Active Ingredients Check the product label for key active ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide, advises dermatologist Sandy Skotnicki, MD, founder of Toronto's Bay Dermatology Centre and author of the skincare book Beyond Soap. Other ingredients to look for include oils that can help to moisturize skin — just make sure the package says non-comedogenic, which means that it won’t clog pores.
Although home remedies are generally convenient and popular, some have significant counterproductive effects on the skin. The famous Procter & Gamble product Ivory Soap is probably the world’s most frequently used acne face wash ingredient. It is also probably the world’s worst acne face wash ingredient. Often advertised as “so pure that it floats,” Ivory Soap is depicted with pictures of babies and fair-skinned blondes to imply that it is a good and inexpensive face wash for acne-affected skin. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
What's Going On: You might be all too familiar with these, which tend to make their debut when you’re in high school. "Blackheads, like whiteheads, are blocked pores," says Zeichner. What gives them their namesake color, though, is the oil. It's already dark, but blackheads also have a larger opening at the surface than whiteheads do, meaning air can enter and oxidize that oil sitting inside the pore, turning it even darker.
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.
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.
This is a low foaming formula that doesn’t produce much lather or foam which, for some, may be quite drying. It’s non-comedogenic and moisturizing, without being oily, leaving skin feeling soft and smooth. As the name suggests, it’s the best normal and oily skin types, and for some with combination skin. Due to its low-foaming nature, it doesn’t strip skin of natural oils, promoting skin health and healthy cell growth and protection. However, it may not be good for people with sensitive skin types.

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.

Recommended therapies for first-line use in acne vulgaris treatment include topical retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, and topical or oral antibiotics.[78] Procedures such as light therapy and laser therapy are not considered to be first-line treatments and typically have an adjunctive role due to their high cost and limited evidence of efficacy.[77] Medications for acne work by targeting the early stages of comedo formation and are generally ineffective for visible skin lesions; improvement in the appearance of acne is typically expected between six and eight weeks after starting therapy.[1]
The main hormonal driver of oily sebum production in the skin is dihydrotestosterone.[1] Another androgenic hormone responsible for increased sebaceous gland activity is DHEA-S. Higher amounts of DHEA-S are secreted during adrenarche (a stage of puberty), and this leads to an increase in sebum production. In a sebum-rich skin environment, the naturally occurring and largely commensal skin bacterium P. acnes readily grows and can cause inflammation within and around the follicle due to activation of the innate immune system.[10] P. acnes triggers skin inflammation in acne by increasing the production of several pro-inflammatory chemical signals (such as IL-1α, IL-8, TNF-α, and LTB4); IL-1α is known to be essential to comedo formation.[44]
Retinoids are medications which reduce inflammation, normalize the follicle cell life cycle, and reduce sebum production.[44][83] They are structurally related to vitamin A.[83] The retinoids appear to influence the cell life cycle in the follicle lining. This helps prevent the accumulation of skin cells within the hair follicle that can create a blockage. They are a first-line acne treatment,[1] especially for people with dark-colored skin, and are known to lead to faster improvement of postinflammatory hyperpigmentation.[35]
But the side effects of targeted breakout cream treatments aren’t always worth it. “So many products instruct consumers to use benzoyl peroxide spot treat red bumps and pustules. I don’t recommend it,” says Dr. Lawrence Green, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at George Washington University. Such high concentrations of benzoyl peroxide cause added irritation and inflammation to already sensitive skin, so with this in mind, we cut kits that included spot treatments.
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]
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.

Our favorite for banishing blemishes on the fly, Glossier's zit stick is not only effective, but it's portable. Just stash it in your purse for any unexpected breakouts! Packed with acne-fighting benzoyl peroxide, this convenient roll-on works extremely quickly. In a clinical trial, 83% of test subjects said that it lessened the appearance of pimples in just 3 hours. We've tried it ourselves and can confirm the 3-hour claim is true.


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.
Drugs.com provides accurate and independent information on more than 24,000 prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines and natural products. This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Data sources include IBM Watson Micromedex (updated 1 May 2019), Cerner Multum™ (updated 2 May 2019), Wolters Kluwer™ (updated 1 May 2019) and others.
Topical and oral preparations of nicotinamide (the amide form of vitamin B3) have been suggested as alternative medical treatments.[134] It is thought to improve acne due to its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to suppress sebum production, and by promoting wound healing.[134] Topical and oral preparations of zinc have similarly been proposed as effective treatments for acne; evidence to support their use for this purpose is limited.[135] The purported efficacy of zinc is attributed to its capacity to reduce inflammation and sebum production, and inhibit P. acnes.[135] Antihistamines may improve symptoms among those already taking isotretinoin due to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to suppress sebum production.[136]
Shah often recommends over-the-counter retinols or prescription retinoids to her acne-prone patients. “I find that compared to other treatments they are beneficial for not just treating acne but also preventing new acne from forming as they help prevent that initial stage of the follicle getting clogged,” she says. “They can also help with some of the post acne [problems] such as hyperpigmentation.” But keep in mind if you have sensitive skin (or eczema or rosacea), a prescription retinoid might be too strong an option. However, your dermatologist can recommend an over-the-counter retinol with a low concentration (0.1 to 0.25 percent), which might be better tolerated. Retinol also isn’t a quick fix. It takes time to see results, and it’s something you’ll have to keep using to maintain its benefits. Shah also mentions that retinol plays well with other acne treatments on the list. "Retinol can be combined with other over-the-counter or prescription medications such as benzoyl peroxide, topical antibiotics, and oral medications. The right combination depends on the severity of the acne and your skin type."
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.

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.
Acrokeratosis paraneoplastica of Bazex Acroosteolysis Bubble hair deformity Disseminate and recurrent infundibulofolliculitis Erosive pustular dermatitis of the scalp Erythromelanosis follicularis faciei et colli Hair casts Hair follicle nevus Intermittent hair–follicle dystrophy Keratosis pilaris atropicans Kinking hair Koenen's tumor Lichen planopilaris Lichen spinulosus Loose anagen syndrome Menkes kinky hair syndrome Monilethrix Parakeratosis pustulosa Pili (Pili annulati Pili bifurcati Pili multigemini Pili pseudoannulati Pili torti) Pityriasis amiantacea Plica neuropathica Poliosis Rubinstein–Taybi syndrome Setleis syndrome Traumatic anserine folliculosis Trichomegaly Trichomycosis axillaris Trichorrhexis (Trichorrhexis invaginata Trichorrhexis nodosa) Trichostasis spinulosa Uncombable hair syndrome Wooly hair Wooly hair nevus

Oral antibiotics are recommended for no longer than three months as antibiotic courses exceeding this duration are associated with the development of antibiotic resistance and show no clear benefit over shorter courses.[87] Furthermore, if long-term oral antibiotics beyond three months are thought to be necessary, it is recommended that benzoyl peroxide and/or a retinoid be used at the same time to limit the risk of P. acnes developing antibiotic resistance.[87]


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.
You will see the results from the top performers in the comparison chart. Although any of these treatment systems can safely and effectively help reduce blemishes, Exposed Skin Care stands above the rest as the best acne treatment system. All the products are safe and regulated by the FDA, but Exposed Skin Care also works for a variety of skin types, including sensitive skin. The thing we like most about Exposed Skin Care is the 6-month money back guarantee. Many blemish products expect you to use them for six to eight weeks before you see results and then only provide you with a 1-month guarantee. If you purchase individual products in the store, you are stuck with them, since many do not come with any guarantees. Exposed Skin Care allows you to give their product a fair trial before you decide if it is working for your skin.
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.

Hair follicles are the tiny structures that grow hair in the scalp. Sebaceous glands produce sebum. On areas where acne develops, sebaceous glands surround the hair follicles. The combination of the sebaceous glands and the hair follicles is the "pilosebaceous unit," where acne pimples and cysts develop. Sebum moisturizes hair and skin. Each hair pushes up through the skin surface along with sebum.
For example, if you have acne on dry skin, you need something gentle enough to cleanse and exfoliate but not dehydrate, like a Neutrogena cleanser. If you have oily skin, you’re looking to exfoliate and combat oil production with a product like Cetaphil. If you have combination skin, you need something that can treat your unique skin and balance it out, like Exposed Skin Care.
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.
If you're willing to invest in some serious skincare to soothe your acne-prone skin woes, Lancer's blemish-control polish is a great addition to your skincare routine. This treatment can be used as an exfoliant in conjunction with the best spot treatment for your acne type to further treat severe acne and improve the overall appearance of blemishes.
The other downside to Proactiv+ is that the bottles are small — like, half the size of Paula’s Choice small. Combine that with its recommended two or three-times daily application, and you’re going to be going through a lot of kits, which ultimately means spending more money on your treatment. If Proactiv is the only thing that works for you, it may very well be worth the investment, but we recommend starting with Paula’s Choice to see if you can get the same results at a cheaper price.

Clascoterone is a topical antiandrogen which has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of acne in both males and females and is currently in the late stages of clinical development.[120][121][122][123] It has shown no systemic absorption or associated antiandrogenic side effects.[122][123][124] In a direct head-to-head comparison, clascoterone showed greater effectiveness than topical isotretinoin.[122][123][124] 5α-Reductase inhibitors such as finasteride and dutasteride may be useful for the treatment of acne in both males and females, but have not been thoroughly evaluated for this purpose.[1][125][126][127] In addition, the high risk of birth defects with 5α-reductase inhibitors limits their use in women.[1][126] However, 5α-reductase inhibitors can be combined with birth control pills to prevent pregnancy, and are frequently used to treat excessive hair in women.[125] There is no evidence as of 2010 to support the use of cimetidine or ketoconazole in the treatment of acne.[128]
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