Acne treatment that you apply to the skin: Most acne treatments are applied to the skin. Your dermatologist may call this topical treatment. There are many topical acne treatments. Some topicals help kill the bacteria. Others work on reducing the oil. The topical medicine may contain a retinoid, prescription-strength benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic, or even salicylic acid. Your dermatologist will determine what you need.
For mild to moderate acne, dermatologists often suggest an acne face wash with bacteria-killing benzoyl peroxide (to minimize irritation, 3.5 percent strength should be your max if you have sensitive skin), along with a prescription topical antimicrobial such as clindamycin or erythromycin. If you rather go with a gentle face wash for sensitive skin, you can use that and apply a benzoyl peroxide acne spot treatment instead.

Dapsone is a topical gel medicine sold under the brand name Aczone for treating severe acne, and it’s perfect for people who want a low-maintenance acne treatment plan. Unlike many of the best acne medications, dapsone only needs to be applied once daily, and it is the only medications most people will need, though it’s always good to include a face wash and moisturizer in your skin care routine if possible. Dapsone can function on its own because it is both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory10, effectively taking care of two of the biggest causes of acne.
In one 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereolog, researchers found that milk consumption—particularly skim milk, which is higher in sugar than whole milk—was associated with a greater risk of acne. Beyond the higher sugar content, scientists believe that proteins and hormones found in milk products, including IGF-1, may play a role in acne flare-ups by increasing oil production and inflammation.
Dermatologists aren’t sure why azelaic acid is so effective at clearing up inflammation, but it’s often used as an option for sensitive skin or pregnant patients. Linkner says the ingredient is good at treating malasma, acne, and rosacea. Your dermatologist can prescribe a foam product with azelaic acid, and you can also find beauty products with very small amounts of this active ingredient.
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.

The approach to acne treatment underwent significant changes during the twentieth century. Retinoids were introduced as a medical treatment for acne in 1943.[83] Benzoyl peroxide was first proposed as a treatment in 1958 and has been routinely used for this purpose since the 1960s.[167] 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.[163] Subsequently, in the 1970s tretinoin (original trade name Retin A) was found to be an effective treatment.[168] The development of oral isotretinoin (sold as Accutane and Roaccutane) followed in 1980.[169] 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.[170][171]
When whiteheads and blackheads become infected with bacteria, called Propionibacterium acnes, it leads to inflammatory acne. Regular bacteria is found in most whiteheads and blackheads, but P. acnes is attracted to the closed, oily environment. This bacteria makes acne more difficult to treat. The four different pimple types that characterize inflammatory acne are papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
Both salicylic acid and benzoyl acid are commonly found in the top acne treatments for getting rid of mild to severe acne. They work in tandem to getting rid of the dead skin and killing bacteria, which are two of the main contributors to the spread of acne. Salicylic acid breaks up the skin to clear pores from skin, oil and bacteria and benzoyl peroxide kills the bacteria slowly over a 48-hour period.
The key is patience — don’t pick up a new cleanser and expect to see dramatic results right away. While you may be able to spot-treat a pimple or two overnight, it can take weeks before you really see a difference from switching cleansers. “It’s about trying different brands with different strengths and giving it sufficient time to work,” says Anna Avaliani, MD, a cosmetic and laser skin care specialist in NYC.

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]
The active substance of the gel cleanses the top layer of skin from dead cells, normalizes the work of the sebaceous glands, evens the complexion, stimulates the natural production of collagen and elastin. For cleansing the skin, a small amount of gel is enough twice a day; you can also use the product as an addition to ordinary facial cleansers. The skin gets rid of excessive dryness, redness and pigment spots, acquires elasticity and freshness. The gel can be used for any type of skin, including oily and combination.
I get asked all the time about my favorite organic skin care products. It seems everyone is worried about putting toxins in and on their bodies. So for cleansers, I recommend Dr. Hauschka's Cleansing Cream. Organic and void of chemicals, the Dr. Hauschka line is super popular among those concerned with healthy skin. So what's in this magic cleanser? Sweet almond meal and extracts of anthyllis, calendula, chamomile and St. John's wort. This cleanser gently exfoliates while adding moisture to skin, which makes it great for aging skin, dry skin and combination skin.
Feverfew – Commonly known as wild chamomile, feverfew is a plant that has been used for generations. It was once called “parthenium” by the ancient Greeks and is used to treat various ailments and disease. When it comes to your skin, feverfew is anti-inflammatory7, reducing and preventing redness and swelling. It’s also high in anti-oxidants and can be consumed orally in the form of tea for added benefits, like healing your skin from the inside out.

Whether it’s just or not, you are judged by your appearance: the clothes you wear, your hairstyle, your body language. And if you have acne, life can be more difficult for you. You may feel uncomfortable in social settings. You may lose your confidence. It could destroy intimacy with someone you care about. If your poor self-esteem affects your job performance, then having acne could even have a negative impact on your income and career advancement. There’s no such thing as ‘growing out of acne’. It’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously. The only way to fight acne is by treating it. And to fight acne head-on, you need to find the best acne treatment for you.
What it is: Spironolactone is a prescription medication in tablet form used to treat certain patients with hyperaldosteronism (the body produces too much aldosterone, a naturally occurring hormone), low potassium levels, and in patients with edema (fluid retention) caused by various conditions.1 Learn more from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Your pimples need TLC, too. The study on acne vulgaris found that, in an attempt to dry out acne lesions, patients often use too many products or apply excessive amounts to problem areas, resulting in further irritation and over drying of the skin. Vigorous scrubbing and using harsh exfoliants can make acne worse by rupturing whiteheads and blackheads, turning them into painful red ones. And remember: no matter how satisfying it is, picking and popping your zits will also increase inflammation and opportunity for infection.
Retinoids – Recommended for people with moderate to severe acne, retinoids can unclog your pores, allowing for your other medicated acne treatments to penetrate deeper. They can reduce your potential for outbreaks and the formation of acne scarring2. You can also use a retinoid cream directly as a treatment after your face cleanse, or even take it in the form of a retinoid pill to treat oil/sebum production and to treat inflammation and acne-causing bacteria.
Perhaps one of the most popular cleansers for combination skin care on the market today, Boscia's purifying cleansing gel works best for oily to normal skin types. It works by gently cleansing skin without stripping it and adding harsh elements to the skin. It can be a tad drying, so it works best on women with more oily spots than dry spots. You can also use it to cleanse your oily T-zone, but keep it away from your dry spots, where you may want to moisturize more.
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If you’re used to seeing advertisements for acne treatments using five or six different products to clear up blemishes, you might be surprised that a simple three-step kit is our top pick. In fact, we favored Paula’s Choice for its simplicity. This twice-daily, three-step kit — which includes a cleanser, an anti-redness exfoliant, and a leave-on treatment — is concise without cutting corners.
Retinoids and retinoid-like drugs. These come as creams, gels and lotions. Retinoid drugs are derived from vitamin A and include tretinoin (Avita, Retin-A, others), adapalene (Differin) and tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage). You apply this medication in the evening, beginning with three times a week, then daily as your skin becomes used to it. It works by preventing plugging of the hair follicles.

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.
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.
The best acne treatment will also include gentle cleanser. Regular bars of soap have harsher cleansers in them that can create problems of their own and encourage bacteria to spread. It is also a good idea to use makeup wipes to clean off any makeup (if you wear it) before you wash your face. Only washing your face without the wipe or wiping your face without the wash is not a good combination. You will either end up missing some of the makeup or you will end up leaving preservatives and other residues on your face.
Clean your face really well using a mild face cleanser and gently pat dry. Let your skin further air dry and don’t put anything else on it. Don’t put anything else on your face like moisturizer, serum, toner, etc. After a half hour, carefully check your cheeks, chin, forehead and nose, with a hand mirror, for any shine. Also, check if your skin feels tight when you smile or make exaggerated facial expressions.
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.[12] 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.[41] 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).[42][43]
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.

Light therapy is a treatment method that involves delivering certain specific wavelengths of light to an area of skin affected by acne. Both regular and laser light have been used. When regular light is used immediately following the application of a sensitizing substance to the skin such as aminolevulinic acid or methyl aminolevulinate, the treatment is referred to as photodynamic therapy (PDT).[10][129] PDT has the most supporting evidence of all light therapies.[78] Many different types of nonablative lasers (i.e., lasers that do not vaporize the top layer of the skin but rather induce a physiologic response in the skin from the light) have been used to treat acne, including those that use infrared wavelengths of light. Ablative lasers (such as CO2 and fractional types) have also been used to treat active acne and its scars. When ablative lasers are used, the treatment is often referred to as laser resurfacing because, as mentioned previously, the entire upper layers of the skin are vaporized.[140] Ablative lasers are associated with higher rates of adverse effects compared with nonablative lasers, with examples being postinflammatory hyperpigmentation, persistent facial redness, and persistent pain.[8][141][142] Physiologically, certain wavelengths of light, used with or without accompanying topical chemicals, are thought to kill bacteria and decrease the size and activity of the glands that produce sebum.[129] As of 2012, evidence for various light therapies was insufficient to recommend them for routine use.[8] Disadvantages of light therapy can include its cost, the need for multiple visits, time required to complete the procedure(s), and pain associated with some of the treatment modalities.[10] Various light therapies appear to provide a short-term benefit, but data for long-term outcomes, and for outcomes in those with severe acne, are sparse;[76][143] it may have a role for individuals whose acne has been resistant to topical medications.[10] A 2016 meta-analysis was unable to conclude whether light therapies were more beneficial than placebo or no treatment, nor how long potential benefits lasted.[144] Typical side effects include skin peeling, temporary reddening of the skin, swelling, and postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[10]
Cysts are another troublesome type of acne to treat successfully without the help of a doctor. A cyst forms similar to a nodule—way beneath your skin’s surface. However, cysts are thought to form from pustules because they contain pus. They are painful when touched resemble a boil. They appear to be a large, red, swollen lump on the skin surface. People who are prone to them may get one large cyst or a clump of cysts.
Some of us grew up with parents telling us to quit eating potato chips and other greasy foods, because they cause acne. Fact is, gobbling down chips and chicken wings will ruin a well-balanced diet, but they won’t cause you to break out in pimples. Stress, on the other hand, can contribute to acne’s formation, but a steady diet of junk food just gives you indigestion, among other potential health issues.
In severe cases, oral isotretinoin may be considered. This medication can be very effective but can also cause serious side effects including severe birth defects. Strict protocols must be followed. Monthly appointments with the treating doctor must be kept throughout the treatment period to monitor for any side effects. In females of child-bearing age, protocol includes two forms of birth control. The treatment period is usually five months.
Beyond making sure the system contains safe combinations of ingredients, a system can also treat all aspects of acne. By picking and choosing individual products, you may miss an important step. Plus, treatment systems contain ingredients like glycolic acid that help smooth acne scars, something you might not think about when you are shopping for products. Did you know probiotics help reduce inflammation? Or that kojic acid and arbutin can lighten brown spots? When it comes to treating acne, you should leave the mixing to professionals. You still can try out a variety of systems to find the one that works best for you.
The relationship between diet and acne is unclear, as there is no high-quality evidence that establishes any definitive link between them.[51] High-glycemic-load diets have been found to have different degrees of effect on acne severity.[7][52][53] Multiple randomized controlled trials and nonrandomized studies have found a lower-glycemic-load diet to be effective in reducing acne.[52] There is weak observational evidence suggesting that dairy milk consumption is positively associated with a higher frequency and severity of acne.[50][51][52][54][55] Milk contains whey protein and hormones such as bovine IGF-1 and precursors of dihydrotestosterone.[52] These components are hypothesized to promote the effects of insulin and IGF-1 and thereby increase the production of androgen hormones, sebum, and promote the formation of comedones.[52][56] Available evidence does not support a link between eating chocolate or salt and acne severity.[51][54] Chocolate does contain varying amounts of sugar, which can lead to a high glycemic load, and it can be made with or without milk. Few studies have examined the relationship between obesity and acne.[2] Vitamin B12 may trigger skin outbreaks similar to acne (acneiform eruptions), or worsen existing acne, when taken in doses exceeding the recommended daily intake.[57] Eating greasy foods does not increase acne nor make it worse.[58][59] One review linked a Western pattern diet, high in simple carbohydrates, milk and dairy products, and trans fats and saturated fats, along with a low omega-3 fatty acids, with acne.[56]
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
Combination therapy—using medications of different classes together, each with a different mechanism of action—has been demonstrated to be a more efficacious approach to acne treatment than monotherapy.[10][46] The use of topical benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics together has been shown to be more effective than antibiotics alone.[10] Similarly, using a topical retinoid with an antibiotic clears acne lesions faster than the use of antibiotics alone.[10] Frequently used combinations include the following: antibiotic and benzoyl peroxide, antibiotic and topical retinoid, or topical retinoid and benzoyl peroxide.[46] The pairing of benzoyl peroxide with a retinoid is preferred over the combination of a topical antibiotic with a retinoid since both regimens are effective but benzoyl peroxide does not lead to antibiotic resistance.[10]
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