If you have non-inflamed acne, it means you have a lot of blackheads and whiteheads, but not a lot of redness and swelling. Most common acne face washes can work well for you. If you have inflamed acne, you want to make sure you buy a facial cleanser that has the ingredients to reduce inflammation, swelling, and redness. But you also want to be careful not to buy or use anything that can cause irritation, dry skin and thus, more redness and swelling.
Alpha-Hydroxy Acids – These are synthetic acids derived from sugary fruits that remove dead skin cells3 while reducing inflammation. The two common types that can be found in over-the-counter acne treatments are glycolic acid and lactic acid. Another benefit of these acids is that they improve the appearance of your acne scars and make your pores look smaller by stimulating the growth of new, healthy skin.
If a pore is open, it’s called a blackhead or “open comedo”. Because of the opening, contact with the air oxidizes the dead skin cells inside the pore. The air contact turns the melanin inside them darker in color, similar to the way a peeled banana left exposed to the air will darken. This is how the blackhead forms. The color of a blackhead is not because of dirt. It’s a mixture of air and the skin pigment called melanin.

Decreased levels of retinoic acid in the skin may contribute to comedo formation. To address this deficiency, methods to increase the skin's production of retinoid acid are being explored.[10] A vaccine against inflammatory acne has shown promising results in mice and humans.[49][180] Some have voiced concerns about creating a vaccine designed to neutralize a stable community of normal skin bacteria that is known to protect the skin from colonization by more harmful microorganisms.[181]
Considerations: Regardless of the type of antibiotic prescribed, only about one half of patients respond. When antibiotics do produce results, these results are moderate at best.5-8 Oral antibiotics should be used for only a short period of time, up to 6 months. However, even within this short time frame, antibiotics have been implicated in the proliferation of resistant colonies of bacteria. Some antibiotics cause increased sensitivity to sunlight. Exposure to the sun could cause a rash, itchiness, or redness, and you may be burnt more easily, so you'll want to wear protective clothing and sunscreen.2 Side effects may include upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, headache, vomiting, dizziness, or light-headedness as your body becomes accustomed to it.2 Minocycline is less prescribed because it works no better than any other antibiotic and comes with safety concerns, including the possibility of irreversible skin pigmentation.8-11
You’ve probably heard of the benefits of retinoid creams for anti-aging, but vitamin A is also efficient at clearing up acne. “[Retinoids] cause skin cells to turn over at a faster rate, decrease oil production, and help skin exfoliate,” board-certified dermatologist Rita Linkner, M.D., tells SELF. Another benefit: Acne is inflammation, and retinoids are anti-inflammatory.

Considerations: Despite the frequent referencing of an initial flare of acne when starting is tretinoin, there is no scientific evidence to back this up. You should not expect an initial worsening of acne.3-4 Exposure to sunlight should be minimized as you may be more sensitive to its rays. Ask your doctor before using other medication on the skin, especially anything containing sulfur, resorcinol, or salicylic acid, as the combination may be too irritating. Abrasive soaps and cleansers should be used with caution for the same reason. Side effects can include skin irritation, swelling, lightening or darkening of the skin, an increase in acne sores, excessive redness, and crusted or blistered skin.
Perioral dermatitis Granulomatous perioral dermatitis Phymatous rosacea Rhinophyma Blepharophyma Gnathophyma Metophyma Otophyma Papulopustular rosacea Lupoid rosacea Erythrotelangiectatic rosacea Glandular rosacea Gram-negative rosacea Steroid rosacea Ocular rosacea Persistent edema of rosacea Rosacea conglobata variants Periorificial dermatitis Pyoderma faciale
Cons: This is not actually a con, but their face wash is part of a comprehensive acne treatment system that effectively treats your skin while helping you save a bundle on the products that should be part of your skincare routine for best results. They have the best guarantee we have seen so far anywhere and you can read our review of the complete Exposed Skin Care kit here.
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Ideally, you want to find an acne face wash and care system that utilizes a number of these ingredients, for best results. It can be a full system by a single brand, like Exposed Skin Care, or it can be a combination of products that you’ve tried and tested for yourself. The important thing to take away here is that there are several ways to treat your acne and knowing what each ingredient does will help you tailor the perfect solution for you.
Ideally, you want to find an acne face wash and care system that utilizes a number of these ingredients, for best results. It can be a full system by a single brand, like Exposed Skin Care, or it can be a combination of products that you’ve tried and tested for yourself. The important thing to take away here is that there are several ways to treat your acne and knowing what each ingredient does will help you tailor the perfect solution for you.
If you’re looking for a hormonal solution to your acne but don’t want to take a combined oral contraceptive, spironolactone may be the answer. This oral medication is a potassium-sparing diuretic originally designed to treat high blood pressure, but is now also used to treat acne. It mainly functions by reducing sebum production, leading to less acne formation13. If you are able to get pregnant, you don’t necessarily need to take a combined oral contraceptive, but you will want to use some form of birth control since spironolactone, like Accutane, is a well-known teratogen and is known for causing birth defects.
Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
Considerations: Ask your doctor before using any other products on your skin while using erythromycin, as it may be too irritating. This includes other prescriptions, over-the-counter medicines (including those listed on this site), and harsh or abrasive cleansers, perfumes, or make-up.2 People report burning as the most frequent side effect, and also peeling, dryness, itching, redness, and oiliness, among others.2
Alternative and integrative medicine approaches used in the treatment of acne include fish oil, brewer's yeast, probiotics, oral zinc and topical tea tree oil. More research is needed to establish the potential effectiveness and long-term safety of these and other integrative approaches, such as biofeedback and traditional Chinese medicine. Talk with your doctor about the pros and cons of specific treatments before you try them.
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San Francisco-based dermatologist William Kwan, MD, swears by this treatment—and its powerful ingredients. "It has a combination of glycolic acid (AHA) and salicylic acid (BHA)," he explains. "These are helpful to exfoliate the comedone and heal the acne." Dr. Kwan also likes that this gel contains licorice extract, which helps lighten dark spots left behind by past blemishes.
It is widely suspected that the anaerobic bacterial species Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) contributes to the development of acne, but its exact role is not well understood.[2] There are specific sub-strains of P. acnes associated with normal skin, and moderate or severe inflammatory acne.[49] It is unclear whether these undesirable strains evolve on-site or are acquired, or possibly both depending on the person. These strains have the capability of changing, perpetuating, or adapting to the abnormal cycle of inflammation, oil production, and inadequate sloughing of dead skin cells from acne pores. Infection with the parasitic mite Demodex is associated with the development of acne.[29][50] It is unclear whether eradication of the mite improves acne.[50]
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.
Azelaic acid has been shown to be effective for mild to moderate acne when applied topically at a 20% concentration.[66][129] Treatment twice daily for six months is necessary, and is as effective as topical benzoyl peroxide 5%, isotretinoin 0.05%, and erythromycin 2%.[130] Azelaic acid is thought to be an effective acne treatment due to its ability to reduce skin cell accumulation in the follicle, and its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.[66] It has a slight skin-lightening effect due to its ability to inhibit melanin synthesis, and is therefore useful in treating of individuals with acne who are also affected by postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[1] Azelaic acid may cause skin irritation but is otherwise very safe.[131] It is less effective and more expensive than retinoids.[1]
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.
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.

That’s why, no matter how uncomfortable your skin may feel while plagued with acne, you must resist the urge to touch your skin. If the irritating sensations become unbearable, there are other methods of treating your skin, such as cooling it with ice packs or aloe vera gel. You can even use medicated creams designed to soothe irritated skin – given that your dermatologist says it’s okay.
Acne vulgaris Acne conglobata Acne miliaris necrotica Tropical acne Infantile acne/Neonatal acne Excoriated acne Acne fulminans Acne medicamentosa (e.g., steroid acne) Halogen acne Iododerma Bromoderma Chloracne Oil acne Tar acne Acne cosmetica Occupational acne Acne aestivalis Acne keloidalis nuchae Acne mechanica Acne with facial edema Pomade acne Acne necrotica Blackhead Lupus miliaris disseminatus faciei
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The predisposition to acne for specific individuals is likely explained by a genetic component, a theory which is supported by studies examining the rates of acne among twins and first-degree relatives.[2] Severe acne may be associated with XYY syndrome.[39] Acne susceptibility is likely due to the influence of multiple genes, as the disease does not follow a classic (Mendelian) inheritance pattern. Multiple gene candidates have been proposed including certain variations in tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha), IL-1 alpha, and CYP1A1 genes, among others.[18] Increased risk is associated with the 308 G/A single nucleotide polymorphism variation in the gene for TNF.[40]

While a few people suffer from acne that is so severe it requires a medical prescription from a doctor, most people with mild to medium acne problems can find decent over-the-counter treatments that really work. The first key to getting your acne cleanser right is to know what active ingredients combat your acne, and then finding an acne treatment that contains it. Here are a few of the ingredients you want to look for:
Just as there are no bells and whistles with Purpose above, there are none with this baby-mild product that renowned dermatologists swear by. So why is this $10 cleanser such a must-have? It's creamy, simple and isn't loaded with chemicals or perfumes that can irritate the skin. Cetaphil products are revered in the industry and their cleanser is one of the best drugstore buys out there. Period.
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