My beauty cabinet is full of cleansers from some of the priciest boutique brands, but the cleanser I have used every day for years doesn't cost $60 or even $30, it costs $6 at the average drugstore. When my friend Laura spotted my bottle of Purpose Gentle Cleansing Wash in my bathroom, she emerged laughing. She couldn't believe THIS was my cleanser of choice. I had to explain that you don't need a lot of bells and whistles in a good cleanser.

First, let’s talk about what causes acne. Pimples form when the oil and dead skin cells on your skin combine to form a plug that blocks the pores. “As the P. acnes bacteria that naturally live on skin overgrow within this plugged follicle, the area becomes inflamed and this is when you start to see papules, pustules, and cystic lesions,” RealSelf dermatologist Sejal Shah, M.D., tells SELF. The treatments ahead work to exfoliate away dead skin cells, suck up excess oil, stop inflammation, and kill the P. acnes bacteria. There are even a few treatments that target hormonal acne specifically.
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.
Aside from adding bacteria to your skin, these forms of contact can irritate the skin, adding to the appearance of redness and causing increased inflammation. In the event that your pimples get ruptured during this process, the oil and bacteria that was trapped inside could spread to the surrounding skin on your face, which causes acne to spread. So, not only will rubbing, squeezing and scratching leave your acne-ridden skin further irritated, it will increase the amount of acne you will have to deal with.
Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
Retinol: Retinol is simply another word for vitamin A, sort of like how we call vitamin B7 “biotin.” It’s important that our bodies get systemic vitamin A through our diet for good vision, a strong immune system, and general organ function, but some research suggests that vitamin A could have a positive impact on the skin when applied to it directly. The problem is, regular retinol doesn’t actually do much for acne. That’s because the retinoic acid found in retinol isn’t always activated when left to its own devices. We typically have to activate the retinoic acid synthetically through the creation of various medications.
The good news about oily skin is that it is less likely to wrinkle, is more supple and doesn’t show its age as soon as other skin types. The bad news is that pores get clogged with oil more frequently. Using a daily gentle exfoliator can balance your skin’s tone and texture and keep pores unplugged. There are also anti-bacterial exfoliators that can speed up healing for breakouts.
“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”

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.
Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial ingredient, and it’s very effective at killing the P. acnes bacteria that causes breakouts. But benzoyl isn’t without its downsides. The leave-on creams and cleansing treatments can dry out sensitive skin types and bleach clothing if you aren’t careful. Board-certified dermatologist Eric Meinhardt, M.D., previously told SELF that it's best to stick to formulations that have no more than 2 percent of benzoyl peroxide listed on the active ingredients chart; stronger concentrations are harder on your skin without being any tougher on bacteria.
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How to Handle It: Think of these as bigger, pissed-off whiteheads. Your best bet, says Zeichner, is to stock up on benzoyl peroxide, which kills the bacteria. A spot treatment like Murad Acne Spot Fast Fix ($22) should do the trick. Also, try not to pop them — as tempting as that may be. Since they're inflamed, they're more likely to scar if you go the DIY route.
Acne scars are caused by inflammation within the dermal layer of skin and are estimated to affect 95% of people with acne vulgaris.[30] The scar is created by abnormal healing following this dermal inflammation.[31] Scarring is most likely to take place with severe acne, but may occur with any form of acne vulgaris.[30] Acne scars are classified based on whether the abnormal healing response following dermal inflammation leads to excess collagen deposition or loss at the site of the acne lesion.[32]
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.
Remember, when making the choice to buy a certain face wash, always consider your unique skin type. A face wash tailored to your skin type will give you the best results, and help you clear up your acne. Also, keep in mind that a good face wash is only one important step in a system of skin care for clear and healthy skin. With the right adjustments, you can achieve that glowing, beautiful skin you know you deserve.
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.

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