parties to whom a business has disclosed personal information if it shares such information with third parties for their direct marketing purposes. However, if a business adopts and discloses in its privacy policy a policy of not disclosing customers' personal information to third parties for their direct marketing purposes unless the customer first affirmatively agrees to the disclosure, the business may comply with the law by notifying the customer of his or her right to prevent disclosure of personal information and by providing a cost-free means to exercise that right. As stated earlier in this Privacy Policy, personal information will not be shared with third parties for their direct marketing and promotional purposes. Because this Site has a comprehensive privacy policy and provides you with details on how you may opt-in or opt-out of the use of your personal information by third parties for direct marketing purposes, we are not required to provide you with the third party list.
Most studies of acne drugs have involved people 12 years of age or older. Increasingly, younger children are getting acne as well. In one study of 365 girls ages 9 to 10, 78 percent of them had acne lesions. If your child has acne, consider consulting a pediatric dermatologist. Ask about drugs to avoid in children, appropriate doses, drug interactions, side effects, and how treatment may affect a child's growth and development.

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).


Salicylic acid is a topically applied beta-hydroxy acid that stops bacteria from reproducing and has keratolytic properties.[132][133] It opens obstructed skin pores and promotes shedding of epithelial skin cells.[132] Salicylic acid is known to be less effective than retinoid therapy.[19] Dry skin is the most commonly seen side effect with topical application, though darkening of the skin has been observed in individuals with darker skin types.[1]
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Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne.[150] Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne.[150] Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis.[1] Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against P. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties.[65] Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality.[151] There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.[150]
Blue light rays penetrate follicles to kill off acne-causing bacteria. For severe cases, photodynamic therapy adds a topical solution called Levulan to blue light therapy. Note that these treatments can cause temporary redness and may not be covered by insurance. Prices vary greatly depending on the location and severity of acne, but can cost at least $50 for one blue light treatment and $100 or more per photodynamic therapy session. Most patients will need multiple treatments to see effective results, but many dermatologists offer package deals.
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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Benzoyl peroxide attacks the P. acnes bacteria. However, one of its main side effects is dryness: If you’re going to use anything with benzoyl peroxide, make sure to moisturize afterwards. Sulfur and azelaic acid are less common and less severe alternatives to benzoyl peroxide. Dr. Peter Lio, assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Northwestern University, says sulfur-based treatments are “a good fit for patients who can’t tolerate the side effects of benzoyl peroxide.”
How to Handle It: If you've tried the usual anti-acne ingredients, like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide (which, we should warn you, rarely work for this), you should consider paying your dermatologist a visit. "You may need a cortisone injection or an oral medication, like an antibiotic, in addition to topical formulas," says Zeichner. He's also a fan of a prescription topical medication called Epiduo Forte Gel, since, he says, it's been shown to be effective at controlling severe acne without the help of oral treatments.
We've already waxed poetic about the wonders of this brand's body sheet masks (one editor even wore hers topless!), which means we had high hopes for its citrus-scented cleanser. Luckily, it fulfilled its acne-fighting promises. Made with tea tree extract to target excess oil, salicylic acid to gently exfoliate skin cells, and niacinamide to smooth post-breakout texture, this formula targets every stage of a breakout.

Dermal or subcutaneous fillers are substances injected into the skin to improve the appearance of acne scars. Fillers are used to increase natural collagen production in the skin and to increase skin volume and decrease the depth of acne scars.[145] Examples of fillers used for this purpose include hyaluronic acid; poly(methyl methacrylate) microspheres with collagen; human and bovine collagen derivatives, and fat harvested from the person's own body (autologous fat transfer).[145]
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.

Oral contraceptives can help normalize hormonal surges and regulate monthly cycles so that oil glands don’t go into overdrive, says Dr. Zeichner. Doctors may prescribe one of four brands of birth control pills—Yaz, Beyaz, Estrostep, and Ortho Tri-Cyclen—that are FDA approved for treating acne. As always, patients taking oral contraceptives should be aware of potential birth control side effects, including blood clots or vaginal dryness.


Acne removal: Your dermatologist may perform a procedure called “drainage and extraction” to remove a large acne cyst. This procedure helps when the cyst does not respond to medicine. It also helps ease the pain and the chance that the cyst will leave a scar. If you absolutely have to get rid of a cyst quickly, your dermatologist may inject the cyst with medicine.
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