A complete skin care regimen to control acne usually starts with washing. The ideal face wash creates a soft creamy lather in warm water. It rinses off dirt, excess oil, and makeup, leaving the face ready for the next step in daily skin care, whether that is toner, moisturizer, exfoliant, sunblock, or more makeup. It is fragrance-free, and it does not create a foam, film, or tingly sensation on the face. Any product that foams and suds vigorously, like a detergent, is a strict no-no for acne treatment, especially on dry skin.
According to Dr. Bailey, it’s not enough to have a facial cleanser designed for acne-prone skin. Half the battle is properly washing your face. Here’s what she recommends: “First, wet your face with warm water, then lather your cleanser over all of your facial skin. Depending on your skin type, you can use your fingers, an exfoliating cloth or a sonic skin-cleansing brush system. Rinse well with warm water to remove the lather entirely. Some of the important acne cleanser ingredients will stay behind, but the cleanser’s foaming agents, as well as built-up oil, dead cells, products and bacteria, will be rinsed off of your skin.”
Genetics can also affect how your immune system works. When confronted with bacteria, your skin might erupt in painful red lumps called pustules while someone else might just get a blackhead. Or maybe your friend has sensitive skin that breaks out more often than yours does. Your family history has a lot to do with the type of skin you have and how it looks and feels.
The good news: Topical spot treatments can quickly and effectively aid in the skin's healing process, shrinking existing pimples and preventing acne scars from forming. But with so many products on the market, it can be difficult to figure out which zit-zapping formulas are the most effective, so we turned to skincare professionals to get their expert opinions. Here, six powerful acne spot treatments that dermatologists swear by.
Considerations: Because tazarotene is a retinoid (vitamin A derivative), like Accutane, it should not be used by women who are pregnant because of potential harm to the fetus. Exposure to sunlight should be avoided. Wind or cold may be more irritating when taking tazarotene. Side effects occured in 10-30% of patients and included dry peeling skin, burning, stinging, dry skin, redness, and itchiness.

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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]
Hydroquinone lightens the skin when applied topically by inhibiting tyrosinase, the enzyme responsible for converting the amino acid tyrosine to the skin pigment melanin, and is used to treat acne-associated postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[34] By interfering with new production of melanin in the epidermis, hydroquinone leads to less hyperpigmentation as darkened skin cells are naturally shed over time.[34] Improvement in skin hyperpigmentation is typically seen within six months when used twice daily. Hydroquinone is ineffective for hyperpigmentation affecting deeper layers of skin such as the dermis.[34] The use of a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher in the morning with reapplication every two hours is recommended when using hydroquinone.[34] Its application only to affected areas lowers the risk of lightening the color of normal skin but can lead to a temporary ring of lightened skin around the hyperpigmented area.[34] Hydroquinone is generally well-tolerated; side effects are typically mild (e.g., skin irritation) and occur with use of a higher than the recommended 4% concentration.[34] Most preparations contain the preservative sodium metabisulfite, which has been linked to rare cases of allergic reactions including anaphylaxis and severe asthma exacerbations in susceptible people.[34] In extremely rare cases, repeated improper topical application of high-dose hydroquinone has been associated with an accumulation of homogentisic acid in connective tissues, a condition known as exogenous ochronosis.[34]
What it is: You may have heard of tretinoin in reference to "Retin-A" wrinkle treatments. Tretinoin is retinoic acid and vitamin A acid combined, and comes in various strengths in creams, gels, and liquids for topical use on the skin. It is used to treat acne and also to treat sun damaged skin or wrinkles and is usually applied once per day.1Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Genetics can also affect how your immune system works. When confronted with bacteria, your skin might erupt in painful red lumps called pustules while someone else might just get a blackhead. Or maybe your friend has sensitive skin that breaks out more often than yours does. Your family history has a lot to do with the type of skin you have and how it looks and feels.
Resorcinol – Almost always found coupled with sulfur, this ingredient breaks down hardened, rough or scaly skin, while disinfecting and fighting infections5. This ingredient is often used topically to treat pain and itching stemming from small injuries like scrapes and cuts, burns, bug bites, sunburn, poison ivy and more. It’s also used to treat skin conditions like eczema, seborrhea, psoriasis, warts, corns and other disorders. It is generally found in strengths of up to 2%.
The idea behind using antibiotics for acne is that they can help reduce the number of p. acnes on the skin and relieve an acute case of severe acne. After the person stops taking the antibiotics, the hope is that the reduced numbers of p. acnes will prevent the pimples or cysts from getting out of hand again. However, in reality, most people simply end up taking the antibiotics much longer than they should, and the acne almost always comes back. That’s because, according to The Lancet: Infectious Diseases, over 50 percent of p. acnes strains are resistant to antibiotics7. If your doctor tries to prescribe you antibiotics for your acne, we recommend asking about other courses of action.
How to Handle It: Pair two of the best-known acne-fighting ingredients, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, in the week leading up to your period. (If you're feeling bloated, now's the time to do it.) The combo can help prevent hormonal acne from happening in the first place. Zeichner suggests following a salicylic acid wash, like fan-favorite Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser ($7), with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment, such as Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22). If you're still seeing zits, "visit your dermatologist to discuss prescription options, like birth control pills, oral spironolactone — which blocks oil — or topical Aczone 7.5 percent gel," says Zeichner. "It's shown to be particularly effective in adult women without causing irritation." Oral contraceptives level out those hormone fluctuations, keeping your oil production normal and your skin clear.
If you have oily, tight skin and tend to get age spots or sun spots, try an exfoliant made with glycolic acid right after you cleanse your skin, no more than 4 or 5 times a week. Aveeno Positively Radiant Cleansing Pads provides just a “dab” of exfoliant that will help lighten the spots without irritating your skin (which over the long run would create new brown spots).
Corticosteroid injections may be used to treat large, painful lesions. These injections can ease the pain and help clear a large lesion more quickly. A systemic acne treatment that you may have heard about is isotretinoin (aka Accutane). This is the only medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat severe resistant nodular cystic acne, the most severe form. Dr. Turner does use Accutane in appropriate patients, however it is typically a five- to six-month course of therapy, which requires monthly office visits.
Misperceptions about acne's causative and aggravating factors are common, and those affected by it are often blamed for their condition.[176] Such blame can worsen the affected person's sense of self-esteem.[176] Until the 20th century, even among dermatologists, the list of causes was believed to include excessive sexual thoughts and masturbation.[165] Dermatology's association with sexually transmitted infections, especially syphilis, contributed to the stigma.[165]
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Side effects include increased skin photosensitivity, dryness, redness and occasional peeling.[81] Sunscreen use is often advised during treatment, to prevent sunburn. Lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are just as effective as higher concentrations in treating acne but are associated with fewer side effects.[80][82] Unlike antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide does not appear to generate bacterial antibiotic resistance.[81]
Chemical peels – Professionally-administered (don’t try it at home) chemical peels involve the use of acids to remove superficial areas of the skin. The strength of chemical peels varies from treatment to treatment but work best on people with lighter skin, because the acids used in the peel may cause darkening of the skin. It’s imperative that you talk with a dermatologist before using chemical peels for acne treatment if you have darker skin. The good news, however, is that people with darker skin can use OTC products that contain the same chemicals used in chemical peels (but at a lower percentage).
If even a trace of sodium lauryl sulfate is left on the skin for more than an hour, however, the upper layer of living skin cells is irritated and dies. Tiny flakes of skin make the texture of the skin look uneven, and they can clog pores. The scent of sodium lauryl sulfate also causes your nose and tongue to be less sensitive to sweet tastes and their associated odors, so you will crave sugar.
Acne doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or gender. Between 40-50 million Americans have acne and know the daily struggle of living with this painful skin condition. 20% of them are adults. The other 80% are young people between the ages of 12 and 24, and one-quarter of these young people will suffer permanent scars on their skin from it. That means that 10 million young people will have permanent acne scarring.
Hormonal treatments for acne such as combined birth control pills and antiandrogens may be considered a first-line therapy for acne under a number of circumstances, including when contraception is desired, when known or suspected hyperandrogenism is present, when acne occurs in adulthood, when acne flares premenstrually, and when symptoms of significant sebum production (seborrhea) are co-present.[128] Hormone therapy is effective for acne even in women with normal androgen levels.[128]
For female adult patients, one medication that Dr. Turner often recommends is spironolactone. Many patients consider it the “miracle drug.” When used at low doses, such as 50 to 150mg per day, the androgen hormones are not cycling so rapidly, which in turn helps to relieve cystic acne, especially located on the lower cheeks, jawline and neck regions. Interestingly, spironolactone is an older drug that has been used since the ’50s, but at different doses, it acts by a completely different mechanism. Thus, it is as though it is two completely different drugs, depending on the dose, but it has the same name. The only negative aspect of spironolactone dosing at these levels is that a woman should never get pregnant while medicating with this due to ambiguity in the fetal genitalia.

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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